Against the Machine: Manifesto by Brian Van Norman

When long-time employee Mel “Bucks” Buckworth loses his job due to a plant closure, he is, understandably, upset. It seems as though 28 years of faithful service ought to count for more.

A star athlete throughout his youth, Mel emphasized sports over schoolwork. When he didn’t make it to the pros, a job at the local wire-weaving plant seemed like a solid option. Factory work, yes, but it provided an income. Besides, Mel had his family and his competitive sporting activities to keep him occupied in his free time.

Now, forced to re-assess his life in the light of his job loss, Mel realizes that nothing is the way it once was. He’s hard-pressed to keep up with the younger players in the elite hockey league he takes pride in belonging to. Mel and his wife Patricia have drifted apart, and Mel is on the outs with his daughter, Danielle, because he thinks she’s too young to move in with her boyfriend. Mel’s son MJ, who Mel once hoped would make it as a professional athlete, now spends his free time playing video games in the basement when he’s not at his pizza delivery job.

“Embittered by the turns his life has taken, Mel channels his anger by striking back against technology.”

Embittered by the turns his life has taken, Mel channels his anger by striking back against technology, which he blames for the plant closure. Mel sees mechanization as a threat that needs to be countered at all costs. At one point, he remarks to another character, “You talk about machines learning to serve us . . . but what happens when they learn too much, when they know more than us, when they turn on us and make us serve them?”

As the novel proceeds, suspense builds as readers are kept wondering what Mel will plan next and whether his machinations will come to fruition.

Though Mel drives a fair portion of the action, he’s not the only character we spend time with. Author Brian Van Norman takes us into the lives of various members of Mel’s family. Also factoring into the story are a police detective and three computer science students at the University of Waterloo.

One of the latter is Stanley Best, who has drawn Mel’s ire by dating Mel’s daughter Danielle. Stanley is a brilliant researcher who is pursuing a Doctor of Philosophy in Computer Science at the University of Waterloo, with a specialization in Artificial Intelligence and Nanotechnology. Though much of his work is purely theoretical, Stanley finds joy in the challenge of learning and expanding the boundaries of what is known.

Stanley’s housemates, Will Baker and Michael Selel, are also in the computer science field, though they harbour different ambitions. Will dreams of striking it big with a new app, while Michael, who hails from Kenya, wants to use technology “to brighten the futures of African youth, bringing them access to the tools they need in order to do as he did, get out and give back.”

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One other character, Henry the house cat, is worthy of mention because he steals the show in some places. Henry resides with Stanley and his housemates. The cat “rules the house . . . from various vantage points and even from some invisible ones.” Referred to as “Mister Walk-On-By” by Danielle, who finds his aloofness frustrating, Henry is an entertaining character imbued with a hint of quantum mystery.

Against the Machine: Manifesto is set in Waterloo, Ontario, with the action opening in 2012. The timing is not coincidental, being two centuries after the uprising of the Luddites in England. The Luddite movement sprang up in protest against the mechanization of the textile mills. There are a number of points of connectivity to the Luddites throughout Against the Machine: Manifesto. As examples, Mel himself is a descendant of one of the original Luddite leaders, while Stanley Best’s hometown is Huddersfield, Yorkshire, where “huge textile mills now lie in ruins reclaimed by nature’s vegetation.”

In Against the Machine: Luddites, published in 2020, Van Norman explored the rebellion of the textile workers in an imaginative and highly readable work of historical fiction. Though Against the Machine: Manifesto can be read as a stand-alone work, reading Against the Machine: Luddites first will provide greater depth of understanding and greater resonance for certain events and occurrences in Manifesto.

Both books are interesting and thought-provoking, exploring issues around technology’s impact on society while at the same time offering a suspenseful narrative.

Against the Machine: Manifesto is Van Norman’s fourth novel, joining The Betrayal Path, Immortal Water, and Against the Machine: Luddites.

Once a teacher, theatre director and adjudicator, Brian Van Norman left those worlds behind to travel the planet with his wife, Susan, and take up writing as a full-time pursuit. With four novels currently on the market: The Betrayal Path, Immortal Water and his previous novel, Against the Machine: Luddites. Against the Machine: Manifesto is the second book in this trilogy and is currently researching for the third and final book of the Against the Machine trilogy. He has journeyed to every continent and sailed nearly every sea on the planet. His base is in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada though he is seldom found there but for this year of the Covid pandemic.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Guernica Editions (Oct. 1 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 400 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1771836954
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1771836951

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