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the genre's premiere review magazine for short SF & Fantasy since 1993

The Machine Man Letters by Monte Davis

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“Letter 1: Machine Man’s Birth”
“Letter 2: SC, Machine Man’s Love”
“Letter 3: Da Eye of Medusa, Machine Man’s Redemption”

The Machine Man Letters by Monte Davis is labeled as a novella, and from the perspective of total word count, that’s probably accurate.  But it seems to lack the overall unity of movement that the word “novella” implies—more accurately, it is three short stories, each in the form of a letter, that tell of the adventures of the eponymous Machine Man.

“Letter 1: Machine Man’s Birth” originally appeared by itself in NFG Magazine.  In it, the letter writer tells about his brief fame as a hero in stopping a convenience store robbery—with a bubble gum machine.  The news story gets him dubbed Bubble Gum Machine Man (quickly shortened to just Machine Man) and begins his obsession with the machines.

It soon becomes clear that this is a fast descent into insanity.  The Machine Man buys bubble gum machines to place beside his bed in case the would-be thief returns for revenge.  It’s this absurdity, this fixation on the machines as if they really were weapons—“I had the boxes opened by five-thirty, and by seven I knew how to load, unload, clean, and field-strip the machines.  And the gum tasted great.”—that carries the story.

Since the end of the first letter reveals that the Machine Man is in a psychiatric ward, “Letter 2: SC, Machine Man’s Love” has to turn up the level of absurdity to maintain the tone of the first.  In this letter, the hospital staff bring in a very tempting, 1,000-cubic-inch bubble gum machine to test how his medications are working.  That’s fine with him until he falls in love…with a semicolon.  Another patient takes the particular Tarzan book that contains this semicolon, and the absurdity builds from there.

In “Letter 3: Da Eye of Medusa, Machine Man’s Redemption,” Machine Man is sufficiently recovered that he lives at a halfway house and even holds a job.  That is, until he receives an exciting email from Cote D’Ivoire asking for his assistance with a large sum of money.  The story that follows brings in several bubble gum machines as weapons as well as the return of the beloved semicolon and many laughs.

These are fun stories.  Stories that feature a person going insane are common, perhaps overly so within certain types of speculative stories, but Davis’s humor lets this sequence feel fresh.  What helps it work is that despite the absurdity, it doesn’t reach for over-the-top writing—in fact much of the humor is understated, even subtle, which contrasts nicely with the sheer craziness of the storyline.

This is not a story sequence to inspire deep thoughts or long discussions, but it is great fun for some very deep laughs.

Publisher: Sam's Dot Publishing
Chapbook price: $4.85