Reviews and E-Mails
Commodork Press Release
Article in Yukon Review (Newspaper)
Article in Daily Oklahoman (Newspaper)
***** "Based on what I've read so far, I recommend both [Commodork and Invading Spaces] without reservation. Initially, I wasn't sure what to expect, but it's obvious that Flack is a writer and a gamer, not just a gamer who happens to write. His style is clear and unpretentious, and the hilarious anecdotes alone are worth the price of admission." - Brett Weiss, author of "Classic Home Video Games (1972-1984) A Complete Reference Guide" (Link)
***** "Required reading. On my flight to Orlando, I caused quite the scene cracking up laughing on the plane from a few parts in Commodork." - Drew Stone, organizer, Oklahoma Electronic Gaming Expo.
***** "One note in this book particularly struck me: in the beginning days of home computers people who had a home computer were very actively using them - "Nobody sat around mindlessly playing Solitaire all day long back then". Indeed, the happy few who had home computers in the 1980s / 1990s had a strong interest in doing stuff with those computers. I know I was able to make 17-hour "computering" days. The book is about Robs' memories from growing up with computers (his parents supporting him a lot), the rampant copying of software that happened and the growth and decline of BBSes. A wonderful book, very recognizable when you went through the same stuff around the same time. And Rob is good at storytelling which makes this a very nice book to read. 5 out of 5 stars." - Koos van den Hout at The Virtual Bookcase
***** "I just got this book last weekend, and It is very good read and am about halfway through. Rob takes the reader through some of his experiences as a teen-aged comuter freak and software pirate starting in the 80s through to the 90s, which touches on BBSing, copyfests and the software trades, networking, and phreaking. Though many of us may have done some of these in our youth to a degree, not as many are willing to admit it. If you are wondering what it was like as a nerd of the 80s, working with the 8-bit machines and computing before the internet will find a good insight to one person's experience (mine certainly varies but I do have a couple similar reminiscences from reading his tales.) If you are an avid 80s fan/cyberculture reader this is a worthy book. The closest similar I've read is Steve Levy's Hackers." - L. Anderson (via Amazon.com)
***** "BBS veteran Rob O'Hara relives the pre-internet glory days of the bulletin board system, from his first computer and his first screamin' fast 1200 baud modem (a luxury in those dial-up days) to the active Commodore 64 warez scene to the death of the BBS era, and how friendships and relationships from those days have stretched even into his life on the 'net as we know it today.
In the interests of disclosure, I'm going to point out up front that Rob has reviewed DVDs, books and Commodore 64 games aplenty for theLogBook.com. So if you love this book, and if you're of a certain age, you will love this book, please remember that you can always come back here and soak up more of his fine writing.
I say with certainty that you'll love Commodork because, having heard what some other folks are saying about this book, it's quickly become clear that there's a wealth of shared experience among those of us who were "online" back in the days when it was almost an elite thing, when only the technically adept could connect and configure a modem and even claim to be "online." Commodork captures that era with enough crystal clarity that I could've sworn in places that I was reading my life story. Anyone who was using an Apple II, a C64, a TRS-80 or an early PC to dial up bulletin boards and revel in the beautiful cacophony of two computers connecting before the modem speaker went silent will probably get the same feeling. This is what BBSing was like in the 80s, its own curious social circle and its own unique mini-meritocracy, where friendships were made for life and where those who revealed themselves as lamers were relentlessly tormented. If anyone has captured that in print better than Commodork does, I haven't seen it yet.
More than that, Commodork is a story of enduring friendships and relationships formed through the electronic medium, and that's the real backbone of the whole story. Whether friends were made online, or at floppy-swapping get-togethers, they made a lasting mark. And that allows the author to segue into an analysis of why it doesn't always seem as though this is the case on the internet these days, despite the fact that bulletin board systems have passed the torch to the web forum and other communities such as those found in Usenet and IRC. There's something missing somehow - perhaps the knowledge that the internet is almost the exact opposite of a local BBS, or maybe something even more tangible than that. The BBS, being a local entity, encouraged people to get together and put faces to names; with a few notable exceptions, the internet doesn't seem to have the same effect.
If you were online back when being online meant an extra phone line and a modem with a cryptic code of configuration commands that had to be cracked before one could venture into the dawn of cyberspace, Commodork will bring all this back in a rush, and bring some of your own BBSing memories to the surface. Even though it's someone else's story. Now that's a good trick, and a good sign of a new voice with more stories to tell. - Earl Green, TheLogBook.com Webmaster (Link)
***** As someone who is bathed in Bulletin Board System (BBS) history nearly every waking hour, I can sometimes feel like I'm the only one going completely out of his way to find narratives. It's easy enough to copy together a bunch of floppy disks or scan a bunch of printouts but that's not really the glue of what put the online world together and why it still holds a strong meaning for people who were there. As a result, I'm always seeking out people to tell their stories from a personal perspective, or at least take a good shot at putting together the human side of the whole BBS era for the sake of those who missed it. If I'm lucky, I stumble upon a few sites where people do a great job of cobbling together what they didn't throw out from their teenage years. I might even find an extended story out on a website, spanning multiple pages.
