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Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

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Fascinating how fast everyone agreed “fake news” is a huge danger while remaining 100% opposed about what it is & where it comes from.

Tue 15
Nov
2016

Four Possible Trumps

Jennifer Government It’s hard to know what to expect from a President-Elect who’s promised a lot of things he can’t possibly have meant. On the one hand, maybe he did mean them, in which case, dear God. But on the other, surely not. This leaves a lot of middle ground for wild speculation, which I now intend to provide.

Also this election has reminded me that however far-fetched I think I’m being, it’s not far enough. So here are four possible Trumps.

  1. Benevolent Dictator Trump

    Beholden to no-one, President Trump dispenses with political bickering, cuts away swathes of bureaucracy and red tape, and replaces it with simple, direct, effective solutions that no-one tried before because they were so caught up in politics or not wanting to offend anyone or reading books or something. I think that’s right.

    Trump crafts an unpredictable yet nimble, energetic, and effective administration, unafraid to make unpopular decisions so long as they’re right. It is happy times for everyone who agrees with Trump’s version of right, which is everyone, by decree of a new federal law. Protesters and other unpatriotic unAmericans are taken to the desert to toil to build a statue of Trump so high it can blot out the sun.

    Term limits are abolished. In his eleventh year of rule, a small band of protestors vandalize the statue by blasting off the toupée and are shot on live national television, their remains displayed outside the city gates. God-Emperor Trump dies peacefully in his sleep in his twenty-third year of rule, surrounded by concubines. After a week of national mourning, the nation descends into bloody civil war as various full- and half-blooded Trump offspring lead armies in a battle for control of their father’s empire. Dragons return. Ivanka rides one.

  2. Robber Baron Trump

    By the time he waves goodbye from the chopper, Trump has vacuumed so much money from the American public that he and his family are the wealthiest people in modern history, richer even than he claims to be today. A drip-feed of revelations of fraud, embezzlement, and cronyism on an unprecedented scale hound him, along with persistent talk of federal prosecution, but none of it goes anywhere, dissipating like waves against the rocky shore of Trump’s now-impenetrable empire of lawyers, cash, and paid-up influence.

    Weakened by pillaging, the welfare system faces a short-term credit crunch, leading to riots among the poor and unemployed. This is held up by Republicans as proof of the fundamental non-viability of the welfare state and the need to abolish it altogether, a view supported by low-skilled male white voters who are shortly to become unemployed themselves as the shock of decreased government spending rolls through the economy. California and Texas secede and close their borders. Nevada falls to roaming biker gangs. The Trump family acquires Manhattan at market-bottom prices and builds a wall around it, a real one, not just a fence.

  3. Capitalizt Trump

    With a businessperson’s win/lose perspective on the economy, Trump abolishes regulatory authorities, slashes taxes, eliminates labor laws, privatizes public bodies, and ushers in an ultra-capitalist paradise in which corporations are free to do whatever the hell they feel like. It is a rich, refreshing new world for the already-wealthy, who find an ever-expanding array of services aimed at them, while the poor die of easily-preventable diseases or in back alleys after muggings gone bad on their way home from one of their three-dollar-an-hour jobs.

    Employment becomes so critical to survival that people revert to the ancient practice of calling each other by their occupation rather than their surname. A shoe company deliberately incites a violent riot to promote a new brand of sneakers. A plucky government agent… ah, you know what, just read the book.

    By mortgaging its future, the US is temporarily awash with cash, creating a false dawn that ushers in a second Trump term. He exits office just as the economy begins to run off the cliff. Via a running commentary of tweets, he blames his successor for the ensuring collapse, depression, and takeover by Chinese real estate speculators, labeling all of the above “sad!”

  4. Commander-in-Chief Trump

    Trump has always been a big believer in the “speak loudly and carry a big stick” approach. To date, his sticks have been lawyers, but starting January 20, 2017, they are stealth bombers and 7,100 nuclear warheads. Carrying his philosophy into office, Trump rattles a few sabers before going ahead and invading someone. It’s an irresistible dynamic: The benefits of military action are largely personal (status, pleasure of defeating an opponent) while the costs are born by an American public and purse he’s only borrowing and is allowed to hand back in any condition.

