MACHINE MAN by Max Barry

Book Quote:

“I am a smart guy. I recycle. Once I found a lost cat and took it to a shelter. Sometimes I make jokes. If there’s anything wrong with your car, I can tell what by listening to it. I like kids, except the ones who are rude to adults and the parents just stand there, smiling. I have a job. I own an apartment. I rarely lie. These are the qualities I keep hearing people are looking for. I can only think there must be something else, something no one mentions, because I have no friends, am estranged from my family, and haven’t dated in this decade. There is a guy in Lab Control who killed a woman with his car, and he gets invited to parties. I don’t understand that.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (AUG 19, 2011)

Special –> interview with MAX BARRY!

Max Barry’s books take a satiric look at humans within the corporate machine. In Syrup, a marketing graduate named Scat devises a new soft drink called Fukk, only to discover that he’s the victim of corporate theft when his idea is stolen by his nefarious roommate, Sneaky Pete. Max takes a futuristic look at the corporatization of the planet in Jennifer Government, and in Company, a business school graduate finds himself unexpectedly and suspiciously promoted when he questions some of the company’s peculiar business practices.

Machine Man, an off-kilter tale of a man who accidentally loses a leg and who then discovers that the enhanced replacement is more efficient than the original, seems to be the natural progression of Max’s grimly hilarious, eccentric, yet uncannily spot-on skewering of corporate culture. The novel is the tale of shy, isolated scientist Charles Neumann who works for a large company called Better Future. Since this is a company that’s in the business of scientific research and development, security is tight:

“I swiped for the elevator and again access to Building A. We were big on swiping. You couldn’t go to a bathroom in Better Future without swiping first. There was once a woman whose card stopped working and she was trapped in a corridor for three hours. It was a busy corridor but nobody was permitted to let her out. Ushering somebody through a security door on your pass was just about the worst thing you could do at Better Future. They would fire you for that. All anyone could do was bring her snacks and fluids until security finished verifying her biometrics.”

Charles Neumann isn’t particularly thrilled with his body and considers himself weak and puny. Then he has an accident that leads to an amputation–a tragedy for some, but to Charles it’s just the beginning of an obsession to build a better body.

The amputation also marks the beginning of a social life for Charles as a number of new people enter his life. First comes an annoyingly bouncy physical therapist, and then there’s prosthetist, Lola Shanks, “with a bunch of artificial legs under each arm like a Hindu goddess.” Lola is tickled to hear that Charles doesn’t care about a “natural look,” and that he’s much more concerned about function. Charles and Lola share an obsession when it comes to the performance of bodily parts, and so Charles selects the relatively high-tech attributes of the “exegesis Archion foot on a computer-controlled adaptive knee. Multiaxis rotation, polycentric swing. … The Olympics banned it because it provided an unfair advantage over regular legs.”

But to Charles, the leg needs improvement, and since he’s a scientist, he embarks on a one way ticket to bodily perfection. In his quest, he’s aided, abetted, and funded by Better Future. Better Future dabbles in pharmacological products, non-lethal weaponry and bioengineering. Suddenly the company, represented by brisk manager Cassandra Cautery, wants to provide Charles with a lab fully staffed by eager young things ready to improve the human body. The quest to improve the body becomes the latest link in the money-making frenzy at Better Future, but are there more sinister motives afoot?

In spite of the fact the book includes self-mutilation, Machine Man is extremely funny. Max Barry successfully captures the insanity of bodily perfection, meshes it with corporate greed and takes it, with hilarious consequences, to its logical conclusion. In this age of cosmetic obsession (yes, botox specials on the lunch hour, and you can finally grow thicker, longer, lashes), organ harvesting, and robotic prosthetics–a technology heralded as “an opportunity” for the multiple limb amputees pouring out of the Iraq war–Max Barry once again writes with vision, humour, and a poignant look at the humans trapped within corporate machine.

(Syrup is currently being made into a film, Jennifer Government has been optioned by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, and Universal Pictures acquired screen rights to Company.)

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 81 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; Original edition (August 9, 2011)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
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August 19, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Humorous, Satire, Scifi

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