MaxBarry.com
nice idea, shame about the execution

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

Fri 12
Jun
2009

Now that’s real-time

Machine Man Yesterday I did something very cool. You might not think so. If you’re the sort of person who paraglides, for example. Or leaves the house most days. But for me: totally exciting.

In the morning, I carried my coffee upstairs to my office and checked my email. This is almost always a bad idea, but still, hard to resist. I had a message from Meredith, who said she was very much enjoying Machine Man. That wasn’t the cool part. Well, it was. It’s always cool when someone tells you they like something you wrote. It never gets old. But what came next was even cooler: Meredith was a neuroscience major. She wrote:

I’m surprised he doesn’t have any phantom pain, since that’s extremely common; while the prosthetics would help trick the brain for sure, with that many limbs taken off, he would certainly have pain. No one totally understands phantom pain, but the idea is that our perceptions are not totally sensory; they are, in a large part, just our brain’s best guess. So, basically, the brain guesses that the limb is still there, but you can’t control it (unclench the phantom fist, etc.). A very simple technique has just been developed by Dr. Ramachandran at UCSD that is incredibly successful: Using a $5 drugstore mirror to make the arm that’s still there look like the arm that got cut off. This makes the brain think that what your one arm is doing, the phantom arm is doing. So those with phantom pain can get rid of an uncomfortable position.

I knew of phantom pain, of course, but thus far hadn’t thought of anything interesting to do with it. Now, thanks to Meredith, I did. Suddenly phantom pain seemed extremely interesting. So I opened up a blank page and began writing.

Often people email me interesting things about the subject areas in which I write. After Company, for example, I heard a lot of terrific workplace horror stories. Which is great, but I always think, “I wish I’d heard that two years ago.” Because then I could have used it in the book.

Yesterday, I sat at my desk with no idea what I would write for that day’s page, received an email from a neuroscience major, wrote something based on her insights, and published it. Then, to make it even better, the first reader comment (from always-interesting Pev) was: “Nice research on phantom limb pain, Max.”

This is the kind of research I can dig: the kind other people do for me, before I even know enough to ask. It’s not the first time it’s happened with this story. And it’s a totally unexpected side-benefit of the real-time serial format. I’m loving this.

Comments

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Machine Man subscriber Sander (#4031)

Location: Amsterdam, NL
Quote: "Write a wise saying and your name will live forever. —Anonymous"
Posted: 3753 days ago

So this book is practically writing itself eh? ;)

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: 3753 days ago

phantom mental pain is when you bang a fat chick and then cant get the image of her out of your head.

Machine Man subscriber Ian Manka (#3916)

Location: Los Angeles, California (school) | Akron, Ohio (home)
Quote: "Though I am not naturally honest, I am so sometimes by chance."
Posted: 3753 days ago

Writing a book is easier when other people help write it.

I think PostSecret is one example. Essentially, the dude just set up the framework, allowed others to make contributions, and then used them in a book via an ingenious Terms of Use. Same thing with Chuck Norris "Facts," if I recall correctly.

I was trying to connect how the two most recent pages connected (though I realized later they really didn't have to), but this clears things up nicely. Considering this new format, it's really interesting to learn about the writing process in such a modified form.

On a side note, is there any correlation between the amount of e-mails you receive and the timing of posts that mention you have an e-mail address? I'm starting to suspect that you aren't receiving enough e-mails from fans and just wanted to remind everyone you have an e-mail address, or maybe you've hit a writer's block for the next page. :P

Yenzo (#829)

Location: Secret underwater pyramid base in the Pacific
Quote: "In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe (Carl Sagan)"
Posted: 3753 days ago

You wouldn't believe how stupid I feel right now. Not only did I know about phantom limb pain, not only do I work with PLP patients in order to achieve a PhD in neuroscience, but I actually have the mirrors you talk about RIGHT BEHIND ME as I write this and I had an appointment with a PLP patient to do the mirror training and fMRI brain scanning THIS MORNING.

How come I didn't have the idea of writing you all that like Meredith did? I don't know.

