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.
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