that guy, who wrote that thing


Max signing books
Photo by Lauren Thomas

Max Barry is an Australian who pretended to sell high-end computer systems for Hewlett-Packard while secretly writing his first novel, Syrup (1999). In fact, he still has the laptop he wrote it on because HP forgot to ask for it back, but keep that to yourself. He put an extra X in his name for Syrup because he thought it would be a funny joke about marketing and failed to realize everyone would assume he was a pretentious asshole. Jennifer Government, his second novel, was published in 2003 with no superfluous Xs and sold much better.

Max's third novel, Company, was published in 2006, and his fourth, Machine Man, in 2012, was based on a real-time interactive web serial written and delivered in real-time one page per day from this web site. It made more sense than it sounds.

Max's fifth novel, Lexicon, was named one of the Best 10 Books of the Year by Time Magazine.

Max also created the online political game NationStates, for which he is far more famous amongst high school students and poli-sci majors than his novels.

He was born March 18, 1973, and lives in Melbourne, Australia, where he writes full-time, the advantage being that he can do it while wearing only boxer shorts.

Max Blog

Displaying personal blogs. View all Max's blogs.

Thu 22

Where My Hair Is


wear is ur hair


Good question, Anonymous. Good question. When I was 23, a hairdresser said, “If we cut it shorter, it’ll cover the thinning area,” and I said, “WHAAAAAAAAAT thinning area,” and he was embarrassed. I never thought about it before, but that must be a tricky part of the job: telling men they’re balding.

Anyway, it was a shock to me, because I had thick, luscious curls. They are possibly more luscious in retrospect than they were in reality. I now imagine women weeping as I swept past. But yep, 23 and they started to go. So I started cutting my hair short and then shaving it. Occasionally I encounter someone who thinks men shave their head just for the look of it, not because they have to, and this makes me laugh until I start crying. No. That does not happen.

The best thing about having no hair is how awesome it is at venting excess heat when exercising. I don’t know how you hairful people work out, I really don’t. It also saves a lot of time that I would otherwise spend worrying about how my hair looks. And I can pass for a criminal just by not shaving for two days. The worst part is having no hair.

Thu 01

What They Don’t Tell You About Wikipedia


Heyo! What does it feel like to have a Wikipedia page?

Code name: Esteban

It’s pretty great. The best thing is the mailing list they put you on, which lets you contact anyone else who also has a Wikipedia page. You also get a GMail plugin that highlights whether people emailing you have a Wikipedia page or not, so if they don’t, you just ignore them. Every six months, you’re invited to a secret meeting to vote on the world agenda, like whether we’re going to be pushing tax cuts or Trump for President or what.

The only problem is that everyone is terrified of being thrown out, so Wikipedia editors wield enormous power. They’re not allowed to have pages themselves, of course (WP:NOTE), but they’re effectively puppetmasters, so you hear terrible stories about them keeping B-list celebrities as virtual sex slaves and things like that. If you cross a Wikipedia editor, your bank accounts are frozen, your wife is gone, and your ass is out on the street faster than you can say “NPOV.”

You’re not allowed to modify your own Wikipedia page (WP:CONFLICT, WP:ORIGINAL), so if you make waves, the editors begin to seed your profile with false information, as a warning. If your profile has your birthday wrong, it means you’ve begun to make enemies. If it says you were once convicted of shoplifting, your life is in danger. If it discusses gay rumors, you’ve become a pawn in a bitter intra-wiki factional war. But I’ve already said too much.

Mon 31

Sport is Squiggly


Maaaaaaaaaaaaaax! Why is The Squiggle hidden away as some kind of secret page/club instead of being linked from the front? Are you ashamed of your love of AFL? Your love of Richmond (it’s ok, there’s dozens of you. Dozens!)? Talk about the footy some time, educate the Americans.


I have actually blogged about Australian Rules Football once before. I shouldn’t have, because no-one cares, but I did. If you’re not familiar with AFL, here is a summary:

What I love about sport is how pointless it is. There is literally no reason to care who wins anything. But if you do care, it’s full of drama and stories. Sport for me is pure entertainment because I can stop thinking about it any time with no consequences.

