Scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident. It's not a tragedy. It's an opportunity. Charlie always thought his body could be better. He begins to explore a few ideas. To build parts. Better parts.
Prosthetist Lola Shanks loves a good artificial limb. In Charlie, she sees a man on his way to becoming artificial everything. But others see a madman. Or a product. Or a weapon.
A story for the age of pervasive technology, Machine Man is a gruesomely funny unraveling of one man's quest for ultimate self-improvement.
©2011 Max Barry (P)2011 Random House Audio
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"Better living through engineering?"
Charlie, the narrator and protagonist of Machine Man, is the quintessential, one might almost say stereotypical, brilliant engineer with all the social skills of a turnip. He works for a stereotypical Big, Bad Corporation run by soulless Managers who only care about the bottom line and running the world. Charlie invents New Parts for human bodies for entirely selfish reasons, and finds himself at odds with the different selfish motives of the Managers. Along the way he meets Lola, the story’s (not quite stereotypical) Love Interest, a woman who has not only her own portion of compassion and caring for others, but apparently also got all the leftovers that Charlie never received. Max Barry manages to build a funny (I laughed out loud a lot), disturbing, and compelling story around all of these superficial clichés. Underneath the entertaining tale is a set of provocative questions about the nature of embodiment, intelligence, and identity. Four stars only because the story is a bit too predictable in too many places, and the stereotypes are a bit overdone, but it would make a fun book to argue about with others who have read it. Performance is solid and captures the tone and personality of the major characters very well.
"A better cyborgian future?"
It's a witty and entertaining book that was originally an online serialized novel (check out M. Barry's website). It revolves around Charles Neumann, a reticent engineer, who loses his limb and decides to improve his body by building a new leg. The funny thing that happens is that the less 'organic' Charles becomes, the more human he feels.
The book IS cynical and entertaining, but it also raises philosophical and ethical questions. What is it to be human? Would you download and upload your mind into a much better equipped robot body? Having been subjected to augmentation, can we still remain human?
Thinking about the quote from Michio Kaku's Physics of the Impossible "...immortality (in the form of DNA-enhanced or silicon bodies) may be the ultimate future of humanity," the question is, what if the essence of humanity could be lost as a result of biotechnological improvement?
On the plus side, there are revolutionary ways of transforming human capabilities, such as pacemakers and tissue grafts that prolong life; e-broidery and smart prosthetics. So in order to survive and 'upgrade' our biological adaptability we need some nanotechnological enhancement. Or do we?
At the same time, a cyborgian reality can widen the gap between 'organic' and 'augmented' people, those who can afford to buy a better body and the havenots, those who become supersoldiers and ordinary people, unable to defend themselves...
And it's the book that gave me food for thought.
As I read about Charles looking everywhere for his lost phone in Chapter 1, I thought about the way technology infiltrates our life. We are overdependent on it. As Naomi Goldenberg put it, "We are engaged in a process of making one another disappear by living more and more of our lives apart from other humans, in the company of machines..." Even now, while typing this, I desperately rely on my iPad.
"Max Berry quirkiness with a darker side."
Machine Man is a very interesting read, and very original, as are all of Berry's novels. The story and characters are engaging as always, but Machine Man has a darker tone as the plot has to do with accidental dismemberment and an anti-social protagonist. The darker tone however makes the occasional humourous spots stand out even more, as they are often of the cringing variety, and contrast well with some very serious scenes. A worthy read.
"Not his best work ..."
But worth a listen if there's nothing else out there. The Narrator sounded like he didn't give a damn about reading it. He lacked any kind of enthusiasm, might as well been reading a text book on biology.
The story was kind of interesting about a guy, who through an accidental amputation, begins amputating on purpose so he can create the ultimate prosthesis.
"Couldn't make it past the first few chapters"
Found the story to be rediculous. Nothing interesting about main character or story. Got so irritated had to stop listening. Hoping to get back credit.
"Not the Usual Max"
I really like Max Barry's stories. But this one ... not so much. Imagine working on a story and you draw a line down the middle of the paper. You put the exciting parts on the right side and the dull details on the left side. Then you throw away the right side and white the entire story just with dull details. That would be this book.
He did some interesting development of a couple of characters. But all of them do dull stuff over and over again.
My thoughts - skip this and go read Lexicon or Jennifer Government. Both much more interesting and they kept the exciting parts in.
"little less conversation; little more action. pls"
gosh, this is a good idea, but so much of the book is discussion and angst and feelings. I preferred the parts where folks got moving and did stuff.
The start is actually pretty funny (in an aha way, rather than in an LOL way), and I think most of us will see ourselves in the slightly neurotic actions of the protagonist. And action comes along reasonably soon. But the pace is slow from the very start and only slows down more as you near the middle of the book.
Honestly, I read this book as a form of research. I am considering prostheses in my artistic pursuits and a previous book helped me think about them in a new way (FYI: I enjoyed Cinder by Marissa Meyer much better and was intrigued by its perspective on prostheses.) This book did, I suppose, give me something to consider in relation to prostheses, but the story itself was too slow and the main character too focused on himself for the book to be truly enjoyable.
The book is clearly a parable and while listening one feels a bit like the parable of the story is all that one can see. It ain't subtle, is what I'm saying. Read it if it sounds interesting, but here is the one and only time I can remember recommended an abridged version if available.
"Interesting premise, bad narrator."
Barry writes an interesting story of the limitations of the human body and what would happen if we decided to replace parts with machinery. It's a bit surface level, and I wish Barry had taken the social satire a bit deeper. The worst part is the narrator. It's almost painful listening to him.
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