There's nothing new under the sun nor is there in the glow of these infernal machines we call 'puters. I'll happily admit that everything I know about making fun of the Internet I learned from Zack Parsons. The man who has gone by the moniker "Geist Editor" on SomethingAwful.com for the past ten years is one of a lonely few Internet culture writers who manages to constantly retain his dignity, intelligence and sense of humor while doing his job. Though we Web writers want to see our online careers improve, we all not-so-secretly dream of the day when we can depart these strange shores for a prestigious life as print-only people. Zack Parsons is one of the few who may actually pull it off.
After the success of his first book, the hilarious weird-but-true World War II technology guide My Tank is Fight!, Parsons embarked on a harrowing journey across this nation of ours to find the meat-space components of some the Internet's strangest elements. The result is Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon, supplemented with illustrations by Dave Kelly, known by the SA crowd as "Shmorky". For anyone familiar with the writer's work on SomethingAwful, the book reads like a 250 page version of one of his articles, in a good way. Parsons mixes wildly awkward reality with equally weird but straight-faced fiction to create a compelling and extremely funny narrative.
Parsons makes it clear at the outset of Dragon that it's not his intention to clarify or explain the Internet and the cultures that have blossomed in it. Rather, the book is something of a meandering road novel for the Information Age. Parsons weaves through a cast of unfortunately real people who have used the tendency of the Internet to recombine pop culture to create inexplicable obsessions. From the titular draconic furry set to animal/video game character vore fetishism, Parsons treads the fringes like a sober gonzo journalist.
What sets Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon apart from most Internet humor is that it's neither snarky nor cruel. Parsons could easily turn his anecdotes into an extended point-and-laugh freakshow, but his angle is more respectful than that. Though he's arguably the most experienced analyst of weird Internet culture writing today, Zack Parsons still approaches the unusual figures and fetishes of the medium with a dispassionate conceit. While the aim of the book is certainly to derive some measure of shock and humor from the admittedly bizarre elements detailed therein, it's really more of a deeper journey into a series of subcultures that can't help but seem grotesque from afar.
If the purpose of Your Next-Door Neighbor is a Dragon is simply to entertain, it does that as much as any work of literature can. But beyond the humor and unique turns of phrase, it really is a deeply interesting intellectual exercise. This book explores corners of our culture that have never been in print before. It's far from an exhaustive exploration of the ocean of content that is the Internet, but Dragon is the Calypso to Zack Parsons' Jacques Cousteau.