Mindf*ck: Cambridge Analytica and the Plot to Break America by Christopher Wylie (2019, Random House)
First things first: it’s a terrible idea to use the word “F*ck” in your book title if you’re trying to reach a broad array of readers. It’s an effective way of drawing attention, and it will absolutely appeal to a younger demographic and those who feel they want to participate in “edginess”, but it’s going to turn off a lot of potential buyers. In this case, it’s going to turn off a lot of people who would be very well served to read this book.
The autobiographical expose traces Wylie’s time inside Cambridge Analytica and the events which led to his becoming a whistleblower about highly unethical practices. More importantly for readers, it explains exactly how their social media practices were used against them.
Much of that is known, as a generality, by people. If you ask them about their social media use, they’ll admit that others gather info on them. They’ll talk about ad placement, how they can be discussing something or run a search only to have targeted ads appear. They’re mention “algorithms” as if they understood the definition of the term rather than had a vague sensation of the usage.
This book explains exactly how computer analysis was used on every “like” or reference click that a person did of any image or story to create an individual psychological profile of them… and then, after that profile was created, how ads and stories were directed toward those people to modify their views and behaviors toward a desired effect.
Even leaving aside all of the intrigue associated with Steve Bannon, Robert Mercer, and their efforts to use their fledgling mental and emotional modification tool to rally people behind Trump, and setting aside also all of the self-aggrandizement which tends to accompany all works like this, the book is valuable and absolutely worth picking up and reading. It should be on the short list of any nonfiction titles you consider for this year.
If only it didn’t have such an unfortunate title….
The Frankenstein Wheel by Paul W. Fairman (1972, Popular Library)
The 1970s changed literary horror with a one-two punch that had nothing at all to do with Stephen King. The runaway success of The Exorcist convinced the publishing industry that horror with literary qualities – in that case, excellent writing, a deep look at the nature of good and evil, and extensive research into a topic by an author – could sell. The success of Jaws showed that a novel about average people in a small town dealing with an abnormal threat could sell… particularly if it had an attention-grabbing pair of paperback covers, one showing a shark rising toward a victim and the other showing the same shark but the victim gone. Stephen King, aided by some successful movies, took that torch and ran with it. Dean Koontz did the same.
But there were horror stories before them.
The Frankenstein Wheel is part of the Frankenstein Horror Series of novels published by Popular Library as paperback originals in the early 1970s, and it is a great example of what those stories were like.
The story deals with a mystic who learns, via an object known as the Frankenstein Wheel, that the monster is returning from the icy wastes to seek a bride. Because the mystic is a descendant of the creature’s creator, he suspects he will be among the people targeted by the monster’s return, and he is correct.
What follows reads like a lost script from one of the Universal horror movies, marked up by someone who loved the Roger Corman / Vincent Price “Poe cycle” of movies.
This, to me, is not a negative, but rather a positive. It’s low on blood, gore and sexuality but high on melodrama and setting, with protracted exposition mixed with bursts of action. It’s a pulpy novel, and if one enjoys pulpy novels (I do) it’s a fun book to read.
The rest of the series is written in a similar fashion, often by authors who were old hands from the pulp magazine era. Titles like The Hospital Horror, Dragon’s Teeth and Ghoul Lover produce the same mixture of high and low qualities which work for The Frankenstein Wheel.
The books are a bit on the expensive side due to rarity, typically ranging from $15-$25 each. But when considered against the price of a new book, they provide value for the money if they’re the type of story you’re looking for around Halloween.