Max Barry is the author of six novels and the creator of the popular online game NationStates. He also once found a sock full of pennies. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters. Sometimes he coaches kids' netball.

Ask Max!
Me →

Who Are You?


I may answer your question by posting it on the site! If this isn't what you want, please send me a private email instead!

Fortunately I have been self-isolating since 1999.

Enjoy some escapism by leaving that book you’re reading and going out into the world where people are panic-buying toilet paper.

From what I can figure out, my blogs are auto-posted to Twitter & Facebook by Google Feedburner, a service I set up……

Sun 01

Book Tours and NationStates


What are the chances of you adding more cities to your book tour?


Zero, I’m sorry to say. I have to point out that I don’t get to choose my own tour. It’s organized by a publisher who has to try to extract some kind of value from my time that exceeds what I’m going to order from hotel room service. Also they have to find bookstores that want to host me on the exact date that works with my schedule. So it’s harder than it seems.

Will you be blogging the book tour, like you did a long time ago?


I think I will acknowledge that the world has moved on from blogs and use some kind of social media instead. I’ll have my daughter with me this time, so instead of cooling my heels alone during my down-time, I’ll probably be exposing her to the wonders of the United States, like how power points don’t have switches on them.

How many of your books is too many to bring to one of your readings?


I’m treating this as a serious question because I know sometimes people have strange ideas about what might be considered rude at book readings. For example, people have apologized for asking me for a photo. In reality, I love being asked for a photo. That makes me feel super famous. I mean, I’m not Chris Hemsworth here. I understand that if you ask Chris for a photo, sure, that’s probably the thirtieth time he’s been asked that day. But I only get to do this occasionally. I will stand for photos all day long.

Similarly, there is no number of books you could bring to a reading that would be too many. If you backed up a truck full of my books, I would sign them all, then spend the rest of my life telling people about the time someone backed up a truck full of books to a reading.

Why did you choose to create Nationstates?


I’ve come to realize that I didn’t choose to create NationStates. NationStates chose me as a vessel to bring itself into the world. But at the time, I just thought it would be fun, and help to promote my novels, and not consume my life. Two of those things turned out to be true.

I cannot create nation on nation states, and I’ve never played it, and no one has ever played it on my network, so I’m having a hard time understanding why it refuses to let me do anything. I’m even blocked from sending help requests since someone in my neighborhood spammed it.


Yes, this can happen: You can get IP banned from NationStates even though you are a perfectly lovely person who never hurt anyone. That’s because we’re not yet at that point in the future where everyone is required to prove their identity before being allowed online. I mean, obviously that future is coming. Google and Facebook already know who you are at all times. I signed up for Instagram a while ago, not because I planned to post anything, but just to follow my kid’s school, and even though I didn’t tell anyone and didn’t connect it to anything, within 24 hours I had friend requests from everyone I’d ever met. I think Facebook fingerprinted me and then told all my friends.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that NationStates, which is not Facebook, can’t be sure who you are. We have to guess based on the data we have, like where you’re connecting from. So if there’s someone we want to keep off the site, because they’re a terrible person, you might get caught up just because you look similar.

Obviously this isn’t great. The general idea is to let people into the site, not keep them out. But sometimes it’s important to keep them out, because they’re terrible, and in that case, I would rather accidentally block some good people for a while.

I’m a big fan of NationStates, I’ve just been wondering… How was your day?

The 11-Pointed Leaf

It was great, thanks! I finished another book recently, so I’m feeling super productive and proud of myself. I have exercised the dog. I posted an app online to generate efficient netball rosters using a genetic algorithm. Everything is pretty swell.

A new short story! Read it here 👇…

Wed 19

Max in America April 2020


Coronavirus Update #2 (March 15): And it’s off. Stupid global pandemic. Details here. Sorry everyone. :(

Coronavirus Update #1 (March 13): This is now looking super shaky. Powell’s has officially canceled and there may be more to come. Please check newer posts and/or my Twitter for updates.

A lot has happened since I was last in the US. The world became a dark dystopia ruled by corrupt oligarchies. Data-driven marketing companies sucked up our fears and turned them into products. The book publishing industry fell into crisis.

Ha ha! I’m kidding. It was all like that already.

If you’ve never seen me in person, boy, are you missing out. I mean, the accent alone, you can’t even imagine. So what happens at these things is first I talk about whatever’s on my mind. I’ll be traveling with my daughter this time, so, you know, brace yourself for some insights on what it’s like to take a 14-year-old Australian around the US on book tour.

Then I read from the new book a little. But not for long, because, really, you can read it yourself. That’s why we printed all these copies.

