Max Barry is the author of seven 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.

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Thu 17

More Max Content

Jennifer Government I got a reply from that high school teacher who asked what Jennifer Government really meant. You can read it here but this is the part I especially liked:

I wish you could hear all of my students’ reactions to this book over the years— this is one of the books they go absolutely ballistic over, and it’s such a joy to hear them discuss it. The first year I did it, I split the ninth grade into Team Advantage, US Alliance, and the Government, and we had an interactive (completely non-violent, I promise) marketing simulation. It was part of a media literacy unit and the two loyalty programs had to recruit as many members from the other grades as they could, while the Government group watched for ethics violations. That group of kids still talks fondly about the book. There has been a solid lack of engagement overall with distance learning this year, but we got to this book, and suddenly there were signs of life! It’s great to be able to teach it.

So Elizabeth is one awesome teacher.

In other news, there is more of my stuff headed your way. You know how I said I was working on a bunch of different things that would probably all finish around the same time, and that totally sounded like an excuse. Well, they all finished around the same time. Maybe not all of them. Some I gave up on. They were trash. But a few, I finished.

So there will be a new audio-book in 2021: “Discordia.” It’s a novel, but you listen to it. I don’t know when it will come out exactly or who will narrate it. I’ll let you know on that. But it will exist.

That’s plus Providence hitting paperback on May 4, 2021, and the new flagship book The 22 Murders of Madison May releasing in hardcover on July 6, 2021. When you have multiple books in one year, you get to call one of them a flagship. I heard that somewhere.

And if that’s not enough, I inked a TV deal for my short story, “It Came From Cruden Farm.” You can read that one for free right now on Not easily, because they refused to indent the paragraphs properly. Site-wide company formatting standards, blah blah blah. I was like, “This is like hanging the Mona Lisa under florescent lights,” and they were like, “I’m not sure it is,” and in the end we compromised on doing it their way. Anyway, it’s there. And you might also be able to watch it, at some point in the future. It’s with Disney/Fox, so, to be honest, I’m not totally sure they didn’t buy the rights just to bury it and make sure it never gets made.

So 2021 will involve a glut of Max. It might even be worse than I’ve described, because there are Jennifer Government, Lexicon, and Company TV/film projects in development, too. But people are always developing things and mostly they never get developed. So let’s forget they even exist and maybe we will get a nice surprise.

It’s late December! In Australia, we like to celebrate with a traditional 8-week holiday to go camping and swimming and things like that. That’s what I’m planning. I hope your 2020 was basically good, like how working from home involves a bit of mental disintegration but, wow, you save so much time on the commute. Thanks for taking the time to read my stuff, especially in this age of distractions. Take care, be well, see you in 2021.

Wed 09

What I Meant

Jennifer Government

Hi, Max! I teach Honors English 9 and 10 at a high school in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve been teaching Jennifer Government to my students for three years now, and they love it. I teach it as part of a dystopia unit, and I chose it because JG is so relevant to the world we live in. We focus a lot on historical and biographical literary theory and author intent, but I always tell them you can’t know for sure what the author’s intent was unless the author says it themselves. Long story short, I am re-working my introduction to your novel, and I thought it would be amazing if you had anything you would like to share with my class about the book. It would be a great way for them to connect with an author and hear from the source what some of your intentions and thoughts were when writing it. Thank you!


Thanks for teaching my book, Elizabeth. I approve of people being taught what I think, especially in formal settings.

I know there’s a whole bunch of theory around authorial intent, and I don’t want to be THAT GUY, you know, who is all, “Uh, maybe the curtains are red just because they’re red, did anyone think of that?” You’re not fooling anyone with your faux world-weary cynicism, Owen. No-one except that one girl. God damn you, Owen.

So let me put on the record that books are totally full of symbolism and meaning, and everyone should listen to their English teachers. I think authors consider every word in their novels pretty carefully, and have opinions on why it should be that and not something different. I’m pretty sure the world’s copyeditors will back me up here.

That said, I am a little frightened by:

you can’t know for sure what the author’s intent was unless the author says it themselves

… because sometimes I’m not sure what my intent is. Sometimes I’m interviewed and I give what feels like a reasonable answer, but if I’d thought about the question more, I might have said something different. I intend a lot of things at different times. Some things I intend never make it onto a page.

Also I’m a fan of the reality TV show Survivor, the one where people get marooned on an island and have to vote each other off, and this reminds me of how after the game, the contestants each have a story about how their every move was part of a Machiavellian plan, even though it’s pretty clear that, a lot of the time, they were just tired and hungry.

So I’m not sure you should trust me. And I’m also unsure I can come up with an intent for THE WHOLE BOOK, as opposed to, say, why it’s Billy NRA and not Billy Smith & Wesson.

