Even Grues Get Full, by J.D. "Illiad" Frazer, ISBN: 0-596-00566-0

Reviewed by: Jack Reikel, February 2004, send e-mail
Published by: O’Reilly and Associates, Inc., go to the web site
Requires: A sense of humor and an interest in technology
MSRP: US$12.95, CAN$20.95

Has anybody read the User Friendly (http://www.userfriendly.org/) comic strip lately? All the characters populating the so-called Columbia Internet Gang? Illiad Frazer is going as strong as ever, and as long as you're prepared for a cartoonist devoted to something which is nothing less than Dilbert for geeks, you've got to love (and laugh at) this guy's stuff. Besides, with a Foreword by actor Wil Wheaton, how can a book not succeed? Of course, some of you may not have liked the movie Stand by Me or Star Trek: The Next Generation, but what the heck - Wil has rediscovered himself and is backing some really interesting projects. I digress. We were discussing the latest compilation of strips from User Friendly. The compilation is called Even Grues Get full.

A.J., Irwin, Pitr, Stef, Greg, Chief, Mike and all the rest of the User Friendly geeks are well represented - philosophies and all - in this compilation. No tech bastion is safe - Linux suffers on the prongs of some genuinely funny satire just as surely as Microsoft, the RIAA, the U.N., NASA, the tech business community in general (can you say high tech I.P.O.?), DSL and online porn, all of it alongside the pungent odors emanating from the office of typical head-down programmers and IT freaks who've been at it just a few hours too long every day.

The essence of any comic strip has always been the degree to which the cartoonist - the creative genius - is able to construct a make-believe world populated by characters which speak to us in ways with which we can identify or at the very least understand. Basic understanding isn't totally sufficient either (for some 'jokes'). For a strip to be truly successful and grow a serious set of legs as they say, the cartoonist/writer has to connect on a level that moves the target audience, at various times, to sympathetic defense, anger, revulsion, caring and a whole range of other emotions. And how does the cartoonist/writer do that you may ask? By being the keenest observer of his subject matter.

That's what J.D. "Illiad" Frazer is too - a keen observer of the environment and milieu he so meticulously examines. Deriving humor from the basically humorless is no mean feat either. For the uninitiated, User Friendly's computer universe is populated by people who are no less dedicated than your typical ballet dancer. If dancers train in the theatre and in class 7 hours a day (for a zillion days it seems), then go home to stretch, eat a tiny bit of salad, read a book on dance and watch a dance movie, then their tech compatriots - their geek Doppelganger if you will - rise at 8:00AM, sneak silently into their offices at 10:00AM and don't leave until 10:00PM, after which they go home to watch Start Trek re-runs or the director's cut of Blade Runner (for the 80th time) or a downloaded bootleg of Return of the King. Either that or they get busy with a satellite feed (dish number 3 on their apartment balcony floor) pulling down English soccer league play. Six degrees of separation does not hold true here, the point being that to be a true geek (to be able to enjoy User Friendly to its fullest perhaps?) you need to have been truly immersed in the world-unto-itself of high tech just as deeply as a ballerina dedicates herself to the world of the theatre. That's a long way off the usual beaten path for most of us. Neither discipline allows for friends on the outside looking in. I mean would you really want to hang with someone who only talked about their chosen vocation - someone in the unique position of having a vocation which is also their avocation? Creative minds, no doubt.

Too much philosophy and metaphysical meandering? Sorry about that. Overanalysis is the price reviewers sometimes pay (at least at Kickstartnews) for being real users as well as analytical observers. Bottom line? The book is funny! Keep it in the bathroom, at your bedside or in the kitchen (better than the newspaper with morning toast & coffee I think). When you're done with it, pass it along to someone you like. If they're into tech - if they've seen how the 'hidden ones' live in other words, they'll get a kick out of Even Grues Get Full. You'll have to read User Friendly to find out about Grues.

Cons: There are none. Either you're a User Friendly fan or you're not.

Pros: If you're reading this review in late 2003 or early to mid 2004, and you're an uber-geek, you'll find the subject matter in this compilation genuinely topical. The book has a great feel; many of Frazer's strips go on for a couple of pages, providing lots of space to get into the meat of his subjects and observations. For those who have yet to be initiated into the the inner sanctum of geek-dom, the book will give you some genuinely funny insights into the working minds of all those programmers, software & hardware engineers and related types out there, as well as a satirical look at ISPs and IT departments behind the scenes. Highly recommended.

Letters to the Editor are welcome and occasionally abused in public. Send e-mail to: whine@kickstartnews.com




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