Everyone in Silico

Everyone in Silico

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In: Reviews > Book Reviews

By James McNally

Published on May 29, 2002

I haven’t yet reviewed a novel for Digital Web Magazine, and technically, I’m not going to start now. In keeping with this month’s theme, “Independent Web Publishing,” though, I wanted to shine a spotlight on science fiction author Jim Munroe as a great example of someone using the web in new and innovative ways to publish and promote his work.

On May 4, I attended a reading given by Jim to launch his new novel, Everyone in Silico. But instead of reading from the book, he took a more (pardon the pun) novel approach. In the book, which is set in a hyper-commercialized future, he references all kinds of brand names. He decided to send invoices to ten of the companies, charging them for product placement. When he failed to receive payment, he followed up with letters, and these hilarious epistles are what he shared with us. Though not directly related to the content of the book, this generated interest since we caught a glimpse of both Munroe’s politics and his sense of humor.

A bit of background on Jim might be in order. Former managing editor at Adbusters magazine, his first novel, Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask was published by HarperCollins in 1999. Based on that experience, he published his next novel, Angry Young Spaceman (2000) himself. He makes his feelings quite plain in several places on his web site, including a wickedly funny “Letter to Rupert” (as in Murdoch, the owner of News Corporation, which controls a huge swath of media, including HarperCollins). He learned to control the entire process from writing to /files/includes/print.cssing to distribution to publicity and the web was an essential part of all this.

Jim’s willingness to share everything about the process and his “You can do it too!” attitude are refreshing. These traits aren’t so surprising when you consider that he has a long history of publishing zines, homemade publications that are sold and exchanged through the mail and at zine fairs. Munroe has been sharpening his flair for marketing for more than ten years. He’s learned to combine the high-tech with the unapologetically low-tech in his cottage industry. One technique he used to promote his book involved /files/includes/print.cssing up hundreds of zines containing the first chapter of the novel and giving them away free through local bookstores. Another was to organize a cross-country tour promoting his book along with the work of some cartoonist and musician friends. He’s been able to do this for each of his last two books, touring both Canada and the U.S., sharing transportation costs and sleeping on the couches of friends and fans.

Though raised in a culture of photocopies and glue sticks, Munroe has eagerly adapted to the web and his company’s web site is a good example of how to win friends and sell books, too.

The No Media Kings web site is divided into three main sections. “I Made These Books” features information about his three novels, including a link allowing the visitor to access a secure site for ordering. Jim’s honesty is apparent when he implores the visitor to buy from him directly, demonstrating with a helpful graph how it allows him to make more than double the amount he’d receive if the book were bought at a retailer. Since he has you here, he wants to turn you into a customer, and he does it honestly and effectively. This section also features a good example of using the web as an extension of the book: the “2020 Stories” are short stories set 16 years before Everyone in Silico which give the reader some background on the settings. This innovatively goes beyond using the web for mere promotion, adding useful content found nowhere else. He’s also included a link to download a PDF file of his entire first novel (an indication, I suspect, that the relationship with original publisher HarperCollins has been completely severed). There is also some cover art that can be downloaded for use as desktop wallpaper.

The second section, “I made ’em because media monopolies scare me,” outlines Jim’s political objections to the mega-publishers and contains a good selection of satirical pieces as well as a spoof of the game of Monopoly. If you’ve read Naomi Klein’s No Logo, you’ll be familiar with the sort of anti-globalization positions espoused here.

The third section, “You should make one, too” is an information-packed resource for anyone interested in self-publishing. Jim’s willingness to share his own experiences, both successes and failures, make you want to reward him for his work, whether you read science fiction or not. The zine community has always been marked by its willingness to share information and its incredible culture of mutual support. These are the same features that the independent web is also cultivating, and No Media Kings achieves a synergy that shows that not only is the web a real community, it’s also a place where real people can make a living without the sort of hollow greed that characterizes the world of the media conglomerates.

By the way, I’m already on page 52 of the novel, and it’s really good. Munroe is equal parts social critic and futurist, and his sense of humor is present on every page. Even the title is a jab, as he confesses in his “Past Due” letter to the Gap: “While there’s only three brand impressions in the novel, the title Everyone in Silico is an obvious nod to your Everyone in Leather/Vests/Denim ad series. (I’ve thrown that in for free, by the way.) It was unfortunate that so many artists and writers latched on to the fascist overtones of such a bold slogan, and made it seem like you were trying to turn us into consumer-clone-zombie-nazis.”

Thanks to friendly anarchists like Jim Munroe, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

Everyone in Silico
by Jim Munroe.

No Media Kings, 2002, 241pp.

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James McNally is a Toronto based freelance writer and web designer. He is desperately clawing his way back into a new media career. His personal weblog is at http://www.consolationchamps.com/