MaxBarry.com
fear my vigilantes

Max Barry wrote the novels Syrup, Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man, and Lexicon. He also created the game NationStates and once found a sock full of pennies.

Blog

Fri 04
Dec
2009

That Screaming Sound In Your Ears is Feedback

Machine Man 'The cars are better than the people driving them:' my initial idea for Machine Man So I finished Machine Man. And I want to stay all cool and authory about it, but honestly, I feel a little heartbroken. I think because when I tap out THE END on a regular novel first draft, it means I finally have something I can show people. But Machine Man wasn’t a regular first draft: it was an experience, me posting one page at a time and checking the next morning to see what people thought. That was freaking wonderful—terrifyingly wonderful—and now it’s over, I already miss it.

I think I will need to do this again. This, or something like it.

But my next step is turning the serial into a novel. Every first draft can be better; my first drafts can be a lot better. If you read this serial—even if you only read some of it—I would love to know what you thought. I usually distribute my first drafts to ten or twelve early readers. This time there are 600 of you, another three or four thousand in the free feeds. As a feedback junkie, this makes me trembly and excited.

If you’ve got an opinion, please let me hear it. I want nothing more than to make my stories as strong as they can be, and I need to figure out how this book reads to someone who hasn’t written it. So please help me: post a comment. Or, if you’d prefer to keep it private, email me.

I tell all my early readers: I’m after what you felt. Please don’t think you need to be a literary critic. Don’t try to imagine what other people might like. Above all, don’t hold back because you can’t think how to justify what the book made you feel. Figuring out why you had a particular reaction and what to do about it, that’s my job. I can do that. What I can’t do is read my own book for the first time. The closest I can get is hearing you describe how you felt when you read it.

Please do tell me what you liked and what you didn’t. I’m looking for flaws, but part of figuring out what to improve is understanding where its heart is. Also, I tend to assume that anything an early reader doesn’t mention she didn’t care terribly much about, so it’s a candidate for the ax. If you stopped reading at some point, please tell me where. If you’re partway through, please share your thoughts so far. If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about with feelings versus literary criticism and all that, please comment anyway. One-sentence thoughts are fine. I can’t get too much feedback. Please. Tell me.

Warning! The comments on this page will contain spoilers. If you haven’t read the story and don’t want to ruin it, avoid! If you’ve read some of it and want to comment, skip all the way to the text box at the very bottom of the page or email me. Thank you!

Comments

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Robert Belton (#3176)

Location: The best city in australia.
Posted: 3547 days ago

I stopped at page 26, only cause reading one page a day was killing me, and I couldn't let the pages pole up for a week or so then read them at one hit.

Having said that, I'd love to read it all at once now, and then complain why it sucked so much.

Machine Man subscriber Craig Jelic (#3999)

Location: Canberra
Posted: 3547 days ago

I was in the same boat, i got tired of the friday cliff hanger so i saved them up (100 unread Machine Man email). I thought sometimes the cliff hanger was cheap, but that's what you need/expect from a serial. When i get around to reading the last hunj pages i'll comment further.

Machine Man subscriber Electrichead (#3898)

Location: Toronto
Posted: 3547 days ago

I was actually quite sad yesterday when there wasn't a "Machine Man" email in my inbox. What's funny is that I still can't think of that as being the end :) I wouldn't mind knowing what happened to Charlie after the last transformation, as it felt that the whole novel was building up to that goal.

Overall, I loved this story. My previous favorite was Jennifer Government, but I think that it's now been replaced. The thing that got me was the drip method of delivery, like I was hooked up to an IV. In a lot of ways, the story played with this delivery method and enhanced a lot of feelings. Suspense is definitely one of those things, as we had to wait a whole day or sometimes three to get to the next bit, instead of just flipping a page. Another is that we could comment on the pages and if we didn't understand something, someone was there to explain. It was really a beautiful thing to see.

About the story itself, I can't say that I "didn't like" anything about it. The pacing was sometimes a bit wacky, but that again is probably something to do with the delivery method and might not work the same in a novel form.

I wasn't really digging the whole "Angelica's house" part of the story because I couldn't find anything to like about any of the characters at that time! Well, Lola is an exception. But I really didn't like the whiny Charlie, and Angelica just rubbed me the wrong way the whole time. It was like she was waiting for an excuse to kick Charlie out.

Come to think of it, I don't think I really liked Charlie at all during a lot of the story, but I would always read something that I could relate to and that warmed me to him a little before he did something to irritate me again :) Mostly I think I liked when he was thinking about things and I could read his thoughts. That part was really well done.

I thought that Carl could have used a bit more fleshing out, if you will. He was a pretty cool character, but only got a little bit of time in the story. A lot of the time, we had to piece together what he was up to based on what people said about him (and by people, I mean Cassandra :). Maybe that was intentional though. I liked that aspect of it, but I would have liked to read a bit more about his side of the story. On the other side, I don't feel this way about Lola for some reason. I feel she got enough time, but maybe that was because of the Angelica's House part of the story.

Lastly, I would like to mention Dog. That was a damn hilarious thing to read about, as I am wary of dogs too (I like dogs individually though).

Thanks Max for the opportunity to participate in this mad experiment of yours :) It was a great ride, and I would definitely subscribe again if you were to do it again (have you thought about having a "minimum" and letting people pay you what they feel was a worthy price a la Radiohead? I would have paid twice, once at the beginning and once at the end. But maybe that is just me.) Congrats and all the best!

Machine Man subscriber Russell (#3897)

Location: USA
Quote: "O Lord, Protect us from those to whom you speak directly"
Posted: 3547 days ago

I followed your warning and skipped down to the text box, because i am one of those people who only read the first 43 pages.

Before Machine Man, I had been playing your game NationStates for about 4 years *cough* and i read your book Jennifer Government. I already found you to be a good author.

Machine man was mind blowing. It was good. My nature with money made me reluctant to buy for the live feed because i wanted to buy the polished final draft in book form, but i already resolved to buy it when it comes out. It was just...terrifyingly realistic, and that always makes me want to run out of my house and buy things. So i did, i bought Syrup and Company, read them, loved them, and now i'm waiting for my next Max Barry fix, and this is all because of Machine Man.

I definitely look forward to seeing the book form of this, because i'm just dying to know what happened in the last howevermany pages of Machine Man.

Congratulations on finishing it! I definitely cannot wait to give you my money for the real thing.

Machine Man subscriber Adam Willard (#4231)

Location: Madagascar
Quote: "What unseen pen etched eternal things in the hearts of humankind... but never let them in our minds?"
Posted: 3547 days ago

Well, all I can say is I'm feeling really bummed and at a loss right now. I guess I figured out about this a little late because I'm apparently a few weeks behind your "live" version is/was. I just read page 173 today and I'm still really enjoying it... hence the feeling of loss at reading your blog. For some reason, I was under the impression that I still had at least a few more months to go before I had to think about the story being over. Now what am I going to anticipate in my e-mail box every weekday? Nothing. Sure, maybe an e-mail from a friend or family or something pertaining to business... but something entertaining? Not unless I think those all-too-sappy chain letters are entertaining. And I don't. Maybe if I get a scam letter from a "prince in Nigeria", but the truth is, Gmail's spam blockers are too successful for me to get one of those every weekday. So yeah, I'm pretty disappointed. (And even those scam letters lose their interest when repeated often, unlike Machine Man.)