Then comes my favorite part, where people ask questions about whatever. Writing, NationStates, why Australian Rules Football is the greatest sport in the world: you name it. This is really the bread and butter of the bookstore event for me. Any kind of situation where people will sit and listen to my opinion on things, that really works for me.

  • San Diego, CA

    7pm @ Wednesday April 1st, 2020

    Mysterious Galaxy

  • Beaverton, OR

    7pm @ Thursday April 2nd, 2020

    Powell’s Books — Cedar Hill Crossing

  • Seattle, WA

    7pm @ Friday April 3rd, 2020

    Elliot Bay Book Company

  • San Francisco, CA

    3pm @ Saturday April 4th, 2020

    Borderlands Books

  • Mountain View, CA

    2pm @ Sunday April 5th, 2020

    Books, Inc.

  • Denver, CO

    7pm @ Monday April 6th, 2020

    Tattered Cover — Colfax Avenue

  • Chicago, IL

    7pm @ Wednesday April 8th, 2020

    The Book Cellar

  • Washington, DC

    7pm @ Thursday April 9th, 2020

    Politics & Prose — Union Market

I also sign books. The new book, older books, you name it. I will sign anything not nailed down. Although if all you want is a signed Providence, you can contact one of the bookstores and we’ll arrange that without you having to leave home. I mean, that’s not my preference. But I want you to know that option is available.

Wed 05

I Updated My Site

Providence Well, I finally did it. I updated my web site. It sounds so simple when I put it like that. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. It was not simple. I’ve been tinkering with this website since 1998 and each time I just slather more code on top of the old stuff. How it still works is a miracle.

The problem with doing this, instead of biting the bullet and making something new and modern from scratch, is that it becomes increasingly difficult to do anything without causing weird side-effects, like when you try to move a jigsaw puzzle, or colonize the Americas. It’s a real house of cards at this point.

But I had to update it, because the previous site was built around a photo of me from 2007, and it was feeling more and more like deceptive advertising. I mean, I wouldn’t be the first author to use an old picture. There’s one guy, I don’t want to name names, because I thought it was Tony Ross but then when I went to check maybe I was misremembering, he looks mid-thirties in his author photo, but in reality, he was born in the mid-thirties. I know this kind of thing does happen.

And I doubt anyone has been buying novels because of the vibrant youthful beauty of the author—in my case, I mean. I am guessing no. But either way, it was just too dated. It was a nice photo but I want people to be able to recognize me at book readings. So here we are.

You know what’s hard to research: parking garages. No-one ever posts pics online or writes about them.

I’m so excited; first visit to the US in 5 years! Anything happen while I was away?

Just quietly, I am killing it in US-based Australian & Oceanic Literature.

Here’s a piece I wrote for @CNN on the Aussie bushfires.…

Writing about dystopias was more fun before I was living in one. This is Sale, Gippsland, Australia at midday. Rain……

First reviews are so nerve-wracking. A “terrific sci-fi thriller,” says this starred review of “Providence” in Publ……

Thu 21

Just Write a Bad Book, They Say

Writing Writers are sometimes told to JUST WRITE, even if they know that what they’re writing is bad. I think this can be good or awful advice depending on who you are.

It’s good advice if you’re the kind of writer who gets stuck agonizing over sentences and scenes until they’re perfect. If that’s you, you can benefit by postponing a lot of that self-critique until you have a first draft. Because otherwise you won’t have one.

And first drafts are always bad. Reaching the end of a first draft and re-reading it for the first time is like waking up in bed with a stranger who seemed dazzling and irresistable last night, when you were drunk, but now it’s daylight and oh my God what were you thinking. But that’s okay, because now you can take care of all the other stuff that got overlooked when you were trying to invent an entire populated world with a compelling narrative through-line in your head.

So if you tend to endlessly re-read what you wrote last week and mentally compare it to the greatest novels of all time, you’re asking for trouble. It might be a red flag that your story isn’t working in some fundamental way—in which case you need to strip it down to the part you like best and start over—but you might also simply be operating under the mistaken belief that your first draft has to be excellent.

On the other hand: Your first draft does have to be excellent. I mean this in the sense that I don’t think it’s possible to write a good book you don’t like. Those stories of authors who found every sentence excruciating but their pain and toil created something magnificent—those didn’t happen. I don’t believe those at all. It’s the other way around: You think you’re creating something magnificent and only when you re-read the first draft do you realize, boy, I still have a lot of work to do.

It is possible to crank out a novel that no-one really likes, including you. I know this because I did it, right after I started writing full-time and mistakenly believed that the job was all about discipline. Since then, I’ve written four or five novels that will never be published, but none has been a bigger waste of time than that one, which was bad in every way, and I knew it at the time, while I was working on it. Each day, I was happy to finish writing, and I didn’t think about it again until I had to the next day. That is no way to write a novel.

