13 Apr

58 Days Later

Book Review: Notes from the Internet Apocalypse: A Novel by Wayne Gladstone

 

book cover

Cover: Notes from the Internet Apocalypse

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse is the diary of one man who chronicles the worst thing that could ever happen: the internet ceases to exist. Gladstone—both the author and the narrator, who goes by Gladstone—intermittently chronicles the first 58 days of post-internet society as it grapples with various stages of grief. The novel is amusing for people like me who spend a lot of time, perhaps too much time, online (presumably the intended audience). Even though it was an easy, entertaining read, it did get me thinking some deeper thoughts.

Gladstone (the author) wrote the story as an alternate-reality version of himself in which he is not a columnist for Cracked, but works for the State of New York (bureaucracy time—I feel for ya, Gladstone!). Gladstone uses two characters to represent the facets of himself, the eponymous Gladstone, and Gladstone’s friend Tobey who spends his time writing fart jokes for the internet. Gladstone (the narrator) starts taking notes in earnest on the state of things approximately a week into the so-called apocalypse, right around when people start getting really desperate for something to masturbate to. In fact, Gladstone depicts the stages of grief, starting with denial (everyone frantically slamming ctrl+alt+delete), but not quite reaching acceptance.

To cope with the new reality of a de-networked existence, bands of “zombies” take to the streets, forming circles based on their former affiliations—Digg, Reddit, YouTube, etc. 4Chan plays a role in the story as well, both through their group headquarters and, indirectly, in the Rule 34 Club (if you don’t know what “Rule 34” is, I do not recommend you Google it if you don’t want to find porn).

The plot of the story centers on Gladstone’s attempts to find out what happened to the internet. He ventures forth with Tobey and they find Oz, manic pixie dream girl and former camgirl who made money by streaming video of herself in the shower. As I write this, it sounds like everything in the story is porn-related. The book isn’t that sex-centric, but it does acknowledge the reality that it the internet is … an outlet for many people.

Over the course of the narrative, Gladstone also deals with the loss of his wife Romaya.

This is the paragraph with serious spoilers, if you care about such things. Romaya is, it seems to the reader, dead, but it is later hinted that she perhaps left due to Gladstone’s inability to do anything interesting, thanks to the internet paralysis that is so common among modern humans. This aspect of the story is actually what makes the narrative compelling. The story is punctuated with flashbacks to the at-times idyllic past between Gladstone and Romaya. The reader learns that the couple wanted to have a baby, but were unable to do so; Romaya had several miscarrages. The novel’s climax happens when, spurred by a memory of Romaya, Gladstone climbs to the top of the Statue of Liberty and confronts himself. At this point, the reader wonders whether the internet apocalypse is real, or a psychotic break as is suggested by several aspects of the narrative. I, for one, appreciate the psychotic break theory of the novel because it puts a personal tragedy on the level of a worldwide catastrophe. Basically, this book is like Gladstone saying “my wife left me and it hurts so bad that it feels like there is no more internet.” On its own, that sentence wouldn’t be that powerful, but backed by 212 pages of the written word, I get the picture.

I liked that this book outlined the world conditions well. Only the internet is gone. Computers still work, there is still television and everything else. The world is simply without networking abilities. It’s almost like it’s the early 1990’s, except you have a whole generation of people who have no idea what life is like without the net and at least two other generations who have forgotten how to live without it. Of course, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse made me think about life without the internet, as terrifying as that is (side note: when I picked up this book, I thought it might be more of a campy horror story, but I was wrong). On the one hand, I would be distraught without the internet because I rely on it for my job search, finding stuff out, disseminating my opinions in blog form, and putting holds on more library books than I can possibly finish before they are due. I also use the internet for a lot of shit though, like many people. There’s nothing inherently wrong with binge-watching Netflix, reading Reddit all day, or whatever your version of using the internet looks like. The trouble is that when we do this all the time, we can lose touch with business that actually matters.

Spending too much useless time online has been something I’ve been thinking about over the last few months, which is probably why I appreciated the message of the book. I have been trying to get in the habit of quitting my computer when I’m not actually doing anything. I remind myself that going through page after page of Reddit is not doing anything for my life. I at least force myself to make the conscious decision to vegetate online or go do something else. I’m not saying that we should all quit the internet, but I think there is something to be said for conscientiously choosing what to look at and how long to look when it comes to the web.

In short, this book is a light read and fairly entertaining. It had a number of good quips like the day eight comment that “Most offices are back in session, relying on faxes, phone calls, and the realization that 50 percent of all e-mails never need to be sent.” As someone working in an office right now: AMEN. Another piece of wisdom: “Trying to make a point online is like playing a game of telephone with fifty friends. All of whom are deaf. And neurologically impaired.” I liked that there was an undercurrent of philosophy to it. I recommend it to people looking for fun speculative fiction.

