- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (Aug. 9 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0307476898
- ISBN-13: 978-0307476890
- Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.8 x 20.3 cm
- Shipping Weight: 318 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #427,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Machine Man Paperback – Aug 9 2011
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"Wickedly entertaining, a brilliant book: caustically funny, and-by its closing chapter-surprisingly moving." --Scott Smith, author of The Ruins
"Using precision-engineered prose, Max Barry has built a gleaming, terrifying device: part love story, part horror story, part thought experiment, all entertaining." --Charles Yu, author of How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe
"A meticulously devised, deviant little parable--once it starts, you can't look away." --Austin Grossman, author of Soon I Will Be Invincible
About the Author
Max Barry began removing parts at an early age. In 1999, he successfully excised a steady job at tech giant HP in order to upgrade to the more compatible alternative of manufacturing fiction. While producing three novels, he developed the online nation simulation game NationStates, as well as contributing to various open source software projects and developing religious views on operating systems. He did not leave the house much. For Machine Man, Max wrote a website to deliver pages of fiction to readers via email and RSS. He lives in Melbourne, Australia, with his wife and two daughters, and is 38 years old. He uses vi.See all Product description
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That being said, it was still fun to read. Essentially, an otherwise wholly uninteresting scientist has an industrial accident that results in the loss of his leg. He finds the standard mechanical replacement legs unsatisfactory, and that awakens his inner scientist and tinkerer. And then he's off - realizing that a better leg can be made not by imitating tissue and bone, but by embracing electronics and steel. Before you know it, he's chopping of legs, fingers, and anything else he can stick in a machine, all in order to "upgrade" himself to his better image. Eventually, the company he works for takes over the project and turns him into something he never wanted. There's an epic battle between two supermen, and then it goes completely off the tracks. The ending is at once predictable and completely insane. I can't say that Max Barry did it again, because he didn't. While Jennifer Government was something really new and original, Machine Man is an old story with a new twist. And not a particularly surprising twist at that. Sooner or later someone was going to write this book. I suppose we should be grateful it was Max Barry instead of some hack like Steve Alten or Ron Hubbard... (That's a compliment to Max Barry, by the way.)
He tears it apart and builds an even better one, of course, with the sort of motors, wheels, multiple core processors, shifting multidimensional axis, data storage, GPS and wi-fi (for automatic pathfinding) that evolution probably would have gotten around to providing eventually if it wasn't so slow and inefficient. Who said legs need to be leg-shaped, anyway?
In fact, the more he develops and enhances his new titanium appendage, the more he realizes that his "good" leg -- i.e. the one he was born with -- is really holding him back. And the clamping machine that took off his first one is still there...
"Machine Man" is pure Max Barry, which means it's heavy on the corporate dystopia, the odd personalities, the funny lines, and, above all, the perfectly normal ideas taken to their logical, marketable extremes. In his previous books, "Syrup" took advertising into entirely new levels, "Company" was a blueprint company-hell nightmare, and "Jennifer Government" was a brilliant (and hilarious) look at a not-unlikely world run by corporations.
In comparison, "Machine Man" is more of a study of humanity and social interactions, although the omnipresent corporate world is there every 2-ton, highly profitable step of the way. Charlie approaches everything in life with the analytical mind of an engineer, and reality rarely measures up to any reasonable metric. Why not improve it? And why stop with legs?
"I just want to upgrade," he tells Lola Shank, the woman who provides his first prosthetic and, not coincidentally, the woman he falls in love with. "That's not weird. People go to the gym to do that. The only difference is I have access to better technology."
Far from being horrified at their employee's alarming new interest in self-mutilation, Better Futures welcomes Charlie back with open arms and a huge staff of scientists eager to improve every body part they can for the suddenly-realized human optimization market. Optional bodily upgrades that able-bodied people might choose to buy? Forget body jewelry and Botox, Better Future sees a gold mine in Charlie, especially if they can figure out how to weaponize him.
"But what's the problem with medical?" Cassandra Cautery, Better Future middle manager, explains to Charlie. "The market is limited to sick people. Imagine: you sink thirty million into developing the world's greatest artery valve and someone goes and cures heart disease. It would be a disaster. Not for the... not for the people obviously. I mean for the company. Financially. I mean this is the kind of business risk that makes people upstairs nervous about signing off on major capital investment."
But Charlie gradually becomes unsettled at the speed at which he's losing control over his life. His team is cheerfully testing their own inventions on themselves and each other. The newly-enhanced security guard Carl gets Charlie's artificial arms and goes rogue. Charlie's increasingly sinister employers might have implanted something bad inside his girlfriend. And his legs might have an agenda of their own.
What makes a human? When you tinker with the brain-body interface and chemical hormonal balance, does it change the personality? When you begin to identify a fake limb as "yours," what happens when your company takes control of it? "Machine Man" looks at all of these questions and more as Charlie dives deeper into his own twisted style of personal growth. In an odd progression, the fewer human parts he possesses, the more human Charlie becomes.
"Machine Man" itself was created and improved on the fly. Barry began writing it in 2009, a page at a time, and posted the pages to his website where readers could follow along in a variety of ways. The first draft -- which you can still read at his site -- is very different from this revised and expanded version since he was putting in cliffhangers for his daily readers and the structure needed to be changed. Also, the comments and discussions each page prompted gave him more ideas to improve the final copy.
Geeky, deeply cynical, perceptive and funny, "Machine Man" is for every person who ever found more joy in gadgets than in other people.
HOWEVER. This. This didn't do it for me. It was OK. I don't want OK, though, I want AWESOME. I know that not everything can be perfect, and that Barry really isn't some sort of god who is supposed to please me or I'll stop giving him offerings. Really, I know that. But Machine Man, it was something that, while I'm not upset that I read it, I wouldn't go back and read again.
I've been following the development of the story for a while, and was excited about it. But when I sat down to read it, well, it didn't really jump out at me. The characters were flatter than his usual characters, and within the first couple of chapters, I'd already figured out the end. This is not always a bad thing, especially if there are enough surprises in between the beginning and end to keep me happy.
Unfortunately, this was not so much the case. As each character was introduced, I could figure out what was going to happen next with them. They were little autonomous programs that would pop up, get through their part, then head back into the background. There wasn't a lot of action; and when tehre was it was mild, a bit stilted and not overly exciting.
I know it sounds like I'm saying that you shouldn't read it, but really, it's worth a plane flight or doctor's office waiting room. Barry has hit many home runs before - this is just a double, which ain't a bad thing. Barry at his most mediocre is better than most people at the top of their game.