Delusion is key here. You don’t have to write a great first draft. But you have to believe it will be a great book. You must know in your soul that it’s going to be great when you’re done. Not because you’ve re-read your first chapter a hundred times and every line is perfect, but because the story is in your head and it thrills you to think about. Write that book.

When are our lawmakers going to address apps that display a little notification bubble but when you check it nothing’s there

This may be the coolest thing a publisher has ever done for me.

Sat 14

Sympathy for the Devil

What Max Reckons

I apologize for asking Mr. Barry, but what would you consider yourself to be on the political spectrum? I’ve seen people call you a right-libertarian, a neo-liberal, and other times fiscal conservative. An answer would be much appreciated.


Well those are terrible guesses. I can rule out those three. Here, I took the Political Compass test for you:

Political compass result: -3.5 on the Left/Economic scale, -3.5 on the Libertarian/Authoritarian scale

I call myself a militant centrist because I’m a writer, and you can’t write unless you constantly put yourself in other people’s shoes, even shoes that are kind of gross. For example, if I’m writing a character who’s going to assault someone, I need to understand how he sees the world in order for that behavior to make sense. He wouldn’t do it for no reason, or if he thought it was fundamentally wrong or would make him a bad person. So he must have a view of the world in which it’s the right thing to do.

I might disagree with this character, but it’s my job to make his behavior rational. So I climb into that brainspace as far as I can, until it starts to seem totally reasonable to me, too, that he has to assault someone, and, in fact, maybe it’s the assaulters who are the real heroes, and the world needs more of them.

(I went back and re-read Machine Man a few years ago, and was really surprised by how strange that character is. When I was writing him, I had wriggled far enough into his head that it seemed quite logical. But with a little distance: No. He is messed up.)

Anyway, out of reflex, I do this in real life, too, so when I encounter an opinion that I find bizarre, I try to contort my mind until I can imagine the context in which it makes perfect sense. And once you can do this for people who want to amputate their own limbs, you can definitely do it for people who oppose gun control.

So although I have a lot of political opinions that are very left-leaning, I usually find something to sympathize with in right-wing arguments, too. I mean, I usually think they’re wrong. I really do think most right-wing talking points are, on the evidence, objectively incorrect nowadays. But I can imagine circumstances or contexts in which they would make sense.

This may make me the kind of person who would be appeasing Nazis in the 1930s, by the way, so it’s not an objectively good thing. It’s just good for a writer.

An early uncorrected proof… coming early 2020. Via

This is 100% accurate.

Mon 01

What To Do If You Get Socialism

What Max Reckons

Hello, I would like to sya that I love your Book Jennifer Government and NationStates. I started playing it maybe a month ago, and I’m doing pretty well. But I have made a mistake with one of my issues and now I have Socialism. So my question is. Do you have any advice for me on how I can fix it? Thanks for your time. Have a great day!

A Guy named Oliver

This is a common problem. Often you’re happily going about with a free market and individual rights and then someone’s like, “Should we maybe do something about how poor kids are getting a worse education, thus entrenching disadvantage across generations?” and, whoops, socialism.

The important thing is not to panic. Just because you have socialism, that doesn’t mean you’ll always have socialism. There is a cure. However, socialism is a very serious condition, and I’d advise you to avoid contact with other countries so they don’t catch it from you.

This can happen more easily than you think: There are a lot of transmission vectors, such as citizens of your country posting online about how they were taken to the emergency room and yet their financial lives have not been reduced to a smoking ruin, and if citizens of other countries hear this and believe it, that country can get socialism, too.

It’s also important to remember that any amount of socialism is dangerous. You can’t be half-pregnant with socialism. You either have it or you don’t. The only solution is to completely flush it out of your system. There’s no point in curing socialism in one area only for it to fester somewhere else. And you may be surprised by the places socialism can develop, if left untreated; for example, do you have a public fire service? A lot of countries do and don’t realize it. Unless your fire service is charging market rates and refusing service to non-paying customers, then unfortunately, you still have socialism.

Similarly, you may have a lot of public roads and parks, left over from a time when people didn’t fully understand the risks of socialism: You need to hand these over to fee-charging corporations as quickly as possible. Schools, clinics, and public transportation, obviously. Get rid of those. Welfare. Pensions. Also, and I know you don’t want to hear this, but the military. If your national defense is funded by forcibly taxing your citizens, you probably have socialism. This can be hard to see directly, so keep an eye out for signs of parasites, such as a wider network of supposedly-private defense contractors guzzling down those tax dollars.

The good news, though, is that with sufficient dedication, you can be cured! In time, you can become completely socialism-free, and enjoy a Utopian libertarian existence with no welfare, taxation, or empathy of any kind. Good luck.

« Newer posts | Older posts »