Even by the standards of American humour, Evil Geniuses In A Nutshell is unusual; a book of cartoons that should carry a set of minimum system requirements. Where Scott Adams’ Dilbert series concentrates more on universal office themes, with a worrying tendency to fill half of the books with new age self-help nonsense, cartoonist JD "Illiad" Frazer prefers to populate each frame with in-jokes that only the most committed computer obsessive will understand. If you think Linux is a newly discovered planet and that Linus Torvalds hangs around with Charlie Brown, you’ll find this book completely impenetrable. If, on the other hand, you get a kick out of techy humour and Star Wars references, you’ll find it very funny indeed.
Evil Geniuses In A Nutshell is a compilation of Frazer’s User Friendly series, set in a small ISP where computers have artificial – and evil – intelligence, and the launch of Quake III: Arena results in mass absenteeism. Although the strip tends to aim at soft targets (Microsoft, Intel, Microsoft, Apple, Microsoft), some of the humour is wickedly funny: in particular, the cartoons showing Intel’s assembly plant, where Pentium IIs are turned into Pentium IIIs by the skilful addition of Tipp-Ex, and Microsoft’s crack anti-Linux team, which hunts down Linux users and breaks their fingers. Other jokes are more hit-and-miss, however, and there are far too many lame Phantom Menace gags and impenetrable jokes about Linux distributions.
Where Evil Geniuses In A Nutshell excels is in its descriptions of the relationships between the different characters that work for the ISP. One story shows how the burgeoning romantic relationship between two computer geeks, AJ and Miranda, swiftly hits the rocks when the couple have to talk face to face; as AJ explains, the only way for them to communicate in the same room would be if Miranda were to move her PC into his office. Although the jokes are well signposted (in some cases the punch lines are visible from space), they’re still laugh-out-loud funny.
Evil Geniuses In A Nutshell is essentially a comic strip for people who don’t get out much, and it contains enough jargon and in-jokes to prevent mere users from understanding the humour – both the book’s strength and its weakness. If you like Dilbert but find it a little too mainstream, find Slashdot fascinating, and spent three weeks camping outside the cinema before The Phantom Menace opened, you should buy this book. People still won’t want to shag you, but at least you’ll have something to smile about.