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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

Thu 27
Mar
2014

Before Sunrise

Lexicon I’m trying this thing where I wake up very early, like 5am, or, not quite on purpose, 3:43am this morning, make a coffee, and head straight to work. It’s a good feeling, being up and productive that early, once I’ve stopped feeling like I need to throw up. It’s a quiet, distraction-free time; just me, my words, and my pounding Scott & Brendo tunes. The only downside is that after lunch my brain doesn’t work at all. But I use that time for non-creative work like email and writing blogs, so that doesn’t matter so much.

This year is all downhill for me. It has to be, because in 2013 I had a new book come out that was almost universally unhated, plus a real film based on my first novel. I practically feel like retiring after that. Like maybe I could go make snowboards. I don’t know anything about snowboards. I don’t know much about snow, either. I’m in Australia. But I’m sure there’s a craft there, hiking out to find just the right tree, cutting it down, then, like, sandpapering it into the right shape or something. Actually, now that’s sounding like a lot of work. Forget that. I don’t even like snowboards. My point is that 2013 was a big year.

Lexicon gets a paperback release in… holy hell. Four days!? How did that happen? Last I checked it was coming out at the end of May. Okay. So I just discovered the UK publisher moved up their Lexicon paperback release date, so it was ahead of the US, then the US publisher was like, THE HELL, and moved up theirs by two months. They did actually tell me they were doing that. I just skimmed over the “by two months” part.

So I should have been a lot more active on social media lately. Anyway: Lexicon comes out in beautiful paperback on April 1 in the US & Canada, and April 10 in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa.

And it has my favorite cover ever!

See, the eye is made from little words. I like it because it looks like a sci-fi movie poster, plus people are saying I’m awesome on it. Those are two big ticks. Also it’s reminiscent of Jennifer Government, which was super-stylish.

Lexicon made some “Best” lists over the last few months, which I’m required to mention. I don’t like doing this. But you’re a busy person; you might not have noticed. And I need to make a living. So here are some of them:

  • Time Magazine Top 10 Fiction Books 2013
  • Kirkus Best Fiction of 2013
  • Chicago Tribune Page-Turner of the Year
  • NPR Best Books of 2013
  • Goodreads Best Books of 2013
  • 2014 Alex Award Winner
  • iBookstore Best of 2013
  • Amazon.co.uk Best Books of the Year
  • Aurealis Award Finalist

The Aurealis one makes me especially happy because that’s the first magazine to which I ever seriously submitted fiction. I only sent them that one piece and was outraged by their rejection, despite it being totally deserved, because I was 24 and the story wasn’t that good. But I vowed revenge, i.e. becoming skilled enough at writing to get a story accepted by Aurealis. Then I got more into novels and kind of forgot about it. But look! I still have my Aurealis rejection letter from 1997:

And I still have the story! As Aurealis noted, it is very short, so you can read it in about one minute. It was never published anywhere, for reasons that may become obvious.

Read: “When the Aliens Came” by Max Barry (PDF)

The brevity might be a selling-point in these days of Twitter novels and flash fiction. But 1997 was a different time, a slower time, when people expected their stories to last longer than a cup of coffee.

Incidentally, I’ve been thinking about publishing more short fiction on this blog. I’m not saying it will happen. Because it’s easier to think about than do. But it’s an idea.

Update: I won the Aurealis Award! I was shocked as hell.

Comments

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Grant Henninger (#5430)

Location: Anaheim, CA
Posted: 1305 days ago

I don't know, I quite liked that story. I mean, it could be polished a little (there's something about "Mom said..." to start the fourth paragraph that bugs me) but Aurealis was right to say that it's promising and an interesting approach. Honestly, if it was any more than 50% longer, it would have ruined it.

Grant Henninger (#5430)

Location: Anaheim, CA
Posted: 1305 days ago

I should note that I'm in no way a literary critic. In fact, the only fiction I've read in the past decade has been by Daniel Suarez and some guy named Max Barry.

Machine Man subscriber David (#1456)

Location: Sydney, Australia
Quote: "Why are the pretty ones always insane?"
Posted: 1305 days ago

I haven't read WtAC yet, I feel I should let its existence slosh around in my brain a bit first. Then when I'm feeling less dizzy I can properly digest it. But I'm totally with you on the snowboard thing -- too much work, and all that funny slang you have to learn to hang out with snowboarders! I'm rather hang with surfers, and they're pretty weird. Also like the Lexicon pb cover, is it the same cover for both US/Ca & UK/Aus markets?