What to read next:

  • Since we endured a world without internets, I will suggest its opposite: cyberpunk. The Otherland series by Tad Williams (book one: Otherland: City of Golden Shadow) is long—not Wheel of Time long, but definitely substantial—and describes the plight of a number of people in a virtual world. It’s pretty awesome. Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors.
  • Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet by Andrew Blum is a non-fiction book that describes the history of the internet and goes into how it works. Let’s get some perspective on our internet-having world.
  • The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr also deals with the internet’s effects on modern life. I reviewed it last year (almost exactly a year ago, now that I look at it). While I didn’t agree with all of it, I do think it was an interesting perspective.
06 Apr

Married to the Sea

Book Review: Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler

Sea Change book cover

Sea Change book cover

Sea Change is a delightfully written coming-of-age fairy tale, but the old school kind of fairy tale in which there is not really a happy ending and although everyone learns something about his or herself, no one is really better off than they were at the beginning of the story. What I’m trying to say is, this is my kind of fairy tale.

I finally got around to borrowing Sea Change from the library a few weeks ago. I greatly appreciate Wheeler’s writing style and I enjoyed the flow of story. Lilly, the protagonist, is raised by her merchant father and her formerly-giant-serpent-loving mother. Lilly’s best friend is a kraken. There is also a troll, witches, and bandits. If you’re not interested yet, your sense of fantasy may be defective. Schedule an appointment with your local librarian to set up a treatment regimen.

As I mentioned, this story is a fairy tale in the classic sense. Lilly, an only child, has had a lonely sort of childhood that seems to be unique to a certain class of protagonists and to people who never quite feel connected with the rest of humanity. Of course, in Lilly’s case, she is raised in a wealthy household and there are rumors that she is a witch. Lilly is not a witch, but she does spend much of her time by the sea, chilling with her kraken friend, Octavius (“Octavius? That’s a damned stupid name for a kraken,” grouses Lilly’s father. I find it an amusing name for a kraken, however.). Lilly is also witness to many parental fights in which her father accuses her mother of making him a cuckold. When Lilly’s mother is finally driven off by her father, a step-mother joins the family (bringing the hope of a son), and Lilly’s kraken goes missing, Lilly leaves the family home, beginning her quest to locate Octavius. Lilly’s life is mirrored by her mother’s teachings. It is mentioned that Lilly’s mother gave her “practical, frightening knowledge,” but did not tell her fairy stories until she was older, “in the reversal of the usual parental pattern.” Lilly sees a harsh childhood, only to follow it up with a heroic adolescence.

I am reluctant to give away too much of the story, but I do want to open a window into the magics used to propel the narrative. Lilly, seeking Octavius, trades her womanhood to a troll who offers her information. Octavius, we learn, had been captured and was being held by a circus-owner and a witch. The cost of freeing Octavius is to bring the circus-owner a magical cloak. At this point, anyone who has read a few books or played a few video games can guess that one fetch-quest leads to another. Lilly bargains and works her way through the story until finally she can reclaim Octavius. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that the reunion is bittersweet because people with magic are jerks.

Release the kraken.

The theme that stood out to me in this novel is that everyone must change, or to borrow the name of a certain webcomic, a lesson is learned, but the damage is irreversible. Lilly, of course, goes through the most drastic sea change in really every way possible. Her body is changed. She must learn to work—something she did not need to do growing up. Eventually, her mind is irrevocably altered as well. But it is not just Lilly who changes, her parents both make major changes: her mother by finally leaving and her father in a way that I will leave for the reader to find out. Lilly’s step-mother, Mary, we learn late in the story, also had to adapt to survive. Even Octavius and Lilly’s eventual sidekick Horace (a bit of an indulgence, but I will call Horace a sidekick) change. The root of storytelling is conflict, but I like that Sea Change also recognizes that major changes must be made for people to develop. The story also takes, in my view, a neutral tone towards change. Some books seem to argue that change has a positive or negative value, but it seems that in Sea Change, change simply is. Life continues heedless of the goals and wishes of humanity.

Sea Change is full of quality wordsmithery and is written in a style that does not resemble anything else I have read in a while. Wheeler is miserly with her words, but when she does lay down descriptions, they are wonderful and sometimes humorous. One of my favorite lines came from the story of Lilly’s mother and the giant serpent she loved. A woman in town is telling Lilly the story and she says, “’Against his cheek your mother leaned, saying whatever on says to the serpent that has stolen your heart.’” There is a lot of enjoyable language here. Another snippet I liked was the metaphor of “campfires too far off to reach on a cold night;” I will leave the context of this one a mystery for the reader, but I thought it was a beautiful way to render the concept.

Since Wheeler can be stingy with the words, I sometimes got the impression that I had skipped a paragraph and would need to re-read the preceding segment. This is not an indictment of Wheeler’s writing, but I will say that her style is different. I think that since the language used is so tight—Wheeler uses one word where other writers might use four—the reader has to pay attention and really value what words are used. I saw a review on LibraryThing in which the reviewer stated that s/he could not figure out what she didn’t like about the book, but there was something of the writing style that irked her. I would guess it was this. It took me nearly the whole book to put my finger on it. Personally, I find it a refreshing change, but I can see how others may not feel the same. For an example, of what I’m describing, consider the following passage:

“Lilly put the man out of her mind; words were on her tongue, but they were insufficient. She had become proficient at opening trousers since that first awkward fumbling on the slope of Three crones Mountains. She bared herself, asked ‘Are you still interested?’”

