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Deus Ex Machina

2.65  ·  Rating details ·  136 ratings  ·  41 reviews
On a distant island, reality show contestants battle for bragging rights and a slot on next week’s episode. They’ve perfected their dramatic roles and are prepared to do whatever it takes to win. There’s the take-no-prisoners Marine sergeant, the gay hairdresser, the ruthless lawyer, the brainy poet. But one player refuses to compete—Gloria Hamm, a sullen dental hygienist, ...more
Paperback, 203 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Counterpoint LLC
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Average rating 2.65  · 
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this book could have gone either way: brilliant satire about our fallacy in equating reality television with reality or steaming pile of finger-pointing hipster poo.

it's somewhere in the middle, but because i was never really jazzed about picking it back up again every time i put it down, and was easily distracted from reading it by other things, it gets a sad two stars from me.

others might like it more.

i actually don't watch any reality t.v. i have never seen survivor. or real housewives of
Feb 03, 2012 rated it did not like it
Good Lord. He got paid to write this?
As a person who has (sometimes unwillingly) watched the program the author is satirizing, "Survivor", I can see he missed the point entirely.
Some of the plot twists he suggests (such as putting instructions in the night sky) are laughable. And the lethality he injects into the contests would soon get the show shut down.
Not to mention Sarah Palin (sigh). Way to date a book.
And the scene near the end with the woman and the baby? Who he refuses to identify? "But
Jul 15, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2011
The book could have been pretty neat. A reality show run by a man known only as "the producer," as he tries to open humanity to the world. His goal is to see what's truly in the human heart, but all he seems to get are the same cliches.

But the writing is messy. At first, I thought the author was ending chapters awkwardly because he was going to get back to things. Maybe he was trying to up the mystery a bit, and I was patient. I got more than halfway through the book and it's only continuing to
Dec 06, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: trbc
I wish goodreads had half-stars, because I would give this book 3-1/2 stars if possible. There is a lot worthwhile here, and Altschul mines more from the subject matter, reality television, than I would have initially thought possible. Ultimately, though, I think Altschul is too smart for his subject matter - reading this book's jabs at "celebreality" and "televolution," is like watching an expert marksman shoot fish in a barrel. We can admire his considerable skills (and considerable they are), ...more
Jul 11, 2012 rated it did not like it
I really wanted this book to live up to it's potential. It could have been a great piece about how this genre of tv has molded and possibly even warped our societies perception of self and reality.

It derailed quite quickly and I found myself reading each page hoping it was going to suddenly veer back on track and end fantastically. It didn't even come close.

The sole part that I felt tiptoed close to this pieces potential was the very very end. Better luck next time!

Dec 07, 2011 rated it did not like it
This book was awful. The satire falls flat and all you're left with is the awful cliches. I wouldn't have finished it, but it was a quick read. Even so, I had to grit it out.

It's too bad, because the author is a decent writer, but the idea was just a bomb. Making fun of the idiocy of reality TV is easy but to devote a novel to it is overkill. Hard to like a novel where every single character is loathsome.
Mar 13, 2011 rated it really liked it
I think there is something just a little extra funny in the idea of fiction about reality television. This book would almost be dystopian, if it wasn't so scarily close to where we actually are. Dark, cerebral, funny, intriguing, and more. This book is a delicious, captivating read.
Vanesa Martin
Oct 14, 2018 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Ash Connell-Gonzalez
Jan 04, 2018 rated it did not like it
Only read twelve pages, but I am already done with it. The producer masturbates on like the third page, the Latinx character is from the Bronx because apparently that's the only place in the US that has Latinx, the black character is a "gang outreach counselor" named "Shaneequio Jones," and the lesbian is butch because obviously that's the only kind that exist.
Oh, and the damn narration is in a distractingly obvious form of present tense. Bleh!

If you like the concept, just go watch Unreal
Joseph Michael Owens
Dec 02, 2010 rated it really liked it
I always like to get my overall impressions of a book out of the way at the beginning in case someone is too impatient to read my entire review. With that said, I really liked Andrew Foster Altschul’s Deus Ex Machina. You should probably go pick yourself up a copy.