So, I haven't finished yet... hopefully I'm wrong about my point in the feed and I actually DO have a few months left rather than a few weeks. I hope so, but I'm not going to check and thus know my fate. I'd rather let it hit me (slightly) unexpected.

And that's probably a big part of the reason I haven't commented on your pages, since I knew I was behind, but I'll comment now:

I'm REALLY enjoying it. It's true that not every page is a miracle of wit and/or action, but most are very good and every one is eagerly anticipated. I've enjoyed a lot of the plot developments, though a few have jumped at me unexpectedly. But let me comment on some running themes that have been in my head since I started reading it.

First: I REALLY appreciate the perspective of the main character (usually). I like that he seems to identify more with machines (and in general, the brutal logic of an engineer) than with humanity/ biology. I think it's a bit unique and very interesting. It's a character you can somewhat identify with, but maybe not entirely, and I actually really like that. It lets me learn of another perspective. It inspires my own thoughts about man and/vs. machine.

Second: I never can remember the main character's name. I don't think it really matters most the time, but right now while I'm trying to comment or other times when I'm trying to explain something cool about the story to my wife, it makes it a bit difficult.

Second: At first, I loved the pace of new "improvements" to Machine Man. It was cool how excited he was about improving and how he made sure he'd make it happen however it was necessary. And I eagerly anticipated the lead-up to his new set of arms that he wanted to use to impress Lola... I thought that was going to be pretty awesome on multiple levels, and I was interested to see how Lola would react. So when Carl stole them, I thought it was an interesting plot change, but I didn't expect my anticipation of "new parts" to be put off for so long. What was it, like maybe 2 months worth of reading or something before he finally got back to Better Future and got some new parts? The suspense was really killing me, especially when Machine Man's Contours got busted by Lola's EMP (which was definitely a cool idea, that hidden danger) and he was sulking in his room. Maybe it's a good literary device, you really made feel the kind of lulling anticipation, or maybe I should say suppressed urgency, the restlessness to move on, get back to super-human effectiveness. Of course, that made it all the more satisfying and sympathetic when he did get back to Better Future and all he could think about was getting back into some parts really quickly... because I could agree with him. But it also seemed like a REALLY fast jump from a couple of Contours, some fingers and a hand, to what's practically a fully-body part, or as he said himself, everything "but a head". Maybe it would've been better to more slowly upgrade him, maybe give that helmet a try (that was hinted at early on), or some other artificial organs (other than Lola's heart), give them a try and see what kind of cool sub-plots would develop around them.

Because really, the guy's unique and unabashed perspective on biology vs. efficiency was the first thing that drew me in, that I really liked, but also the fact that he obviously has a wealth of engineering genius and funds available to create anything he wanted to improve himself with, that's the second biggest thing that excited me. So I would've liked to see it expanded on more. The fact that the novel is obviously very close to an end (for me) means that he probably won't get any cool new parts before it's over, and that's a big disappointment. Maybe I'm just a sci-fi nerd, but I like the variety of parts.

Third?: So yeah, in the novel version, PLEASE explore a much wider range of parts, and not just of the appendage type. Whatever pacing you want to set with them, well, I'm sure I can leave that up to you the author, who knows whether it's better to drag the reader through the main character's ups and downs or just give them what they want. I'm sure you know what works best as the author. But for me, whatever order it happens in, I'd like to see a wider range of parts, including maybe some bigger failures. That seems to be a big part of Machine Man's outlook - failures aren't really a problem, because you can just improve them. So maybe some bigger failures that affect others more (and our hero less or not at all, since he's in the engineering mindset) would be cool too.

I mean, it's cool that he loves his Contours so much, and it makes sense he'd pick one pair as his steady set, but the fact that at one point he had, what, 10 pairs of legs? Well, I wanted him to try them all out sometime, or at least more of them. That's definitely what I'd do. And I'd write about it, I mean, if I was him, you know? We don't all get to try out a bunch of different pairs of legs, so you might as well write about it and let other people live a bit vicariously. That's part of what novels are for, right?

Fourth: I really liked the possibility of sentient body-parts interacting with him when you first introduced it. I thought it was going to be gone when Lola's EMP went off, so I'm glad you brought it back. And as cool as it was, I also felt a little nagging suspicion that it was maybe a bit over the top. After all, any other sci-fi I've read of sentient computers was usually the result of a large network and not a single AI developed in a single physical device (except maybe "2001", but that kinda sucked and it was at least still a big computer). So yeah, I had a nagging suspicion that his parts' intelligence was too good to be true, even after he got his full body mod, and despite the underlying suspicion, I still took guilty pleasure in your use of the concept because it was just pretty awesome. So it was also with a bit of "I knew it!" that I welcomed Lola's explanation of the voices. I'm glad my suspicions were justified in the end, but I'm glad that in the meantime I got to toy with the idea of him REALLY being "machine man" - part human conscience and part machine conscience, co-existing, and apparently somewhat content with the arrangement. I certainly wouldn't have guessed Lola's explanation for the situation, so I didn't see that coming in that sense, I just had the suspicion his computers weren't really powerful enough. So I'd say definitely keep that dynamic, and definitely hold off on the revelation of his free-ranging schizophrenia until near the end, like you did already.

Lola: Definitely a cool character. And I like the "complexity" of the little love triangle with her and machine man and Carl, and I like the way it influences the actions of machine man. I have to admit though, when it was first revealed that she liked him, I was pretty skeptical. It seemed too easy. Maybe especially for a nerd, or for someone who just chopped off his own legs, or for someone who was both. It seemed to make sense after a while, especially after it was explained about her dad, and especially by the time you could see that she had a bit of a thing for Carl too (when he found himself in a similar situation). But at first it just seemed too quick and easy. And again, as the author, I'm sure you know whether that's a good thing to make your reader feel and develop through or if you want to change it.

Carl: Also really cool. I like the dynamic of his development, from silent security guard to bad-ass with sledgehammer arms, to misunderstood (but well-meaning?) dying man. I like that he was like this thudding monster experienced only through sound when Better Future found machine man again, and that he was really never encountered at all for a long time until the parking garage. That really helped build the suspense. I really thought maybe he'd managed to get some extra parts for himself in the meantime and that Better Future just didn't want to worry machine man. And even though he hadn't, I still really thought he was really menacing until machine man also realized he didn't have the skeletal frame to support the kind of power in his arms that machine man already had in his feet (and by then, his full body).

Cassandra Cautery: Also well characterized. I like where she ends up halfway between engineers and management and all-around cold-hearted ruthless person. The week or so of machine man encountering the Manager (which is cool that he remained nameless, more of an entity than a person) that ended up with him getting kicked out the window was also really cool. It reminded me a lot of what I liked in Company and the way it was characterized, but with a very abrupt and satisfying escape (one that kind of made you feel good, you know?) from that dynamic and back into the world of engineering and action. I also like that that particular action, kicking the Manager out the window, only had short-term consequences, some awesome action scenes, a few weeks of despair without parts, etc., but no real long-term consequences for machine man himself. Maybe that's a bit of a guilty pleasure catharsis type thing, but I'm glad he was able to hop right back in his parts and not have to worry about some big long and boring legal situation because of all that. And I'm glad it was Cassandra Cautery that replaced the Manager, especially since you feel that she also somehow "understands" machine man (though she's also obviously got an ulterior motive and at least by page 173, it's not yet fully revealed).

