Carla Sinclair: The Happy Mutant Net Chick

Net Chick, Henry Holt & Company The Happy Mutant Handbook, Riverhead Books Sinclair is one of the hardest working women in cyberspace. She just came out with an essential girl guide to the online world called Net Chick: A Smart-Girl Guide to the Wired World; she's one of the mutants behind the new Happy Mutant Handbook; she breathes regular gusts of fresh and funny air into Wired magazine, and she and her husband Mark Frauenfelder still manage to crank out bOING bOING -- the justly self-billed "world's greatest neurozine." I get tired just trying to remember all she's up to. But no matter how many projects she's got going on, or how many times she changes addresses (she's moved about eight times in as many years) Carla remains an indefatigable, cheery ambassador of all that's right with the world just below the surface of popular culture.It all started in the late 80's with bOING bOING, a publication dedicated to allowing its creators to "meet interesting people and get lots of cool stuff in the mail." In the process, it's become a niche unto itself, a periodical that crackles with liberal doses of sheer unselfconscious enthusiasm. In this digital age of postmodern cynicism, Carla and crew remain among the most refreshingly wide-eyed creatures you'll ever encounter. You get the sense that they still look under rocks, and that they're tickled by what they see. The editors take unbridled pleasure in uncovering or rediscovering things that stimulate their fancy, and then passing along their finds with a conspiratorial air of "Psst! Check it out!" It beats the hell out of that predictable smartass we're-so-cool-look-what-we-know-and-who-we-talk-to attitude that permeates the publishing scene.When I first heard that the bOING crew and their pals were putting together a book under the auspices of Happy Mutancy, my first thought was, "They couldn't have come up with a more apt title." Carla really does seem to live up to both descriptions on their book's name. She has a reckless gusto, an incessant supply of ideas, and a delight in sharing information.And mutant? Well, she's too smart to qualify as an ordinary mortal. Plus, she lives in Los Angeles, and she isn't even bitter.The Handbook contains a handy chart for explaining the different between happy mutants, normal folk, and unhappy mutants (which turns out to fall somewhere between Twister, chess, and Russian Roulette, among other things). It also pays tribute to the Happy Mutant Hall of Fame, whose eccentric members include Dr. Suess, Ciccolina, and Sun Ra. Along the way, the mutant team explain reality hacking, pranks, fan clubs, and do it yourself media. For her part, Carla's contributions include a compilation of mutant pets which ranges from piranhas to rocks, and an ode to the Wham-o Superball that's downright Proustian. It's a great ride, a work full of childlike wonder. I haven't enjoyed a guide so much since my girl scout rule book twenty years ago, and this one doesn't even contain stress-inducing first aid quizzes.Happy Mutant is however just a glimpse into that unique territory that is the mind of Carla Sinclair. Net Chick is her true moment in the spotlight. In her introduction, Carla explains that the book came about from her own disappointed quest for an Internet guidebook for chicks. When she heard none existed, she had to take matters into her own hands. Taking inspiration from the example of such fine web resources as geekgirl, Net Chick was born.Carla fills the book with interviews, reviews, and pointers to the most fabulous stuff out there online. There's PMS resources, zines, and even sewing circles. Through it all, Sinclair brims with confidence as she unapolgetically enjoys being a girl. I get so disheartened, in this world of techomachismo, at those women who act like they've got to don a mental penis to be taken seriously. Carla defiantly asserts a female's right to be feminine, eschewing cookie-cutter definitions of what a technically proficient woman is or has to be. After all, the author is a woman bright enough to write the first truly definitive book about women online, and babe enough to get into Playboy's Girls of the Net issue, decked out in full Barbarella sci-fi adventuress regalia.Net Chick is rife with Carla's distinctive ruminations on everything from ergonomically correct chairs to the feminist implications of fashion. She's not afraid to go out searching for "preening tips" or to suggest that "there should be power in pink and paper dolls." The book contains a uniquely Sinclaired glossary too, wherein flame war is defined as an "online cat-fight."Carla, wise woman that she is, knows that net chicks come in all varieties. She interviews Stacy Horn, the founder of the Manhattan online service ECHO, and a woman who matches her computer wizardry with the articulate sophistication of the grand dame of an online salon. On the other side of America, Carla meets with Romania Machado, an "Extropian" who espouses smart drugs, cryogenics, and a steadfast belief that death is not an inevitability but merely an option.The pisser about so many "women's" books and mags is their editorial eagerness to speak for the entire sex. And those of us who have minds and wills of our own thankyouverymuch tend to find this annoying. You want to be regimented? Take it to the patriarchy. Carla, on the other hand, lays out an-all-you-can-consume buffet of possibilities, then leaves it to the reader to accept or reject. She showcases web pages sublime and ridiculous, funny and businesslike, frivolous and introspective. There are no archetypes, just examples, and Carla breezy philosophy doesn't invite conformity but celebrates a feisty individuality. As she says right off the bat, "Being a Net Chick is not about following a particular dress code or wearing a special badge. It's not about what model of car you drive, what brand of cereal you eat in the morning, or what area of the planet you inhabit." So what is it about then? Anything you want it to be.


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