I’d like to tell you about a book. Wait, don’t leave. Its about a man who wants to be a cyborg. Sounds good, right? It’s the story of a scientist who, after chopping off his own leg in a freak accident involving a huge bit of industrial machinery, decides to build himself a new one. He quickly realises the benefits of technology over biology and delves into a journey of self-discovery, voluntary amputation and a bit of love.
Charlie Neumann is a loner. Like most nerds, his exceptional technical skills come at the cost of being socially awkward, at best. He is a research scientist at a large corporation called Better Future, with access to the most cutting-edge technology in the world. It is in one of his labs carrying out an experiment with an industrial clamp where his initial accident occurs. After meeting an intriguing prosthetist Lola Shanks, and being considerably unimpressed with the prosthetic leg she offers him, he is inspired to use this potentially life-changing setback as an opportunity to quite literally improve himself, taking full advantage of the super-advanced equipment available to him.
It’s written by Max Barry, an Australian author who created the web game Nationstates. Originally written in 2009 as an online ‘serial’, Barry would write a single page a day, and email it out to anyone who had signed up to read it. A bit like a newsletter, except actually interesting. It was only sent on weekdays, and there were often cliffhangers on a Friday, meaning you had to wait the whole weekend to find out what happens next. I looked forward to receiving my page each day, some of which were only a few sentences, but that’s what kept it so engrossing. The story moves along at a lightning pace, and it was fascinating to see it evolve on the fly. Barry was literally writing it as he went along, even implementing ideas from commenters, but it never loses its way – he had a goal in mind, and was bringing us along for the ride.
It’s been 2 years since the live feed ended, but you can still read it online here, which I revisited with Paul recently and enjoyed it just as much the second time. However, Barry has since greatly expanded the story and fleshed everything out, and Machine Man is now available as an actual novel. I’m about halfway through it, and so far its been nothing less than superb. Barry’s writing style is very approachable, and has been in all his previous stories, but deceivingly clever. He’s an expert at marketing, which is a commonly used theme throughout his books, most entertainingly applied to vilify cold-blooded corporate types with self-serving agendas.
Try the serial. It’s free for the first 40 pages so you can see what its like. From this gamer with a fondness for quirky sci-fi, it comes highly recommended.