Bug Jack Barron

Posted by : atcampbell | On : April 2, 2012

Bug Jack Barron by Norman Spinrad

Nine people attended this meeting at the Milwood Library. Our topic was Bug Jack Barron, a classic sf novel published in 1970 by Norman Spinrad. Spinrad will be Guest of Honor at the forthcoming 2013 WorldCon in San Antonio.The book is about the powerful host of a national television show who comes across a big story involving cryogenics and immortality. Five people at the meeting had read Spinrad previously. Seven of us started the book, and four finished it.

One member expressed difficulty getting through the first chapter. She commented it was “just about the purplest prose you can write” and said the author’s prose style was a mix of bad beat poetry and lots of double-reflexive technique. She thought the characters were nauseating and felt the book had a dreadful point of view on women. On the other hand, this reader felt the book had good ideas about the influence of television and on the struggles of the haves vs the have-nots.

Another reader said that when he read this book shortly after it was published, it was the most sexually explicitly book he’d ever read. He felt that the characters seemed unbelievably bad and uninteresting even when the book was new. This reader, who’d read a lot of other Spinrad, felt that Bug Jack Barron was a macrocosm of Spinrad’s obsessions: politics, media, and American culture. He did not feel that the book was a successful novel, but could see how its themes were influential on cyberpunk authors like William Gibson.

There was one reader at the meeting who was too young to have read this book when it was new. He said that Bug Jack Barron worked better for him than did most New Wave sf. He felt the writing style was comprehensible. He liked the book’s examination of media, and only wished Spinrad had pushed these ideas further. This reader was most bothered by the book’s attitude toward women.

Another reader hated the book’s writing style and felt the rapidly-changing viewpoints (sometimes between paragraphs) were bothersome. She did not like the main character at all. She summarized: “the life and times of an asshole are uninteresting to me.”

Yet another member suggested that the author was high during the entire time he wrote the book. She wished someone at his publisher had the nerve to tell him the book was no good. She hated the entire book and felt that every character spoke in the same ridiculous slang, which was dated even at the time the book came out.

A couple of us had read the book when it was new and had fond memories of it. One such person was surprised and disappointed by how poorly it held up. He thought the book had a few good ideas, but left an overall impression of the author trying a lot of new things that didn’t work out well. Another felt that the avant garde literary aspirations of this book were at least interesting to attempt. He did still like the book’s ideas about media and commented that the “ambush journalism” depicted in the book did not exist in the real world at the time.

In conclusion, we had a fun meeting and a lively discussion. After the meeting, several of us had a nice dinner together at Waterloo Ice House.

—A. T. Campbell, III