Anyway, I've said so much now, I can't even remember some of the other stuff I thought as I read it. It was all good though, as a whole, even if a few pages had typos or were too short and that sort of thing.

I was pretty pumped when you said there may be a Machine Man movie. I think that'll be awesome. Sure, it'll be a lot like Iron Man, and maybe people will say you're ripping off Iron Man. But oh well, this character, and the plot, is a lot cooler in a lot of ways. More subtle at least... if kicking a hummer into the side of a building is subtle, but I mean the main character's motivations and stuff. But yeah, if they can budget it well and do the special effects right and get at least a few good actors, then it'll be a pretty awesome movie. The only worry I have is how is machine man's unique perspective going to come through in the movie? Maybe it could be an explanatory movie, so you've got a machine man of the future narrating some past mistakes/glory, like a film noir or something. I dunno, but you'll definitely have to find a way to get his perspective in there because that makes a huge part of it. The sentient parts/ schizophrenia won't be too hard of course, a disembodied voice will make perfect sense then. But anyway, I want to see the special effects and the cool action scenes, because you did a good job describing those. That cloud bomb thing (I forgot what it was called) was a really cool idea. Heck, there could be a whole scene that shows off all the cool military tech. just for the guilty pleasure of it all.

Anyway, turn it into a novel for sure! I can't imagine how much better it'll be even then, because it's been a great ride in it's present form! And for those of us who bought the feed, you should give us some kind of discount or advance copies or something cool like that!

(Sorry it's so long, I'm long-winded. But hopefully it gives you what you want. It sounded like that's what you were asking for.)

Machine Man subscriber Dexxa (#3878)

Location: Iceland
Posted: 3547 days ago

I really liked Machine Man mostly because of the excitement of getting a new page everyday.. though sometimes I really wanted to read more. I tried to wait a week and read 5 pages at once but I couldn't handle the wait knowing there was a page waiting for me in my inbox.

I loved the way it was written thought I felt there was something missing in Charlies character but I just can't put my finger on it..

I think there could have been a little bit more of Carl too. I have nothing to say about Lola.. love her. And Cassandra was just perfectly bitchy.

But over all this was an amazing expirence to be involved in this, reading a book page for page as it was written. I used to read the page of the day in my lunch brake at work and always looked forvard to it, I'm gonna miss it a lot.

I read Jennifer Government and Company and loved them.. there's no doubt in my mind that Machine Man will be just as good or even better.
Can't wait to read the final novel version.

Best regards, Dexxa

ps. sorry for the bad spelling - it's not easy to speak icelandic and writing english at the same time ;)

RayRay (#3747)

Location: Texas
Quote: "Sometimes late at night Wearing a cat on my head I get transmissions."
Posted: 3547 days ago

I finally bought it since I finally got a paypal account.

Machine Man subscriber John (#394)

Location: Work, Maryland, USA
Quote: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes that cigar is ploughing your mother."
Posted: 3547 days ago

Adam Willard brings a lot of good analysis, and I think it's worth furthering. But I'm gonna start with the serialized aspect, first.

You've called it a serial, and I, a loyal reader, have accepted it as such, and, thus, the story felt very much like a serial - and that's kind of what I'm getting at: it IS a serial.

And serials don't "end" so much as they go through story arcs. This was the opening story arc of Machine Man, who went from normalcy to Deep Blue. He even developed a few enemies, namely Carl (more on him in a bit), Cassandra Cautery (and on her, too), and Better Future. Machine Man, as you've developed it to this point, has 2 more built-in story arcs in Cautery and BF, with more that could easily tangent themselves off as the story grows.

For a pure novel, this felt (was, IMO) too short. A novel wraps up loose ends, generally speaking (again, Cautery and BF), and ambiguity isn't left in such heaping portions of Charlie-is-a-brain-with-a-camera-and-his-girlfriend-and-his-enemies-are-still-at-large.

Getting back to Adam's comments, I agree with a few of them, namely "Charlie" was largely forgettable in that he hardly if ever referred to himself as Charlie. I could see that as intentional, but I don't think a sentient computer wouldn't name itself. You did a fantastic job of making it obvious that Charlie felt out of touch with mankind, but he, to me, felt so out of touch with himself as to make him a difficult character to root for. His reasoning was too simple: I need parts, I need Lola. Romantic :-), but...

Well, actually, I was going to say, "not very human," but that may be beside the point. But do non-human entities develop feelings for researchers with robot hearts? I dunno.

CARL. I commented on the last page (and never checked to see if there was a response) that he was still an enigma to me. I still don't understand why he went crazy. I don't understand why he thought Charlie wanted him dead, as opposed to fired. A reasonable being, for example, will likely assume the latter. Carl wasn't reasonable, but I don't understand why he wasn't reasonable to begin with. I don't think there's enough to conclude that he's a tragic hero, which is how it seems you painted him.

CAUTERY. She was difficult to place, too, but definitely easier. She was a Company woman through and through who tried to take advantage of the situation whenever it presented itself. But I don't understand her inhumanity, either. Unless she's just kind of supposed to be "Sneaky Pete" all over again, basically to be self-promotingly evil throughout, there didn't seem to be a lot else to her.

Which is fine, if that's your intention, but even Sneaky Pete seemed to have his own best interests at heart, which Cautery doesn't [seem to].

I also thought it was interesting how I don't remember any fear out of anyone in the novel except Lola. Charlie had a little of it, but he was very determined, so didn't let it hold him up on his endeavors. Cautery didn't strike me as especially human.

But perhaps I need to read it, again.

Sorry to be a tad scatterbrained, but I'm just writing as I'm thinking.

Also to Adam's point, I was expecting more modifications-leading-up-to Charlie's eventual full body mod: laser eyes, anyone :-)?

Oh, my last main point before I have to go pretend to do my job, to revisit the serial aspect, each page felt like a chapter in itself. There was usually a very clear beginning, middle, end to each page, which I feel would be lost in a novel. Basically, I'm not sure the pages would flow if stuck together and re-chapterized.

That said, I read every day from the beginning. It kept me intrigued and I'm very fond of your style. It was a little more Company and a little less Syrup for my tastes (I like 'em both, but Syrup is one of my all-time favorite novels). That was a lot of criticism on my part, but it's out of love :-).

I hope this helps you more than it discourages you.

John

Machine Man subscriber Alex (#3885)

Location: New York City
Quote: "But never met this fellow attended or alone without a tighter breathing and zero at the bone"
Posted: 3547 days ago

Overall, taking into consideration that this was a first draft written one page at a time, it turned out really well. The story kept my attention throughout. I think this was helped by the restraints of the writing style. Because you were only writing one page per day any tangents you took from the main story line (flash-backs, childhood memories...) were stuck to one page. And while one "page" was occasionally two or three actual pages it was still confined to that space and then the next day you would resume the main story. And the main story was always moving so quickly it was impossible to get bored.

