Machine Man by Max Barry (2009)
Summary: Scientist Charles Neumann loses a leg in an industrial accident. It’s not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. Charlie always thought his body could be better. He begins to explore a few ideas. To build parts. Better parts.
Prosthetist Lola Shanks loves a good artificial limb. In Charlie, she sees a man on his way to becoming artificial everything. But others see a madman. Or a product. Or a weapon.
A story for the age of pervasive technology, Machine Man is a gruesomely funny unraveling of one man’s quest for ultimate self-improvement.
Wow, what a crazy book! This is unlike anything I’ve ever read before and the concept of replacing your body parts with machines sounds so outlandish. But the more you read, the more you think about whether it might be a good idea after all.
The main character, Charles, is a scientist and engineer. He admits he doesn’t have great social skills and people don’t like him. So it’s clear that even though he’s a deep thinker, he’s still missing an element that makes him fail to realize why his ideas aren’t always the greatest.
After he designs a robotic leg which he feels is superior to his human leg, he contemplates removing his other leg on purpose so he can have two superior legs. Then he begins thinking about ways to improve a hand. But is having a great hand enough? What’s the point of such a superior hand when it’s attached to such an inferior arm? And on and on…making you wonder where it’s going to stop. What happens when you run out of body parts to remove?
Then the company he works for, Better Future, realizes the money-making potential in the things he making. Soon they want him to design all manner of things, including weaponized body parts.
The more Charles creates, the crazier he gets. He has tons of assistants working for him but when they start inventing cool things, he gets jealous that he didn’t think of it first. Then he gets jealous again when he’s told he can’t personally test all his inventions. He doesn’t want someone else to use “his” arms, for example.
Overall I found Charles to be quite good at expressing his arguments. He’s overall very logical and his ideas make sense but, like I said, there’s just something missing which he just can’t understand. He’s so disconnected from the human world and can’t see the pitfalls of what he’s doing.
So this is more like a cautionary tale about how technology can take over our lives, in this case quite literally. The end of the book contains some extreme examples but it’s also interesting to contemplate whether we should be improving on our bodies if the technology becomes available.