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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.
6 of 6 people found this review helpful
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.
2 of 2 people found this review helpful