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The Soft Machine

(The Nova Trilogy #1)

3.36  ·  Rating details ·  6,758 ratings  ·  280 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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Jeffrey Keeten
”In order to accomplish the purpose I prostituted myself to one of the priests---(Most distasteful thing I ever stood still for) ---During the sex act he metamorphosed himself into a green crab from the waist up, retaining human legs and genitals that secreted a caustic erogenous slime, while a horrible stench filled the hut---I was able to endure these horrible encounters by promising myself the pleasure of killing this disgusting monster when the time came---And my reputation as an idiot was b ...more
Feb 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, 100-mccaffery
'Breathe in Johnny -- Here Goes --'


I respect rather than love it. Like Gravity's Rainbow's sewer scene on his knees, bare as a baby ... or William T. Vollmann's telephone exchange between steel reefs, a wire wrapped in gutta-percha vibrates: I hereby...zzZZZZZ...the critical situation...a crushing blow....The sleepwalker's all eyes; the realist is all ears; their mating forms the telephone. Later perhaps, I see parts, flashing, cut-in, from David Lynch this is a formica table or Cronenberg's n
Feb 19, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: pub-1961
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
Vit Babenco
The Soft Machine is like a travelogue concocted by a perverted and drugged space traveler…
I had this special Green Boy I was making it with who knew the ropes you might say and he told me we have to tune the heat wave out with music – So we get all the Indians and all the Green Boys with drums and flutes and copper plates and stayed just out of the heat blast beating the drums and slowly closed in – lam had rigged up a catapult to throw limestone boulders and shattered the cubicle so we move in
Feb 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
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
Oct 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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!
Jan 05, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: part-read
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 -
Pure dissonance, attrition and aggression over the Mayan battleships that distillate phosphorescent obsidians into rains of junk. It ends with a dose of apomorphine though.
Burroughs has the power to make almost anyone's skin crawl. His works are clusters of unfocused creative genius complete with hoards of vulgarities and absurd gags. Naked Lunch was a transcendent reading experience for me, it was like nothing I'd ever read before. It was something unique and edgy, totally off the walls crazy to a point of extreme difficulty but also extreme entertainment. The Soft Machine is quite similar in these regards, but it is also even less focused and more experimental. ...more
Jul 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've seen a lot of comments about how this book of experimental fiction is "unreadable", which I did not find to be the case at all. In fact I enjoyed reading it immensely - the repetition of the cut-up material gives it a sort of surreal hypnotic quality. The writing is occasionally straight up brilliant. Some of the sex stuff is a bit too much though - if I never hear the phrase "rectal mucus and carbolic soap" again it will be too soon.

I do agree that it is difficult to understand - the plot
Apr 03, 2013 marked it as to-read
I know, that experiment. They are reminded that it is an alchemist experiment to try to produce gold dung. And it failed. In the end, they're just a hobby Sanya shit. I need to get this book? Misunderstanding. In severe cases of amnesia precedence, the stereotype of the avant-garde, experimental book:
Page 5 Start - What's going on here?
6th - two hours here?
P.9 is - this is the entire five books.
P.13 - This style is a way to pass the bullshit, fractures of the mind and the world I see.
Page 20 - b
Leo Robertson
Sep 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewtastic
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
Jun 29, 2007 rated it liked it
This book forever burned the words "rectal mucus" into my psyche. Carbolic acid and rectal mucus. Thanks BB!
Sentimental Surrealist
It hit me with a certain amount of force yesterday that I'd read eight books by William S. Burroughs between July and November of 2012 and zero in the entirety of 2013 and 2014. What had happened to the young rebel? Had he calmed? Dare we say he made peace with the world?

Well, it was a slow realization, but here's the essence of the problem: William S. Burroughs was not a great writer. An interesting one? Definitely. An influential one? I'll go along with that. A key part of shaping my tastes in
Aaron Eames
Aug 02, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If one performed a Burroughs-type surgery on The Soft Machine and removed every instance of the words ‘orgasm’, ‘rectum’, ‘ass hairs’, even ‘Panama’, then the novel would, as it were, go limp, though if the title is synonymous with the human body then repetition is its natural mode. The cut-up style, assembling narrative by splicing in text from various sources at chosen, random or repeated intervals, is often intriguing but mostly hard-going. Then again, a book with ‘jissom’ every other paragra ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it liked it
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
David Rodolfo
Apr 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Some experiments work, some others don't. In particular, experimental writing can always be, at least, fascinating; a unexpected way to elevate fiction and language to new and interesting places. William Burroughs' experiment here is cutting up one of his own manuscripts and then creating an entire new novel from scratch.
Sounds interesting? Yeah, it also sounds incredibly difficult.
The results are nothing short of peculiar. I often found myself laughing, making weird faces, gasping or even groan
Oleksandr Zholud
May 06, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first (or second; or third… depends on the edition) volume of Nova trilogy, written by the beat generation icon, William S. Burroughs. I initially planned to read the whole trilogy, because (formally last volume) Nova Express, was nominated for Nebula in 1965. It doesn’t worth the effort.

The author actively uses his ‘novel’ cut-up method of composition: take your text, scissors, and start rearranging parts until they lost coherence. This means the story has no plot, no characters, no
Apr 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
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 ...more
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
*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 well ov
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.
Jul 21, 2015 rated it did not like it
Self-indulgent shite. Not enjoyable. I love Most of Burroughs work including Naked Lunch but this was too inpenetrable. It just was not fun. It was simply a junkie tapping away at his type writer, alone in his cheap motel room thinking how great it might be to write a book completely fucked. Sorry pal, it's shite.
3 1/2 stars. Brutal, difficult to read, and kind of shallow, but entertaining and thought-provoking.
Andrew Whittaker
Jan 31, 2015 rated it did not like it
i have tried and tried reading this book with no avail, now, don't get me wrong... burroughs is an amazing author, I just don't prefer this title in particular.
Oct 02, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels
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
Burroughs is one of those writers that usually divides people instantly into the love him or hate him camps, but I'm still undecided about where I belong so I'm sitting in the middle for now. The Soft Machine is a weird, weird book that features Burroughs' infamous 'cut up' writing style (which again, you'll either love or hate) and dips in and out of sci-fi/fantasy worlds as the characters (who are mostly junkies/rent boys) have random drug-fuelled conversations about life and the universe. Th ...more
Phoebe Lynn
Nov 17, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It is on my shelf "Sorry I just can't".

Because I just can't. Out of my entire life, I rarely start a book and leave it unfinished. No matter how dull / poorly written it is, I want to be able to finish it. This way I can say, I read this and I have this opinion.

For the Soft Machine, unfortunately I cannot. I can't finish the book because I simply don't understand it. It is a collection of words, of which I just cannot fathom the meaning.

I liked Burrough's Junky and Ginsberg's Howl, and I know th
Lindsey Beat
Nov 25, 2014 rated it did not like it
liked the weirdness but got bored with all the penises.
Firstly if you don't think you can withstand frequent uses of the words rectum and jism then you may want to skip this one.
Second, most of this book is written in gibberish, i don't know how others handled that but the only way i could read it is by bypassing the forebrain entirely.
In practical terms i read it really, REALLY quickly (without skimming). I don't mean i read the overall book quickly but rather the individual chapters, sentences and words. I read fast enough that the words went in o
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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

Other books in the series

The Nova Trilogy (3 books)
  • The Ticket That Exploded (The Nova Trilogy #2)
  • Nova Express (The Nova Trilogy, #3)

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