MaxBarry.com
keep your distance

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.

Blog

Mon 28
Feb
2005

The Jennifer Government Code

Jennifer Government Barcode

Dear Max Barry,

after visiting Nationstates.net i decided to read your book, Jennifer Government. While reading, I read something which made me think: “What would you get if you scanned the barcode?” Is it simply a random arrangement of numbers, or does it have meaning?

~A Jennifer Government Fan

Well, A Jennifer Government Fan, that’s a good question. The answer is long, convoluted, and filled with heartbreak. Well, no, not really. It’s just long and convoluted.

First, the barcode on the book’s cover doesn’t match the one in the story. That is, while Jennifer Government in the novel has a barcode tattoo for a particular product—which nobody is going to give away in the comments here, lest I smite their account—the barcode under Jen’s eye on the cover is for the book itself. More specifically, it’s for the US hardcover edition.

Or so I was told at the time. The truth, I was to discover, ran deeper.

During cover design, I didn’t care much whether the barcode matched up to what was in the book, partly because I had very little say in it, partly because I was so grateful to get a cover that didn’t suck balls I was weeping with joy, and partly because who the hell would ever know? But upon hearing what Doubleday wanted to do, I thought, “That’s cool. You could take the book up to the counter and buy it by scanning the front.”

I went around telling people this, until about a year later a guy with more knowledge of barcodes than is really healthy, Todd Larason, wrote an exposé on the Jennifer Government cover. It’s a very interesting piece, if you’re me or unhealthily fascinated by barcodes. Here’s a taste:

“But wait!”, I hear you cry, “You said it’s an EAN-13, not an ISBN, and as everyone knows they have incompatible checksum digits!”

Todd uncovered the non-match between the story and the cover, and that was just his warm-up. He also discovered that while the barcode digits on the covers of many editions of Jennifer Government are for the US hardback, one of the few that doesn’t match is… the US hardback. For some reason, in a last-minute change, the barcode number on its front cover was altered: instead of ending in a 2 (like here), it ends in a 3 (like here). This means it matches the book’s ISBN, but not its barcode.

Why? It’s a mystery. I can only presume that somebody thought they were catching a typo just before the print run.

Todd Larason wasn’t done there. His final observation was that according to the official EAN-13 standard, the barcode’s bars don’t match its numbers—nor the ISBN, nor anything else. It’s not actually a valid barcode. It’s just funky-looking black lines.

(P.S. If you’re interested in seeing how the cover evolved, take a look at the Jennifer Government Extras.)

Comments

This is where site members post comments. If you're not a member, you can join here. There are all kinds of benefits, including moral superiority!

Sir Dougie (#618)

Location: Southport, UK
Quote: "[insert funny quote here]"
Posted: 3526 days ago

Wow! That guy has way too much time on his hands...

Not to mention that fact that, halfway through his rant, he blatantly assumes the cover designer to be male... tsk, tsk! He needs to get out and meet some women (or men depending on his tastes... or nobody just to appease the asexuals out there!)

Seppuku (Dont call me Chris) (#1056)

Location: Maryland
Quote: "I may have failed you as your hero, but I will triumph as your conquerer."
Posted: 3526 days ago

No, it's just some people are unknownigaly sexist.

Emily (#609)

Location: New York
Quote: "When in doubt, fuck it. When not in doubt, get in doubt!"
Posted: 3525 days ago

That's a weird coincidence... I myself pulled the book off my shelf for the first time in months and examined the cover for no apparent reason, and wondered the very same thing.

>_>

Scott (#354)

Location: Grand Rapids, MI
Quote: "Max Barry tastes like awesome"
Posted: 3525 days ago

Interesting. ::rubs chin in a spretentious manner::

shabooty (#637)

Location: D.C./V.A/M.D.
Quote: "I will shake your foundation. I will shake the f**cking rafters. Nobody'll be the same -Danny Bonaduce ....& go visit my blog @: http://www.shabooty.com"
Posted: 3525 days ago

I think the next BTK killer will be a Todd Larason-esque barcode expert...
that's creepy!

Narain (#824)

Location: Los Angeles, right between civilization and a desert
Quote: "NI!"
Posted: 3525 days ago

Now I am totally disallusioned. How ever will I manage to survive?

Dan (#579)

Location: Shanghai, China
Quote: ""Scio me nihil scire.""
Posted: 3525 days ago

The cover is the reason I read the book sir, plus the fact that Jennifer Government sounded pretty cool at the time.

Justin Holt (#147)

Location: Rochester, NY
Quote: "www.justinholt.net"
Posted: 3524 days ago

When the guy who was designing my cover asked me what my favorite book cover was, I told him Jennifer Government and he agreed.

When I worked Wal-Mart, I always meant to bring the book in and scan it, but I always forgot...damn me.

Todd Larason (#1121)

Posted: 3524 days ago

Wow.

I'll cop to the "knows too much about barcodes to be healthy" bit, but the sexist socially-isolated serial-killer-in-the-making is going a tad far. (On the sexist charge: In my dialect of English, the third-person sex-neutral singular pronoun is 'he'. Sorry if that offends, but 'he or she' just sounds awkward, and 'they' sounds worse.)

I just thought I was a guy who liked the book and the cover, and was a little disappointed it wasn't done quite as well as it could have been.

Pete Clamiston Nessi (#927)

Location: Chicago
Quote: "04dana14na"
Posted: 3524 days ago

I'm still trying to figure out why, at the bottom of the "exposé", it says, "viagra levitra girls innocent lindsay lohan virgin free cameltoe girls thongs drudge report".

Is this a synopsis of your next exposé, Todd? And if it is, will there be a pictorial...?

James (#1022)

Location: England - or similar
Posted: 3522 days ago

i found that "he/she" can be more offensive than the use of "he" or "she" in any context, so don't complain

Jonathan (#1209)

Location: Niskayuna, NY (USA)
Quote: "Quamquam Max Barry fuit molestus, servi eum non verbererunt."
Posted: 3492 days ago

What about "it"?

James (#1428)

Location: Union City, CA, USA
Quote: "cantaloupes? more like blueberries!"
Posted: 3407 days ago

"it" is for non-humans, if you havent learned that yet.

Machine Man subscriber Endingpop (#1478)

Location: Michigan, USA
Posted: 3381 days ago

See this link: http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20050722/od_uk_nm/oukoe_media_music_barcode

A CD with a barcode on the cover was being sold cheaper than it should have when some clerks scanned the cover art instead of the actual bar code on the back.

Carl (#2665)

Posted: 2971 days ago

--- Post deleted ---

Comments are now closed for this post.

Built on Blosxom