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1305 days ago

Same cover everywhere, yes! At least for English editions.

In the sidebar, see "Lexicon" -> "International" for per-country info.

Warren Bonett (#5744)

Location: Melbourne
Posted: 1305 days ago

So very happy about the success of Lexicon! A fabulous read and so incredibly easy to recommend in the shop. Not only that but we get great feedback from everyone, who then have to come in and buy your other stuff. Now for the future, I'd like to see more of Lola Shanks. No not in a creepy way, more of a Gibsonesque style crossover story line. Or better yet, ignore me entirely and just keep producing awesome novels.

Machine Man subscriber Mapuche (#1184)

Location: Darwin, Australia
Quote: "Inconceivable!"
Posted: 1305 days ago

Actually I kinda enjoyed "When the Aliens Came". Little bit of polish a self publish it as a $0.99 e-book and make a squillion!

Laurie (#127)

Location: Wadsworth, Ohio
Posted: 1305 days ago

Oh my goodness, waking up that early is so hard for me! Maybe I should take a note from your book and just push through until I enjoy it... But good for you – I am very impressed.

You really should publish more short fiction here on your blog. At least you know you'd get a good reception! It'd be like a soft opening before you publish it as a $0.99 ebook, like Mapuche suggested ;-)

Machine Man subscriber Toby O (#2900)

Location: Sydney
Quote: "You can't sell your soul to the devil if he's not buying"
Posted: 1305 days ago

Good promotion.

Also I still like your short about the dolls that make the girls crazy. Now you just need another meatier but compatible story so you can jam that one in the side of it.

Machine Man subscriber Ballotonia (#4030)

Location: Netherlands
Quote: "Vote Early, Vote Often"
Posted: 1305 days ago

How much character development do they expect in a single page?

Machine Man subscriber Morlok8k (#4133)

Location: The Moon
Quote: "I like stuff..."
Posted: 1305 days ago

I rather liked the short story. It was rather short though, even for a short story...

By the way, I just received Lexicon in the mail today... I should have waited for the paperback, cause that cover is awesome!

stanley becker (#5283)

Location: black hole
Quote: "DON"T JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER!!"
Posted: 1305 days ago

Hi Max - haven;'t heard from you in a while - congrats on all the success - I notice you never stress just how much hard work your present situation represents - I read your first effort - there was a touch of the macabre about it - I always like that - there is a touch of the macabre about reality - maybe even more than a touch - what with all the Big Brother prophesy coming to fruition - I support your resolve to commit to the imaginative realm - its like a geyser bubbling to the surface - bubble, bubble - keep it on!!

Jocabia (#4630)

Location: Sarasota, FL
Posted: 1256 days ago

Wait, you're also an author? I thought you were just a guy who runs a website!

heatherly (#6677)

Location: New England, U.S.A.
Quote: "If Plan A fails, remember you still have 25 letters left."
Posted: 1131 days ago

Usually I spend a good deal of time on Goodreads before choosing a book to read. This awesome cover is what made me pick up Lexicon in the bookstore even though I'd never heard of it before. I stood in the aisle and was completely sucked in by the first chapter. Bought the book and devoured the rest in a few days. Only book that I think I've ever re-read immediately because I wanted to see if I could see it all coming now that I knew the ending. My favorite book ever!

Gary Stark (#6755)

Location: Steel Mutts Inc
Posted: 1034 days ago

I'm new here, Day One, and don't know the rules. Can I say 'fuck', if it's not a repetitive mouth-breathing example of my limited vocabulary? I hope so, cos I just finished reading Lexicon about three and a half minutes ago and it's fuckin' sensational! ( not big on exclamation marks either, but anything's better than OMG )

Sir Max, I bow to the Narrator.
Some books claim to be page turners - yet I don't.
Some books claim to promote insomnia - yet I snooze.
Some books claim to be un-put-down-able - yet there it lies, down.

Lexicon was consumed in two sittings, made no claims that I would exit the book any different to the reader that entered - yet here I am. Feeling, for the first time in near on fifty years of words, the insistent need to respond. You probably can't hear - nor see - from wherever you're currently sitting, but I'm affording you a standing ovation. Bravo, Sir.

