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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

‘LaserWriter II’: Life amid the broken Macs (and printers) of Tekserve

Tamara Shopsin’s novel Laserwriter II (MCD) will be published on October 19. It’s a funny and quirky book about ’90s-era Apple products and the people who fix them at New York City’s premier Mac repair shop, Tekserve. Tekserve was a real place! I never went there, but it was a fixture in Mac magazines and at Macworld Expo on the east coast.

The main character in Laserwriter II is a young woman who is taught the secrets of printer repair by the sages of Tekserve and works with a cast of characters—some pleasant, some unpleasant. It’s an enjoyable trip back in time with several laugh-out-loud passages. My only real criticism is that it’s too short, and left me wanting more.

Here’s a brief interview with the author:

Jason Snell: What prompted you to revisit the ’90s?

Tamara Shopsin: It was born of a desire to document the shuttered Macintosh repair shop: Tekserve. A place that happened to have had its heyday in the ’90s. I think anyone who went to Tekserve will understand the impulse of wanting to bottle it. It was a weird magical place whose advice could be trusted more than Yoda. If a person lived in NYC in the ’90s and used a Mac computer in any way they ended up at Tekserve. So it was an important place to the history of New York, but also Macintosh, which are two things that run through my veins.

The portrayal of Tekserve is incredibly detailed. Did you have personal experience with Tekserve? Did you talk to a bunch of former employees to get the story? It feels at times almost like a memoir rather than a novel.

Yes, I worked at Tekserve for three months, and I did work the printer desk, so much of the very technical stuff like using Apple’s service source documents comes from my memory. I also talked to a lot of former employees, many of whom I never met, all of ’em worked there much longer than me.

I put everything in the hopper and tried to spit out the truest & most readable version of Tekserve I could. The result is definitely fiction. Many swaths are made up from thin air. But it is also spun from real history. I worked hard to include as many actual details of Tekserve as I could. The result is that classifying the book is super confusing.

It doesn’t really matter to me if it is taken as a memoir or novel. I just hope people laugh and rip through it and feel full after they read it. Also that Tekserve is remembered as the kindhearted predecessor to the Genius Bar.

Did you do any technical research to get your portrayal of the nuts and bolts of computers and printers from that era correct?

Yes, but I am at heart a designer not a journalist or computer historian, so my technical research was often looking at eBay listings of Quadras and Mac Manuals. I did gleefully binge read Andy Hertzfeld’s in what began as research but ended up being entertainment.

I was struck that there are lots of women in the novel, even though tech in that era felt very much like a boys’ club. Were you trying to comment on this unpleasant aspect of computer history?

I was just trying to be true. That aspect of the proto-tech bro was present at Tekserve and it would have been off to ignore it. There were many good men at Tekserve and that is represented as well.

I do think Tekserve was a bit of an exception to the boy’s club. David and Dick, the founders, both came from the utopianism of the anti-war movement and not some delusional Silicon Valley mumbo jumbo. They really wanted to live in a more just society as such they went out of their way to hire women.

No idea if it is better today. I do know the book Broad Band by Claire L. Evans is a nice sweep through female computer history, that makes me think it isn’t a straight line.

There’s some very nice pixel art throughout the book. Is that your work? What was the inspiration for creating it?

Thank you. Yes, those are my drawings, though they are very inspired by the work of Susan Kare. I think it started with one pixel drawing. I wanted to draw cockroaches crawling on a page, and for some reason it struck me they should be little pixel roaches. The bugs crawling all over the page was obvious, but bad ideas often lead to better ones.

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