The downside to this was that a larger than normal portion of the story was the main action. There was less back-story than I would have like. I felt all of the main characters could have been flushed out a little more. Certain relationships could have used a little more building as well (Lola and Carl, Charlie and his parts/subconscious).

The story itself was certainly a wild and ridiculous ride, but that is why I love reading Max Barry so much. Keep it up!

Machine Man subscriber John (#394)

Location: Work, Maryland, USA
Quote: "Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. And sometimes that cigar is ploughing your mother."
Posted: 3547 days ago

I went and found your response to my comment to the last page.

You said Carl acted pretty rationally, overall, and I guess I can see that given your short explanation, but I still don't think that comes through in the writing. I never realized that Carl wasn't simply crazy. He destroyed BF, kidnapped Lola, and left Charlie hemorrhaging on the table - that doesn't scream "rational hero" to me :-).

Or should we be angry at Lola for allowing Carl to do that?

Machine Man subscriber Martin Grider (#4017)

Location: Minneapolis, MN
Quote: "Poetry is not truth: it is the resurrection of presences. -Octavio Paz"
Posted: 3547 days ago

First of all: I loved it. Really well done.

Its really hard for me to do as you ask, and post my feelings about the book rather than specific feedback, but I'll try. ;)

I know I felt that, (and this is probably true of any novel where the main viewpoint is that of a character who may or may not be fully "with it",) we had a very limited understanding of Charlie's universe outside of better future. This may not be a bad thing! All of your novels seem very focused down to just the important bits, and I think that's a good writing style... *shrug*

While I'm talking about focus, Charlie's focus was a huge part of the novel, and this is pretty much off topic, but if you haven't read Italo Calvino's "Mr. Palomar", I'd highly recommend it as another book where we see from the perspective of an almost autistic character. (Very different character, but anyway, it's good, albeit written in a style as near polar opposite to yours as is likely possible.)

Lets see, other feelings about Machine Man: perhaps this was simply my not paying close enough attention, but in the house with the dogs, I wasn't sure exactly how much of Charlie was left. Did he have arms at that point? I also wasn't sure how much time passed in that house. Was it weeks? Months? Seemed like a ridiculously long time to remain relatively inactive, especially for a character as *driven* as Charlie.

I loved the whole end sequence starting from about when Cassandra shows up in the parking garage. I was pissed at some of Charlie's decisions (or lack of decisions) leading up to -- and including -- the fight in the parking garage, but after that it was great. You know, come to think of it, I liked the book better when things were happening to Charlie out of his control rather than when he was making decisions. heh.

Good stuff. Again, great read. Can't wait for the physical copy. :)

Machine Man subscriber Guy Wright (#2861)

Location: Toronto, Canada, eh
Quote: "push the button max! (Jack Lemmon as Prof. Fate)"
Posted: 3547 days ago

I thought Machine Man was terrific, Max. But maybe I'm just too easy to please. I read each page day-by-day (and perhaps with a nod to the Max that created "Tales of Corporate Oppression") I delighted in opening my email at work and reading the daily page.
I didn't feel bothered by the serialized nature of the "book" - you were upfront about what you were doing from the start - caveat emptor. I did enjoy the pages that were longer it seems, perhaps because more verbiage draws you in as you read. I was a little peeved with the one line feeds - I thought that was a little bit of literary affectation.
I was genuinely pleased with some of the plot twists - I didn't really see where things were going and you had a good balance between the "hard" and "soft" elements of the story ("Hard" being the whole tech/action part of the plot and "soft" being the whole Lola part of the plot) I would have liked to see more of a role for Cassandra Cautery. I thought she had the most potential of any of the characters to stitch together the various threads of the story. It seemed obvious to me that Cassandra injected the real sex appeal (or could have or seemed about to if the story had gone on longer) and could have had as much appeal for Charlie (call it his dark side) as Lola. And isn't that what all the fanboys really want from a story.
In some ways this exercise seemed like you were writing a (albeit very long) "pitch" for a film. Is that a consequence of dealing with studios for some of you other writings.
I would pay for another one of these though. Not as thought provoking as your blog entries, but more satisfying because you can get some every day.

Machine Man subscriber Jon (#4151)

Location: somewhere else
Posted: 3547 days ago

Well, I'm a couple days off the "official" feed, so I guess I have a conclusion to look forward to next week.
I really enjoyed the story and the format - sure, it was a little gimmicky at first, but I came to look forward to that email in my inbox every morning. I do wish they'd been more consistent in length, and had flowed together better, instead of feeling like discrete chunks with a lot of interstitial pieces missing. I suppose that's the nature of the serial style, though, and I look forward to the book's release to see what happened in between.
I'd echo the other calls for more characterization in the novel, particularly Carl, and Cassandra to a lesser degree.
Overall, though, this was totally worth the money, and I look forward to another.

Machine Man subscriber Thomas F Shamma (#3729)

Location: New Hampshire
Posted: 3547 days ago

I think you're getting better each novel with writing your main character's relationship with the girl. All the way through, it reminded me of my relationship with my last girlfriend - she absolutely loved me, but I hated one of her other friends, another dude, and it ended up being a major contributing factor in our breakup. (Although that story is far from over, and it's beginning to look like we're probably going to get back together, and I definitely don't think it's a bad thing that Lola stays with Charlie.)

I find myself stuck on the question of sex, though. I feel a bit creepy for bringing this up, but it seems like a major oversight from the full bionic suit thing. Cassandra lampshaded it a bit, but that's something my mind kept going back to as an un-dealt with question, and I kinda doubt I'm alone on that one.

Other than that, the only thing I felt was missing was a sense of geographical place. You might have mentioned and I just missed it, but I don't think we knew where in the world Better Future was. I don't know if I'm alone on this, but if I can't picture roughly what country/part of the country the action is going on in, I feel a bit weird about it. In my mind, I had stuck Better Future and the rest of the plot in Northern California.

Machine Man subscriber SRD (#2889)

Location: Ogden, Utah
Posted: 3547 days ago

I don't want to say that I STOPPED reading. I bought the feed and everything, but I wanted to wait until it was all done and finished so I could read the rest of it in one sitting. I "paused" my reading right when we found out that Lola had a metal heart. That seemed like the perfect cliffhanger spot to stop on until the thing was finished.

Machine Man subscriber Ziggie (#4067)

Posted: 3547 days ago

I liked it. It was the first thing I looked for in the morning when I would wake up, and I checked the comments on the page before I went to bed. I only commented once, but wish I'd been more involved from that aspect.

I thought the story took was easy to follow and easy to read, though there were times where i had to go back a page or two to remember what had happened.

Character development was well done. After the first 20 or so pages I had a general idea of everything I needed to know about the characters as seen through Charlie's eyes. It certainly made the showdown with Carl more dramatic knowing only what Charlie knew about him.

Overall, it worked. There were frustrating times (a few 4-6 word pages come to mind) and times where I was almost late to work because the page was longer than I expected, but I find myself sad that the story is over, that I can't experience the new-ness again, and that Charlie is what he is now - which isn't at all what he was trying to be.

