trAce Online Writing Centre

Spin Randy Adams at trAce has published a very generous interview with me. trAce is now on the cusp of a new existence in the capable care of Gavin Stewart, who has joined Helen Whitehead in the trAce office at NTU.  Gavin is an excellent choice for the job - he has just the right mixture of energy and commitment to guide the next phase. I wish him every success and look forward to new and interesting collaborations. PS click the image to see trAce's famous spinning gif, designed by Simon Mills for the launch of our first website in 1996

Tekka 2005 Volume 3 Number 1

Hello World
is reviewed by Greg Beatty in Tekka. The full review is subscription only but a brief intro to the article is available for free:

Like the virtual realm that Sue Thomas explores in Hello World, this book is a shifting, multifaceted thing. It is entertainment, it is education, it is experiment, it is collaboration, and it is a journal. Some of these things are successful, but others are not. And so I shall follow Thomas's lead in the book and splinter this review into three sections. Each shard will address a major component of the work, beginning with those that succeed most fully, and ending, reluctantly, with those that fail.

Hello World is a memoir and travelogue, a memoir of "a life online." As such, Hello World is fascinating, almost hypnotic. Thomas travels all over the physical world, and all over the virtual world, visiting sights and sites of intrinsic and historical interest. She describes what she sees, tells us how the experience affects her, and recounts how past travelers have marked these conceptual landscapes. Thomas invokes Thoreau throughout the book, and the comparison is apt: As Thoreau's observations of the activity around Walden Pond always told us as much about him as they did about the nature he studied, so, too, Thomas's observations reveal much about herself. The intensity of her love for cyberspace is manifest in her attentiveness to the detail of each virtual experience.

The review is generally positive but at the end I am criticised for ignoring

...other fairly recent works of cyberculture, such as Marie-Laure Ryan's 2001 book Narrative as Virtual Reality, which analyzes virtual reality and reading, or theorists like William Mitchell or Stephen Graham, who discuss the implications our embrace of cyberspace has on the material world. Most directly, Thomas's work overlooks previous work from people like Ken Hillis...

and he ends by saying:

Hello World is a fascinating artifact of digerati culture, although it is not a very critical text.

Obviously it is bad form for writers to pick holes in negative comments by reviewers, but I am addressing this one because it raises a larger issue I have been thinking about for a while, and was certainly very aware of when I was writing HW.

Hello World was never intended to be a critical text. It was written as a personal account of my own views and experiences, and whilst it does reference quite a few authors and artists, those people are generally not cyber-critics, but writers on other subjects and quite often from other times - in one case as far back as Tacitus.

It was never intended to include an overview of contemporary critical thinking about cyberspace, and was never intended to be a critical book in any sense. It was meant to be particular, idiosyncratic, and subjective. In other words, I would say that it is a primary text - indeed, Greg Beatty calls it a 'lived guidebook', which feels very appropriate to me.

Of course, there are sections of the book which on reflection seem to be less rigorous than they might have been, and I am happy to accept criticism of that kind, but as to whether the book succeeds as a critical text, I can safely opine that it does not, and was never intended as such.

I do appreciate, though, his very thoughtful and interesting review.

RealTime 64, Australia, December 04/January 05


Unnameable Space Review by Josephine Wilson in Australia's leading arts and screen magazine. RealTime appears in both print and online format. For Australian readers, Hello World is available from Gleebooks.

Hello World is a small book. It easily fits into my bag, so I take it with me on the train. The size of the book, I decide, meshes with the tone—personal and poetic...

County Lit

Hello World offers an alternative angle on the travel narrative genre. Using the subjects of world travel and web travel synonymously, Thomas has created a wonderful and intriguing post-modernist text, a travel book with a twist.

Using her travel throughout Australia, the USA, Spain and England as a comparative, Thomas brings us into her world of virtual realism and web travel.

Thomas explores several interesting concepts regarding identity on the web. The first of which is the world of ‘LambdaMOO’ which is “text based virtual world” and a means of communicating with people from all over the world. Within this virtual world Thomas explains how the notions of identity, age, race and gender become obsolete, therefore transgressing cultural norms, roles and stereotypes. Thomas explores the concept of a ‘Spivak’ gender, a deliberately androgynous sense of self which is used within this virtual world. The ‘Spivak’ is neither male nor female and therefore the user is ambiguous to the rest of the world it is communicating with.

An identification which can only exist on-line, the Spivak gender deals with the idea of human meets machine and seems to have a hint of the gothic. Thomas draws on some interesting parallels between the functioning of the body and of the machine. It certainly draws attention to the question – when do we get too involved in this world? Where do we draw the line? Thomas demonstrates her need and craving for a computer when on her long-distance train journey. When do we become obsessed with our computers?

