My rating: 5 of 5 stars
boy, nobody knows how to take a what-if to the very furthest point of its logical conclusion better than max barry.
in this book, the question begins with a dissatisfaction: the flawed engineering of the human body. then it asks: what if we could re-engineer it? via mechanical and computer engineering, not nano- or biotech. max barry’s answer to that question will undoubtedly surprise you.
this book is both thoroughly outrageous and logically relentless. the main character is a nerd on nerd steroids: ruthless, addicted to logic, emotionally AWOL. he lives for the puzzle–how to improve things. when he is injured in an accident, he turns this tunnel-vision attention to improving the human body.
you won’t believe how often you’ll be saying: i want that feature. if you are old enough to have arthritic knees and trifocals, you’ll be drooling over the possibilities.
but all these improvements come with a price, often paid in blood and pain. in barry’s book, the escalating consequences of re-engineering the body start out horrible and end up unspeakably gruesome. but through it all, the voice of our narrator-engineer is just sublimely funny. he is such a geek. an absolutely unforgettable, oddly tender, emotionally tone-deaf geek.
the book also features a wonderful send-up of corporations (of course, does anybody do that better than max?) and some inspired character names (really, you should read it just for the character names). give this one a chance, and i promise you’ll never look at your body the same again.
ps: even better the second time around. this time i noticed something i hadn’t really twigged on to the first time: the fact that the parts speak to him. the parts direct some actions, eventually. and i got to thinking about this today in connection with some recent brain research (stop rolling your eyes) on just what’s in charge of your three and a half pounds of a dog’s breakfast, and of the book Blindsight.
so, the general gist of the research and Blindsight is that there is some part of each of us that initiates actions before we are even consciously aware of it. decide to type MAX BARRY ROCKS LIKE VONNEGUT and your fingers will be moving before you have quite formulated the conscious thought. so the question, then, is who’s in charge? what is deciding?
Max may not have been writing with this notion in mind, i don’t know. but i find that connecting those dots is quite chilling. i’m pretty certain that if climate change doesn’t off us all, the kind of tech Max is writing about in this book will happen–it’s just too tempting to stop. and if so, if so… will we really be in control of it, or it of us? remembering that we may not–even in our squishily, solely biological forms–be in control of ourselves.
probably i will shuffle off this mortal coil before it all happens. generally i like to think that the future will be cooler than the present, and i’m quite optimistic about the future. but this is one bit i’d rather not see come to pass.