Author of the Time Rep Series and Note To Self

The internet translation spreadsheet

It’s always amused me at how differently people behave on the internet compared to what they are like in person. Take the computer game Second Life, for instance. In the game, people create avatars of themselves, and many choose to completely change their appearance from how they look in reality. In the virtual world, their character might be tall and handsome; a brash, loveable rogue who roams the game with reckless abandon, wooing all the women he meets. In real life, the person behind the avatar might be a fat, short dude who sits at his computer all day eating crisps; someone who gets shy if a girl even looks at him on the bus. From a different bus.

In many ways, that’s the beauty of the internet. It affords us an element of detachment from our real lives, giving us the opportunity to look and behave in ways we would never dream of doing face to face with someone. And the reason we can do that is because for the most part, we have the illusion of anonymity, and by virtue of that, the belief that whatever we choose to say or do will be relatively consequence-free. For instance, if you insult a guy 4,000 miles away in an internet chat room using a false name, he’s hardly going to track you down, come round your house, and beat you up, is he? No. Unless of course he’s Neo from the Matrix. Which he won’t be.

The reason I mention this is because now that Time Rep has been released, the reviews have started to roll in. (Have you ever wondered where that phrase came from by the way? Why should reviews “roll in”? Did people used to write them on balls or something?) Anyway, so far they have been pretty positive, but I have to say I get nervous each time I see a new one appear. Not because I think the book is going to be savaged (Personally, I think it’s great, but then I suppose I’m slightly biased), but because I know how harsh the internet can be if it’s not in a good mood. When you give your book to friends and family to review, they are usually pretty polite in their criticism. After all, you’re right there with them, so they’re hardly going to say, “OMG THIS WAS THE WORST BOOK EVER LOLOLOLOL.” They sugar coat things. Make you feel as though the bad things weren’t that bad. But this is why the internet is great: no-one really cares about how an author might react to a bad review, so you get much more uncompromising, honest feedback.

To illustrate this point further, I have come up with The Internet Translation Spreadsheet™ (or ‘Tits’ for short). This spreadsheet takes an everyday scenario, and then looks at how someone might react face-to-face, compared to how they might react on the internet. Here are some examples:

Image3 So yes – that’s my take on the internet, which is basically characterised by a lack of empathy, and an abundance of exclamation marks.

When the first draft of Time Rep was uploaded to in 2010, it was really interesting seeing what people thought. I remember how excited I was waiting for the first reviews to come in. What would people think? Would they like it? I uploaded the book in September, and checked the site everyday for feedback. A couple of weeks went by with no comments, but still I checked every day, just waiting for that first review. Then finally, after about 400 downloads, my first review came in. This was it – my first piece of feedback on the book from someone who didn’t know me. What were they going to say? I clicked on the link to the review and braced myself. Do you know what it said? Four words: “It was very useful.”

That was it.

No explanation as to what was very useful about it, or why it was very useful. Just “It was very useful.” For the next few days, I just thought about those words, wondering what they meant. It was very useful. I then emphasised different words in my inner monologue to see if that shed any light on things. It WAS very useful. It was VERY useful. IT was very USEFUL. What the hell were they talking about? Why would a fictional book about people travelling back in time for their vacation be remotely useful? Was the reviewer looking to set up his own time-tourism business, and found the ideas presented in the story useful? Did he print out a copy of the book and use the pages to line his cat’s litter tray after he’d finished reading them? Was that why it was useful? I’ll never know. All I know is that to that person, Time Rep was very useful. His review however, was not.

More reviews followed, ranging from extreme praise to utter condemnation. One minute I had a review saying I had “embraced the purity of sci-fi” and deserved to win a Hugo award, the next minute I had someone say the book had a good story but was “a total waste of words.” My favourite negative review was when someone simply wrote: “If you can get past the first paragraph, you’re a better man than I!” He’d then posted the entire first paragraph into his review to prove his point and left it at that. To be honest, I could see where he was coming from – I struggle to get past the first paragraph of Time Rep these days, but then again I have read it and re-read it about four million times. In fact, I would go as far to say that if I read the opening paragraph of Time Rep one more time, I think it might send me over the edge. The next thing you know, I’ll do something nuts like try and eat all the furniture in my house, starting with the sofa.

The thing is, good or bad, every review is fascinating to read. It’s really interesting (and quite addictive) hunting down those obscure reviews, seeing what people think of your work. There are reviews that make you jump for joy, and reviews that make you want to cry, but that’s what makes it interesting; that’s what creates that incomparable feeling of excitement and anticipation when a new review cartwheels / swims / parachutes / nosedives in.

And now that time has come again. Time Rep has been re-written, re-released and it is ready to be re-reviewed. I’m not sure what I expect, but at the very least I hope it scores higher than The Gospel According to Chris Moyles, which isn’t supposed to be very good.

Not that I would ever say that to Chris Moyles in person of course.

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