Amphibian, by Christina Neuwirth, is a satire novella on work in times of turbo-capitalism and climate crisis. Rose Ellis works at MoneyTownCashGrowth and arrives at the office one morning to find “that the entire fourth floor has been flooded with water, in a desperate attempt to improve productivity. As the water steadily rises, her working situation becomes more and more absurd…” (publisher’s website). The book was published by Speculative Books who use a print-on-demand workflow to distribute their titles.

In this copy however, all characters are replaced by rectangular symbols, leaving the layout intact but rendering the text illegible. These rectangular characters are Unicode replacement characters that jump into place for symbols that might be missing from the font in use. This error, allegedly due to a defective processing of the implemented font by the printer—an issue that has already been addressed by the publisher—shows the lack of quality control in an outsourced, automated production chain. It is representative of print-on-demand workflows that enable small independent presses like Speculative Books and more experimental content to be published and distributed but also cuts corners in quality and error control. Yet in the case of Amphibian, this error is also a perfect image for the novel’s content which is quite literally drowned in illegible space due to its mode of production.

It was Melissa Terras who reported this case on Twitter and later donated her copy to our collection.