I discovered Max Barry’s work a few years ago, and can safely say that he is now one of my favorite authors. He’s only written 4 books to date but, at this rate, I suspect there will be many more fantastic fictional features from him in the future. I’m going to give my views of each of his books, listed in the order I read them, as opposed to the order of publication.
This is his 3rd published book, which I picked up after reading a review of it on i09.com. This is the most purely science fiction book he’s written, so far, although all of his books have some element of sci-fi in them, in my opinion. This story takes place in an alternate near-future, where corporations run the world, and I mean that literally. Corporations are so powerful that employees legally change their last names to whatever companies they work for, ie “Steve Coca-cola”, “Alex Pepsi”, etc. The lead character, Jennifer, is a single mother who works as a law-enforcement agent for the Australian government, hence her last name is Government. Unfortunately for her, world governments are practically reduced to figureheads, due to the power of the corporations, so Government agents often don’t have the resources or authority needed to effectively carry out their tasks.
Jennifer’s ex is John Nike, a ruthless VP of Nike who tricks one of his underlings, named Hack Nike, into signing a contract where he agrees to kill a bunch of random teenagers at a shoe store during the release of Nike’s newest sneakers. The idea is that by causing this tragedy it will be free publicity for the new sneakers, and entice more people to buy them. Hack feels too guilty to do this and so he subcontracts the Hit to the local police, who are effectively just mercenaries now, then Hack ends up joining a terrorist group to get revenge on Nike.
There’s also another plot involving a stock broker, named Buy Mitsubishu, who gives money to a homeless girl so she can buy new sneakers, but she’s one of the kids who ends up getting killed while trying to buy them, and Buy is racked with guilt and starts losing his confidence until he meets Jennifer and they begin an affair.
This book has lots of action, drama, and quite a bit of comedy. The characterizations all flow well together, and the world they inhabit is fascinating. I loved this.
Barry’s 1st book, and the 2nd one I read. It takes place in the modern-day, but it’s written more like a satire. Most of the main characters in this book use a false name, like screen names on the internet. The lead is a man called SCAT, who comes up with a bright idea for a new version of coca-cola, called FUKK (pronounced as it sounds, I assume). He goes to Coke HQ to pitch the idea to one of their executives, a woman called SIX, whom Scat instantly falls in love with (although he already has a girlfriend, an aspiring modeled named Cindy who later takes the name BABEALICIOUS). Six has no interest in Scat (she claims to be a lesbian), and initially tries to steal his idea and take all the credit for herself. Scat interrupts her pitch meeting with the board, and they agree to work on the project together, until they discover that they’ve both been ripped off by Scat’s roommate, SNEAKY PETE (you’d think with a name like that, you’d know not to trust him in the first place), who already registered the trademark for Fukk, and then gets a job at Coke (with a secretary named “@”) to produce and promote it, leaving Six jobless and Scat homeless.
Eventually, Scat tracks down Six and they team up to come up with a new ad campaign to get back at Sneaky Pete, and then get involved in Coke’s most ambitious campaign ever: a big-budget sci-fi film, starring A-lister actors like Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, which is really just a two hour Coke commercial. This is a really funny and entertaining book. Probably my favorite of the bunch.
Barry’s 2nd book is probably the hardest to describe. An eager young man named Stephen gets hired as a salesmen at a company called Zephyr Holdings where nothing appears to be exactly what it seems. Management is secretive, rules are random, and employees feel like lab rats that are part of some large bizarre experiment. Most employees just go along with the nonsensical policies, like the Meeting That Never Ends, and spend more time focusing on the daily minutia of office life, but Stephen can’t just let it go, and when he realizes that his job seems to involve selling packages to other departments within the company, he becomes determined to find out exactly what’s going on. It’s like DILBERT or OFFICE SPACE on crack.
Barry’s most recent book, which began as an experiment on his website. He would just write it, making it up as he went along, and posting it online for free. I recall reading a few chapters once and awhile on the site but didn’t really pay attention until it was collected and published. Charles Neumann (that last name is foreshadowing) is a brilliant engineer whose leg is crushed in a random accident at work, forcing it to be amputated. He replaces it with a prosthetic leg of his own design, which he quickly realizes is much more efficient than his real leg. So he arranges for another “accident” in order to have his second leg amputated. He continues making improvements on his prosthetics legs, which earn millions for his company who begin selling it, but he’s not satisfied there. He continues to arrange to have other body parts removed with his own superior replacements. But where does it all end?
That’s the thing I love about this book, it’s an entertaining story, first and foremost, but is also rather proactive in the issues it raises while reading it. We’re living in an increasingly digital world, where people are practically strapped to their various mobile devices. How dependent are we becoming these machines which enhance our lives? I can’t help but feel that Machine Man represents a world that is not TOO far off. Excellent book.
All of Max Barry’s books can be found on Amazon, of whichever country you’re in, and you can find out more on his website: http://maxbarry.com/