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In the year 2000, a man calling himself John Titor introduced himself to the Internet as a time traveler from the year 2036. He weaved a rich tale of being sent back to 1975 to retrieve an IBM 5100 computer. Those who interacted with John were impressed by the depth and apparent realism of his story. In the years that followed select details would emerge to help further legitimize John Titor.

The question of whether or not John Titor was a real time traveler remains a subject of contentious debate. This book sets that question aside to examine several figures who may be responsible for the posts. Among the principle suspects are entertainment lawyer Larry Haber and alternate reality gaming pioneer Joseph Matheny. Key players involved in the John Titor phenomenon who are not suspected of authoring the story are also profiled. These include a PhD who filed a patent based on John Titor’s time machine schematics, an Internet sleuth called The Hoax Hunter who has worked to debunk the story, and even Art Bell, the legendary late night radio host who received several faxes from John Titor.

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A clever but obnoxious teen (think Youth in Revolt’s Nick Twisp) is stuck in his parents’ basement during a uniquely literary yet crowd-pleasing apocalypse. It involves not zombies but a breakdown in general logic and order. Lloyd’s mother, a William Blake scholar, goes mad in a flurry of Blakean invective. Lloyd’s neighbour clips toenails on her lawn. An acting group believes a tribute to Dennis Hopper might save the world. Mayhem, murder and forced cuckolding are kept on the periphery while Lloyd’s picayune concerns over allotments of Diana Sauce are rendered in lavish detail. Gradually, the unchecked lust of the adolescent male turns out to be the primary horror. Lloyd narrates from hell, making the novel a morality play in which Lloyd’s selfishness and infidelities ultimately mire him in the pit for eternity. The book is a high-wire act blending ribald farce, horror, and heartfelt elegy, the emotional core of which is Lloyd’s sadness over lost friendships and lost youth, brought into painful focus by the nearing end.

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Set against the pomposity of a small-town theatre community, The Wraith of Skrellman is the story of a nearly-delusional, completely-homeless 46-year-old troubadour’s ill-fated pursuit of a beautiful teenage actress, the resentment this breeds in her precocious classmate Dave String, and the wraith of Skrellman who haunts them all with his “pornographic play-by-play” and frequent acts of occult mischief.

Elegiac at times, downright smutty at others, it’s like The Virgin Suicides if that book were a little less masterpiece and a whole lot more teen sex romp. Beneath the populist slapstick exists a literary ode to lost youth, and a mordant satire of the social conservatism of small towns.

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