Review: "Stranger in a Slashdot Land"

Book Review written by Jon Splatz on Saturday, June 5, 1999

from the One-Hundred-Percent-Original-Work dept.

Roberta Feinlein's book "Stranger in a Slashdot Land" is an original, creative, and fascinating story about the conflicts of entering a new community and a new culture. As a testament to the sheer quality of this book, I can heartily say that it is hands-down far better than my own recently published work, "Business @ The Speed of Windows". (US$19.95 at Amazon, order now!)

As a pundit and a writer, I'm often called upon to review books. I've discovered through my long and rich career that many fictional books (especially sci-fi) are merely rehashes of previous ideas, mixed together in a long-winded body of text by an author who is paid by the word and not by quality or skill.

However, Roberta Feinlein's latest work, "Stranger in a Slashdot Land" (US$24.95 softcover, Faux Press) is different. It's a wholly original, creative, fascinating story loosely based on the experiences of the author. This book shares nothing in common with other books of the same genre; indeed, it stands on its own.

The book begins with the childhood of the main character, Patricia H. Burke (PHB). At age five her parents die in a tragic boating accident; she is sent by the State to live with new foster parents in Redmound, WA. Her foster parents both work in the Marketing Department of Monopolysoft, a newly formed but wildly successful software company.

Pat had been a country girl living in the rural Cascades, but after her parents' death she is thrust into the turbulent suburban culture of Monopolysoft. It's a classic struggle; instead of a Boy Raised by Wolves, it's a Girl Raised By Marketers.

The astute reader can probably begin to see what happens next. At age 18 she "escapes" from the oppressive culture of Redmound to attend college. However, the Marketers have left their mark on her; she is forever a product of all that is Money Grubbing and Evil.

Pat understands little about the underlying functionality of computers, she doesn't understand the Geek culture, she doesn't comprehend much outside the realm of Marketing and Monopolysoft and Redmound. Her comprehension, and that of many Redmoundians, centers around the concept of "mrokking", a term in the Monopolysoft vernacular that means "finding ways to make money from something". As her foster dad once explained to her, "Mrokking is a fundamental talent that separates the rich Marketers and Execs from the poor underclass of Geeks. Gill Wates, the Ultimate Marketer, completely understands how to engineer crappy software to make the most money from lemmings. He mroks software fully."

At college, away from her foster parents, she steers away from Business pursuits and settles for a Liberal Arts degree. However, the urge to "mrok" is too strong; she realizes that Liberal Arts will not satisfy her hunger for finding ways to make money. She switches her major to Marketing, graduates with high honors, and quickly becomes an employee of -- you guessed it -- Monopolysoft.

A few years later she is assigned to a team to analyze the threat from a newly emerging competitor, Finux and "Nude Source" software, and to strategize ways to defeat it. It is here that the main conflict of the book presents itself; the story becomes her versus the Geeks. It is decided by the team that she is best suited to infiltrate the Geek community, to work with the Geeks, to act and think like a Geek, to become a Geek, so as to accumulate knowledge and understanding of these new, strange, and seemingly unstoppable enemies of Monopolysoft. In short, she must enter the Land of Slashdot. She must "mrok" the Geek culture.

Pat finds herself alone in a strange land, with no roadmap, no friends, and no guides except for the bizarre "Slang File" compiled by Head Geek Deric S. Rayburn.

During her forays into the Land of Slashdot, Pat must overcome many obstacles and challenges from the Geeks who eye her wearily from the beginning. Her mannerisms, her overuse of buzzwords, and her subtle use of "mrokking" immediately make her suspect, and later, as she redoubles her efforts to become a Geek, she finds herself as an outcast, a person listed on everybody's Usenet killfile and email spam filter.

The epic struggle of Monopolysoft vs. Dotheads, of Suits vs. Geeks, of money vs. morals, is the thread that binds this book together to make it my choice as Geek Book of the Year. I find that I can empathize with many of the actions and concepts in this book. My email inbox, full of flaming messages reminding me that I'm not really a Geek or an accepted part of the Slashdot community, shows that I'm partly a Stanger in a Slashdot Land just like P.H.B.

Of course, unlike Pat I'm not an employee for an evil multinational corporation that refuses to give contractually obligated refunds for their operating systems. But even though this book is written from the perspective of a M-soft marketer and is published by a subsidiary company of Microsoft, I still give it score of 10 out of 10.

Buy this book. Better yet, buy this book from Amazon so I get a cut of the commission, money that I desperately need to pay for my national book tour to promote my own book (which you should also buy).

Write me at jonsplatz [at] i-want-a-website [dot] com.

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