Summer Reading: The Novels of Max Barry

Continuing my suggestions of books to read this summer I share with you the novels of Max Barry

I'm always fascinated by people in creative fields that are adamant to the idea of reading fiction. There you are having a casual conversation, you suggest a novel you think they will find interesting and they strongly oppose the idea. They don't read fiction (often they also say they never watch tv or attend any live performances.) 

And while I can see why anyone would think that somehow things like reading fiction are just entertainment and could not possibly lend themselves to teach us anything, what kind of creative work could they be creating when they deprive themselves of the enjoyment (and education) of watching someone manipulate language to convey messages in ways that are often profound and revealing. 

Besides, the more we study the brain, they more we learn how important fiction can be in neurological development

This is why I am recommending the novels of Max Barry. He is an astute observer of life and has tackled subjects dear to me (and this blog) in his novels. From marketing, advertising and branding to management, leadership and productivity to, in his latest novel, released today, poetry, language and influence. Each written with clear insights and full of enjoyable surprises. If you are interested in those areas there is much to be learned from his novels, while having a great deal of fun.

Lexicon
By Max Barry

At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren’t taught history, geography, or mathematics—at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as “poets”: adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.

Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization’s recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school’s strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Brontë, Eliot, and Lowell—who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school’s most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.

Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he’s done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.

As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry’s most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love—whatever the cost.

 

Scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident. It's not a tragedy. It's an opportunity. Charlie always thought his body could be better. He begins to explore a few ideas. To build parts. Better parts.

Prosthetist Lola Shanks loves a good artificial limb. In Charlie, she sees a man on his way to becoming artificial everything. But others see a madman. Or a product. Or a weapon.

A story for the age of pervasive technology, Machine Man is a gruesomely funny unraveling of one man's quest for ultimate self-improvement.

Company
By Max Barry

Stephen Jones is a shiny new hire at Zephyr Holdings. From the outside, Zephyr is just another bland corporate monolith, but behind its glass doors business is far from usual: the beautiful receptionist is paid twice as much as anybody else to do nothing, the sales reps use self help books as manuals, no one has seen the CEO, no one knows exactly what they are selling, and missing donuts are the cause of office intrigue. While Jones originally wanted to climb the corporate ladder, he now finds himself descending deeper into the irrational rationality of company policy. What he finds is hilarious, shocking, and utterly telling.

 

Jennifer Government
By Max Barry

Taxation has been abolished, the government has been privatized, and employees take the surname of the company they work for. It's a brave new corporate world, but you don't want to be caught without a platinum credit card--as lowly Merchandising Officer Hack Nike is about to find out. Trapped into building street cred for a new line of $2500 sneakers by shooting customers, Hack attracts the barcode-tattooed eye of the legendary Jennifer Government. A stressed-out single mom, corporate watchdog, and government agent who has to rustle up funding before she's allowed to fight crime, Jennifer Government is holding a closing down sale--and everything must go.

A wickedly satirical and outrageous thriller about globalization and marketing hype, Jennifer Government is the best novel in the world ever.

 

Syrup
By Maxx Barry

When Scat comes up with the idea for the hottest new soda ever, he's sure he'll retire the next rich, savvy marketing success story. But in the treacherous waters of corporate America there are no sure things--and suddenly Scat has to save not only his idea but his yet-to-be-realized career. With the help of the scarily beautiful and brainy 6, he sets out on a mission to reclaim the fame and fortune that, time and again, eludes him. This brilliantly scathing debut is a hilarious send-up of celebrity, sexual politics, corporate America, and the fleeting status that comes with getting to the table first--before the other guy has you for lunch.

 

 

The Art of Illustrations, Web Comics and 3D Printing

Continuing the week's look at PBS Digital Studios, today we catch up with PBS Off Book. Last time we took a look at Off Book I shared mini documentaries on creative coding, graphic design and other great explorations. Today we look at illustrations, web comics, 3D printing and competitive gaming

The internet has given birth to yet another new medium: webcomics. Moving beyond the restrictions of print, webcomic artists interact directly with audiences who share their own unique worldview, and create stories that are often embedded in innovative formats only possible online. Sometimes funny, sometimes personal, and almost always weird, web comic creators have taken the comic strip form to new, mature, and artistic heights.

Much attention has been paid to 3D Printing lately, with new companies developing cheaper and more efficient consumer models that have wowed the tech community. They herald 3D Printing as a revolutionary and disruptive technology, but how will these printers truly affect our society? Beyond an initial novelty, 3D Printing could have a game-changing impact on consumer culture, copyright and patent law, and even the very concept of scarcity on which our economy is based. From at-home repairs to new businesses, from medical to ecological developments, 3D Printing has an undeniably wide range of possibilities which could profoundly change our world.