On the surface, the novel is about reality television, specifically, a show that is ostensibly a cross between The Truman Show and Survivor (with aspects of nearly every other reality show ever created sprinkled in). But to say that
Tom Riordan
Nov 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Edmund Kean or Gwenn, both actors, are creditied with saying, "Dying is easy. Commedy is hard." I add, "satire can kill." And not in a good way, as a comic saying "I killed " recounting a good night of standup. No, I mean kill as in make dead. Great satire (e.g., Bonfire of the Vanities or A Modest Proposal) is brilliant. Done not so great, even just good, it flops. Unfortunaltely, I felt this satric novel flopped. It was good on several levels -- had a strong premise, was written in a punchy ...more
Jun 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
I really liked the idea of this book, but had a really hard time finishing it. I grew tired of the hammering negativity on current pop-sell-out culture (the nadir of which it seems, according to the author, is the survivor-like reality TV genre), the frenetic switching between secondary characters that were half-drawn (or was that on purpose, to try to straddle the mystery and cynical pop-culture-bashing genres?), and a generally convoluted writing style. Under all these things, there's a great ...more
Connie  Kuntz
Feb 10, 2011 rated it liked it
NPR Books recommended this book about the hard ironies of Reality Television. I was sort of surprised that NPR recommended it. After all, doesn't everyone already know that Reality TV is bunk? I read it anyway and am glad I did.

While the prose itself did little to soothe my soul and I was annoyed at the "ads" placed throughout the book (Starbucks, Coldplay, etc.), some of the plot twists and turns caught me unawares and reminded me about how lucky I am to have love and children in my life. (I
Eric Meyers
Dec 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rumpus-book-club
This is a clever book, and a great read. In short, its about an intense version of survivor controlled as if it was the truman show. It invites questions about who controls your life. Is there a difference between the producer and god? Sometimes it wears this questions a little too much on it's sleeve, but it's clever nonetheless.

It makes the decision that most creative writing professors will decry to date itself by including a number of real people and celebrities in cameo appearances
Celine Lescalie
Mar 30, 2012 rated it did not like it
Shelves: the-globe
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
Review on a Andrew Foster Altschul's Deus Ex Machina - written a long time after reading it.

Deus Ex Machina in short is a book that completely deconstructs Reality Television, through the point of view of the Producer and the contestants who are constantly trying to find something, no matter how far outlandish, that will keep them from getting eliminated from the show.
I had major problems reading this book. First I immediately compared it to Carolyn Parkhurst's Lost and Found which is a similar
Jan 06, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2011
A scene from Woody Allen's "Manhattan":
Isaac: Has anybody read that Nazis are going to march in New Jersey, you know? I read this in the newspaper, we should go down there, get some guys together, you know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them."

Man: "There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating."

Isaac: "Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the
Mar 17, 2016 rated it it was ok
Attracted by the title, I picked this up on a whim. As with any book that I take the time to read I worked to give it my full attention and let the story take me where it will.
This is a dark tale about a “Survivor” like TV show whose contestants are in the end, reduced to a bunch of depraved, violent, zombies. It’s supposed to be a commentary on our present state of voyeurism and insatiable hunger for the most macabre of human interest stories, “The sex-changers, the mothers who beat their
Dlmoore83 Moore
Dec 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: trbc
Loved this book. AFA has a quick paced style - no wasted words, to the point and no dictionary needed. Making multi-level statements about today's media and our obsession with reality television - and asks - just whose reality is it? It reminded me of DFW's "This is Water" - our choice of reality and Truth with a capital T.

With some possible literary nods to J. Irving and DFW, AFA proves himself worthy.

