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The Tin Men

3.59  ·  Rating details ·  232 ratings  ·  35 reviews
Why not program computers to take over the really dull jobs that human beings have to do - such as praying and behaving morally? At the William Morris Institute of Automation Research they are doing just that to free mankind for the really stimulating and demanding tasks of living today - first and foremost the impending visit of Her Majesty the Queen to open its new wing. ...more
Paperback, 208 pages
Published November 5th 2015 by Faber Faber (first published January 1st 1965)
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Average rating 3.59  · 
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Vit Babenco
Apr 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Tin Men was written in the sixties – the prime of the absurdist literature and an eve of the computer era and an onset of the artificial intelligence. Both those things – absurdism and computerization – brought together make a brilliant combination…
There is a certain William Morris Institute of Automation Research which is preparing for the Queen's visit to open the new Ethics Wing…
Science and life: the true scientists work in the institute and they have true scientific minds…
“…Haugh had an
...more
Lemar
Oct 03, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like the British humor such as Fawlty Towers or Ricky Gervais in the Office, you will thoroughly enjoy this book.
“- was a responsive subject for lobbying. No lobbyist had ever come to him in vain.”

“He had an open mind. It was open at the front, and it was open at the back.”

“The corners of his mouth struggled nobly up into a smile, like two wounded war heroes getting to their feet for the National Anthem.”
Anna
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, hilarious
I'm not quite sure why I picked this off the shelf in the library, but am so glad I did. It is the one of the best and most deadpan satires I've ever come across. The plot centres on an academic department that has a new building that will be opened by the Queen. This impending opening unleashes chaos, absurdity, and self-replicating committees, distracting the heads of department from their usual novel-writing, sporting activities, and obsessive graphing of their IQs.

Probably my favourite and
...more
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Ed Erwin
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor
Funny workplace satire set in a company investigating uses for computers in the 1960s. This is not Sci-Fi, but there are some rudimentary SF elements. They consider using computers to write newspaper stories or pornographic novels. They even consider automating prayer -- why should God care whether it is a human or a machine who prays for the local sports team? They attempt to build robots with just the right balance of self-preservation vs. human-preservation. (After just four iterations this ...more
Peter
Nov 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
This was a fun read and with good reason, a farce of the highest order. Inside this slim tome is some excellent scenes:

"If I were asked to put my advice to a young in one word, do you know what that word would be?"
"No?" Sir Prestwick had said.
"Think," Prestwick,"Think."...

The whole scene goes on and is supurb.

The legendary Kurt Vonnegut started a film company called Sourdough Productions just so he could by the film rights to one of his most favourite books.

Says it all really.
Kylie
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quirky-is-all
This made The Leakey Establishment look densely plotted. Amusing at times, but overall a chore to get through. Thankfully it's reasonably short.
Suad Shamma
Jan 23, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, 2014
I had read Michael Frayn's The Trick of It and absolutely enjoyed his style of writing and satiric humor. I thought - looking at this book's reviews and synopsis - that I would love this one for sure. Unfortunately, I did not and I could not. No matter how much I tried to find humor in the dialogue and writing, no matter how much I tried to expand my mind to take in all the great complex satire, I just couldn't enjoy reading this book.

It started out well enough with the conversation at the
...more
Simon Mcleish
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
Originally published on my blog here in January 2000.

Michael Frayn's first novel is like the comic novels of J.B. Priestley, especially Sir Michael and Sir George, rather than those of Evelyn Waugh, with whom the quoted reviews on the cover compare him. Waugh's melancholy side is absent from The Tin Men, and it is more directly satirical, though the novel is as funny as the comparison suggests.

The satire is about mechanisation and depersonalisation, the latter a theme to which Frayn returned
...more
John FitzGerald
Like the curate's egg. Some very amusing and insightful passages amid some very laboured ones. This is a slim novel but I couldn't read much at a time because the artificiality of the plot was wearing. There are no characters, really, just assemblages of shtick.

Of course, if this had been the first novel of Frayn's I'd read I might have rated it more highly, not knowing how much better he was capable of.

Having said all that I should make it clear I think the novel's worth reading. The good
...more
Jonathan Norton
Long ago, I saw the young Alan Rusbridger on "What The Papers Say" quoting the passage in chapter 13 that states the differing levels of interest that western media have for catastrophes involving foreigners. Depressingly, it's still true and relevant. There are some jolly good laughs in the rest of this satire, and there are moments that seem to faintly prefigure Monty Python, which Frayn was a writer for. Nice parodies of fashionable young novelists as well (blokeish, existentialist, hepcat), ...more
Jaclyn
Jul 08, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like it. I liked the concept, and I found the idea of journalism by way of random choices to be kind of fascinating (I definitely thought "A monkey could do what I do" on more than one occasion when writing for dailies). But I didn't find the irreverent tone funny--I found it dry and boring. Maybe it's something that was lost over the years, I'm not sure.
James Hold
Dec 20, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This was a disappointing experience. Seven chapters in and I had no idea what was going on other than some people are working on a computer project and the Queen is coming for a visit. After that I began skipping around looking for anything good. Books do not win awards for being 'brilliantly comic' or draw reviews calling them 'continuously funny' for no reason. Yet I found nothing humorous. Not a chuckle, a grin, or even a giggle.

So what's wrong with me that I find nothing here to laugh at?
...more
Mark
Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Frayn is a comic master. Hard to believe this book is over 50years old, despite its obvious 60s setting in a vast British scientific research facility, replete with gleaming Bakelite and boffins in lab-coats. We’re flung into the white heat of harold Wilson’s Britain when science and engineering was pushing back the frontiers of literally everything.