Illustrators articulate what a photograph cannot. Using an array of techniques and styles, illustrators evoke stories and meaning in a variety of mediums, from editorial illustration in magazines and newspapers, to comics books, to activist media. And as their tasks over the years have become less informational and more expressive, their individual voice as artists becomes all the more critical and beautiful, revealing an exciting and awe-inspiring age of illustration.

As games have increased in sophistication, they have become a stage for ever higher displays of human skill and brilliance. The result is a tier of the gaming world filled with startling disciplined, talented, and highly competitive players. Born out of arcade tournaments and LAN parties, the world of competitive gaming is now entering a mature phase, featuring major global events attended by thousands and watched by millions online. With valuable sponsorship and prize money of increasing value, competitive gaming is claiming a space similar to that of traditional sports. This new industry is still in its early stages, developing broadcasting models and negotiating the culture of its widening audience. But whether it's fighting games or MOBAs, the players and spectators are passionate, and individuals and leagues are working hard to elevate e-sports into the highest echelons of human achievement.

 

Are Piracy, Knock Offs and Minecraft Good For Us?

PBS Idea Channel recently celebrated their one year anniversary. One year of provocative and funny questions to view the world from a new perspective. I am a big fan of the Idea Channel from PBS Digital Studios. In honor of their anniversary, over the next couple of days I'll be sharing some of their recent work, catching up with some and introducing new ones. 

If you're like us, you LOVE Game of Thrones. But if you're also like us, you may not, technically, have... cable. So how are we seeing this amazing show on HBO, which is stuck behind a pay wall? A huge amount of viewers (not us of course, no no no) are downloading the show illegally. But despite being the most pirated show of 2012, the Game of Thrones DVDs are top sellers, breaking HBO's own sales records! Could it be that piracy is actually HELPING the show?

Living in the consumer culture that we do, we've learned that specific brands can carry very different meanings and values. We're willing to pay hundreds or thousands more for a specific brand name item, but sometimes it can be tempting to go the way of the knock-off for a fraction of the price. The counterfeit industry is huge and isn't going anywhere, and companies spend huge amounts to dissuade people from buying "fakes". But are knock-offs REALLY a negative for the brand?

If you've watched past episodes of Idea Channel, you know we're huge fans of Minecraft. This totally amazing video game allows you to build your own world from scratch, what's not to like? But it may be good for more than just fun and games. Some experts have brought Minecraft into the classroom, allowing teachers to customize lessons and students to engage with concepts in new ways. And while educational games aren't new, Minecraft has some unique advantages that could usher in a new direction in education. In the future, students across the world may spend their class time punching trees.

A meteorite crashed into earth! This wasn't the first time and it won't be the last, but it is the first time such an event was captured by SO MANY CAMERAS! The incredible number of views and angles filmed was made possible by Russia's bizarre driving culture and the MILLIONS of car dash cams installed all over the country. But besides providing the world with some hilarious, frightening, and amazing footage, the dash cams also make us think about surveillance, and what role it will play in the future.

If you've ever played Team Fortress 2, you know how valuable hats are. To those who haven't: yes, HATS! If a community agrees on the value of something, then that thing can become a currency, to exchange for other goods. Just like american dollar bills (or euros, yen, or any other currency), or... bitcoins. Bitcoins are an online currency worth over $200,000,000, and though they are just 1s and 0s, some think that this is the future of money. On the other hand... mo bitcoins mo problems.

Transhumanism is a scientific philosophy that says technology will solve all our human biological constraints and that immortality is right around the corner (well not RIGHT around the corner, but WAY closer). They envision a world of endlessly euphoric robo-humans that represent the next step in evolution. And while this sounds super awesome, we had to ask, will this really make us happy? If you watch Futurama, than you know that the answer is probably NO. While not an exact illustration of transhumanism, Futurama does show a future of vast technological ability, where today's everyday problems are rendered moot, and yet the characters on the show still seem to find themselves in some very non-euphoric emotional states. Does this disprove what transhumanists expect for our future?

If you've ever talked to a vinyl purist (or are one yourself) you know that people can be pretty passionate about what format is king when it comes to music. And based on how much people like to brag about what band they saw live and how many times, we clearly value the authenticity of the live performance above all else. But when we see a performer live, we're judging them based on what we know from the mp3 or record that we've already listened to 1000 times. . . because what is a song SUPPOSED to sound like anyway? As music has evolved from solely performance into "media", the issue of what the most authentic even IS has become increasingly complicated. So which is the most authentic?