Sunday, December 18, 2011

Machine Man

Charles Neumann works as a mechanical engineer for Better Future. He has no friends or social skills to speak of, but he loves technology and machines. He feels as if a piece of him is missing when he misplaces his cell phone. In an effort to get his cell phone back while testing a polymer in his industrial lab, he loses his leg. At first, depression clouds his whole life. After meeting his physical therapist and beginning the process of making his own prosthetic legs, he starts to see his situation as one of opportunity. Instead of moping about losing a limb, he works on making a limb that surpasses his frail human ones. Then he takes it a step further and severs his other leg on purpose in order to replace it with the superior mechanical one. Everyone thinks he's trying to kill himself until he explains his reasoning to a Better Future representative. Then, provided with two teams of interns to help, Charles develops medical enhancements for everyday people and works to perfect the rest of his weak human body. Then the teams take his projects further than he thought possible and they spin out of control. Can he stop Better Future and still use his own technological advances to replace the inferior squishy bits of his body?

Machine Man is a great novel that satirizes our need and dependence on technology. It's pervasive in our society and we may not even recognize it because we are so entrenched in it. I see it every day in the people that can't ignore their phones through a two hour film or class or even in myself, when I feel weird if I haven't been online in a day. This dependence seems ridiculous when it is separated from us in the novel. Charles was preoccupied all day, thinking about possible places his phone could be. I think a lot of us have been there because it is such an essential part of lives that we don't even recognize as such until it's missing. Then, he even loses a leg because of his mindless need for his phone. In his case, it's so extreme that it even comes before his own safety and wellbeing. After he develops his legs and his team develops mechanic organs and such, he starts to "upgrade" parts of himself as we would get a new and better phone, laptop, or mp3 player, except for the large amount of pain involved. This transforms the medical industry from one of necessity for sick or disabled people to one of trendsetters and technophiles trying to outdo each other.

Charles is both a compelling and frustrating character. He's obviously very technically smart and a brilliant scientist, but he can be very dense about other things, like relationships and interacting with people in general. Lacking any understanding of emotions, he regards the people around him as alien. His world is seen through a very clinical eye that only takes into account logic and reason. His development through the course of the book is what kept me reading as he tries to reconcile love and emotion with his world view.

Machine Man is a fun satire on our addiction to technology. The characters are all unique and quirky in their own ways, making the plot unpredictable and exciting. I have enjoyed all of Max Barry's books (especially Jennifer Government and Syrup) and I can't wait to read what he writes next.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

1 comment:

LoriStrongin said...

While I get that this is a satire, I'm not sure this is a character I could put up with for the length of the novel. I'm a lover/addict of technology just like the next Gen X-er, but a character that cuts their own leg off because of it?!?! Yeah, don't think this one is quite my cup of tea.