Books by Mark Dery

Released: Nov. 6, 2018

"The reclusive author and designer of such ghoulish gems as The Doubtful Guest and the animated introduction to the PBS series Mystery! comes fully alive, fur-coated and bejeweled, as an unlikely icon of the counterculture."
A well-considered biography of Edward Gorey (1925-2000). Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 1, 1999

A thin collection of broadly informed but curiously uninspired millennial musings. The danger inherent in cultural criticism, especially in an era whose sprawling, polyvalent culture seems to be transmuting ever faster, is that you mistake the fad for the trend, the incidental for the monumental. And while Dery (Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century, 1995) seems to know the price of everything, he is a lot shakier on the true value. In this collection of essays, most of which have appeared previously in a variety of zines and webzines, he delves into such ephemera as Jim Carrey, the Heaven's Gate cultists, and the Home Shopping Network, seeking profundity but usually coming up short. Though he is good at sounding dull warnings about the hazards of consumerism, media culture, the World Wide Web, global capitalism, etc., he is remarkably unprescriptive. His usual style is to amass a clever bricolage of facts, figures, and relevant quotes, weave them expertly together, then wrap up with, at best, an original thought or two. Dery is most noticeable in the slightly shopworn theme that draws the essays together: "the pyrotechnic insanitarium of '90s America, a giddy whirl of euphoric horror where cartoon and nightmare melt into one." Dery does have an agenda (a rather doctrinaire blend of post-Marxism and post-New-Leftism)—if only he had an angle. He is an intelligent observer and has read and watched widely. His first essay, comparing our millennial situation to the massive social changes inaugurated and furthered by the opening Coney Island (the century's original "pyrotechnic insanitarium—), is probably his most successful, perhaps because he is able to transcend mere clever collage. As firework shows go . . . a few sparklers and lots of duds. Read full book review >
Released: Feb. 15, 1996

Dery has critiqued various aspects of the emerging ``cyberculture'' for magazines such as Rolling Stone, Wired, and Omni, and here he deepens and expands his ideas into a provocative analysis of the philosophical underpinnings of the wired revolution. Dery structures the book as a series of profiles of various ``computer-age subcultures'': junkyard roboticists, ``technopagans,'' cyberpunk musicians, body artists, and others who partake in one way or another of the technological apparatus of the digital era. Along the way he brings to bear an impressive (and sometimes almost too broad) range of sources; in one early paragraph he segues from computer theorist Hans Moravec to science fiction writer Vernor Vinge to Superman, from the Christian evolutionist Teilhard de Chardin to Timothy Leary to Star Trek: The Next Generation. Though at times Dery's sweeping scope leaves some subtopics (such as virtual sex) underexplored, on the whole he presents a convincing overview of a coherent pancultural phenomenon. And he doesn't stop at describing the current face of cyberculture, he dissects it, focusing primarily on what he calls ``the rhetoric of escape velocity''—a tendency among many cyber- enthusiasts to frame their notions in millennial terms, full of body loathing and the dream of digital transcendence. This rhetoric, says Dery, ``seduces us with its promise of a deliverance from human history and mortality,'' encouraging its believers to ignore ``the palpable facts of economic inequity and environmental depredation'' in the real world. He looks with favor on grassroots efforts to ``retrofit'' digital technology to other purposes, using it to elucidate those real-world troubles rather than to escape them. Supported by the words of the cyber-cultists themselves, Dery's critique—neither knee-jerk Luddite nor cyber-starry-eyed- -constitutes a vital examination of the values behind much of the ``cyberbole'' that increasingly clogs the cultural airwaves. Read full book review >