by John Geirland and Eva Sonesh-Kedar

(Arcade Publishing) $25.95

If it's Monday, it must be time for yet another websploitation book.

Digital Babylon chronicles the fits and starts -- mostly fits -- of the nascent Internet entertainment biz in the mid-'90s. Geirland, a Wired contributor, and Sonesh-Kedar, yet another Silicon Valley management consultant (is there no end to these people?) fill in the back-story for The Spot, a Real World-ish soap hatched by a SoCal ad agency. Pictures of gorgeous twentysomethings hanging out in a beach house and their singularly witless but sex-obsessed diary entries were, sad to say, something of a major web hit back in '96. While Spot auteur Scott Zakarin proceeded to rip off The Big Chill with yet another web soap, Grapejam, Microsoft and America Online separately launched ambitious but ultimately doomed efforts to create TV-like channels. Seattleites will be dismayed that this Hollywood-centric tome has nothing to offer on local porn shop Internet Entertainment Network.

Because bare descriptions of websites are about as interesting as the Nebraska Tax Code, screen shots would have been helpful, as would pictures of the dozen or so principal players, of whom only late NBC honcho Brandon Tartikoff is a sort-of household name. After cobbling together 200 pages of tedious executive-suite machinations, the authors offer some surprisingly sage takes on what went wrong. This includes pokey modems, the lack of a way to sell stuff to the audience, and a freely admitted cluelessness about what Internet entertainment should look like. The authors conclude that, at least in the web's early days, most users wanted information, not show biz.

The title not-so-subtly evokes Hollywood Babylon, underground filmmaker Kenneth Anger's semi-classic anthology of Tinseltown scandals. However, the colorless careerists here don't seem to have time for sex, drugs, or anything else but the next big score. What fun is that? KENT MILLER


by Troy Kline and Joe Bice

(Pacifica Press) $16.95

I don't believe dumb people should be allowed to publish books, especially dumb ex-strippers, and more specifically, dumb ex-Chippendales. Call me a control freak, but I believe that should be law. What's remarkable about the writing, and subsequent publication, of this particular dumb book is that Troy Kline (the ex-"Chip") actually knew he was too dumb to write it himself, so he had a dumb local author write it for him.

Chippendales: The Naked Truth is a "behind-the-scenes" look at the brief career that Kline, a hypermasculine, sexually compulsive egomaniac, had touring all over Europe with the Chippendales, screwing "babes," taking drugs, screwing more "babes," getting fired, moving back to Washington, and getting into therapy to finally realize he is dumb -- but that ultimately he is going to be okay.

Hey, smart guy: The subject of "coconuts" (testicles) inside the mouth of some random European babe is TIRED. It's been thought, played out, written, re-written, edited, published, read and re-read by every self-loathing misogynist in possession of a set of coconuts to walk the face of the earth. And shame on you for calling them coconuts, when everyone with half a brain knows that a testicle is not a tropical fruit. Or was that your idea of a metaphor? As in, she was "on her knees, worshipping [your] coconuts." Right, Troy. Nice one.

I don't mean to sound angry about the most hideously stupid book I ever had to read, but I am. It's 290 pages of boring, gratuitous, megalomaniacal fluff. Troy has a great singing voice; Troy has a really hard thingy down there; some babe wants Troy's thingy; the "Chippendales' show got messed up, but they all played it cool and it ended up beautiful. I'll be honest: I want this dumb ex-stripper stopped. That's right. Bring me Troy Kline's coconuts... on a stick.

I'll show you worship, big boy. JEFF DeROCHE



by Jean Kent & Candace Shelton

(Perigee, Putnam 1984) $5 used/$8 new

"Her hose felt like sheaths of clammy cloth on her exceptionally pretty legs" is a tag. Tags, the authors explain, are descriptive phrases that show editors of romance novels that you know what you're writing about when you're writing about love. Tags pop up promiscuously in all sorts of writing, but romance fiction, that lonely hold-out in a world that has fallen to the temptations of irony, has perhaps the most rigid rules and conventions in all of genre fiction.

The authors supply essential phrases of the love craft, arranged according to occasion. They come in such a variety of interchangeable parts as to tease you into thinking you could assemble an entire book that would consist exclusively of a combination of these lines. Unfortunately, the phrase quoted above is one of only a handful that stand out. Most are mundane and repetitive. Sex ("his closeness was so male, so bracing") is usually less thrilling than anguish ("she felt him shudder as he drew in a sharp breath").

Critics can enjoy spotting the archetypes, as the accumulation of hopes, fears, and gender role characteristics compile a grotesquely idealized yet ruthlessly honest exposé of the beast in fine clothing that is romantic desire. And any writer who has ever contended with the cottage industry of books that tell you how to (a) become inspired, (b) write creatively, and (c) become happily published, should appreciate this crass and practical guide to one genre's rules. DOUG NUFER