Australian novelist Max Barry has a keen sense of what humanity is experiencing and moving towards. His topics have ranged from marketing (Syrup) to modern office culture (Company) to a future where corporations are in control and run the government (Jennifer Government). Machine Man began as an online project, where Barry wrote one page of his book a day. It was then expanded and published as his fourth novel.
Charles Neumann is a scientist that loses a leg in an accident at work. While coping with the shock of losing a limb and learning to walk on a crude prosthetic leg, Charles realizes this is an opportunity to start improving himself.
Machine Man opens with Charles' thoughts on wanting to be a machine,
“AS A BOY, I WANTED TO BE A TRAIN. I DIDN’T REALIZE THIS WAS unusual— that other kids played with trains, not as them.
They liked to build tracks and have trains not fall off them. Watch them go through tunnels. I didn’t understand that. What I liked was pretending my body was two hundred tons of unstoppable steel. Imagining I was pistons and valves and hydraulic compressors. “You mean robots,” said my best friend, Jeremy. “You want to play robots.” I had never thought of it like that.
Robots had square eyes and jerky limbs and usually wanted to destroy the Earth. Instead of doing one thing right, they did everything badly. They were general purpose. I was not a fan of robots. They were bad machines.”
Charles meets prosthetist Lola Shanks who loves her job a little too much. The two click, but are soon caught up in the company that wants Charles to create better products for them and experiment on himself. Barry pushes the limits of his characters and readers begin to wonder how far Charles will go and how many products he will use on himself.
Machine Man is a darkly humorous tale that melds fantastic sounding technologies with our modern world. Barry uses some of his past themes of out of control corporations, how people become to feel like cogs in a machine and our constant nervousness of the future. Some of the action scenes are a bit over the top and are maybe unnecessary, but they don't detract from this interesting and wonderful novel.
Fans of dystopian novels, The Unidentified by Rae Mariz and anything by Cory Doctorow will enjoy Machine Man.