288 pages 7
Max Barry is close with his readers. When one of them challenged him to start
writing faster, Barry took upon himself a challenge that would terrify most
writers: he blogged his book. Everyday he would post the pages he wrote (some days there were many, other days less so) and field the comments, questions and complaints from readers. The finished product is Machine Man.
Machine Man is a 21st-century novel, not just in how it was created but in the story it presents. While the final, published Machine Man is more developed than what his readers enjoyed online, the spirit is intact.
Scientist Charles Neumann strikes a repulsive pose as the hero that you wouldn’t want to hang out with--more asocial
than antisocial. He lacks people skills. After an industrial accident leaves him without a leg, fate presents itself in the guise of prosthetist Lola Shanks and her armful of prosthetic legs. Neumann doesn’t reflect on what he has lost; instead he views the possibilities of how science and technology can improve on what human biology lacks. He builds his own prosthetic that earns the attention of his mega-corporation employer.
As the relationship between Charlie and Lola develops, discerning readers could see a predictable story path, but they would be dead wrong. The twists and turns in Machine Man are never choreographed and always provide a startling jolt into a new and compelling direction. With taut pace, Barry uncovers the quirks and motivations of his flawed characters.
These are flawed characters, but Barry leaves it up to the reader to contemplate the moral implications of the story. His characters are moving far too fast down the rabbit hole to worry about what happens when they hit the end.
What’s most frightening about Machine Man is the possibility that science and technology are closer to Charles Neumann’s experience than we might care to think. The novel is over the top enough to make it an exciting science fiction thriller, but realistic enough to make you question what technology might reveal tomorrow.