A Perfect Machine. Book Review

A Perfect Machine by Brett Savory
Angry Robot, p/b, 384pp, £8.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby

This is an odd book. It has a story that will sit with you for some time after you’ve finished it, but you’re still wondering what you’ve read. Is it dystopian? Sort of. SF? Mostly. Fantasy? Hints of. Do the good guys or the bad guys win? I’m not sure who’s who.

If this were a film, I’d watch it again just to see what I may have missed, or to see if I could work out who’s good/bad or even if there is such a thing. It’s certainly a haunting book.

Set in a modern city, one that most city dwellers would recognise, that has it’s good places, bad places and abandoned areas. In these abandoned areas live the Hunters and the Runners, two groups who play out their lives in a game they have no choice but to compete in. If they refuse, family members go missing and are never seen again, though no one knows how this happens.

The hunters shoot the runners, but the runners never die. Instead, the lead shunts into place within their bodies, taking over the role of bones. What happens when someone’s body reaches one hundred percent? Henry Kyllo is about to find out.

The rest of the city’s population occasionally see, and suffer from, these fights, but their memories are soon erased by a process that no one understands. The runners end up in hospital after being gunned down, but all records of them soon disappear and they usually walk out within a few hours all but healed, despite multiple bullet wounds to vital areas.

One night, while running alongside his friend Milo, Henry takes a gun with him. It’s not against the rules providing no hunter is killed and it spices things up a bit. It goes wrong and Henry ends up killing one of the hunters who do not have the same regenerative abilities the runners do. Retribution is swift. Henry is filled with bullets while Milo’s head is chopped off, a wound from which even a runner will not recover (Think Highlander).

As a result of this act, Henry has now reached one hundred percent lead and begins to change, while Milo becomes a ghost.

This is where the story gets deep, interesting and strange while the lines between good and evil become blurred. Henry’s change is grotesque to read about, while the changes to the society of runners and hunters is an interesting sideshow.

It was fascinating to read, but I’m still not sure what I’ve read. In some ways it’s similar to 2001 in that you’re uncertain what the ending’s all about, but it’s compelling to watch.

In short, this is not a book for the casual reader, but one for people who like to have something to think about long after they’ve put it down.