    Military adventures in Asia, the Middle East, and Alaska breed a host of new enemies for America, ensuring the need for ever-more defense spending and a twitchy, paranoid, nationalistic voting public. Trump exits office calling his military record his proudest achievement, despite the loss of several million citizens on the east coast after an incident that looked a lot like a biological attack but officially was just a bad flu season. Via a running commentary of tweets, he blasts the new President for weakness as she attempts reconciliation with foreign powers. Much of the Western hemisphere is annihilated in a nuclear exchange started by a relatively small rogue nation that nobody was paying much attention to. Trump relocates to Australia and begins to hoard water, leading to a Mad Max scenario where he is killed in a car chase after the escape of one of his breeders.

That’s what I’ve got for now. I mean, there are other possibilities. But these feel the most likely.

Aiming for the “well-off athletic professionals” + “muggers” market segments. twitter.com/BIAUS/status/7…

And then they woke up and 2016 was ALL A DREAM.

Wed 09
Nov
2016

10 Reasons President Trump Won’t Be That Bad

What Max Reckons Like me, you may be feeling a combination of shock, distress, and terror at the news that Donald J. Trump will become the next leader of the world’s largest military and economic superpower.

But it’s all right! It’s all right. It won’t be that bad. I mean, it will be pretty bad. That’s for sure. But we can get through this. To help you through this difficult adjustment period, here are some comfort thoughts:

  1. Many Trump policies range from mutually contradictory to the physically impossible so they can’t all be implemented.

  2. Writers of satire or absurdist comedy need never again be told that their work is too far-fetched.

  3. Reagan was a TV actor with fantastical economic ideas and latent Alzheimer’s and the US came out of that pretty okay.

  4. Exposure of electoral system that weights votes of residents of North Dakota and Wyoming 3-4X greater than those in California and New York, holds elections on a working Tuesday, and uses plurality voting, may prompt actual change, perhaps to “Best Out Of Three” system, or drawing straws.

  5. He is pretty funny, for a President.

  6. Inevitable war with foreign power and subsequent nuclear winter may offer effective solution to global warming.

  7. Nation avoids messy spectre of four years of depressing gridlock where bitter Republicans hold White House hostage and nothing gets done.

  8. Small children can be told that anything is possible with a straight face.

  9. Nation will undergo a great strengthening, in “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger” sense.

  10. Shocking the hell out of the ruling class is necessary from time to time in order to avoid a build-up of complacency and corruption, so why not now. And election campaigns are all about demonizing opponents but only rarely are they actual demons.

Also the UK voted to Brexit, so, you know, sucks to be those guys.

On the plus side, this is a real victory for absurdity.

I already live in Australia but if Trump wins I will move here even HARDER. #ElectionFinalThoughts

Fri 04
Nov
2016

Fresh Eyes

Writing

Max, I hear a lot of authors talk about “fresh eyes”. How long is it after finishing a first draft until you go back and begin the process of revision?

David

Fresh eyes are very important. I like to wait between one and three minutes. Not really. That was a joke. I actually don’t wait at all. I go back and re-read and revise everything all the way through while I’m writing a first draft. By the time I finish, my first chapter is actually draft thirty-nine, my fifth chapter is draft twenty, and so on.

I don’t recommend this. The better method is to bang out a first draft without looking back and only then discover how bad it is. Then at least you have something to improve. You can’t abandon that thing. You’ve invested too much.

But I can’t do that any more because I know it’s bad. I mean, I like to think of it like I’m developing higher standards. But really it’s just that there’s too much counter-evidence to maintain the delusion that I’m capable of writing brilliant first drafts. I’ve seen them. They are not great.