There is so much that is communicated in this short paragraph, but little is actually written.

Finally, and unrelated to the quality of the writing, I love the cover art for this book. The cover is actually what caught my eye in the first place. Now that I’ve read the book, I like how the cover manages to represent the work without falling on any of the contemporary clichés of book covers.

In any case, I do recommend this book, especially for people who enjoy fantasy or for people who are looking for a fresh writing style.

What to read next:

What to read next is a hard question here. This book seems unrelated to everything (I mean that in the best way), but I’ll attempt some suggestions.

  • Because probably everyone needs more kraken in their life, I suggest Kraken by China Miéville. Kraken, like Miévelles work usually does, has a certain other-worldliness. It’s a bit of an urban fantasy, there’s a strange cult, magics, and all that stuff you want from your fantasy books.
  • The Dresden Files is a series by Jim Butcher about a wizard in Chicago who does freelance and consulting detective work. I’ve read a few of these stories and I classify them as “popcorn” books (tasty and quickly consumed). Some of the same magical concepts in play in Sea Change show up in The Dresden Files. There are quite a few parallels between the one I just read, Grave Peril, and Sea Change.
02 Apr

A Special Request and a Long Rant: Coda

After the response I received to last week’s post, I feel I am obligated to pen some form of update.

First, I want to say that my network of friends/acquaintances/people who read my internet ramblings is pretty chill. When you post a piece that is emotionally honest like that, a lot of people respond to it. I know there are a lot of us who are in this job-seekers’ purgatory. I feel for all of you. I hope that we can collectively get out of this one day.

Second, I want to tell the rest of the story. As I had stated, it seemed that my workplace was jerking me around in regards to the matter of a full-time job. Their apparent lack of communicative acumen was too much for me. I almost didn’t even interview for the position, just out of disdain for the system. After I was done feeling miserable, I decided to go to war over it. I was mad that I was being treated this way. I studied up on some of the aspects of the new position. I decided I would give a damn good interview. I wanted to make it difficult for whomever they had decided to hire.

I interviewed on Friday morning. I thought I did a good job. I’ve probably been on more interviews in the last three years than most people have in their entire lives, so I do have a significant amount of practice and at this point. I typically give good interview. I closed my interview by asking if they had any concerns about my ability to fill the position. The response was a “no” delivered with zero hesitation. I found that odd, since I don’t really have any experience with the work of the position. I thought there would be some concern (there is always something). I left the interview unsure of how to interpret things. I knew I had done well, but I thought the final comment could either indicate that they had no reservations and intended to hire me, or they had no reservations and it didn’t matter because they were hiring someone else.

Two irons on stage

Searched for dramatic irony. The internet did not disappoint.

Well, with an almost predictable sense of dramatic irony, they offered me the full-time position that afternoon. Although, not until after telling me that it was a stressful position and that I would have a big learning curve. I’m not daunted by that. I accepted.

This is good because I’ll be making a little more money (I can pay off my student loans faster. Yay?) and I’ll be getting benefits (finally).

But as with basically any development that would be construed as positive by a normal human, I have some mixed feelings. I am glad I got the job because that means I can be a bit less stressed about my life. I question whether I really want to become entrenched in the State bureaucracy (spoiler alert: I don’t). A lot of people at work have been congratulating me on the new position, but that feels awkward to me. I don’t feel like I actually accomplished anything. I am still in the same classification. I convinced people they should let me work full-time, but a few of the administrators there had already been pulling for that anyway. In any case, it is more money and it is an opportunity to evaluate how I intend to move forward with the job search.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs plus WiFi

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and WiFi

So, in the ongoing quest to find a job that I actually like and that fulfills me in some way, here’s the current plan. I’m still applying to library jobs (obviously) and pursuing professional development opportunities when I find them. I’ve stopped applying to writing jobs, since they don’t seem to be taking me anywhere. However, this week I started classes for a technical writing certificate, which I am taking through the University of California, Riverside extension. I had been planning to do this since the beginning of the year. As my Plan C, I am still working at the State, and I’m planning to move up as rapidly as possible, assuming I stay there. After another six months, I can ascend to the next classification and make more money. I guess working for the State wouldn’t be the worst thing, assuming that I can get into something that is research- and writing-focused.

I know there are people who see moving up in my job as unequivocally a Good Thing. I get where they are coming from and I wish I could just let my brain calm down and see things that way too. I have this deep and abiding need to be true to my own sense of self. Anything less makes me feel like a sell-out. I really just want to be in a job where I can research and hook people up with information. I think that would be awesome.

So, there it is. I hope the fact that I got a full-time job does not diminish the righteous anger of the last post. My feelings were genuine and my exhaustion was real. In fact, I would say that I still feel that way about the job search in general, but those feelings have been somewhat mitigated for now.