this is too funny not to mention. I offered to send some signed
books to Kurt Busiek—the writer who put Jennifer Government
in Clark Kent’s hands in Action Comics #838—and he kindly
sent me some of his stuff in return.
Included in the stack of goodies that arrived on
my doorstop was a signed copy of that issue—with
this modified cover.
let me just get my breath. All right. The other day—no,
wait, I need another minute.
Okay. Okay. I’m just going to say it: in the latest issue of
Clark Kent is reading Jennifer
Action Comics is the series that introduced Superman in 1938.
And now he’s reading my book.
This is possibly the greatest moment of my life.
Just before I left Australia, I noticed I had a couple of emails with odd
subject lines, like “Superman reads Jennifer Government.” But I had a
plane to catch and didn’t get around to reading these for a couple of
weeks. Then I was sure that it couldn’t be true, that maybe Clark
was reading a book that just looked a bit like one of mine if
you turned the page upside down and squinted, because… well,
it just couldn’t be. But if that was happening, a lot of people seemed
to be doing it.
So I emailed DC Comics, pausing only briefly to wipe the drool from my
keyboard, and soon had not only confirmation that this extraordinary
event had actually come to pass, but a fascinating (and flattering)
explanation as to how:
I’m glad you enjoyed the bit — I’m Kurt Busiek, co-writer of that
issue, and the guy who violated copyright on your book cover for my own
nefarious purposes. The idea, mostly, was that in the past, whenever
Clark mentions reading anything, he almost invariably mentions Dickens
or Austen or some other long-dead writer that the audience knows from
being forced to read them in high school lit class. Since Clark’s
supposed to be in his early thirties, I want him to come across like a
reasonably young guy, not like your college professor’s dad (and I say
that as a big Jane Austen fan; it ain’t the quality, it’s the image).
So I wanted Clark to be reading something current, interesting and
smart. Something that made him look like he’s part of this century and
knows what’s good.
I’m not ashamed to admit that this made me giggle like a schoolgirl
who just found the penis pictures in her biology textbook.
My new goal is to land a poster-sized copy, so I can frame it and
hang it somewhere conspicuous, like on the front of my house. I mean,
local delivery guy is very impressed with my parcels.
When he comes to deliver a box, he says,
“It’s from New York,” his eyes filled with awe,
as if New York is a magical, mythical place, floating above
the rest of the world on the back of a giant turtle
and inhabited by knights and princesses, none of whom
send packages. And this guy is an international
courier. He must be exhausted when he gets home at nights,
after reading all those thrilling exotic addresses.
But my latest box was exciting, because it had some
foreign editions of Jennifer Government
fresh off the presses from
The Spanish one was
especially cool, because I didn’t know it was being published
there. But, unless this is some kind of elaborate hoax, I guess it is.
Foreign editions usually come as a surprise to me, because the
chain of people required to pass along the news is longer than
two, which I’ve worked out tends to be the practical limit.
For example, I discovered that there’s a truly amazing
edition courtesy of site member Kalle, who posted
the details in the comments here. Kalle was even better than
my publisher would have been, supplying a translation
of the blurb:
Jennifer Staten is a hard and breathtakingly funny thriller.
The government agent Jennifer is struggling against baby-sitter
problems in the same time as she has too save the world from
aggressive marketing methods like torture, mass murder and
strategic nukes… A satire from the wonderful world of the
big companies, not too unlike from our own…
The 32-year old bestseller author Max Barry is probably the worst that has happened to the big companies since Michael Moore.
He is definitely the best that has happened too SF-satire since George Orwell.
They say “definitely,” so you know it’s true. Unlike the references to
torture and strategic nukes, which I’m pretty sure aren’t in any book
I ever wrote. That’s a pretty interesting way to entice readers: advertise
parts of it that don’t exist. I don’t know if that’s a sound way to
build repeat readers. I’m also curious about their apparent targeting
of people who are smart enough to know George Orwell, but gullible
enough to believe I’m the best writer in 50 years. And as for that cover…
well, at least that would seem to guarantee that very few people will
be getting to the end of Jennifer Staten only to wonder,
“Hey, where were
the tactical nukes?”
I also found out about a forthcoming Chinese version from the translator, a
guy called Wayne Fan. I (eventually) wrote back to thank him for letting
me know, and then, because I couldn’t resist, said:
I’ve always wanted my books to be translated by a Fan. (Boom boom.)
Wayne wrote back:
Thought you are too busy to return my Fan mails.
Nice. Should be a good edition, then.
Speaking of covers (no word on what the new Company looks like
yet), apparently the
version of Jennifer Government
is soon to hit the shelves, and they’ve tweaked the design.
translates as something like, “Me, Inc.”, which I am hoping sounds much
less lame in the original Portuguese. They also made
look like a Windows XP error dialog box, although I don’t know why.
And if you squint, you can see business suit-clad legs behind it.
Update: Apparently a better translation is “U.S., Inc.”
That makes more sense.
This is what they should do with all my radio interviews: take
the small number of clear, semi-intelligent things I say,
dump everything else, and mix them up with some boppy background
has condensed 40 minutes of me rambling on about
Jennifer Government, corporations,
and culture into a quick, breezy
you can download from
My least favorite part is when I read from the book.
I’m really bad at that. I should hire
that guy who
version to come around with me; I could stand there and nod
approvingly while he reads. That would be cool.
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
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,
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
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