“ Print Length: 139 pages „
Blue 7 works, or more correctly slaves, as a repair man tending the Machine, although he has no true concept of what the Machine may be or why it even exists. All he knows is the Machine with its ever present thrumming noise reminiscent of a heartbeat. Beyond the machine, out in the blazing sun is only desert stretching to the horizon and beyond. Blue 7 is one amongst many but someone has noticed him, singled him out, but for what purpose he doesn't know. When he eventually finds out, 7 is faced with something more terrible than he could ever have imagined.
Though I'm quite happy reading urban fantasy which combines fantastical futuristic elements with present day reality, I'm always somewhat disturbed by dystopian novels which possibly predict the shape of things to come. Some of these earlier novels have been frighteningly prophetic and offer glimpses into the possible future of our children's children's children and they are invariably unremittingly bleak. This story is no exception and though I frequently wanted to put it down, I simply couldn't.
The world of Blue 7 is a horrifically dystopian one. Though it bears some Orwellian touches to my mind this is a more frightening future than that of 1984 because 7 only really knows that he exists at the very bottom of the pile and guesses that there is an unending chain of command leading to who knows where and that the Machine he labours daily to keep going exists for a reason but what that reason may be is unknown to him. 7 is barely recognisable as a human being because most of the humanity has been stripped from him. He's just a colour and a number and his world has shrunk to an endless round of drudgery and sex, when he can get it. He loved someone once, another Blue, but she disappeared one day without explanation and 7 still wonders why and mourns her loss.
For most of the story 7 is flailing around trying to work out exactly where he fits into the grand scheme of things. He knows he's a Blue and that he's supposed to hate the Reds, Greens, Yellows and any other colour which isn't Blue but he doesn't really know why he should hate them because when he's being absolutely honest with himself, he recognises that these other colours are exactly the same as him. The ones they should hate are the Greys, a kind of police force who control the other colours but even the Greys, though one step higher up on the chain of command, know little more than 7 does.
It seems he's attracted the attention of a man with no number and he suspects it's because of his love of books. His friends and colleagues assume that 7 is a bit of a reader when in actual fact his reading skills are rudimentary at best and he acquires his books to look at the pictures! Why the numberless man should take an interest in him is the subject of much speculation by 7 and he thinks it may be that there is a band of revolutionaries which in turn frightens and exhilarates him. But if the man is a revolutionary looking for recruits, why doesn't he say something instead of simply staring at him in such a frightening manner. 7 is about to find out!
This novel is ironically humorous, horrific and also allegorical in equal parts. I'm not sure whether it was the author's intention to write the story in the form of a stream of consciousness similar to that in Ulysses but the narrative is written without much punctuation, without capitals at the beginning of sentences and with a lower case instead of a capital i throughout. Initially, I was slightly put off by this lack of punctuation and I'm not absolutely certain why the author uses this device but assumed it was to indicate 7's lack of a sense of self-worth, either that or his poor literacy. I understand that later editions of the book have been published in an 'easy reading' format which I assume means that full punctuation has been restored. This can only be to the good as I didn't feel that it lent anything to the story.
There is a good deal of allegory in the narrative with many similarities to the world we inhabit. When push comes to shove, we're all brainwashed into our beliefs of what is good and evil and, more to the point, we're frequently reduced to mere numbers, as anyone who has ever experienced the NHS hospital system or the queue at the deli counter at Sainsbury's can testify. We are governed by people we're supposed to have elected but is it really democracy or have we abdicated our responsibilities to someone else? There's a wicked little reference to Argos hidden in the text, too. When 7 is sent to collect some spares and equipment from the stores, he's asked to go to Collection Point B. Like the rest of us, he obeys. I wonder what would happen if we handed in our receipt at Collection Point A or C.
Did I enjoy this novel? Quite honestly, I'm not sure that I did or at least 'enjoy' is not quite the word to describe how I felt about it. It's beautifully written with language which bounces from the lyrical to the profane. I found it darkly disturbing and thought provoking and it was compulsive reading. I couldn't put it down but I finished it feeling a little unsettled and rather depressed. It also left me with many unanswered questions.
This is the second book in the Machine trilogy, the first being a prequel. I have the final book, Lynchpin, in which I presume the mystery of the Machine will be revealed but I think it will be a while yet before I read it so that I can give my mind time to dispel some of the disturbing images conjured up in this story.
The Machine is only available electronically and is currently priced at £1.53.