But anyway, if you want to make me feel less stupid by making me feel helpful, maybe I can help you if you do further research. My boss was actually the first one to have a sound theory about why there is phantom limb pain as opposed to only phantom phenomena (which are caused by the mechanisms described by Meredith). It all goes back to the concept of neuroplasticity.

Machine Man subscriber coolpillows (#3749)

Location: new york general sort of vicinity
Quote: ""It's not working" -- Joseph Clark"
Posted: 3752 days ago

Of course, everyone remembers that it was I who wrote up here back about, I dunno just before this serial started, "Max you should write a book about a guy who removes then replaces his own limbs and works for this high-tech, futuristic company and write it like a serial online and people can give you ideas and we can comment on it and it should have something like 'machine,' in the title."

It's an amazing participatory experience...even if it wasn't really my idea. Back to reading.....I feel even stupider.

Machine Man subscriber Lucy (#664)

Location: Blue Mountains
Posted: 3752 days ago

Different reasons for doing it, but thought you might be interested in this person who is also trying the real-time writing thing: http://yuki-onna.livejournal.com/487082.html

Machine Man subscriber Todd (#3429)

Location: New York
Quote: "It's fun to have fun but you have to know how."
Posted: 3752 days ago

I hadn't realized we were still able to post comments on the pages if we had signed up for the feed. I figured out how to do it, but it took a lot of steps. What's the quickest route to viewing the new pages on line and leaving comments?

Machine Man subscriber ellwood (#4245)

Location: New York
Quote: "Everbody has a plan until they get punched in the face."
Posted: 3752 days ago

Although your books almost always deal with social commentary, introspection and are "left-handed" love stories; it might be interesting to have their desire for better living through science result in something that "saves" the world or at least advances our ability to live in it.

Ben Moss (#109)

Location: New York, NY
Posted: 3752 days ago

I knew all about this and I didn't even have to study neuroscience, just listen to Radiolab: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/radiolab/episodes/2006/05/05

Machine Man subscriber Arnab (#3918)

Location: Brisbane
Quote: "Now, I don't know Max, I've never met Max, or know anything about him, but I have it on good authority, that he is, in fact, a werewolf."
Posted: 3752 days ago

So this is like Book 2.0? Maybe with a better name, like Book 3000. Or Book EXPLOSION.

Linnea1928 (#2654)

Location: Rosemount, MN
Posted: 3752 days ago

Dude, ever watch Eddie Izzard? You reminded me of this bit in his performance called "Circle":
"I don't do active research - I do passive research. The easier version where you let the research come to you. "Come on, research. Come on, research." With the tele-control, "Come on… Oh, a programme about sharks." And then I know about sharks, you know."

See, even you reading this and knowing about Eddie's take on passive research is passive research!

Machine Man subscriber Impotent Verse (#3907)

Location: Cambridge, UK
Quote: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog"
Posted: 3749 days ago

Terry Pratchett used to (maybe he still does) have his own usenet group, where he would sometimes ask 'research questions'.

I remember he asked a particularly interesting question about what would happen if someone was teleported from one point on a spinning disc (world) to another point, in terms of relative velocity etc...

This ended with a kangaroo being smeared an inch thick across the wall of the high energy magic lab at the Unseen university, in the next published book.

ryandake (#2199)

Location: scenic monterey, ca
Quote: ""The rest is not our business.""
Posted: 3747 days ago

hiya max!

for another famous guy trying alternate ways of selling stories, check out john august's intensely wonderful blog:

http://johnaugust.com/archives/2009/variant-mid-month-sales-figures

good luck with machine man!

Machine Man subscriber Glen (#3844)

Location: Sydney
Posted: 3728 days ago

also with the whole live/studio recordings thing, have you seen Ken Wark's _Gamer Theory_? V1.0 was online with commenting, version 2.0 is a printed version that incorporated comments (from all types of freakin awesome people:))

Machine Man subscriber Russell (#3897)

Location: USA
Quote: "O Lord, Protect us from those to whom you speak directly"
Posted: 3726 days ago

are you ever going to make this book available to purchase in hard copy?

thats the only reason i haven't bought a feed yet. i dont want to buy it twice. but if the feed is all it will ever be, then that changes things. and i've gone for months without my daily dose of machine man! its been very terrible.

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