Machine Man subscriber Adam (#24)

Location: Morristown, Indiana
Quote: "Why do I blog? Simple, because Max Barry blogs."
Posted: 3547 days ago

Fri. 4
Dec.
2009

SCATTERED THOUGHTS

After several months of reading the same book one page at a time, I finished it. If you've never read a book this way, I would highly recommend it.

I slept in until 10am today, only to fall back asleep at 12:30pm and slept for several more hours. Is that a nap or was my two and a half waking period where I ate some food and lay around a reverse midnight snacking?

I'm engaged now. I don't think I've announced that on my metablog before. Feel free to congratulate me electronically.

Why does Santa live on the North Pole? He's cheap. He probably got all of that land for free.


A REVIEW OF MACHINE MAN?

I believe this book is great as a serial novel, but as a real novel, I would probably give it thumbs down. It was thrilling reading it one day at a time. I never read two pages in one day. You captured an aspect of reading that no other books I have ever read have done. However, as a real novel. If I read this book in less than a week. I probably would have got to the end and thought, "Hmmmm...what was that book even about? What was the point?"

There were a lot of holes in Machine Man. More questions were raised than were answered, which added to the thrill of daily reading. I thought my questions would be answered, but they weren't. Maybe questions like who took Charlie at the end were answered as in a name. But I don't know anything about those people. And Better Future (I could go on a long time with questions not answered with them). How did Better Future Start? Where did it come from? What is going on the first half of the story? What is going on in the last 10 pages? Who are those people??

Maybe some of those were answered, but not as much as it could be in a real novel. A long descriptive page in a serial novel would not be wise because most people would get bored and confused as to what was going on after a couple of weeks. Quick exciting pages worked best. If you form this into a normal novel describe some more scenes and people a little more.

Also, I think this should forever be kept as a serial novel. It's one of the many things that makes it unique, the experience of reading a book like this is unmatched by anyone else. And knowing that the novel wasn't finished when I started it was ridiculous(in a good way).

Also also, if a movie is ever made, they need to have a voice for robot Charlie at the end. It should be James Earl Jones.

-meta Adam

Machine Man subscriber Jimmm Engstrom (#4577)

Location: Burnsville, MN
Quote: "I recommend the lobster ravioli. "
Posted: 3547 days ago

Max,
Thanks for Machine Man!
I mostly want to tell you how much I love page 111! Not that other pages aren't just as good (or even better), in fact I may like other pages more, but page 111 is near & dear to my (flesh & blood pumping) heart.


Excerpt from page 111: "I found the whole scene kind of disgraceful. I mean, I understand it would be nice to be greeted like this, but have some dignity. You don’t need to roll over and expose your genitals. I’m talking about the dogs. Devotion that slavish can’t be taken seriously, I feel. It’s not objective. I have a similar issue with Christians."


Here's why I love it...
As a Christian reading it, I immediately thought, "Hmmm, am I supposed to be offended?" I quickly realized that I wasn't & then read everyone else's comments.

Anyway, it made me laugh, then it made me think. I realized many times during my life (I'm 44) people comment on how I'm like a little puppy, who gets all excited & worked up to see people that I like, or to play some fun game, or to be with other Christians worshipping God. I'm sure to the objective observer, my behavior is just as obnoxious & unexplainable as a stupid little dog. The thing is they are absolutely correct. But, since I am NOT a machine man, then I'm perfectly happy to "roll over and expose my genitals," and forfeit any illusion I have about my dignity, to express my pleasure, joy, excitement and general freakishness with those things that I'm passionate about. Anyway, that's how I feel & that's why I hope page 111 isn't changed much (if at all) in the novel.

In fact, I even acted like an excited little puppy about Machine Man, Jennifer Government before that! I tell many of my friends (also a lot of Christians) about you, & about your books, & how if they want to read something smart, funny, honest, and slightly dark & messy at times, then they should check out Max Barry!

See, I am like a little puppy. :)
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
Passionately submitted,
Jim Engstrom

Machine Man subscriber Andy Rodriquez (#4093)

Location: Washington, DC
Posted: 3547 days ago

Hey Max - my feedback

Charlie - awesome, but the name made me think of Flowers for Algernon - or maybe there was a movie called Charlie? Great character, easy to feel like you knew him and understood his thinking.

Lola - sexy name, liked her as a concept, but couldn't get into her - she seemed to be more of a symbol than a character. While I'm guessing that was kind of the point, it was hard to understand why Charlie saw her the way he did.

Carl - I never hated Carl. I'm not sure if I was ever supposed to.

Cassandra Cautery - Reminded me of your female characters from Company and Syrup - the "strong, bitchy female with success as her top priority, who uses her feminine wiles to keep you guessing." Not that that is a bad thing, but it might make you think about what you can do with that character to make her different.

General - there were some jumps here and there that made me have to go back and look to see if I missed anything (I didn't, the story just jumped).

I did rush to my e-mail account to read it every morning, so it was definitely addictive and engaging. I always wanted to know what was going to happen next.

I was kind of dissapointed that Charlie ended up as he did. It seemed like quite a fall, to go to a box with a port and possibly an arm. Obviously, he couldn't go back, but it seemd a shame that he had to lose so much.

What about teledildonics? Just kidding.

Andy

Machine Man subscriber rebecca (#3891)

Location: oceanside
Quote: "revolution is the best revenge"
Posted: 3547 days ago

Max-

Great serial novel. The one thing I looked forward to pretty consistently for the last few months was my Machine Man page. I could never remember my password, so it was pretty hard to post spontaneous comments.

I loved Charlie's point of view. He's such a great character. He wouldn't be the most likeable person if you actually had to hang out with him, but I love him on the page. His general inability to relate to other people because they don't make sense really worked. To the extent that you should flesh out some of the characters in the "real" novel they should still be fleshed out using Charlie's point of view.

I would have liked to know more about Carl, but it still should have been from Charlie's point of view. I know it's pretty movie bad guy, but Carl should have explained himself a little toward the end.

I thought Cassandra was spot on. Some people didn't think she was fleshed out enough, but I'm an attorney and I know attorneys just like that. Power is their main motive. I love women like that, but they are even better if they're fictional. I kept picturing Reese Witherspoon as a grown up version of her "Election" character, small, blond, sexy and "a machine".

As for Lola, what a good love interest and occasional damsel in distress. What is amazing about her is how much empathy she had for both Charlie and Carl. Somtimes she did annoy me, like why did she have such feelings for Carl aside from the fact that, like all limb impaired men, she reminded her of her father. Her back story was great. With a name like Lola Banks, it would have been good if she was a little sexier.

It was a fantastic reading experience. I loved the friffhangers. Obviously that won't work so well it the "real" novel, but they make this pretty cinamatic, which I think is a good thing. Every scene in a movie is supposed to be full of friffhangers.

Maybe you should do the screenplay yourself. I think you'd be really good at that. I mourned the fact that Jennifer Government didn't get made into a movie.

Machine Man subscriber Paul Haggerty (#3189)

Location: Bloomington
Quote: "Does the sky look orange to you as well?"
Posted: 3547 days ago

i could really go for some more elaboration of the relationship between charlie and lola. when they were getting all couple-y was my favorit part of the book.