Anyway, because I find this kind of thing fun, about 15 years ago I wrote a computer program to predict which team would win football games. Then I forgot about it until a few years ago when I rediscovered it on my hard drive and noticed it had performed bizarrely well in the meantime. So I made it into a chart and posted it on a football forum. I called it the “squiggle” because it has squiggly lines.

Now my website traffic looks like this:

A flowchart showing worldwide traffic visiting a directory named lexicon while most Australian traffic goes to a directory named squiggle

That’s most of the world visiting my site because of Lexicon, while Australians don’t give a stuff about my novels and head straight for the football chart.

Here is a pretty version:

But the one here on my site auto-updates, so you can check it during games and see how well your team is squiggling. This is addictive because if your team is doing well, what you most want to see is animated graphical evidence.

The Richmond Tigers are headed for finals for the third year in a row, which is awesome, because we were terrible for about twenty-nine years there. Our supporters are like those people who were kidnapped as children and kept in a basement and now we’re stumbling around trying to function in adult society. We don’t know how to act. It’s pretty great.

Update: This is a genuinely good introduction to Australian football:

Mon 03

Virtual Reality: All Fun and Games Until Society Becomes an Evil AI’s Playground


Is VR going to live up to the hype this time?


Not for me. I can’t change direction without feeling motion sick, so Virtual Reality headsets are super-charged vomit inducement machines.

Also, I know it’s just for games, but someone with one of those things strapped to their head looks like the ultimate psychically defenseless human being to me, because they can only perceive what a computer decides. I mean, I’m sure it’s fine. But if I could put you in one of those and control what you saw and heard, I bet I could convince you to do anything at all and make you think it was your choice.

Sun 19

How the Seasons Work


Max… Do your toilets flush in the opposite direction of those in the Northern Hemisphere, or has the Simpsons been lying to us all of these years?


Good question. You are referring to the Coriolis Effect, which influences toilets to flush counter-clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and the correct clockwise direction here in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s a real force but it’s so weak it only works if your toilet is in a climate-controlled, vacuum-sealed laboratory, which is probably not true for both of us.

For me, the real Hemispherical mind-bender is the date the seasons begin. Everyone knows the seasons are backward in the Northern Hemisphere. But DID YOU KNOW they’re not exactly opposite? Countries have different definitions of when each season begins so it can be Winter in the US while it’s Spring in Australia.

Unfortunately you can never be sure if this is true, because it’s one of those things people like to be pranksters about. If you know someone in another Hemisphere, the conversation goes like this:

You: What season is it there?
Them: Winter. Why?
You: Are you kidding me?
Them: No. Why? It’s Summer there, right?
You: No, Summer isn’t until next week.
Them: You’re joking, right?
You: Are you?

Fri 17

How to Tell Whether the Book is Working


Max! So good to see you back! You’ve been sorely missed… totally can’t wait for your new story. So, question: how do you know a story isn’t going well? Or, how do you know it *is* going well?


Thanks for the question! Over the years I have figured out a foolproof process for telling whether a story is working. This won’t work for everyone, but it works for me, 100% of the time. Occasionally I think I’ve found an exception, but then I realize I haven’t.

Foolproof Method for Determining Whether Book is Working

  1. Do you wonder whether the book is working? If yes, it’s not. If no, continue.
  2. Do you ask people to read parts of the book to tell you whether it’s working? If yes, it’s not. If no, continue.
  3. Do you stop to go write other stories? If yes, it’s not working. If no, continue.
  4. When you read the last thing you wrote, do you feel like writing more? If no, it’s not working. If yes, continue.
  5. Are you convinced the book is (or will be) the greatest thing in the world ever? If yes, congratulations, it’s working, for now.

Books that aren’t working can be made to work, though. They may require radical surgery, like removing everything except one scene, but it can be done. Most of my books were Not Working for a long time before they started working.

I thought I would get about three ASK MAX! questions a week, and I would pick one. But there are tons already! Thanks so much. And please forgive what is clearly going to be a terrible question-to-answer ratio.

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