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Syrup by Max Barry movie trailer

Syrup by Max Barry movie trailer

Syrup by Max Barry

I’m a huge Max Barry fan.  I’ve read all his novels except Syrup, which is on my to-read pile.  Last year Max spoke on a speculative fiction panel at the Melbourne Writers Festival, which was a highlight of the festival for me.   Machine Man was the first of Max’s novels that I read, followed closely by Jennifer Government and Company.  All are blackly humorous with biting social comment and are, at times, laugh out loud funny.  I need to read them again, they’re so good.

I’ve heard whisperings about Syrup the movie but Max putting this trailer in his newsfeed is the most concrete evidence that it’s not in development hell.

Here’s hoping Machine Man also comes to the screen soon – there have been whispers.  More on Machine Man below to whet your appetites until I’ve read Syrup.

FAQ about the writing of Machine Man, by Max Barry

A real-time what now?

Serial. It comes in lots of little parts. I called it “real-time” because people read it (and commented!) as I wrote it. I didn’t pull an old manuscript out of the drawer and chop it up: I wrote this story on the fly, for the medium. Each day, I read comments from readers about the previous day’s page and used their feedback to guide what I wrote next.

One page per day?

Right. Well, actually, one page per weekday (Monday to Friday). Because I need a break, man. Give me that.

How long is each page?

They vary. Which turned out to be a great way to control pacing, by the way. There are longish pages of 800 words and pages that are a single sentence. Most are around 300 words. That’s what I think is an ideal length for fiction-by-internet: long enough to execute a scene, short enough to consume without interrupting your day.

Reading one page per day sounds weird.

It is. It’s almost more like checking your favorite website each day rather than sinking into a novel. But it’s a little addictive, too. A lot of people seem to enjoy that part of their day when a new Machine Man page dings into their inbox.

How long is it?

One hundred eighty-five pages. Which is 37 weeks, if you stick to the one-page-per-day regimen. Less if you cheat and read ahead online.

What’s it about?

A man loses a leg in an industrial accident and decides to build a better one. Because that’s the kind of guy he is. He gradually gadgetifies himself, which attracts the attention of his employer, the Better Future corporation.

Is it finished now?

I posted the first page on March 18, 2009, and the final page on December 1. But you can still sign up for one page per day via email or feed reader, starting from page 1. You just aren’t reading the pages the same day I posted them.

Why did you do this?

Partly because some of my readers were frustrated with the delay between novels. And by “frustrated,” I mean, “accusing me of sitting around doing nothing all day.” (See my blog about it.) An alarming aspect of being an author is that you spend a couple of years on a book, then someone reads it in five hours and asks when your next one will be out. I figured a drip-feed story would keep them off my back for a while. I was also interested in using the internet to successfully deliver fiction. I don’t think the web is a great medium for novels, because novels are supposed to be immersive: you need to sit down and disappear into them. On the net, you can’t give your attention to any one thing for more than eight seconds before feeling the urge to check your email. Don’t say that’s just me. It’s how the internet trains us. I think there are a lot of gimmicky attempts to mash fiction and the web together, regardless of how well they fit. They are promotions for a print novel, essentially, rather than genuine attempts to engage the medium and work to its strengths and weaknesses. I wanted to write something that fit.

Thanks to Scribe Publications for permission to reprint this article (previously republished in Dark Matter issue 4).

Machine Man

Reviewed by Nalini Haynes
(Review published previously in Dark Matter issue 5)

Charles Neumann is a very intelligent, focused individual, focused well beyond the point of obsession. Neumann has researched what people find appealing in a partner and has followed through on that research to the letter, including occasionally taking a stray cat to a shelter. He cannot understand why people find him repellent.

Machine Man opens with Charles searching for his mobile phone because he won’t get dressed without checking the weather forecast. It takes too long to boot up his laptop apparently, so he walks around naked in his lounge room until someone looks in the window. Later he goes to the carpark to search his car, wearing only a towel after having half a shower. This opening segment is humorous while laying the foundation for the plot.

Neumann works at Better Futures, a research and development company located anywhere in any developed Western country, although change a few details to locate the novel in any country with aspirations to high level technology. Neumann has 3 research assistants who vaguely irritate him; he’d like to work on his own.
A work-related accident causes Neumann to lose a leg from above the knee. He is disgusted with the primitive level of technology available for amputees and compares this to the ground-breaking technology available for simulating driving a tank for a console game. However, it is not the morality of the situation that annoys him; it is frustration purely motivated from the lack of prior research when he begins developing his prototypes.

Better Futures management gets wind of Neumann’s technological developments, responding by providing him with a substantial department of staff leading to more breakthroughs. Obsession with science proliferates unhindered within the company’s geek culture while obsession with profiteering manifests in the suits. The results are blackly humorous while fairly believable. I think Max Barry could be an Australian version of Joss Whedon, with broad appeal but a blacker sense of humour.

Machine Man uses intelligent science fiction as a vehicle for exploring the human condition. Highly recommended for science fiction fans who enjoy the science and the fiction, and for those who enjoy explorations of human nature. This is one of those rare stories that can be read as superficially or explored with as much depth as the reader desires. For fans of action/comedy, there’s a movie coming based on the book. I hope. Personally, I’d like del Toro to make it.

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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