23 March 02010

University of Death by Sean McManus: A Review

University of Death book coverThere's a pivotal scene in University of Death where the muso-technology geek at the heart of the story struggles to persuade the venal record industry boss to buy-in to a groundbreaking new scheme that will change the industry forever. To accomplish this, the geek plays the boss a new composition, which has been engineered to embody the latter's favourite musical tropes — to push his buttons, if you will.

Without giving too much away, it works. The boss, called Clive in a knowing nod to a well-known industry mogul [Sean assures me no such nod was intended and any similarity to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental…], takes the bait and employs the geek to create more of these personalised sure-fire hits. Not just to create them, in fact, but to seed them virally through targeted online discussions.

I felt an uncanny doubling of the impact of this scene. The book touches on so many of the themes that interest me, and which I wrote about in Net, Blogs and Rock'n'Roll, that I began to wonder if a very clever geek had written it for the express purpose of pushing my buttons. It had, after all, reached me via a well-targeted email from a software bot claiming to be a writer called Sean McManus, who comes complete with a convincing back story.

Here's a couple of examples of how this canny piece of Artificial Intelligence works. It has taken my old blog post about listener behaviours and reframed it in part of the caustic portrait of record company cynicism:

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