With Rob O'Hara's book Commodork: Sordid Tales from a BBS Junkie, I believe we have the world's first BBS Memoir. Weighing in at around 160 pages, O'Hara covers his life from 1977 through to 2002, tracing the effect that Bulletin Boards, videogames, and computers have had on his life. Just 33 years old, it might seem strange for someone to write an autobiographical narrative so soon, but like a lot of youth who've grown up in the age of the home computer, O'Hara's gotten a lot of living done in that short time.
This is a self-published book, or more accurately, an author-controlled book. It is currently distributed by Lulu.com, an on-demand printer that provides you with a very "book"-looking book that you would be hard-pressed to think didn't come right off the shelves of the local chain bookstore. The only difference is there's no professional editor jamming through the work before it gets to you. It's easy to find flaws in a lack of slickness and flow in a self-published book, but also no real filtering out of "the good stuff", either. So I think of this book as a real sweet homebrew creation, rough-hewn but full of heart, not unlike the boards it talks about.
Because of this, the first few dozen pages are choppy. O'Hara works his way around his memories to find his voice: He tries to explain what it is that drives a person to still keep a pile of Commodore 64s in his garage, or build a 20-machine arcade in his back yard (the author includes a picture of this great-looking playroom), or even to want to talk about this history in the first place. He covers it from different angles: the urge to be a collector, the nostalgic dad remembering his carefree days, and the computer guy with the cred built up from now-decades of experience with the machines. He also struggles, initially, with who the book is for: folks completely unaware of the history of the BBS and home computers of the 1980s, or other 30 and up computer geeks who want to take a joyride through a shared childhood? In doing so, he actually touches on some great thoughts on what attracts people to old pieces of plastic and microchips, and why things were so different for him.
A sixth of the way in, O'Hara dispenses with the helping hand, cracks his knuckles, and goes in whole hog. Instead of asking if anyone gets it, he assumes you've gotten this far because you want to know it, jams the wayback machine into full throttle, and plunges into the world of BBSing for a teenager in Oklahoma. Except, of course, it's really every BBS kid's childhood: The little bargains, the quiet victories, the betrayals, the triumphs.
The heart and soul of the book actually are warez. Warez in the old sense, of newly-acquired one-off floppies of games, painstaking bargained for, traded, and spread out to gain fame and reputation. Throughout the book, it comes back to the warez, and O'Hara does an absolutely fantastic job of capturing the sense of power and expression that engulfs a teenager who has been able to use his skills or his patience to get his hand on a program that nobody else has and then turn around and use that slight lead to his advantage. The methods he uses are laid out in brilliant detail; one involves registering with bulletin boards in a city his family will be vacationing in shortly, allowing his far away "exotic" location to be verified by the system operator, and then traveling to that city and leeching them dry for a free local call.
O'Hara never lets it get dry and technical; it's about people he met while trading software, the kind of people who he partied with, got into fights with, or loved. He's not always nice and he's not always the hero; what really rings true is how none of it feels pumped up or faked, dressed up as some inherently soul-searching activity where every moment in bristling with poignant meaning. That said, some of it rings very close to the heart indeed.
In fact, this book's greatest effect may be the touchstone it provides for one's own experiences. Even as Rob's younger self is getting drunk at a BBS party and stumbling in panic from a perceived bust into the flatbed of a parked truck to sleep it off, I'm harkening back in my own mind to events that accompanied my BBSing that I'd forgotten wholly and totally. But I was there again, saving my own warez for the right moment, meeting my own soon-to-be-lifelong friends, making my own grievous mistakes. Anyone who used BBSes for any period of time will want to run to their keyboards and tell their own story; I see a lot of long e-mails in Mr. O'Hara's future.
One small disclaimer: On page 14 of the edition of the book I have, Rob mentions my BBS Documentary, but just to say it's not what he was aiming for with his book. And he's right; we don't step in each other's territory and his book does what my film couldn't; go front to end on one boy's story to turning into a man online. And for that, I thank him, and I think a lot of others will too.
Is it for everyone? No way, but a book that takes on its subject so intensely shouldn't be. If you or an older sibling or parent touched a plastic-and-metal home computer, sipped your bandwidth through a modem, or held a 5 1/4" floppy disk in your bag to give to someone else, this book is your book. It might even be your memories, too.
It's a good book and can be ordered through Lulu or directly from the author, who sells autographed copies. - Jason Scott, director of BBS: The Documentary. (Via Slashdot on 9/25/06 (mirror))