Machine Man subscriber Don Cheech (#4407)

Location: jersey
Posted: 3547 days ago

Great job Max. I really loved the whole experience of it, reading the page a day and everyone's comments. A lot more than I thought I was going to, I thought the page a day would frustrate the hell out of me but I actually dug it in the end, even the friffhangers. I would definitely be right there to buy my feed when you do something like this again, and I'm glad to have read that you are planning to do so. Really looking forward to how you would do this second time out, improving on any mistakes you feel may have been made along this journey with Charlie, Lola, and all the crazy kids at Better Future.

As for Machine Man itself, I really got into the story right away. First page really hooked my interest, I don't mind when a story spends some time laying down some framework for things to come, but when that goes on too long, can begin to lose some interest in what's happening with the characters. That wasn't a problem at all here.

Do agree with some of the other comments about how things did lull a bit when Charlie and Lola were hiding out with the "dog lady". I saw your comment on how you wanted to change scenery away from Better Future for a bit and I do think in the end it was necessary for the story but I did feel slightly less engaged during
those pages.

I've read a bunch of comments about how many wanted to see a more drawn out or a deeper look into Charlie and Lola's developing relationship through the story, but in this format I think it would have been tough to do so and possibly forced a bit if you did so.

As for Carl, that's a tough one for me. Part of me would love to get a bit more of a backstory on him. However, not knowing too much about Carl, just knowing what Charlie perceived, played out well in the parking garage.

The ending was pretty much perfect in my mind. An absolute fitting end for Charlie in this story. Of all the possible endings I thought of in my head along the way, I didn't think about one where Charlie is whittled down to a state of consciousness. It just kind of felt right to me when I read those last few pages.

I look forward to reading the full novel when you complete it and really hope the movie gets made. Thank you for the experience, I really loved seeing one of my favorite authors doing something like this, I hope some the others follow suit. Excellent job Max.

Machine Man subscriber Xdrngy (#4517)

Location: Massachusetts
Posted: 3547 days ago

well... damn. Super-long commenting powers activate!

Honestly, no sane person would want to read these novel-long comments (sorry Max)

Anyway, here comes my story :) :
I came in at around page 140-something (I read the earlier pages straight through) I liked the part at Angela's, especially Dog; the phantom pain thing made the addition of more permanent parts seem more natural; I think Carl didn't have much of a story, but that was kinda the point - he didn't really seem much like a climax enemy to me, just another victim of Better Future; Charlie... was an idiot. As soon as you start making better-than-human machines a military option is !!! I find it hard to believe that one of the top scientists at a no doubt military funded company I find it hard to believe it came as a great shock that the parts would be sold to the army... He was an idiot for other reasons, but that one stuck out. Lola + Charlie talking about roaming neurons while Carl lay dead seemed over dramatic and drawn out, though that could change if not read a day at a time. Last part was great, but could use some more details on what happened to Better Future - 2ish words about BF getting their comeuppance was not enough. Final impressions: Definitely needed tightening up, lots of pages were overly dramatic just because it was all we were going to read that day, great for serial but better to get rid of extraneous drama now, conclusion was sweet, if slightly odd, and perfectly in the spirit of the book. Gonna be a great book... once it's done. Right now it's a great serial. Gonna be a fantastic movie, so long as the dragfing parts are edited and they figure out a good way of putting us in Charlie's head (which they tend to fail at in most movies)

Machine Man subscriber Xdrngy (#4517)

Location: Massachusetts
Posted: 3547 days ago

Yay text wall :)

... and I thought I kept it short + simple...

Machine Man subscriber Roger (#1653)

Posted: 3547 days ago

After skimming some of these comments, I noticed a few people didn't care for the whole ordeal at Angelica's house. I actually quite liked it. The rest of the story was moving at such a quick and sometimes hectic pace, it was nice to be able to take a break from all that while still moving the story along. And considering the events that followed, it can almost be looked at as the calm before the storm, so it all just works, in my opinion at least.

Machine Man subscriber Katie Ellert (#207)

Location: Calgary AB Canada
Quote: "Where's Lola? WHERE'S LOLA?!?!"
Posted: 3546 days ago

I would like to see a bit more of Carl....


(This seems way too short compared to everyone else... lol)

Machine Man subscriber gStein (#585)

Location: 127.0.0.1
Quote: "That's not change! That's more of the same!"
Posted: 3546 days ago

I agree with Kate, i'd like to know a bit more about Carl's backstory. unless, od course, you intended for him to me a mysterious psycho.

I also had difficulty following how much "meat-charlie" was left at various points in the story. not a story-critical piece of information, i just had a hard time following it.

The whole, uh, "scene" in Angelica's house just didn't feel quite right, but i can't put my finger on it.

To be honest, i think my favorite part of the whole experiment was the community aspect. the fact that i got 9 months (186 pages) worth of daily emails from my favorite author was also pretty nice.

Machine Man subscriber Alan W (#1427)

Location: Spokane, Washington
Quote: "Corgis are like potato chips"
Posted: 3546 days ago

Oh, it feels like forever since I started reading this, and without a re-read, which I will do and re-comment, the one thing that comes to my mind as feeling awkward in the story is the leg/chair thing.

I just couldn't really picture it in my mind from the description. It seems like the wheels/feet would get in the way of him walking using it as a single leg and at the same time allowing him to sit in it.

A little off topic, but 'Dexxa' would be an awesome name for a character in a novel!

Angelica's apartment was an incredible part of Charlie's character development, it felt like just what was needed at that point.

I would like to know what Charlie felt about the kiss from Cassandra. Would he be suspicious that she was playing him? Would he have second thoughts about Lola? Would he dismiss it because he had a serious Hero Syndrome going on and of course all the women want to be with him cause he's so great?

I am really glad that you feel the way we do about the serial, Max, and miss it already. I would gladly pay more the next time around.

Machine Man subscriber Mark Richardson (#1117)

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "<bounce!>"
Posted: 3546 days ago

That was fun! I read a lot of web comics and found that series this followed quite a similar style. When you released pages, they weren't necessarily a page worth of text, they were the right amount to give some story and make me want to know more. I was always excited to see the next page in my In Box.

You left me wanting more on the last page too. I saw the tiny "THE END" written there and had to check previous pages to make sure it didn't just mean the end of the page.

I sometimes felt that the sheer amount of weaponry in the story detracted from the story a bit, but at the same time I can't see the story working as well without it.

Machine Man subscriber Hughbert (#1163)

Location: Australie
Quote: "We can plant a house, We could build a tree, I don't even care, We could have all three!"
Posted: 3546 days ago

I loved the shit outta the story.

I don't know if it was intentional or not, but I had trouble dealing with the fact that the protagonist, Charlie, was kind of an un-likeable douche. What the hell did a cool chick like Lola see in him?

Also, what's the deal with Cassandra? She had a lot of potential as a temptatrix to Charlie - I thought I detected some flirtyness sometimes.. Am I making that up?

