“. . . the more I thought about computer hackers, the more obvious it became that what was even more interesting about them, in human terms, was the fact that these hackers represented a much larger spiritual challenge to our time.”
Pekka Himanen, The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age
If you can read the last two words in this phrase: Elizabeth l / l u 5 t l ) 13, then you can read Six Gallery Press’s new book by Jeremy NeeDLE. [Hint? Must is the middle word, but you knew that, didn’t you? And let’s go back to regular old Needle for the remainder of the review.]
In Elizabeth Must Die, Needle takes conscious thought and renders it useless. The brain’s software must deal with inconsistencies and the incoherent code offered by insanity. Like the old computer maxim: Garbage In, Garbage Out. For Guy, the book’s main character (or is he?) the confusion begins when the rules of perception change and garbage cannot be clearly defined or recognized.
While literary themes may be timeless and universal, the metaphor, unlike the song, does not remain the same. Needle utilizes allegorical references to hacking, TCP/IP, routers — a system disconnected — to illustrate the main character’s perceived lack of mental acuity. By the end of the book, one must confront the uncomfortable reality of just who is sane and insane. In a strange way, this book creates a 21st century Shutter Island parallel, [the incredible brand spanking new book by Dennis Lehane]. Lehane’s strange, disturbing story centers around 1950s psychiatric treatment while Elizabeth Must Die fast-forwards some fifty years later. Lehane’s characters are immersed in post-WWII madness; Needle’s, perhaps, are post-dot com schizophrenics.
In the early days of hacking, cracking, and general programming fun (be it Inter- or intra- net) information moved slowly, bandwidth was precious, and, some wanted to prevent their message from being filtered and screened. A language, a Binary Gullah developed, enabling programmers (and hackers) to type less and say more. The language [now so common, it has become bastardized as those gawdawful emoticons], creates an alternative presence, an online personality distinct from the real person. The need to express feelings replaced the need for speed and security. Needle takes this Binary Gullah and distorts it, thus illustrating the madness it can belie. Think about it — do people ever really know who they’re chatting with online? Of course not, unless they arrange to meet somewhere, in real time. Is “H” a pre-teen nymphet or a 46 year old pederast? Everyone knows the imprecise veracity of chatroom personas. It is this online schizophrenia that Needle exploits.
The more one ventures into the realm of plot dissection with this book, the more it becomes obvious that Mr. Needle does, in fact, need to be the source of information for such discourse. So, that being true at this moment in time and in my particular reality, and as all things are subject to interpretation, I emailed Jeremy Needle. His responses to questions posed about Elizabeth are as interesting as the book itself.
And Popmatters quotes from JNeeDLE:
Nothing is what it seems.
Not in NeeDLEland. Not in the uterus.
You know in Literature 101, how the professor reduces all themes to
-Man vs. Man
-Man vs. Society
-Man vs. Nature
-Man vs. Himself
Well, I still don’t know which one(s) line up w/ EMD. Certainly Man vs. Himself & Man vs. Society. But that hardly conveys much. This story, is about reality: perceived vs. implanted. And what better metaphor to represent this than hacking?
Hacking the unconscious.
Think of it this way. Pretend we’re in Sci-Fi Rerun, and we set an A.I. program running for 1000 years. Sooner or later it would come to the conclusion that bio-matter is exponentially faster than anything synthetic. A neural synapse of the village idiot is an order of magnitude faster than any CPU.
Ironically, some ideologies infer that our synapses are inherently imperfect; flawed [esp. w/ all that sex flying around in there]. Going on that assumption, Elizabeth Must Die is that nanosecond of erroneous transmission.
Continuing down this road, it is now given that our own senses are the enemy. For purposes of this story, it demands a style of diction that isn’t as accessible as, say, Steven King. I can’t write about the autumn foliage, or the holiday aroma of something [or someONE depending on your family] in the oven; especially not when the main character is out of his head. The foci of our attention, and its intensity, have to reflect the character. He’s apathetic and disconnected.
Another hacking metaphor: disconnected from the system. What do we as hackers try to do? We substitute a series temporary connections; bounce through several expendable conduits, before we achieve a temporary unity w/ the target system.