This exacerbates the “fresh eyes” problem, of becoming too close to a book and losing touch with how it appears to a new reader. That’s definitely a real thing, and critical in rewriting. If I could truly re-read drafts through fresh eyes, I could make them a lot better.

But I don’t think the solution is to put it aside for three months. It’s helpful—I have a couple of unpublished novels that I go back and re-read every few years and the fallow period does show me things I didn’t notice before. Usually how something I thought was pretty great actually isn’t. But it’s not enough.

Most writers, including me, need to think about how what they’re writing will play to a new reader all the time, every sentence. There’s some small technique there, clearing your head and forgetting what you already know for a moment, that you need to develop in order to write well. You’re scratching marks on a page; you need to consider what those marks will do inside other people’s brains. It’s better to become good at this and do it often than to wait until you have a finished draft and hope a few months away will do it for you.

The hardest time I have is during feedback from early readers. These are people who are reading something like a fifth or sixth draft, before it goes to my agent or editor. Often I find someone’s feedback truly mystifying, and it won’t make any sense at all until I manage to crawl out of my head and into theirs. That process of figuring out how someone might feel a certain way about the book is tough and confronting but always valuable, even if I do then decide that they’re insane and we should stop being friends. Because at least I’ll have fresh eyes.

The elusive silver signature. twitter.com/joomipark/stat…

Novel rewriting tip: Make something a little less abysmal every day.

Tue 11
Oct
2016

In Which I Address Various Questions

Max

Hey Max. First, thanks for making NationStates. Second, did you really find a sock full of pennies? If so where?

Red

I did not really find a sock full of pennies. That was a humorous fiction. But everything else on this site is true. Some people think I make up stuff for it, like I’m inventing the “Ask Max” questions, but that’s wrong. I’m actually a little shocked anyone would think that. The truth is that by the time I finish working on my novel each day, I’m fictionally tapped out. I don’t have enough creativity left to make up anything. It would be a good interrogation technique: If you have a terrorist, make them write fiction for eight hours, then ask them where the bomb is. By then he has no lies left, I guarantee it.

But I have been tardy about answering Ask Max questions, which I feel bad about. Here are some more:

How do you become a banana for a week?

Thatguy

You start by becoming a banana for a minute and work your way up.

Do you even look at these?

Anonymous

Yes.

Have you met an Alien?

TheENugget

No. But I’m a little concerned by your capitalization of “Alien.” I feel like your next question is: “Would you like to?”

Does this site cover the complete list of all your works, or only a certain genre?

Skankhunt42

Holy God. So, what, I’m maintaining a stable of websites, one devoted to my mainstream fiction, one to my series of romances, another to my erotic swords-and-sandals fantasies, and so on? I think you’re saying I don’t publish enough, Skankhunt42. Okay. Message received.

What time is bed time?

Greg

I go to bed about 4am Pacific Time. This is 10pm in my local timezone.

What do you put on the census when it asks what your job is? Do you think it is creative that I put penguin tamer?

Greg

No I don’t, Greg. I think that’s irresponsible. The census is no joke. It’s used to make informed public spending decisions, like where to put schools, and which populations need suppressing because they’re too close to the truth. I put down “Writer,” which is technically true for anyone who is in the process of filling out their census.

Have you heard about these creepy clown sightings in the Southern and Eastern US?

Austin

It’s nerds with too much time on their hands, right? I mean, I don’t know anything about it. But it sounds like something I would have thought was an awesome idea when I was about 19: Dress up as a weird clown. Now it sounds like a good way to get punched in the face. People don’t like weird clowns.

How are you? Do you still live in Australia? Is there a lot of spiders? I’d love to come to your country, but bugs and spiders scare the sh.t out of me…

Kenza

I’ll be honest with you, Kenza, there are basically no spiders here. We just like to perpetuate that idea because it makes us seem tough and fearless. Well I mean there are some spiders. I did just catch a spider in the living room yesterday and move it to the back yard. But only because its thick furry body was blocking the light. I could hardly see a thing in there.

what is your net worth

buzz

I am worth several hundred nets.

