Photo by Lauren Thomas
Max Barry is an
Australian who pretended to sell high-end computer
systems for Hewlett-Packard while secretly writing his
first novel, Syrup (1999). In
fact, he still has the laptop he wrote it on because
HP forgot to ask for it back, but keep that to yourself.
He put an extra X in his name for Syrup because he
thought it would be a funny joke about marketing and failed
to realize everyone would assume he was a pretentious
Government, his second novel, was published in 2003
with no superfluous Xs and sold much better.
Max's third novel, Company, was
published in 2006, and his fourth,
in 2012, was based on a
real-time interactive web serial
written and delivered in real-time one page per day from
this web site. It made more sense than it sounds.
Max also created the online political
for which he is far more famous amongst high school students
and poli-sci majors than his novels.
Syrup is in the process of becoming
a feature film,
due for release in 2013.
He was born March 18, 1973, and lives in
Melbourne, Australia, where he writes full-time, the
advantage being that he can do it while wearing only
morning recently I climbed the stairs to my study, coffee in hand, and found a
pile of books on the top step. There was a Swedish Jennifer Government,
a Polish Company, and four or five others. The front panel of my computer
case was missing: I eventually found it inside the roofspace, along with my Richmond
I went back downstairs and confronted my daughter. “Have you been moving my
She grinned, one of those ridiculously beautiful ear-to-ear smiles, and said:
“I stranged your room.”
Since then, Fin has stranged my study several more times. Once I heard movement
up there, called out, “Are you strangeing my study?” and she giggled and
admitted yes. She loves to strange.
Today she turns four. Happy birthday, bunny. Thank you for strangeing my life.
As I write this, my intestines are trying to crawl out of my body. They’re
very determined. No, no, I don’t want your sympathy. Well, all
right, then. Maybe just a blanket. And my feet are kind of sore. You could rub
But I’m not writing to let you know of my gastrointestinal issues. That’s
just a bonus. I’m writing because I’m doing stuff:
Me on Australian TV: I’m a panelist on
Presents: Brave New Worlds,” discussing
Utopian/dystopian fiction. This is my first ever TV panel, and
the more time that’s passed since it was taped, the surer I’ve become
that I was A TOTAL DICK. But I’m hoping they edited those parts out.
To find out, tune in to ABC TV at 10pm Tuesday.
Me speaking: I’m delivering two talks on “Risk” as part of the
PEN Lecture Series,
(Wed 15th July, with The Chaser’s Julian Morrow) and Canberra
(Tue 21st July, with Genevieve Jacobs). This will eventually be available
on the web somewhere too, possibly
Relatedly, here is me being interviewed about the upcoming lecture.
Notice how carefully I speak while trying to hold my bowels together.
don’t want to freak you out, but MY DAUGHTER’S STRUCTURAL
INTEGRITY HAS BEEN BREACHED. Her bones have bent. One has cracked.
She has broken her arm.
It happened at an indoor play center, one of those technicolor places with dizzying
heights and terrifying drops, trampolines that launch children through the air like
patriot missiles and treacherous plastic balls that sneak out of pits to slip
beneath tiny sneakers. Naturally, Fin navigated these with contemptuous ease, then tripped over
her own feet on a stretch of flat carpet. Exactly how you break an arm falling
two and a half feet onto shag pile, I don’t know. But she wailed like… well, like she’d
just broken her arm. When this didn’t abate, and I noticed her arm dangling
at her side like a wet noodle, I began to suspect something was wrong. I sprang into
action, demanding a refund from the play center. Well, it was five bucks. And we’d
only just arrived. I don’t see why I should have to pay five bucks for eight minutes
of fun, followed by a broken bone. They gave it to me, too, plus a voucher for
a free coffee my next visit, in 4-6 weeks.
As soon as that was taken care of, I carried my screaming three-year-old
daughter straight out of there. I didn’t have a car, so I bore her in my arms to
the nearest hospital. I don’t want to claim I was a hero, but if anyone wants to
make a movie of my life, that would be a really moving scene. I think there could
be an operatic sound track at that point. That’s just a thought.
Fin stopped crying the second we stepped into the Emergency Room, which was a shame,
because they decided she wasn’t urgent and told us to go to another hospital.
I was tempted to pinch her, in the interests of securing prompt medical attention.
But that might have been a difficult moment to explain in the movie. So off
we went to the Royal Children’s Hospital, where they X-rayed her, pulled her bones
straight, and encased her arm in plaster.
Let me tell you about this process. I’ll tell you the same way Dr. Elliot explained it to me,
right before he began to inflict excruciating pain on my daughter: “We’ll give
her some gas. It’s not for pain relief. What it does is block the formation of short-term
memory, so when it’s over, she won’t remember what it was like.”
