Adolphsen, Peter

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novella

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Apr-13-2009
  • Last revised: Apr-09-2009


In the early Eocene period, a small horse (Eohippus) accidentally dies in the depths of a lake. Over time, the body of the mare decays. Heat and pressure convert the remains of the animal into oil. Thousands of feet beneath the surface of Utah and millions of years later, that oil is tapped. As it travels through a pipeline, a nearby worker is injured. As a result of the accident, the man loses part of his arm.

The worker, Djamolidine Hasanov, was born in Azerbaijan. Before coming to the United States, he changed his name to Jimmy Nash. As a boy, he loved to bicycle. As an adult in America, his pastimes include drinking beer and writing haiku. After he is injured at work, Jimmy becomes a drifter and lives off his disability benefits.

The oil derived from the matter of the prehistoric horse continues its journey through time and space. It is refined into gasoline and transported to a gas station in Austin, Texas. On June 23, 1975, some of that gasoline is pumped into the tank of a Ford Pinto. One drop of the fuel comes from the once-pumping heart of the ancient equine.

The car is driven by Clarissa Sanders, a college student who is enthralled by biology and genetics. Later that day, she picks up a hitchhiker on a highway leading to San Antonio. The man has an accent and is missing his lower right arm. Jimmy Nash shares some LSD with Clarissa. He even drives her automobile. On the same day, Clarissa inhales some soot particles emitted in the car's exhaust fumes. They contain a carcinogen - benzapyrene. Thirty years later, she is diagnosed with metastatic adenocarcinoma of the lung. Three months after receiving the diagnosis, Clarissa dies.


Spanning 55 million years, this tale chronicles the brief life and extended afterlife of a prehistoric animal. The horse is transformed - flesh into energy. Yet the organism becomes something more - a catalyst of change and a conduit of misery and death. The value of metamorphosis is clear. So too is the principle of conservation of energy and the relationship between matter and energy.

Fusing physics, philosophy, and physiology, Machine emphasizes the connectivity of life on earth. What force provides the necessary link? Is it a higher power? How about chance and coincidence? Or can connection be explained solely on the basis of cause and effect? Randomness and convergence are powerful and competing forces.

Decomposition has a decided edge over organization and creation in this story. Defining death is difficult. One of the major themes of the work is spelled out for readers near the end of the book: "Everything moves toward its own destruction" [p 72]. It's not a cheery thought, but in an evolutionary sense, it's dead on.


Translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund. Author copyright 2006.

Primary Source



MacAdam/Cage Publishing

Place Published

San Francisco



Page Count