If there was one word you could use to describe Emily from Lexicon, what would it be?

Olivia

“Emily.”

Killing it at SFO airport (Books Inc). Thanks for the pic @toddkeithley! pic.twitter.com/j61my9xyWX

I still feel like saving 20-cent coins in case I need them for arcade machines.

How to rewrite a novel in 3 easy steps. 1: Make one part better. 2: Realize everything else now seems worse. 3: Repeat forever.

WTF is “Young Adult”

On the hunt for AFL Grand Final tickets. Will do terrible things if necessary. Message me.

Traveling through Australia’s top end… I am very impressed with rocks right now.

Thu 08
Sep
2016

WTF is “Young Adult”

Jennifer Government

Is Jennifer Government a young adult novel?

Zoe

Oh I don’t know, is the MARGARET ALEXANDER EDWARDS ALEX AWARD for young adult novels?

Max Barry nonchalantly holding a golden medal as if he barely even notices it's there, but you know he totally does

It is. That’s the answer to that question. Well, kind of. It is the American Library Association prize for “adult books with special appeal to teen readers.” Which I guess isn’t quite the same thing. Probably a true young adult novel primarily appeals to teen readers, like features them as main characters. I think that’s right.

I just asked Jen for the definition of a a young adult novel. She is a school teacher-librarian. She said, “It depends what you mean by young adult.” I feel like there isn’t a really hard line here.

Anyway, Jennifer Government is a book I would have liked to read in high school. So there you go.

P.S. Hahaha, I totally misled you. Lexicon won the Alex Award, not Jennifer Government. And Lexicon has sex and death and horror and is quite a lot less goofy than JG, which just goes to show those things don’t disqualify a novel from appealing to teens, at least in the eyes of librarians. The opposite, if anything. Librarians are amazing like that. They will hand you a book they know will make your eyes bug out because they know that is the point of novels, not to satisfy but to surprise.

Tue 16
Aug
2016

Send in the Clowns

What Max Reckons I was thinking about how unfair it is that reality has evil right-wing corporate overlords named the Koch Brothers while if I wrote that in a novel people would call me shallow and juvenile. I mean, it would be true. But also unfair. You’re supposed to have more creative license in fiction, not less. Then there’s Trump, who does things on a daily basis that no satirical character could get away with. It makes you wonder where there is left to go.

But then people have been complaining that satire is dead forever. Satire has died a thousand times, apparently, at the hands of JFK, George W. Bush, in fact probably every US President since about 1960. Before then I’m not sure. But I imagine a long line of despairing intellectuals stretching back through the centuries.

So it’s probably just a failure of imagination. We have a set of societal standards, and when someone veers close to the line, we can satirize them by portraying what it would be like if they crossed right on over. Oh, you think taxes should be lower? WHAT IF THERE WERE NONE AT ALL. That kind of thing.

But when someone does cross the line, and stays there, like Trump, it’s a problem. It feels like there’s no way to satirize it because the only step farther is pure ridiculousness. Still, on reflection, I think you have to consider that the line has moved. It moves a little every year, in one direction or another, and this time it’s moving very pro-clown. Many US Presidents have been a little clownish—Reagan, Clinton, George W.—and in fact now I think about it, more Presidents than also-rans. It has been an asset to be clownish. No wonder we wound up here. But my point is that it’s probably fair to imagine a very clownish President in the future, and elections contested between clowns.

This time, crossing the line hurts Trump. And that does indeed put him beyond satire, as well as making him unelectable*. But he also moves the line, and nothing is as shocking the second time, so the next clown will seem more reasonable. The next clown will be more reasonable, having observed the hits and misses of Trump. They will keep all the goofy style over substance and just pare off the awkward Hitler parallels. So get ready for that. Maybe not next election. You wouldn’t run a second clown against Hillary if your first clown got obliterated. But after that. I see 2024, two clowns.

* Update (8-Nov-16): Okay, apparently that’s not unelectable. My mistake.

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