The Soft Machine (The Nova Trilogy #1)
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The Soft Machine (The Nova Trilogy #1)

3.48 of 5 stars 3.48  ·  rating details  ·  3,316 ratings  ·  125 reviews
In Naked Lunch, William S. Burroughs revealed his genius. In The Soft Machine he begins an adventure that will take us even further into the dark recesses of his imagination, a region where nothing is sacred, nothing taboo. Continuing his ferocious verbal assault on hatred, hype, poverty, war, bureaucracy, and addiction in all its forms, Burroughs gives us a surreal space...more
Paperback, 184 pages
Published January 13th 1994 by Grove Press (first published 1961)
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Naked Lunch by William S. BurroughsThe Soft Machine by William S. BurroughsCities of the Red Night by William S. BurroughsJunky by William S. BurroughsNova Express by William S. Burroughs
The Best of William S. Burroughs
2nd out of 18 books — 12 voters
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeThe Outsiders by S.E. HintonCharlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald DahlOne Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest by Ken KeseyA Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Best Books of the Decade: 1960's
231st out of 622 books — 756 voters


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Kinga
I know it is experimental. It reminds me of those alchemists' experiments when they tried to produce gold from excrements. And failed. Ultimately they were just dabbling in shit.

This book reads as if Burroughs swallowed words like rectal mucous, compost heap, jissom, masturbate, cock, dropped his pants. And just threw them up on the page.

This is not even a stream of consciousness, or unconsciousness for that matter. When I am completely off my face, haven’t had any sleep for 30 hours, and I’m t...more
Jason
Imagine that the cable box has only 20 channels. Imagine that these channels are playing a variety of sex films, a documentary on parasitic and poisonous insects of the amazon, a sci-fi police drama strangely analogous to Dr. Who (no Daleks, sorry), and a film about junkies. Now imagine what all this would look like when the TV was set to jump randomly among channels every few seconds. This is the best description I can give to the text of The Soft Machine, however this belies the strange almost...more
Tiredstars
If you imagine the stereotype of an avant-garde, experimental book, that's The Soft Machine. Sure, it's a clever idea, but actually reading it would be a painful thing. My process reading the book went like this:

p.5 (the start) - what's going on here?
p.6 - how long is this going to continue?
p.9 - oh, it's going on for the whole book.
p.13 - I can see how this style conveys a delirious, fractured mind and world.
p.20 - but I'm not really getting anything else out of it by reading more.
p.27 -...more
Rhys
I find the work of William Burroughs fascinating, but I’m not sure I always understand it. In fact, his most experimental books, of which this is a prime example, are utterly incomprehensible from a rationalist, linear perspective. Their meaning seeps in to the subconscious and the reader is left with the feeling that they have almost but not quite grasped some profound set of truths fixed in a story that remains enigmatic, disturbing and genuinely strange.

The main conceit behind *The Soft Machi...more
Tosh
The one book by Burroughs that separates the fans from the curious. The curious usually think 'no, I am not going there.' Relentless sexual assault mixed with very experimental writing makes this book... Charming! I love Burroughs' voice. I also think he's one of the great satire writers of all time. A true American (drug addict) original!
francesca
This book forever burned the words "rectal mucus" into my psyche. Carbolic acid and rectal mucus. Thanks BB!
Velvetink
*note to self. Copy from A. (different cover & edition 1968, corgi books).scan later.

hummmm ok. so far. it's just junkie delirium. I was looking forward to seeing Burroughs' cut and paste method in the original. Bitterly disappointed. The 60's and 70's produced some innovative but strange & silly works. There are tiny sections of Soft Machine that I recognised from knowing his biography. If you had no knowledge of Burroughs' life you'd be stuck with mostly gibberish and junkie slang.

