by Fritz Leiber
"The world is a mindless machine, and only you are alive." - cover blurb
Carr Mackay's encounter with a mysterious, hunted woman is the catalyst for his sudden awakening to the frightening truth about reality.
After he meets her, he finds that his co-workers speak to his empty chair as if he's sitting there; they don't seem to be able to see him where he actually is or hear what he's saying. When Carr tries to forcibly bring himself to one's attention, the man responds like a piece of malfunctioning machinery.
Which is exactly what he is -- Carr discovers that the universe is a vast, ceaseless, mindless engine, and everything and everyone in it is merely a part of that great machine. Those who have not been "awakened" are automatons, and our actions have as little to do with free will and self-determination as the turning of gears in a clock. Every once in a while, though, a random gear will pop out and see the machine as it truly is.
This is not necessarily a good thing. That person is now invisible to the overwhelming majority of living things. Furthermore, many of the people who have been awakened seize on their new state as a means of gratifying their basest desires -- after all, there is no one to stop them now. They prey on the unawakened and the weak among the awakened with terrifying rapacity. Carr must try to evade a group of these black-clad predators by concealing himself among the unawakened, while trying to locate others among the truly alive that he can trust.
If you're partial to intensely paranoid stories of the "everything you know is wrong" variety, I highly recommend this book.
- Always keep up appearances.
- Always be doing something.
- Always be first or last.
- Always be alone.
- Always have a route of escape.
- Never hesitate, or you're lost.
- Never do anything odd--it wouldn't be noticed.
- Never move things--it makes gaps.
- Never touch anyone--DANGER! MACHINERY!
- Never run--they're faster.
- Never look at a stranger--it might be one of them.
- Some animals are really alive.