For me, the book got off to a slow start. Once I hit the second third of the book, I couldn't
Nov 01, 2013 rated it did not like it
This book tries its best to make a statement about the unreality of reality tv, about how hollow it and its makers are. However, instead of being a deep, probing and insightful account, it is a scattered, hard-to-follow and confusing mess. I really don't know why I persisted through 203 pages. Masochism? A hope that there would be just a glimmer of enlightenment? I would have been more interested if the story had focused more on the contestants, instead of the behind-the-scenes. I really found ...more
John Pappas
Jul 27, 2011 rated it liked it
"Not script, scripture," says one of the characters in this novel about an amped-up version of the reality show "Survivor", in a reference to how seriously other characters, and by extension, the American viewing public, take their manufactured roles in the grand spectacle being critiqued here. Altschul's second novel bludgeons America's obsession with itself in a sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartbreaking exploration of the effects of mediated reality on our collective psyche or sense of ...more
Sara Nowak
Feb 04, 2011 marked it as to-read
At NPR, I have a review of a book that blew me away: Andrew Foster Altschul's Deus Ex Machina.

But what makes Deus Ex Machina one of the best novels about American culture in years is Altschul's perfect understanding of the syntax and structure of reality TV.

It's darkly funny in parts, but mostly it's terrifying in its urgency and plausibility, and it's impossible to look at television the same way after you've read it. You're forced to wonder whether reality TV — whether our country itself —
Dec 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
written like a reality show about a television production team making a (post?) reality show that is a combination of survivor and lost, where the characters can die, everything in the island environment is unnatural/manufactured (after careful market research) and all of it can be controlled by the producer.
comes across as an adventurous cultural critique, probably would have given it a 3 stars but the "sermon" delivered by island goddess/special guest (to boost ratings) sarah palin was pretty
Mar 18, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library-book
I don't want to call it godawful, except I do a little.

Long stretches of pontificating, leading me to believe the author would have been better served writing a book of cultural criticism instead of a work of fiction.

A book for people who spend a lot of time thinking about how they're better than everyone else?

Oh, and it was also muddled and uninteresting, and therefore hard to get through even though it's only 200 pages.
Audacia Ray
Well-written and pulled me along in the story really quickly and intensely, but after finishing it, I'm not really sure what the book adds to commentary about reality television and American culture as we know it today. I hoped this novel would reframe some of my thinking about reality television and fame, or give me a different angle to chew on, but it really didn't.
Jan 26, 2014 rated it liked it
As reality-show watcher, I bought into Altschul's premise from the very start: Our obsession over "reality" instead of reality is perverting our ideas about the identities of ourselves and any higher power. But much like a reality show, the book's ending was a disappointment, with too much build-up leading to an "ultimate reward" that was ultimately empty.
Feb 08, 2012 rated it it was ok
Great concept -- a TV producer learns lessons about free will while producing a show that sounds exactly like Survivor -- ruined by too many cheap stereotypes. A couple of the characters are downright hateful, I felt no sympathy for the protagonist, and I didn't feel like I learned anything from reading this book.
Mar 07, 2011 rated it it was ok
(paperback)Great premise: satire of Survivor-like reality TV. Started well and hit its stride with a Sarah Palin cameo at the mid-point. Then began the slow descent into a quasi-nightmare/mental breakdown of the producer protagonist. I'm not quite sure what happened at the end of the game, and I don't really care.
Billy McDermott
Dec 15, 2010 rated it did not like it
I really, really did not like this book - the plot was insipid; the hammer with which the reader was beaten over the head with "American Culture is Ridiculous" was a heavy one indeed. Read more like a sophomoric screed re: What's Wrong With Americans. Yeesh.

Dec 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I really liked Altschul's first novel "Lady Lazarus" and was stoked to check out his follow-up. "Machina" is wild, acerbic, savage satire that hits right where it's aiming. In a time when so much fiction sounds the same (remixes of remixes), Altschul is out there doing his own thing.
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Andrew Foster Altschul is the author of the novel Lady Lazarus. His short fiction and essays have appeared in Esquire, McSweeney's, Fence, StoryQuarterly, One Story and other journals, as well as the anthologies Best New American Voices 2006 and O. Henry Prize Stories 2007. He teaches at Stanford University.