Machine #69

Mark Wernham packs the fragments of a novel in progress into Machine #69, a "‘fractured digital experience’ that "half-tells the story of a time-travelling salesman who is trying to save the world in the 1960s.” The voice acting is superb, and the script is cleanly written though it sometimes verges on beat parody.

It was early. The diner was serving breakfast. The diner served breakfast all day, and most of the night. Jefferson pushed the glass swing door open and sat down on the banquette nearest the solitary waitress. He made sure he caught her eye.

The navigational scheme – a collection of icons linked to story fragments, arranged in what seems to me to be an arbitrary pattern – is not entirely convincing. It provides access and agency, but there’s not much sense of structure or intentionality. New media skeptics always fear that their leg is being pulled, and the arbitrary interface might reinforce their anxiety.

Machine #69 recalls Ryman’s 253, and especially Bob Arellano’s Sunshine ’69 both in its embrace of arbitrary connection and its fond nostalgia for the era when cheap booze, good drugs, fast cars and hot guns seemed to offer everything worth wanting and when nothing was worth wanting very much.