Commodork: Sordid Tales From A BBS Junkie

CommodorkOrder this bookStory: BBS veteran Rob O’Hara relives the pre-internet glory days of the bulletin board system, from his first computer and his first screamin’ fast 1200 baud modem (a luxury in those dial-up days) to the active Commodore 64 warez scene to the death of the BBS era, and how friendships and relationships from those days have stretched even into his life on the ‘net as we know it today.

Review: In the interests of disclosure, I’m going to point out up front that Rob has reviewed DVDs, books and Commodore 64 games aplenty for So if you love this book, and if you’re of a certain age, you will love this book, please remember that you can always come back here and soak up more of his fine writing.

I say with certainty that you’ll love “Commodork” because, having heard what some other folks are saying about this book, it’s quickly become clear that there’s a wealth of shared experience among those of us who were “online” back in the days when it was almost an elite thing, when only the technically adept could connect and configure a modem and even claim to be “online.” “Commodork” captures that era with enough crystal clarity that I could’ve sworn in places that I was reading my life story. Anyone who was using an Apple II, a C64, a TRS-80 or an early PC to dial up bulletin boards and revel in the beautiful cacophony of two computers connecting before the modem speaker went silent will probably get the same feeling. This is what BBSing was like in the ’80s, its own curious social circle and its own unique mini-meritocracy, where friendships were made for life and where those who revealed themselves as lamers were relentlessly tormented. If anyone has captured that in print better than “Commodork” does, I haven’t seen it yet.

More than that, “Commodork” is a story of enduring friendships and relationships formed through the electronic medium, and that’s the real backbone of the whole story. Whether friends were made online, or at floppy-swapping get-togethers, they made a lasting mark. And that allows the author to segue into an analysis of why it doesn’t always seem as though this is the case on the internet these days, despite the fact that bulletin board systems have passed the torch to the web forum and other communities such as those found in Usenet and IRC. There’s something missing somehow – perhaps the knowledge that the internet is almost the exact opposite of a local BBS, or maybe something even more tangible than that. The BBS, being a local entity, encouraged people to get together and put faces to names; with a few notable exceptions, the internet doesn’t seem to have the same effect.

If you were online back when being online meant an extra phone line and a modem with a cryptic code of configuration commands that had to be cracked before one could venture into the dawn of cyberspace, “Commodork” will bring all this back in a rush, and bring some of your own BBSing memories to the surface. Even though it’s someone else’s story. Now that’s a good trick, and a good sign of a new voice with more stories to tell.

Year: 2006
Author: Rob O’Hara
Pages: 167 pages