Science fiction and fantasy
by Douglas Thompson
We tend to think of machines as our tools, but the author turns this on its head at several points. There's the "distilled futility" of the gym machines used by Scott's girlfriend Melanie, or the vacuum cleaner mania practised by his houseproud mother. The machine taking up Scott's whole house appears purposeless, more of an art installation than a practical tool, but is it so different from other industrial devices?
The narrative skips from different points of view somewhat. There are two angels, drawn to the machine by its disruptions of the fabric of spacetime. Then there's Wroclaw, an old detective who suspects Scott of murder. Wroclaw has a hard time arresting, or even finding, the elusive jeweller, but he's convinced Scott has something to do with a number of recent disappearances. The detective develops a doomed May-December attraction to a young woman involved in his investigations, in spite of the fact that he's already married. So he's more likely to be tempted by the machine's nostalgia than most people. But will it get the better of him and swallow him up in his workings?
I quite liked Wroclaw and his junior officers Lynn and Brian, with their amusing banter. I wasn't so keen on Scott though. He is obsessive, and creepy with his love of birds and corresponding disdain for other forms of life. He's not entirely illogical, but neither is he likeable so it's odd that we spend quite a lot of the story seeing things from his perspective. The imagery reminded me of Brendan Connell's Unpleasant Tales in its perversity and horror. However it's not just about shock value, the weirdness does all end up making sense.
This is a densely-written story, only 144 pages, but it's nevertheless a very deep consideration of machines, memory, and our lack of control over mechanisation. The ending doesn't waste any words, and although it seems a bit abrupt that's mainly because Douglas Thompson isn't insulting the reader's intelligence by explaining the obvious. Mechagnosis is clever, if a little off the wall, and it left me with lots of interesting things to ponder.
15th October 2012
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