NeeDLE RULE #1 = NEVER EVER GIVE ANYTHING AWAY. Never tell the reader we’re at the store. Never tell them what we’re wearing. Never describe our surroundings. Our senses are NOT reliable. The only things that are reliable are what we’re feeling, thinking. The internal warfare demands our constant attention. It takes priority over ‘reality.’ For the purposes of EMD..reality is just ANOTHER inconvenience.
Ok, what else? Well, on the surface level EMD is also a facetious exploration [exploitation] of the L.A. underground. I tell you — it’s just unreal the way the inhabitants are so enamored in the numerous subcultures. And my god they are SO stratified. Convergence points are few and far between.
“We can’t go to Club X, because it’s not as ‘punk’ as Club Y,” even though half the bands on the lineup play at BOTH clubs in any given month.
Or this isn’t a ‘real rave’ because the DJ’s aren’t down w/ P.L.U.R. Heh, yeah even though your favorite “Peace Love Unity Respect” DJ’s still charge anywhere from $100 to $3000 for AN HOUR of labor. So why not poke a little fun?
If you treat this story as a dream sequence, some of the imagery makes more sense. For instance, when Guy sees the 6 jpegs of mouths w/ bad hygiene; psychology often classifies dreams where you lose your teeth as a perceived lack of control. They’re all 79k, why? 1979 is Guy’s birth year.
So the main question is “Why? Why does it end this way?” This isn’t how it ends. This is how it begins. To clarify, let me mention that I’m currently working on Thade’s story: Eyes Falling Down. [PM note: Thade is one of the sub-main characters in the book, a protagonist’s protagonist]
Ok, so all doesn’t really tell you WHY.
Have you ever felt so wrong — so out of place that your own emotions are painful and hostile? Felt like a freak in your own skin? The same faces you’ve been staring at for two, three, 10, years have nothing familiar for you to latch on to? Elizabeth Must Die is that alienation. That warm body you’ve been holding onto in the early hours of the morning, it’s a lie. Not like a Fox late night special, w/ LIVE FOOTAGE: The Dangers of Punk Rock’s Culture [GASP!], where you change the channel and you’re home again. This is the trench, mustard gas filling you in. This is the black asphalt disappearing under your steering wheel… someone must die.
Want to read some hacker-noir? Want to replace reality with artificial intelligence, or organic identity? How about just screwing with your own head while you read about someone else’s un-real reality? Try NeeDLE’s book. It’ll be good for you. It’s the shape of fiction to come.
About the publisher
There are over 5,000 small presses currently operating today. From Akashic to Zephyr, with many University presses in between — PopMatters books section attempts to review as many of these imprints as possible. [readers note: PM does not review vanity press publications]
Six Gallery Press:
Comments from Colin Otsap, Public Relations for Six Gallery Press:
Six Gallery Press was originally started by Tim Miller, as a sort of sister company to another press called Fugue State. For the most part Six Gallery [affectionately called Six Grade Press cough cough] is run by the authors. Basically just a bunch of guys who really don’t care about making a million bucks. It’s a labor of love for all of us.
Tim Miller: President, CEO, Head Honcho
Richard Laskowski: Vice-President, Online Submissions
and myself, PR man.
Six Gallery Press is: Post-Modern, Beat, Modern, Realist, Romantic, Neo-Classical, Classical, Ancient, and all others in between. It will use, borrow, and be influenced by anything–including other medias whether in print, visual, aural; whether political, religious, philosophical, mythological; whether popular or underground (the list could be endless)–in the creation of genuine art.
Six Gallery Press publishes: Fiction, Poetry, Non-Fiction, Drama, Criticism, and all its combinations and variants. We stress the experimental — the blending of genres and medias — while also realizing that there is at times nothing more risky than to simply tell a good story in an entirely traditional manner.
To borrow a description of another publishing house at its inception, Six Gallery Press will publish “not a single trivial or merely popular title, nor a book chosen primarily because of its income-producing possibilities. Every book on the list is of unquestionable cultural value … a genuine attempt to contribute to the solution of the intellectual and spiritual dilemma of these difficult years.”