Princenthal, Nancy. “Artist’s Book Beat.”

The Print Collector’s Newsletter 23, no. 2 (May-June 1992).

Article offers a thorough description of Agrippa and locates the object in the context of other experimental, electronic texts.

Agrippa (A Book of the Dead) (New York, Kevin Begos, 1992, edition of 350, $450; deluxe edition of 95, $1500) could be a conventional livre d’artiste. Inside a slick metallic box, it’s evocative to a fault: there is a burnt-looking honeycomb board and a distressed newspaper framing a substantial bound volume with a singed cloth cover. The book contains a half dozen etchings by Dennis Ashbaugh (reproduced offset in the large edition)—abstractions in rich sepia tones with plenty of textural and tonal range. But there are many twists. The abstractions convey not formal but scientific information, each representing a fragment of a human genome—an individualized biological blueprint. More immediately apparent, there is brassy prewar advertising imagery obscuring each image.

And then watch as the past gives way. These overprinted images are executed in a slow-dissolve variety of disappearing ink. Within a few hours of cracking the cover they vanish forever. Read on, and Ashbaugh’s abstractions themselves give way to page after page of genome fragments as scientists know them—the letters ACTG in varying combination, printed in mind-numbing four-column series. And deeper still, within a square recess cut into blank pages like some long-forgotten drug stash, is a standard computer disk (DOS and Macintosh version both available). This disk represents something of a small press coup, since it contains a new autobiographical novel by science fiction heavy William Gibson. In Neuromancer and Count Zero, among other titles, Gibson has created an ominous anthro-electronic realm he calls “cyberspace.” And that’s just where Agrippa is headed, for it has a self-destructing virus. Publisher Begos is confident the very great majority of readers can’t prevent the text from fleeing forever into the electronic netherworld as soon as it scrolls by their screen. Farewell conventional books—and conventional collecting, and reading, and remembering. Hello electronic communication.

… William Gibson’s chilling vision of prosthetic consciousness is not the only one to illuminate the role of computers in literature. A central feature of electronic publications is that they unmoor the text and require in various degrees that the authors surrender control over their destinies. Such nested narratives and story branchings have their nearest kin in the rash of recent adventure novels that allow readers to pursue alternate clues and plot developments to various conclusions.”

(For additional excerpts from this review and a refutation of the notion of a “virus,” see Unofficial Cyberpunk FAQ (“the Unofficial FAQ FOR alt.cyberpunk”).

For a letter of 1992 from Agrippa publisher Kevin Begos to William Gibson that refers to this article, see letter.