Australian author Max Barry specialises in satirising the profit-obsessed world of corporate enterprise in his sharply observed, easily digestible novels, of which Company is his third. Syrup, his first book, published in 1999, told the story of Scat, a character whose name more than broadly hinted at the author’s jaundiced view of the career he had previously been engaged in (Barry was a salesman for Hewlett-Packard while he was writing the novel). A venomous satire about corporate rivalry and marketing squarely aimed at Coca-Cola, Syrup was also an easily marketable product. Thanks to the American branch of Penguin Books’ interest in the manuscript, Syrup established Barry as that classic Australian success story, the artist who was better known overseas than in his own country.
Machine Man, Max Barry’s fourth novel, begins with its protagonist Charles Neumann searching for his mobile phone. It takes him twelve very funny pages to find it, but when he does it ushers in the novel’s central ‘tragedy’. It is easy to assume that Barry comes bearing a worn theme about modern society’s alarming reliance on technology, but he is no Luddite, and Machine Man’s central tragedy is also the centre of its comedy. Neumann loses a leg, but as a clinically minded, emotionally incapable engineer whose love for hard science and determination to improve knows no bounds, his loss quickly becomes his (and his company’s) gain – before, inevitably, it becomes his loss again.