Now, I don’t want to criticize Dr. Elliot. He is a smarter, better-educated guy than me,
and no doubt across the many excellent medical reasons why this is the optimum
course of action for children. But if they suggested this idea to an adult
patient, that person would PUNCH THE DOCTOR RIGHT IN THE MOUTH. Is this not
the most horrible concept you have ever heard? “We won’t block your pain. We’ll
just make you forget it afterward. It’s basically the same thing.” NO IT’S NOT.
Option A: no pain. Option B: TONS OF PAIN. That’s the difference.
Fin sucked on that gas like she was drinking it. Dr. Elliot pulled her bones straight.
“Daddy,” she cried out. “Daddy, I want you.” I squeezed her free hand and told her it
was all right, and a few seconds later she had forgotten all about it. When they
were finished, she smiled and said, “I like this hospital.”
I hope that creeps you out as much as it did me.
I got into big trouble with my brother for
that anti-ginger blog.
“You’re just like Hitler,”
he said, or might as well have. “It’s not 1935, you know. Demonizing
people for aspects of their appearance they can’t control: we’re not doing
that any more.”
“Steady on,” I protested. “It was just harmless good fun. Besides,
the point was I’m a ginger when I grow
a moustache. That’s what made it funny.”
“I suppose you think Auschwitz would have been fine, if only
Hitler was Jewish,” my brother argued, more or less. “I suppose you think
it would have been hilarious.”
I suspected that my brother, or at least this version of him I was
exagerating for comic effect, was getting carried away. But he did have
a point. “Redheads are one of the few remaining groups it’s still
socially acceptable to ridicule,” he said, and dammit, he was right.
I had been so enraptured with the possibilities for jokes when I
started sprouting gingers, I didn’t stop and think. My moustache
was gone, but the dark moustache on my soul would not be shaved
“History is full of red-headed achievers,” he said. “You just never
hear about them. Thomas Jefferson. James Joyce. Galileo. Malcolm X.”
“Malcolm X!? Are you sure?”
“Check it out
“Wow,” I said. “Maybe that’s why he was so angry.”
“You’re doing it again.”
“But I’m a ginger.”
“Let me explain this to you one more time.”
But seriously. Redheads rock. I love you guys. If I could grow long, amber locks,
I’d be all over that. I’d let my beautiful red hair flow down to my shoulders and
smell it every night before I went to sleep. Right now, I’ve got nothing. The difference
between a red-haired guy and me is that he has options.
first it wasn’t too bad. In the right light, my mo looked fairly legit.
rough and tough and ready to rumble,
just like you might think I am, if you don’t know me very well.
Seven days in, I could even be considered
the gingers came in.
Now, I don’t have anything against the ginger peoples. Some of my best friends—well,
no, all right, that’s not true. I shun them. But I have several close ginger
relatives. Lovely people. Really courageous. Also, there’s no problem with ginger
if you’re a woman. For chicks, red hair means: “I am so aflame with
animal passion, I could burst into fire at any moment.” I think we can all
agree on that.
But on a man, ginger hair is not popularly translated as “fiery, dangerous love
beast.” It’s more “weird pervert from Accounting.”
On top of that, I keep accidentally cruising for gay sex. I don’t mean to. I just
haven’t adapted to the signals my mo is sending out. For example,
my run this morning, I jiggled my eyebrows in greeting to a runner passing by.
Usually, this means, “Nice morning.” But now, apparently, it means,
“Nice thighs.” At least, that’s what I’m getting from the look of terror
that crossed the guy’s face.
I’m beginning to catch glimpses of it in my peripheral vision. When I have a drink,
it gets there before I do. The other day I blew my nose, and three hours later
realized my upper lip was hoarding bits of tissue. Also, despite my private hopes,
Jen has not been harboring a secret passion for circa 1970s tennis stars. Hairy,
scratchy, ginger lip caterpillar: apparently not a turn-on.
It’s just as well I’m doing this for
a good cause. Thanks so much to everyone who
donated. I just want you to know, it’s because of you that I’m stuck with
[ Sponsor Max’s Moustache! ]
growing a moustache,” I told Jen.
“No you’re not.”
Movember. You know about Movember?”
“I know Movember,” she said. “But no. You’re not growing a moustache. They’re creepy.”
“Jen! This isn’t about the moustache. It’s for a good cause. It’s about raising awareness.
You think I want to grow a moustache? Do you? Like, what, as if I’ve always secretly
wanted to, but until now been denied by social pressure? Honestly!”
She eyed me. “You don’t actually know what the cause is, do you?”
“Of course I do,” I said, offended. “Frankly, it’s that kind
of attitude that makes it so hard to get this particular cause
taken as seriously as, obviously, this particular cause demands.”
“I believe it’s something to do with prostate cancer,” I said. “But
I have a whole plan. I’ll announce it on my web site, see, and people can
“Sponsor your moustache.”
“Right! Yes! They can sponsor my moustache.”
“It’s not just prostate cancer,” Jen said. “It’s men’s health issues in general,
“Well, there you go. You can’t say no to that.”
She sighed again. “You’d better get some donations.”
[ Sponsor Max’s Moustache! ]
[ See Max’s Mo Page! ]