I'm...more
Sam
Having greatly enjoyed a selection of Burroughs' earlier texts (Junky, Queer and Naked Lunch) and with the intention of reading through his works in order of composition, i hit upon a buffer with The Soft Machine. There are some enjoyably odd and perverse moments within the text and a number bizarre incidents i can relish, but ultimately i do not think the cut-up experimentation works and serves only to distract from the fact that there isn't much in this book that could be read in a sustained w...more
Nikolai
This book left me perplexed. I’m not sure if I enjoyed it or feel like I wasted my time by reading it. There are flashes of genius, true. Some juxtapositions of words and images were incredibly striking, a few dream-like sequences had to be admired for their sheer creativity, and there were thought-provoking moments throughout. Sometimes the bleakness of the imagery was captivating, sometimes the relentlessness of the prose felt truly exciting, sometimes a bit of satire stuck out of the mix and...more
Hortense
He was one of those people who utterly destroy paperbacks. bend the covers back like a tucked blanket. Fold over backwards, sometimes; leave them open like a tent. shift them like fans, dog-ear lots of the pages for no reason. spill liquids freely into their gullies. I don't know why I lent him Soft Machine, and worse, he lost Joan Didion's review that the Professor had niftily slipped into the body of the text and I had carefully preserved. I hated the way his glasses kept sliding down his waxy...more
Keith
Jun 22, 2014 Keith is currently reading it
Summary while reading:

DEAD ON ARRIVAL - p5

Makes less sense, but somehow easier to read than Naked Lunch. Each sentence is strung together with easier syntax, but has less relation to the surrunding sentences? We start in a diner, probably narrated by Lee, talking about the Sailor and an unnamed Kid - this is the reiteration of a scene from NL. Many of the next pages are difficult to follow, a scattering of images and evocative lines -- it seems at the time of this writing the Sailor is dead. Fin...more
Stuart Estell
Maybe it's me, but I don't see "genius" at work here at all. The cut-ups are sometimes fun, sometimes arresting, but the huge quantities of jism and rectal mucous in evidence here swiftly become tiresome when there's little of substance to accompany them.

I thought I'd give another of the "prime" Burroughs novels a go after abandoning Naked Lunch, but I wish I hadn't. Junky and Queer are brilliant. This isn't.
Leo Robertson
If E.L. James were a gay heroin addict... okay you get the point.

But there are some startling similarities. An affinity for a limited vocabulary, eroticising of stones (sand- for James, lime- for Burroughs)...

Neither of the two authors seemed to know anything about sex. Or how human beings normally interact. The flimsy character of one was hung, and the other hung most of his flimsy characters.

James taught me that the sight of black men makes you question your wardrobe (page, like... two?). Burr...more
Kye Alfred Hillig
Burroughs is a total fucking lunatic, in the most wonderful way. He, like Bukowski, is such a great writer that he can talk about the same topics over and over and still you want more. Williams topics being of course; shooting up, gay sex, hangings, and the Mayan culture. His writing is incredibly poetic and to be frank he often seems to be in the grips of a deep H induced writing frenzy. His mind hops around like a horny toad looking for violence. His characters will be in France giving blow jo...more
Stan
This book is difficult to rate. Parts of this book are absolutely brilliant. Burroughs is at his satirical best when writing about time travel in the Mayan Caper or the selling of sperm as a commodity in the Gongs of Violence. Other sections he is dark and disturbing when he is writing about addictions and homosexuality. Then there are some sections of the book which feel like indecipherable ranting of junkie nodding in and out of one thought into the next. Burroughs is more of a painter than st...more
Andy
A lot of cut up writings going on here, serious prose experimentation combined with embarrassing outdated racist Chinese laundry cliches ("Clom Fliday"...not funny), add some disturbing imagery of naked boys hanging themselves and ejaculating on every five pages, and you've got a hip and unreadable mess.
David Boeving
I'm only halfway through, but I have to say, the book is brilliant. Burroughs' first book-length application of the cut-up and fold-over techniques--which he alludes to in The Mayan Caper--is a wonderful allegorical critique and debunking of control systems' usage of time and language as mechanisms.

"I have explained that the Mayan control system depends on the calendar and the codices which contain symbols representing all states of thought and feeling possible to human animals living under suc...more
Zane Chleboun
This is the first book I've read in a while that has made me mad. Surrealist fiction is more or less my favorite but I haaaaated this. The novel seems like it was written by a 16 year old Burroughs trying to piss his parents off by writing about pointlessly angsty shit like fucking Indian boys with deformed boners whilst constantly fire-hosing "jissom". Burroughs definitely engraves an image in your mind while you partake but his edginess seems like it is edgy for the sake of being edgy and it w...more
Albert Trajstman
Short book, long read. Ok I accept that the writing technique is experimental and as is the nature of experiments the results are hit or miss. In this book when it hits the resulting phrases are pure poetry but unfortunately when it misses it's crap and an indulgence. This is a book that could have done with a heavy handed editor. If you're after a narrative that unfolds in an understandable way then this is not the book for you. Something to be considered is that this book is best heard spoken...more
Cody
once you read that the smell of sex is almost the same to that of compost heap you may never love again
Aaron
3 1/2 stars. Brutal, difficult to read, and kind of shallow, but entertaining and thought-provoking.
Mark
Feb 19, 2014 Mark added it


Unreadable, having started reading Queer and Junky, I noticed this book in the library and thought I'd give it a go.

