Next week, Daniel Lyons, a.k.a. the Fake Steve Jobs, steps out of character to start a three-city book tour to promote
Options: The Secret Life of Steve Jobs (A Parody)
[Da Capo Press; $22.95]. That means hard-copy versions of the book — galleys of which have been floating around reviewers’ offices for more than a month — will start to arrive in bookstores, where loyal readers of FSJ’s website can see for themselves how the fake Apple (AAPL) CEO’s online persona translates into print.
The good news is that this is not just a compilation of FSJ’s online posts, although some of his best set pieces — including Hillary Clinton shaking down the Silicon Valley VCs for campaign cash and Yoko Ono insisting that iTunes list the band as “John Lennon and the Beatles” — appear in the book more or less intact. This is, by and large, an original work of fiction, with lots of new material and something resembling a plot — with a beginning, middle and end.
The bad news — which struck this reader at about page 31 — is that this is not really a novel either, with three-dimensional characters who live in a fully-realized fictional world. It was on page 31 — when Jobs, devastated by the possibility that the options backdating scandal might cost him control of his company, goes home, smokes some pot, and calls his house manager at her boyfriend’s house to come over and make him a mango smoothie — that it occurred to me that the real Steve Jobs doesn’t live alone. He lives in a real house with a real wife and real children. And he probably doesn’t have the luxury of getting stoned, dropping acid, running off to San Francisco with his friend Larry Ellison to shoot paintball guns at the homeless, or any of the other reckless things FSJ does on a whim in this book.
For whatever reason — perhaps the pressure of writing a novel on deadline on top of his regular online posts and his day job as an editor at Forbes — the challenge of bringing Fake Steve Jobs convincingly to life was too much for Lyons. Instead we get what is in effect a 248-page blog entry populated by paper-thin characters who just aren’t that funny. It’s a lesson in how literary tricks that made for truly brilliant short-form writing can grow lame when played again and again at book length
The novel also suffers from the timidness of Da Capo Press and its libel lawyers, who have shorn Lyons of one of the features that made his blog must-reading among Silicon Valley insiders: his willingness to skewer real computer industry executives, from Microsoft’s Bill (“the Beastmaster”) Gates to Sun’s Jonathan (“My Little Pony”) Schwartz, without pulling any punches. With the exception of Ellison, almost all the identities in Options have been fudged, turning what might have been a razor sharp parody into a coy roman a clef.
It’s been a tough few months for Danny Lyons, between his outing by the New York Times and the rush to get this book out on schedule. The best part is that none of it seems to have slowed his online output — or his willingness to call ’em like he sees ’em. His Sept. 3 rant against the TV Networks is as good as anything he’s written to date — and as smart a critique of the broadcast industry as you’re likely to read anywhere.