‘Machine Man’ proves to be a tragic tale for the Digital Age

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‘Machine Man’ proves to be a tragic tale for the Digital Age

‘Machine Man’ proves to be a tragic tale for the Digital Age

‘Machine Man’ proves to be a tragic tale for the Digital Age

‘Machine Man’ proves to be a tragic tale for the Digital Age

‘Machine Man’ proves to be a tragic tale for the Digital Age

By Morgan Acuff

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                Machine Man is based on an

online serial of the same name written by Max Barry. 

The serial was written one page at a time, one page per

day.  Reader feedback was used to modify the serial

and morph it into a novel.  The novel is a journey

through the transformation of Charles Neumann, a scientist who

engineers devices for Better Future.

 

                Neumann is the

victim of an industrial accident, in which his leg is

crushed.   This brings the otherwise shy and detached

scientist into contact with a few beautiful women.  

One is his doctor and the other his prosthetist.  He

starts falling for the prosthetist when she absent-mindedly

mentions that he should fit the prosthetic, not the other way

around.  So, an unsatisfied Neumann begins tinkering

around to alleviate his frustration with the replacement legs

offered by modern prosthetics.  Upon completing his

new legs in the lab after grueling effort and weeks of living at

work, he finds that his biological leg is more of a burden than the

improved leg.  In the lab with a lab assistant

watching, Neumann crushes his other leg so that he can continue his

improvements and is met with the dismay of his caregivers, but

support of his company. 

                The narrative in

Neumann’s mind is haunting in its cold dereliction of humanity and

unequivocal love for technology.  The descent into

madness is thrilling and disturbing; the thinly veiled reality of

ethics and compassion is only punctured around the prosthetist Lola

Shanks. While the suction of Neumann’s logic is eerily similar to

what most consider universal truths.  The

transformation of Neumann is inverted against itself. 

Neumann’s physical body becomes more like a machine and his mind

more human.  For those who aren’t fond of science, the

connection to this character will be hard and more of an

undertaking than is necessary in a novel, but in the digital age

Neumann isn’t in stark contrast with the majority. 

Neumann is merely another shade of moral ambiguity in the cultural

tapestry of bloggers, video game designers (Max Barry is one of

these) and Ray Kurzweil-esque thinkers.  There is a

quote from the novel, “the sum of the parts is greater than the

whole.”  This echoes the central theme of the novel

and is an inversion of the quote from Aristotle that normally sums

up Gestalt psychology.  This is where it is evident

that Neumann wants to remake his body, but is not concerned with

what this means for his humanity and so looming tragedy is in

place.  The narrator’s ignorance of the impending

consequences of his tinkering is a clever trick by Barry and is

shown to be a problem that has been with the character throughout

his life through recollection.  Barry’s painstaking

commitment to the character’s ignorance is a testament to his

patience and multiple re-writes.  The novel can be a

bit trying at times, especially for those who aren’t tech

savvy.  Despite its flaws in relatability, there is

little that needs improvement set aside the end that seems to

spiral out of control perhaps lending itself to a more human

ending, but ultimately leaving the reader with grit teeth.