As the journey progresses we begin to see that the entire book is almost like a cathartic journey for Thomas, and she explains that for her, “virtuality offered a recognizable constant in an unstable and disorientating physical world”. Here the two themes of the book are drawn tidily together. Travelling through the web arouses similar emotions as the world traveller will experience. The concept of identity is not fixed, the ‘traveller’ is free to change their scenery, their experiences and ultimately they have more choices than those who opt only for ‘real life’.

It is refreshing to read a web-related text which is sensitive and thought-provoking. Thomas allows us to see that ‘on-line’ is a world which we can visit and travel freely through, and hopefully get as much out of it as she does.

Review by Susan Whittaker in County Lit, Issue 17, Summer 2004

The Independent

"This is a book about a love affair. It's also a meditation on a phenomenon that has changed not just our lives but our perceptions of ourselves. It is, of course, about cyberspace. "Just as Ada Lovelace and William Babbage designed a machine that could not yet be made, so we are sensing a world that cannot yet be expressed," says Thomas. She does, however, have a damn good go in this fascinating exploration of a world where word meets, and even replaces, flesh."
Review by Christina Patterson, The Independent, Books section, 27 August 2004

Some Other Magazine

mainnav_r1_c1"A book that refuses to acknowledge its own physical limitations."
by Jason Leary in Some Other Magazine, Issue 1, August 2004

Computerra magazine (Russian only)

ComputerraIn June 2004 I was interviewed in Moscow by Oleg Kireev for Computerra, the leading Russian print magazine for computer technology which also appears online in a limited form. I'm hoping to obtain an English translation but for the moment here is a link to the Russian text.

The Guardian

A mention of Hello World in Blurring the Boundaries , Jim McClellan's excellent piece about trAce [The Guardian newspaper, 29.7.04]

BBC Nottingham

Hello World!
BBC Nottingham, 24 May 2004

A Notts author has been exploring the border between the virtual and physical world. We ask Sue Thomas what she's found.

Alan Sondheim in Nettime

Books I like and highly recommend posted to Nettime 10 May 2004

From Raw Nerve Books
Sue Thomas, Hello World, travels in virtuality

This is an odd work, a mix of real and imaginary journeys, discoursing on psychogeography, Bachelard, and a broad-based view of the Net along the way. As a mix it's intense and entrancing, and it demonstrates the ease with which computers, electronic communications, and lives all intertwine beyond the home. This isn't the typical mobile technology journey, but a journey of integration, and it's as such that I highly recommend it. My only concern - and I have no answer for this - how much, today, should one describe the Net and its communications systems? As Katherine Hayles points out on the back cover, the book is 'Highly recommended for first- time users and those who want to try dipping their toes into the cyberwaters.' But for those of us who are familiar with the technologies, the value is elsewhere - following this journey, and Thomas's lived and interpenetrated spaces, across the world. There is an associated website by the way, . (This is by the way a work I wish I could have written, but my own journeys have seemed too monstrous and tangled, too compressed. There's a sense of space in Thomas's book that's both open and comforting.)

by Alan Sondheim

This review is reprinted from
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Jenny Wolmark

Review by Jenny Wolmark
Principal Lecturer, Department of Design, University of Lincoln, UK

This new book by Sue Thomas is an engaging account of journeys taken in both the real and the virtual world. Sue gives us cybertheory with a lighter touch than we are accustomed to, as she explores some of the similarities and differences between these worlds. She describes a series of 'real life' travels and moments - a trip to California, looking at the night sky from her garden in England, travelling by train across Australia, and the oddly disconnected nature of these experiences vividly makes the point that real life travels are no more or less strange than travels in the virtual world.

Any one who feels both seduced and appalled by the complexities of embedded technology will empathise with Sue's account of the personal highs and lows of her own intimate relationship with the technology. The book breaks down the barriers between forms and fictions, and in doing so it reveals the complex nature of embedded technology in a way that is both witty and wise.

Hello World contains genuinely helpful information about the myriad workings of the web, ranging from email to chat rooms, and it also acknowledges that we are not all comfortable with the technology. One of the most entertaining sections of the book simply consists of a list of worries, doubts and fears about the Net, drawn from responses to a trAce survey of UK writers and the Internet and presented without comment. The list is exhaustive and perhaps because of this, it also becomes a curiously moving account of the fear that technology can induce. To balance this, however, Sue has included some beautiful net haikus, and best of all, a hilarious account of cybersex.

Hello World draws both on Sue's own extensive experience as a creative writer, and her equally extensive cyberlife experiences, and she generously shares the many insights she has gained. It is an accessible and engaging book that informs and inspires, and most importantly, it is written without a trace of condescension. For that alone, it should reach the widest possible audience.

February, 2004.