Jennie's Reviews > Machine Man

Machine Man by Max Barry
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's review
Jun 06, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, humor, literary-fiction, satire
Recommended for: sci-fi fans, speculative fiction junkies
Read from June 06 to 09, 2011 — I own a copy

I've been a fan of Barry since Jennifer Government, and Machine Man doesn't disappoint. In fact, it might be even better.

The story is told from the perspective of Charlie, an anti-social scientist who opens the door to the possibility of "upgrades" after an unfortunate accidental amputation of his leg. Barry expertly captures Charlie's single-minded focus on engineering, his awkward ignorance of human empathy and emotion, and his obsessive possessiveness of his projects. His clinical, cold, and often amoral narrative voice is strangely compelling, even as it ventures right up to edges of morality and eventually (your mileage may vary on this one), tips right over.

The novel was originally serialized, and it feels like it when you read it. The perspective and narrative jumps around in the middle of chapters, and takes some getting used to. I believe it suits the story, as the narrator spends a lot of time undergoing traumatic "upgrades" or unconscious -- the products of grave injury or surgical intervention. I didn't mind it -- I prefer my speculative fiction short, sweet, and plotty, so I can mull over the issues myself instead of struggling to get through overly wordy prose.

Ultimately, this is a very speculative novel, with an emphasis on exploring the metaphysical boundaries of the self and the mind-body duality (or singularity, according to your philosophy). Charlie's unsettling romance with Lola -- a prosthetic specialist with an amputee fetish -- is poignant, sweet, awkward, and not a small bit disconcerting.

There's a lot of moral and philosophical gray areas to mull over in this novel, which is exactly the areas in which Barry shines. This novel would probably be a miss for anyone who needs to identify with their protagonist and has problems reading narratives told through fairly abhorrent perspectives. Highly recommended, though, to fans of speculative fiction and near-future sci-fi (and hard sci-fi, no fantasy mumbo-jumbo).

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