But anyway, I went and looked back at my original notes for Jennifer Government. I had two pages of bullet-point ideas like this:

  • “No taxation or any government regulations”
  • “Surnames are company affiliations (e.g. Jennifer Government, Johnny IBM)”
  • “Violence between companies”
  • “Jump from char to char per chapter (characters don’t even meet, you see different sides of a larger conflict)”
  • “Company names as chapters (e.g. Chapter 1: Nike)”

But they are all thoughts about what might be in the book, not what it would mean. After that, I just started writing.

I was definitely inspired by ultra-libertarian thinking, in the sense that I thought it was ultra-dumb. But I’m not sure I intended anything other than to find an interesting story. If I wound up making points about unfettered capitalism, that was fine, but way down my priority list, beneath things like finding interesting people who wanted interesting things.

I have more structure nowadays, but writing still feels more like unearthing than building. When something works, it’s usually because it comes out that way, not because I started with a piece of this and added a dash of that and tweaked a dial until I got it right. And it works only in the sense that it feels kind of interesting. And true, I guess. Interesting and true.

When I wrote the first chapter of Jennifer Government, which is Hack Nike getting introduced to a plan to shoot people for a promotion, it felt interesting and true—not in the sense that it would really happen, but like it was an amplification of something real. I liked the main character. I bought his world. I wanted to know what would happen next. That was good enough for me.

Sat 28

I Think I Should Be Braver


I haven’t told many people this, but about 12 years ago, I lost a lot of money. I mean, a LOT of money. Basically everything I’d made from Jennifer Government, plus my inheritance from my father, which was half of everything he’d spent his life scraping together while refusing to spend anything on himself.

The problem was I didn’t understand financial planners: I thought they were like doctors, i.e. experts with your best interest at heart. But it turns out they are actually salespeople operating on commission. So I thought I was prudently deferring to the advice of professionals, but actually I was taking out loans to leverage investments in schemes that instantly turned to smoke when the Global Financial Crisis hit.

Luckily, I also bought a house. But for 18 months or so, I experienced a regular gut-churning fear that I was about to lose it, and my family and I would be turfed out. In practical terms, this wouldn’t have been the end of the world—no-one would have starved. But I had failed hard, really hard, in a way I hadn’t experienced before, that hurt people I cared about. It was terrifying every day.

Since then I have dug myself out. Everything is fine now, thanks. But I was thinking about it this week in the context of my career, and I’m not sure that feeling ever completely went away. I think touching the hot stove and realizing how badly it could burn left me more cautious. And not in a good way, like, hey Max, don’t give your money to salespeople. Although also that. But in a fearful way, like, don’t do anything that might let people down.

For example, I don’t blog as much any more, and part of the reason why is that I wonder whether someone will get my email in their inbox and be like, ughhh, why is Max bothering me about that. And every new book I start—like I’m starting one now—I think about whether it’s the best book I can possibly write. Which sounds noble, but is also maybe a little cowardly.

When I look back at some of my earlier work, I most like its crazy, oblivious energy. It’s not always great from a technical perspective. Some of Jennifer Government is barely readable, to be honest. But it has a wild abandon that works because it doesn’t much care about its missteps.

I used to collect rejection letters and stick them on my study wall. This was before I was published. I would sit down at my PC to write, surrounded by letters telling me my stories weren’t good enough. This sounds pretty masochistic, in retrospect. But I found it inspiring: The letters were evidence that I was a real writer, doing real writer things, getting correspondence from real people in the industry. Not great correspondence, obviously. Correspondence that said no. But I knew every great writer got rejected a bunch of times, so therefore each of mine was a step along the path to eventual success.

I think I should embrace failure a little more. Not a ton. I don’t want to, you know, be bad. But a little more trying things for the hell of it would be good. A little less thinking about how worthy something is.

So anyway, I just wanted to say, get ready for some really stupid blogs.

Thu 12

A 2021 Book

The 22 Murders of Madison May So brace yourself but I have a novel coming out in 2021. I know. It was three million years between Lexicon and Providence and now this! But that’s how I roll. You might not remember, but I blurghed out two novels in quick succession last time, too. Lexicon was the second blurgh. Now the second blurgh is:

The 22 Murders of Madison May

You know I don’t like to build up my own stuff, so I will just say it feels like my best book. I might be wrong. I change my mind on that kind of thing a lot. But I feel very happy about it.

The book is about—and stop here if you’re one of those people who, like me, prefer to know NOT ONE DAMN THING about the book you’re about to read—a serial killer who stalks the same woman across parallel lives.

That’s it. That’s all I’m saying. It will be published by Putnam in the US & Canada in July 2021, with other countries to be confirmed, and by God we’d better have a covid vaccine by then. Book tours are my only excuse to leave the house.

