if you were him you'd be home now
Jennifer Government
Book Cover

The world is run by American corporations; there are no taxes; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly-traded security firms; the government can only investigate crimes it can bill for.

Hack Nike is a Merchandising Officer who discovers an all-new way to sell sneakers. Buy Mitsui is a stockbroker with a death-wish. Billy NRA is finding out that life in a private army isn't all snappy uniforms and code names. And Jennifer Government, a legendary agent with a barcode tattoo, is a consumer watchdog with a gun.

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Jennifer Government Blog

Displaying blogs about Jennifer Government. View all Max's blogs

Wed 31

Superman Redux

Jennifer Government Superman stops trainOkay, 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.

Fri 19

Look! Up in the top left panel! It’s….

Jennifer Government Clark Kent reads Jennifer GovernmentOkay, 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 Action Comics, Clark Kent is reading Jennifer Government.

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, Superman! Superman!

Fri 18

More International Jens

Jennifer Government Horrific Swedish cover for Jennifer GovernmentMy 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 Spain and Brazil. 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 Swedish 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.

Tue 07

Jen in Brazil

Jennifer Government Brazillian cover Speaking of covers (no word on what the new Company looks like yet), apparently the Brazillian version of Jennifer Government is soon to hit the shelves, and they’ve tweaked the design.

The title translates as something like, “Me, Inc.”, which I am hoping sounds much less lame in the original Portuguese. They also made the disclaimer 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. It’s louco!

Update: Apparently a better translation is “U.S., Inc.” That makes more sense.

Thu 03

Max on the Air

Jennifer Government 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 music. Australia’s SBS radio has condensed 40 minutes of me rambling on about Jennifer Government, corporations, and culture into a quick, breezy audio piece you can download from their website (or here).

My least favorite part is when I read from the book. I’m really bad at that. I should hire that guy who does the audio version to come around with me; I could stand there and nod approvingly while he reads. That would be cool.

Mon 28

The Jennifer Government Code

Jennifer Government Barcode

Dear Max Barry,

after visiting 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.)

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