One last thing - the crucial Carl versus Charlie climax was a little anticlimactic - Woulda liked to have seen the battle a bit more drawn out :)

Like I said, I really loved it Max - I feel special to have been reading since day one in such a unique undertaking :)

Machine Man subscriber Katie Ellert (#207)

Location: Calgary AB Canada
Quote: "Where's Lola? WHERE'S LOLA?!?!"
Posted: 3546 days ago

For the movie, I can see Simon Pegg as Charlie....

Machine Man subscriber SilverKnight (#2210)

Location: St. Louis
Posted: 3546 days ago

I've already registered most of my emotions in previous comments (in a Colbert voice, pointing at own gut, then keyboard) "from here, straight to here", but I will add that overall, I was excited to read a new page everyday. It was a big highlight of my mornings, a little ritual (like I imagine coffee is) that helped calm me and get ready to face the day. There wasn't a single page that I felt disappointed by, each one was satisfying in its own way. Some had some incredibly inspiring and thought-provoking ideas; all were creative and imaginative. Glad I could be along for the ride.

Thanks again Max. :)

Machine Man subscriber Impotent Verse (#3907)

Location: Cambridge, UK
Quote: "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog"
Posted: 3544 days ago

Oh, boy!

Well, I think I agree with a lot of what other people have commented on, so I will try not to rehash that too much.

Carl could have been more rounded I guess but I kind of saw him as a Vinnie Jones/Silent psychotic type of character, except that Lola seemed to know him better and he wasn't a psycho according to her. We only really get Carl's side of the story through Lola and that seemed a bit insubstantial.

What was Carl doing to her with Car batteries in the Garage?

Cassandra, really liked Cassandra, if anything she could have been even more manipulative e.g. I wasn't sure if she deliberately put Charlie with the director in the hopes that Charlie would kill him, or if that was just pure luck (for her). If it had been Cassandra that had told Charlie about Lola's heart (to the same result for the director) then I would have thought she did it on purpose.

Lola, I <3 Lola! There should be a song, poem or limerick about her...

There is a young woman named Lola
Who's kisses taste like cherry cola
You don't have to beg
Just lose an arm or a leg
And she'll be willing to roll ya!

Yes, I stole a line from the Kinks, so sue me!

The part of the book where Lola and Charlie are holed up at Angelica's. I can't put my finger on any one thing but it is a bit clunky somehow, it's also one of the most important parts of the story. The bit where Lola buys Charlie an Arc Welder - you have to keep that bit, that is true love.

Charlie, he starts out almost autistic and without emotion, and it's really sweet the way he falls in love with Lola. For him to end up as just a box and almost full of emotions at the end is very ironic. I didn't see the ending coming but I thought it was perfect. The fact that it is a little open ended, is also good. I like a few loose threads.

Charlie's transitions and his intelligent parts being a form of 'psychosis'. Brilliant and unique.

How did Charlie end up half finished in the operating theatre? It wasn't very clear (to me, but I could have missed something). Why didn't Carl finish Charlie off?

Charlie and Lola's last kiss. Awesome!

Format - lot's of people have already made the point about the serialisation and the friffhangers. I just wanted to add that the comments were a big part of it for me. I enjoyed every page twice. Once for the story and then again a day later for the comments. Ha, I guess you've already admitted that your hooked on that too.

I guess you have a major re-write on your hands, for the format, but the plot and characters are solid gold.

Good luck, Max! Can't wait for the paper back (or PDF, if I get an ebook from Santa).

.
.
.

By Hawking's chair, wait a fricking minute! You know, you know this format could work really well for the ebook devices out there! Maybe not a page a day but... well, I guess you've pro'lly already thinking about that.

Bye, Max, and keep up the good work!





Katy (#2345)

Location: Los Angeles
Posted: 3544 days ago

It's really cool that you want feedback!

I stopped reading around page 28. It's hard to read a story in installments, and I wanted to wait until there was more story out and just catch up all at once. Then I stopped getting new emails, and I guess wasn't reminded to keep reading.

I really enjoyed it piece by piece, but then lost interest. I think I wasn't convinced that it was going anywhere-- like maybe it just seemed it would be episodic, with the main character mutilating himself and building new parts over and over again, though of course I never got that far.

I also might have gotten a bit tired of things like "You can only inflict so much trauma on the human body before important parts of it overload and stop working. Or, more accurately, so much trauma at once. You need to stage it... that's project management." That and other instances of communicating the main guy's unconventional outlook on the world in a really nonchalant way seemed to me to be too much, or something. Maybe I wanted more subtlety.

I don't really know what I'm talking about, so you might want to just disregard all of this (I could have opened with this disclaimer-- sorry). But anyway I really do love your writing and think it's crazy cool that you're asking for people's feedback.

Rock on!

Machine Man subscriber CrystalR (#4160)

Posted: 3544 days ago

I loved it. I've gotten all your previous books, and my favourite was Syrup, if that helps with background at all.

I loved the worldbuilding - it's my favourite part of your writing style in general, but particularly this book. Things like the distinction between non-lethal and non-crippling, the plutonium and HR working in the cafeteria make the world seem much more vivid and lasting.

The one thing that I remember bugged me while reading was him losing his hand. I must have skimmed over that page or something, because it was gone really suddenly, and even when I checked back, I couldn't see where it went.

I would have liked a little more time spent on the culture of Better Future - the lab rats, for one. Apart from Jason, they only had their names mentioned once, so it's less of an impact when they lose their names and get their job titles.

Here's hoping the rewrite goes awesomely, and you're left holding something great!
And here's hoping nobody publishes a book with that cog on it between now and then, like with Company.

Machine Man subscriber Max

Location: Melbourne, Australia
Quote: "I'm my number one fan!"
Posted: 3544 days ago

Thanks everyone! This is gold. GOLD!

Machine Man subscriber Jonathan Dodd (#3579)

Location: Rotorua
Posted: 3544 days ago

I read this daily and whilst of course it was great - all your stuff is - I did find things wandering a bit and getting confused after his second op - when he ended up attacking Carl etc. The stuff about Lola's heart was confusing and for awhile I was reading out of duty. If I read the whole thing in more normal chunks rather than little bits every day I imagine it might have been easier to follow.

Also I found Lola and Cassandra a little hard to distinguish. And right when I'm writing this I get your email entitled 'it's not me it's you' - Ok are you following MY typing just as we followed yours?.

Anyway, how did I feel in the course of the story? excited-excited-enjoy-fun-fun-questioning-fun-surprised-wondering-enjoy-fun-huh?-huh?-huh?-ummm.....-ok-umm...-ok-better-back on track-great!

Machine Man subscriber Sara Leigh (#4075)

Location: Northern Virginia
Posted: 3543 days ago

When I saw "The End" in very small type, my heart sank. I've enjoyed reading my daily e-mail installment for these many months, so not having my "Machine Man" message in my inbox leaves a hole in my day. I've read some of the comments in detail and scanned others, but I've tried not to let them influence my own response to the story.

Basically, I think the experience was successful for me. I may not have always been happy with the direction the story took each day, but in the final analysis, that wasn't a big problem. I'm not always happy with the various plot twists in traditional novels, so why should this be any different?

A few people have commented on the length of the serial. Perhaps it's the label of "novel." I consider it more of a novella; and using that label, it works well.