In other exciting 2021 news, the Providence paperback hits on May 4. That’s Star Wars day! So if you’ve been wanting to read it but not in a heavy book you might drop on your face while in bed and you don’t like ebooks and audio’s not your thing either, then, wow, how picky are you.

Thu 15

How Audio Books Happen


Do you get a say in who reads and voices your audio books? I think the people who narrate them are fantastic! They’re also easy on the ears, as some voices are difficult to focus on what they’re saying, or they make me sleep.


I do get to choose the narrator, and it’s one of the most exciting things about publishing a book. Especially when there’s a global pandemic that torpedoes my tour.

So how it works is someone from the audio side of the publisher gets in touch to discuss things like how many narrators there should be. I have plenty of opinions, even though I prefer novels in print form and have listened to maybe two audio books in my whole life.

I also write little character notes, e.g.:

Beanfield: F aged 26. A people person, outgoing, strong social skills, but her role is to observe the crew like a psychiatrist, so she’s always faking it a little, holding something of herself back. Has a fanciful internal dialogue. Struggles with the isolation and isn’t keeping it together as well as she thinks she is. Misses home and wishes she hadn’t left.

Then casting happens: Four or five people recommended by the audio director read half a page of the book and I listen and judge them. Not in person. I get emailed files. This is great fun, like casting a movie, although the experience is tempered by how excruciating I find it to listen to my own words being read back to me. Not because of the reader. Because of the words. It is probably no picnic for the performers, either, because the audition text might be short sections ripped from various places throughout the book, so they have to guess at the context.

For my last book, Providence, I went very diva, because although the auditions were good, they weren’t, you know, really hitting it exactly right for me. I don’t know if it’s because I’m Australian or I just have deadpan personal tastes, but sometimes I find American performances to be, how to put this, shall we say, animated. I’m like, if I’d known somebody was going to be emoting the bejeezus out of that sentence, I would have used different words. So anyway, I went and browsed a bunch of random audio books in online stores, listening to samples, and wrote down the names I liked.

Then the audio director had those people read auditions. Which is amazing, right? I’m just pointing at audio books and two days later there are new readings. I mean, I’m sure those people are professionals who produce half a dozen auditions before lunch each day. But still, it’s wild. Little pieces of performance art getting conjured out of nowhere.

Finally, I picked my favourite:

Brittany and Sam were both great. Sam brought a lot of life to the combat scene in particular, and seemed to grasp the tone of that scene best. But I give Brittany the edge because she has a kind of effortless professionalism that is super comfortable to listen to, and suggests a great range.

Sam is not a real person. I changed the name. But Brittany Pressley then narrated the audio book.

And I still haven’t listened to the whole thing, because, you know, the excruciation. But I hear good things. For example, check out this review. The novel is only okay, the reviewer says. Three out of five stars. He is not really a fan. But he kept listening because he liked Brittany’s reading so much. The book was holding Brittany back. It would have been a more enjoyable experience if he’d been listening to Brittany read something different. Maybe literally anything else. Now that’s a good narrator.

Fun fact: The audio version of Lexicon has great reviews everywhere except Australia, where it is lambasted for its poor Australian accents.

Wed 07

And Then There Were Deaths or Whatever

What Max Reckons One thing I haven’t figured out yet about this pandemic is why we’re okay with so many deaths. Not in the sense of “what is wrong with people,” even though, you know, what is wrong with people. But I try to make sense of the world, and this has been very surprising to me, this sudden blandness toward the idea of masses of people dropping dead from a mystery virus.

That isn’t something I would have anticipated, if I had been writing a book about people dropping dead from a mystery virus: everyone going very rationalist about it. In my experience, people are very twitchy about the idea of dropping dead from something. Especially something that’s new and mysterious and you can’t do much to stop it. That ticks quite a few boxes on the list of things that makes human beings freak right the heck out.

I definitely expected more fear and fewer people calmly arguing that it isn’t actually that many deaths if you compare it to five or ten years worth of influenza, and anyway, you have to die of something, sooner or later, and who knows, it might not even be as deadly as they say.

I’m not saying this is wrong, necessarily. It just feels like an inexplicable, planet-wide rescaling of what makes us hysterical. Because for a long time, it hasn’t required much to make us hysterical. We’ve been ready to overreact to very slim threats.

So what’s going on? There are probably a few factors in play—it surely helps that older people are disproportionately affected, and there are identity politics mixed up now—but maybe it’s simply that we’ve grown tired of it. Because I do remember us taking it more seriously in the beginning. But humans recalibrate. You can get used to anything, I read, in an awesome short story about a man who’s sent to Hell (I forget the title), so maybe you get used to this, too.

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