Well......................18 pages in and not only does it feel like I've entered into a more unreal world (I feel that Burroughs other books above give me a more surreal experience).

I can only say that graphic sexuality doesn't usually surprise me, however I was left utterly perplexed by the movement throughout the pages I read. It felt chopped and cut with no real flow.

Rubbish...more
Jan
Let's put aside the question of shock. The more puritanical among us will obviously have some difficulty reading this due to the obscene content alone, but I'm assuming that anyone who picks up this book already knows what to expect of Burroughs and that's pretty much exactly what he gets here.

I think the best way to approach this is as a piece of experimental poetry. Reading this expecting a narrative is a fool's task and will without a doubt leave you a very frustrated reader. There are key po...more
Roof Beam Reader
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Tancredi
"... E la polvere delle parole gli sporcava il corpo che cadeva nello spazio tra i mondi."

La macchina morbida è il primo capitolo della "Trilogia Nova", un complesso di romanzi scritti nella seconda metà degli anni Cinquanta. Proprio in quegli anni - in cui il viaggio dell'autore insieme all'amico Kerouac, dall'America all'Europa fino al Marocco verrà rielaborato nel celebre On the road - Burroughs scrive un manoscritto confuso ed amorfo, diario di viaggio e collezione di appunti e pensieri spar...more
Vaughn
Another one of my favorite few books ever. One of a very few texts that made me feel like jumping out of my skin on first read, others being Anti-Oedipus and (when I was younger) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which unfortunately seems like a cynical cash-in attempt to me now.
Burroughs, on the other hand, could be called skeptical, hard-boiled, perverse in his thirst for the painful and revolting, but not ever cynical. He's a satirist of the Enlightenment variety not unlike Voltaire, with his...more
Alan
Not knowing much about William Burroughs other than his history with drugs, I picked up ‘The Soft Machine’ spontaneously, assuming that it would be a “normal” novel, albeit a strange one. To say the least, I certainly wasn’t expecting this. One paragraph in, and I’d raised an eyebrow; one page in, and I was starting to wonder if the whole first chapter would be as seemingly nonsensical as what I’d just read. When I found that the second chapter was just as weird, I started to question whether or...more
Kurt
This was very good. It took me a long time to even give this book a try, even as an avid Burroughs fan, because I imagined it as, like, a cheap gimmick, or an evil Mad Libs joke. "And the sick boy awoke feeling... anal mucus! Ha, ha, ha!" But I was sold to at least give it a try when I heard the technique he used compared to Jackson Pollock, who many people (myself included) thought splattered paint mindlessly across a canvas, but actually worked very diligently and meticulously - as did Burroug...more
St-Michel
The evil wordsmith that makes Burroughs what he is, it's like escaping into a shell of extroverted lunacy. Burroughs has always clawed at me (especially since he's one of my most favoured and influential authors) but for some reason I always seem to skim past his books whenever I find myself at a bookstore, fearful of what might lay waiting inside - but why? It's like Underworld or Squarepusher of the music world, for I love it, but have a certain anxiety that what I purchase next could horribly...more
Jonathan Mitchell
"'Product consistency' is essential in toothpaste and cheese," Colin Newman of the band Wire has observed. "It's irrelevant in art." And he's right: the artist is not obliged to create something universally accessible every time he puts pen to paper, plectrum to guitar or brush to canvas. "The Soft Machine" represents a crucial step in the evolution of Burroughs's writing, and is interesting on its own terms--but if you're looking for something readable, this ain't it. (Go for "Junky", "Queer" o...more
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William Seward Burroughs II, (also known by his pen name William Lee; February 5, 1914 – August 2, 1997) was an American novelist, short story writer, essayist, painter, and spoken word performer. A primary figure of the Beat Generation and a major postmodernist author, he is considered to be "one of the most politically trenchant, culturally influential, and innovative artists of the 20th century...more
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Naked Lunch Junky Queer And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks Cities of the Red Night

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