Regarding character development, although I found some characters rather one-dimensional initially, I liked the opportunity to fill in the backstory on my own. In all honesty, though, I think by the end, I had a pretty good feel for most of the main characters. Cassandra is a fabulous ambitious, grasping, manipulative, cold-hearted bitch. Lola is the heart of the story, as graphically illustrated in the word map you made (or discovered?). As such, she was oddly not as strong a character as Cassandra to me. Charlie's detached point of view fit him perfectly, especially after his brain modifications to perfect that detachment. Carl does suffer, though, and was perhaps a bit too enigmatic. It works, but I think his motivations could be a little more transparent.

I would like to see a follow-up, either in serialized form again or as an expansion in the print version. You left me hanging there!

Machine Man subscriber Michael Harrell (#2372)

Location: Olathe, KS
Quote: ""Every day we must persevere. For we are engaged in a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress."Adapted from the masthead of "The Economist""
Posted: 3543 days ago

I agree that the car was better than the driver. I enjoyed the excitement of the daily updates. However, in thinking back over the story I do not believe that Charles soul could have survived. That is, what fun it was getting daily e-mails with new creative content. However, I am not sure I bought into the story.

I certainly got an errie feeling out by the idea of a mind in a box. Trapped and dependent on others for sentient thought. Therefore, I must have felt something for Charlie. However, I never got the feeling that as the story cut Charlie down to size I understood the conflict of when a person stops becoming a person. That idea was the main point to me of the story. How does a scientist become a machine, what parts are needed.

Charlie was always a machine, and everyone treated him as one. Heartless Lola always had more heart than Cassandra. Carl's story was never explored enough to highlight the change from human muscles to machine muscles. So, as Charlie became mostly machine I did not get the essence of the transition points.

I have not read any other comments, or any comments as I got the stories, so I am sure I just missed the point. However, it is a neat idea to examine at what point does a person stop being a person. I think the story has plenty of legs just needs a little more for me about the boundaries between alive and dead.

Hope you do this again. I had a great time!!!

Machine Man subscriber b3n3llis (#3159)

Location: UK
Posted: 3543 days ago

Hi Max, really enjoyed Machine Man and the format.

Loved the idea of a man becoming machine. My favourite bits were when Charlie is changing himself, thinking about what he can do, how he does it, other's reactions to his 'improvements'. I enjoyed his own reactions to his new parts and their relationship with each other. What happened to his old meat parts?

I would've liked to know more about Better Future and the people in it; history, how they got to today, where they're going, the people, how did Charlie get to where he is. Do they have competitors? How does the government fit (or not fit) in? What about public opinion?

The whole Angelica's house bit was a bit flat compared with everything else. I didn't quite understand how they could've hidden out there for so long without getting found. The dogs didn't do it for me. It may read better in a regular novel, getting bits over a couple of weeks of this one scene may have made it seem longer than it was.

Really liked all the main characters. I think Lola and Cassandra blurred in parts. Carl was interesting but I don't feel I know everything I should know about him, something's missing about why he's doing what he's doing.

Loved the ending. Really loved it. As I type this I'm wondering if there's a Charlie behind the screen...hello?...talk to me computer...what's that?...you want a usb finger plugged in?...OK...

Machine Man subscriber Roger (#1653)

Posted: 3542 days ago

Oh yea! This should go without saying, but just in case: Page 43, in the printed version, should remain as it's own chapter/page.

Machine Man subscriber Jimmm Engstrom (#4577)

Location: Burnsville, MN
Quote: "I recommend the lobster ravioli. "
Posted: 3540 days ago

The more I think about the ending, the more I love it! For me it's the perfect setup for my imagination (which will remain my secret, so as not to ruin, pollute or poison anybody else's imagination).

The depth of the ending, real or imagined, refreshes my soul like a complete lube & oil change on a warm spring afternoon.

Even now, as I think about it, it makes me smile & nod, with a seemingly knowing look on my face.

Thanks again Max!

Machine Man subscriber Mark (#4045)

Posted: 3528 days ago

Reading a daily serial as it's written was a unique and fascinating experience. I really love this story. I'm excited to read the final revision once it's published, and I already know of friends I'll be buying it for as gifts. I've been procrastinating about this feedback, because there are lots of little things I could say, including countless awesome moments that I hope you won't cut. But mostly I have one big point, and I'll try to make my case for it.

The short version is: please, please, please don't think the section at Angelica's house is weak. It doesn't need to be shortened or have its pacing intensified. It only feels weak because we had to spend a whole goddamn month reading it.

You've said you loved being able to control the reader's pacing with a short or long page. I agree that it's one of the format's major strengths. Page 43, and some other really short pages, were delightfully brilliant examples of slowing down our pace. (I agree with the comment above that Page 43 should ideally be its own one-sentence chapter.)

However, pacing was also the format's crucial weakness. Because realistically, the trick only works for slowing down the pace even further. Reading one page a day is always going to make the pace feel slow, no matter how long you make your longer pages. Even a long page, or a week of long pages, still feels like a brief moment of story to digest compared to how we usually read a novel.

The pace of daily pages means that longer sections can feel really slow, and in particular, I think that's why the section at Angelica's house has been singled out as weak. But in your final novel, that section is utterly crucial for varying the pace, deepening the characters, providing comic relief (and enhancing theme?!) with the dogs, and reminding us how extensively Charlie has crippled himself without his parts. The daily pages also means that even a short action scene can take an entire week or more, and thus feel at once both plodding and yet abrupt, including the climax fight between Charlie and Carl.

As I mentioned on Page 185, I found the daily pages exhausting. Nine months of mini-cliffhangers, and stretching out a short novel over so long, felt like running a marathon I hadn't trained for. As the months went on, the enjoyment became increasingly accompanied by wanting the story to end. When Charlie was losing blood on the operating table, I kind of wanted him to die just so it would be over (and he also sort of deserved it). When Lola's EMP went off after their final kiss, I thought that could be a fairly poignant place to end too. Now, I actually love where you did choose to end it, both as a satisfying conclusion for the story and also how you wrote it. Yet if things had gone on much longer, I might have gouged my eyes out. At the very least, I know I couldn't handle reading another daily serial.

Obviously lots of other folk were more into the daily aspect, some even wishing it would never end. So, this feedback here isn't about whether or not you should do another daily serial next year or whenever. It's about hoping you take all our feedback in context, especially when it comes to pacing, since the vast majority of Machine Man's eventual audience will read far more than a page a day.

There's no question whatsoever that the experiment was a huge success, both for you as writer and us as readers. I love this story. I think this first draft compares favorably to your published novels (the pressure of the spotlight, perhaps?), and it's neat to be among the small group who read and prodded as you wrote it. I'm confident the story will become even more awesome in its final revision. Confident and excited.

Machine Man subscriber Lilla (#4355)

Location: Sydney
Posted: 3408 days ago

Hello Max! I realy wanted to share this story with you, and wanted to find a relevant blog post of your to throw it in to: http://coilhouse.net/2010/04/inventorsculptor-kim-grahams-weta-legs/

Legs! So reminded me of Machine Man. And now you know who to get on set if/when they make MM into a film...

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