The mission: to computerise literally everything. Thus humanity could finally do away with journalists, editors and novelists, philosophers and
...more
John Cravey

37 chapters, 55,000+ words

What I liked about this book was Frayn’s use of comedy to subtly explore esoteric ideas. I was going to say that these were esoteric ideas in 1965 when the book was published, but I suspect that they still are even in today’s computerized and networked world.

It’s not that he avoids satire on conventional topics. For example, the subplot dealing with computer generation of newspapers is a jab at tabloid journalism. It’s also true that the dialogue of the programmer who
...more
Mark
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A herring and a potato.
That is what I answer when someone asks me what the best dish is I've ever eaten, not something I had in a three star restaurant. (Mind you, the herring was a delicious Dutch maatje, the first of the season, and the potato was a new harvest fingerling.)
And when people ask me what the best wine is I ever had I do not mention the Mouton Rothschild 1961 I had a glass of in a posh restaurant, I reply it was the simple yet delicious country wine a bottle of which I shared ages
...more
Morag Wallace
Mildly amusing. Set in the computer world of the 1960s when mainframes occupied entire rooms, Michael Frayne mocks media moguls, board members, academics, journalists, novelists and security professionals, whilst telling a tale of perils of miscommunication
Alistair Pyke
I found most of this book mildly amusing, mostly the awkward stiltedness of British conversation. The very end wasn't very good in my opinion.
Jamie Goth
Has some interesting ideas. Touches on consciousness and nihilism but is mainly farcical and irritated me I’m afraid.
Nigel
Jul 10, 2018 rated it did not like it
Shelves: did-not-finish
Dazzlingly (un)funny.
Way too much detail about absolutely nothing in particular.
Backstories about people I cared, not a jot.
Life is way, way to short for writing as pretentious as this.
CaldoHendo
Aug 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The employees of the William Morris Institute of Automation Research spend their days struggling to design machines which will eventually replace the need for human beings altogether. If these men succeed in their laborious planning and designing, we will soon have computers that can publish newspapers as well as read them, orchestrate mass games of bingo, pray, and even save our lives. So what intelligent and open-minded people lie behind these ideas? There is Goldwasser, the unhinged head of ...more
Ralph
May 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: humor
Comedy, on the whole, is not difficult to write, but humor is. And, generally speaking, people who can write prose humorously tend to stick to vignettes or short stories, as did Woody Allen and James Thurber. Longer attempts at humor seem most successful when in the form of a memoir, which is, at least theoretically, fact based. A humorous (or comic) novel is a rara avis, and the only one that springs to mind immediately is "Confederacy of Dunces," though I sure there must be others, though, I ...more
Dom Mcintyre
I dithered between 3 and 4 for the rating.
A wealthy television mogul has donated a large amount of money for a research institute specialising in automation to build a new wing for ethics studies. (If you've read Scoop, the mogul will remind you of a slower-witted Lord Copper). The institute learns, almost by accident, that the Queen will be visiting to open the new wing. This is handled by an ever-increasing number of committees which somehow make collectively the decisions that their
...more
Stephen
Feb 05, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a rare reread for me, which I mean to but rarely do. It's a short, dated-yet-relevant satire on academia & academics, technology, bureaucracy, etc., etc. It's set around the privately sponsored, new ethics wing of a robotics research institute, due to be opened by the Queen. That sets pretty much everything up - and the book is pretty much a brisk romp through the different permutations of personality clashes and misunderstandings that that scenario offers.

There's just enough
...more
Andrew Schirmer
As another reader has pointed out, this is hopelessly dated. It is set at an institute for the automation of human life and the characters are constantly conjecturing the possibilities and limits of computers. However, It IS funny at times: there's a great reference to Pudovkin's "Mother", and a hilarious side-plot concerning an aspiring novelist who writes his jacket blurbs first and works backwards from there. And the development and testing of a series of "Samaritan" droids who will sacrifice ...more
Michael
Jan 12, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Michael Frayn's first novel, now unbelievably 50 years old.
Set in the world of higher education - Sharpe, Lodge - it takes side-swipes at the media and artificial intelligence [the stuff of science fiction in those distant days] with Frayn's sure-footed farce to give the ending its triumphant shape. Amusing, thought-provoking, classic comic fiction.
Bryan Murphy
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The humour is relentless rather than unfailing, and very much of its time. However, Frayn produces a brilliant twist at the end, which cleverly absolves him of all writerly shortcomings and earns him an extra star from this reviewer.
Natalie Rose
Not quite what the synopsis describes, so I ended up quite disappointed.
I was looking forward to some rogue robots and computers that imitate human emotions but really it felt more like a Carry On film replaced with a cast of geeky scientists.
Not a bad book, just not my taste.
Shayla
Jan 11, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I can't remember the last book that made me laugh out loud so frequently! It is a little dated, as others have said, but the incredibly funny vignettes and the ridiculous characters make it worth the read.
Steve Mayer
Frayn's more recent novels, such as Headlong and Spies, are terrific, as is the play Copenhagen. But his early work is very uneven, and this is no exception. It may have been dead-on when it first appeared, almost fifty years ago, but its dated now, both in substance and style.
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Michael Frayn is an English playwright and novelist. He is best known as the author of the farce Noises Off and the dramas Copenhagen and Democracy. His novels, such as Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong and Spies, have also been critical and commercial successes, making him one of the handful of writers in the English language to succeed in both drama and prose fiction. His works often ...more