(and the librarian that doesn't read, at the end of The Acknowledgments, because books are her job and she just wants to switch off? Scarier than fiction, stranger than truth)

Ric Cochrane (#6767)

Location: Seattle
Quote: "Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there"
Posted: 1021 days ago

SPOILER ALERT

I might be slow.
I read Lexicon during the weekend -- so, so good.

One needle keeps throbbing:
When Emily/Woolf goes back to BH to obtain the bareword, she can't find the petrified tablet -- she takes photos of the room with her eyes closed and says she will find the word in the pixels.
This is 6 months post-KILL EVERYONE.

However, when Harry and Eliot go to BH, Harry finds the bareword tablet -- this is 18 months post-KILL EVERYONE.
The rest of the chronological shifts are really fun, but this one is killing me.
I might just have my timeline wrong, but I've written it down multiple times.

Help.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1018 days ago

SPOILER WARNING

Okay Ric I may misunderstand your question, but you're asking how can Harry find the bareword later when Emily can't earlier? If so, the answer is Harry can look for it. Emily, who is vulnerable to compromise, has to keep her eyes shut and feel around. Hence why she winds up taking a bunch of blind photos, in some of which the bareword is captured.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 1018 days ago

Oh and thank you Gary and heatherly! That's very kind of you.

Ric Cochrane (#6767)

Location: Seattle
Quote: "Find your place on the planet, dig in, and take responsibility from there"
Posted: 1013 days ago

Thank you, Max -- very helpful. You cleared it right up for me. So, Emily pieced together the bareword in parts (based on pixels), so she could create the necklace without seeing it in its entirety. That's just so smart.

Do you think she knew the word without ever seeing it in its complete form? Is the power of the bareword in its outward projection (i.e., seeing/hearing it), or does it have power within as an unspoken but known word? I.e., if she knew it but didn't ever speak or see it, would it have effect on her? I'm guessing she can't know the word or it would have effect, just like her own segment-based triggers.

You might be amazed by how frequently I reference Lexicon in conversations recently -- I work in energy efficiency and there is a lot of overlap with cognitive science, especially related to transformative processes for energy providers and private-sector businesses. The name of the game is persuasion. I've also grown even more concerned about willing self-segmentation via websites and viewing habits. I would love to have the luxury of a conversation with you about how literally you interpret the power of sounds to persuade people based on personality types -- are there sounds we don't even recognize that trigger our impulses (limbic brain)?

BTW, my wife disappeared during vacation last weekend while reading Lexicon -- just curled up in a corner and read it straight through. Well done! Glad to have her back, though.

Ilsa (#6785)

Location: Honolulu by way of Katoomba + 49 states + West Indies
Quote: ""...prepared to applaud, understanding finally that the word behind the word is not the word you heard. But the word is what you wanted, your want fierce and soft as faces, or the indrawn breath." "
Posted: 999 days ago

I've been recommending Lexicon left and right. Really excellent novel. Tweeted a good review. Then found this blog and got some great rib-cracking laughs, especially reading WTAC. Bookmarked you. Then did the quiz, got all excited at being .01%, laughed even harder--but Dude, Isaac Rosenberg????

This poem by Isaac Rosenberg is in the public domain. Now I'm so depressed I have to go make cat hairball sounds to annoy the neighbors.

God
Isaac Rosenberg, 1980 - 1918
In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire,
Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned!
His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls.
The world flashed grape-green eyes of a foiled cat
To him. On fragments of an old shrunk power,
On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry,
He lay, a bullying hulk, to crush them more.
But when one, fearless, turned and clawed like bronze,
Cringing was easy to blunt these stern paws,
And he would weigh the heavier on those after.

Who rests in God’s mean flattery now? Your wealth
Is but his cunning to make death more hard.
Your iron sinews take more pain in breaking.
And he has made the market for your beauty
Too poor to buy, although you die to sell.
Only that he has never heard of sleep;
And when the cats come out the rats are sly.
Here we are safe till he slinks in at dawn.

But he has gnawed a fibre from strange roots,
And in the morning some pale wonder ceases.
Things are not strange and strange things are forgetful.
Ah! if the day were arid, somehow lost
Out of us, but it is as hair of us,
And only in the hush no wind stirs it.
And in the light vague trouble lifts and breathes,
And restlessness still shadows the lost ways.
The fingers shut on voices that pass through,
Where blind farewells are taken easily . . .

Ah! this miasma of a rotting God!

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