Free Culture Book Club - Magnificent Mechanical Man §1–12

Hi! It looks like this post has since been updated or rethought in some ways, so you may want to look at these after you're done reading here.

This week, our Free Culture Book Club digs into Manuel, the Magnificent Mechanical Man, an alternate universe novel.

A Circus

To give this series some sense of organization, here are some basic facts without much in the way of context.

  • Full Title: Manuel, the Magnificent Mechanical Man: A Novel
  • Location: http://jj.github.io/hoborg/
  • Released: Mid-2013
  • License: CC-BY 3.0 Unported
  • Creators: Juan-Julián Merelo-Guervós
  • Medium: Novella
  • Length: Approximately 29,000 words
  • Content Advisories: Some harsh language, sexually oriented humor including a joke about sexual assault, violence, jokes about violence, and harsh language.

This should go without saying—even though I’m going to repeat it with every Book Club installment—but Content Advisories are not any sort of judgment on my part, just topics that come up in the work that I noticed and might benefit from a particular mood or head space for certain audiences. It’s to help you make a decision, rather than a decision in and of itself.

Manuel, the Magnificent Mechanical Man

Since the novel is available as a commercial product—even at a price of zero dollars—I won’t embed a copy here, because I don’t want to interfere with any metrics. I also won’t embed a reader from Amazon, here, because trusting Amazon not to track my readers seems like a mistake.

So instead, you can either buy the free book from Amazon—if you’re a part of that ecosystem, you might as well use it to help Free Culture—or read it from GitHub. Either way, thirteen chapters is Meet the Mechanical Man through School years. If you get to You don’t look like a circus person, save it for next week.

What Works Well?

At least this first quarter is a brisk read that (mostly) feels cohesive, even when (see below) a chapter is mostly just dialogue meant to inform the reader about the setting.

Speaking of the setting, even though we obviously don’t see the full story in this section—and may never get the full background—the parallel history comes across clearly enough that it wouldn’t be hard for someone with a background in history to reassemble the missing parts.

Fulgencio also comes across as a protagonist worth following. We might find out later that he’s terrible or boring; I don’t know. But for the moment, the character is personable and interesting.

What Works…Less Well?

Some exposition strikes me as jarring, such as describing Manuel to listeners in a sequence that also says that those same listeners can see it. That, in particular, is jarring, given that there’s an elided scene where the storyteller makes Manuel dance, where all that could have been placed more clearly. That would be easy to fix, however. Other parts might be more difficult to clean up,

Reading this in 2020 as Confederate statues and flags are being torn down, having a character who was a former Confederate soldier who interjects a story to assure everybody that he’s one of the many good ones who were anti-slavery doesn’t play well. In fact, there are multiple side-stories that are all fragments of history lessons, but it feels somewhat disjointed.

I won’t complain about the typos and the occasional diction-related goof, but I will mention them now and (with any luck) remember to file a pull request to celebrate finishing the book…

Opportunities

I’ll quote right from the novel’s repository, with some minor corrections:

  • You can just follow @hoborg_novel on Twitter or Facebook and interact with it.
  • Get a GitHub account.
  • Watch, star or fork this repo. You don’t need to do anything else, for the time being, but it will help me achieve some visibility.
  • You can interact with the text and the rest directly from the web: you can comment on text and changes in it (called commits).
  • You can also request changes on the text using issues. If you find an error of any kind, just raise an issue and I’ll fix it (or try to).
  • Create your own version: once forked, you can use git (check out this manual https://web.archive.org/web/20190731172929/wiki.freegeek.org/index.php/Git_for_dummies) to branch and evolve the story in whichever way you want.
  • You can keep that copy (hey, it’s free as in free speech) or, if you think it’s a worthwhile addition to Hoborg, do a Pull Request.
  • Check out the TODO list in case you find something that you could do yourself.

Now, not all of those might be relevant, anymore. I don’t believe that @hoborg_novel has tweeted in two years, for example, and people are constantly fleeing Facebook, so those may no longer be worth your time. But those are straight from the author’s keyboard.

What’s Adaptable?

There’s a lot, honestly, the most obvious being la República Unida de Todas las Razas de Florida (the People’s Republic of Florida)—a country with a distinct history and culture somewhere between 1900 and 1918, assuming that the rest of history hasn’t also changed—and Manuel himself/itself.

As mentioned earlier, we also spend enough time with Fulgencio that he could plausibly be transplanted, even though the summary of the story on the GitHub page tells us that most of what we know is probably a lie.

Note that the repository includes—be wary of spoilers, if that’s your position—a list of characters, the general geography, and at least the beginnings of a timeline.

In addition to that background information, Merelo-Guervós has also provided spreadsheets of the revenue from mid-2013 through late 2014, in the spirit of transparently running that business venture.

Next

Next time, we’ll take on the next quarter (or so) of the book, from You don’t look like a circus person to The second greatest show on Earth goes to New Orleans, another twelve chapters.

While we wait, what did everybody think about this first quarter of Manuel, the Magnificent Mechanical Man?


Credits: The header image is the novel’s cover image, and as such has been released under the same CC-BY 3.0 license.


By commenting, you agree to follow the blog's Code of Conduct and that your comment is released under the same license as the rest of the blog.

Tags:   freeculture   bookclub

Sign up for My Newsletter!

Get monthly (or thereabouts) notifications on Entropy Arbitrage posts, additional reading of interest, random thoughts, and previews of upcoming projects, delivered right to your inbox. I won’t share your information or use it for anything else.
You can view previous issues. Unless it's still June 2020, in which case you can only see test messages.
If you disable trackers (like I do), this form won’t work, so you’ll need to sign up on Mailchimp's site. Sorry!