#11317 The Soft Machine. William S. Burroughs.
William S. Burroughs

The Soft Machine

First issue of the Olympia Press first edition

Originally published in 1961 by the Olympia Press, The Soft Machine is the first book in The Nova Trilogy (aka The Cut-Up Trilogy) by William S. Burroughs. Much of its text originates from The Word Hoard, a collection of manuscripts Burroughs wrote mostly in Tangier between 1954 and 1958. The novel, written in Burroughs' distinctive cut-up style that splices and rearranges text to create a nonlinear narrative, is set in a surreal dystopian world. It's inhabited by shadowy figures and authoritarian entities, mirroring a society deeply embroiled in addiction, surveillance, and bureaucratic control.

Softcover. First Edition, First Issue. Small octavo, green printed wrappers. Traveller's Companion No. 88. Jacket design by Brion Gysin. First issue without new franc price stamped on rear cover. Paris: The Olympia Press, 1961. #11317.
Nearly fine in very good+ or better dust jacket with slight darkening of spine and very minor edgewear.

Additional Details
The Soft Machine by William S. Burroughs is landmark work of experimental fiction from the Beat Generation. It is the first book in the influential Nova Trilogy, showcasing Burroughs' innovative "cut-up" technique, developed with the collaboration of painter and poet Brion Gysin. The narrative, which is similar to his earlier work Naked Lunch, is non-linear and fragmented, marked by surreal and often explicit imagery that delves into themes of addiction, sexuality, and control.

A notable plot point is revealed in the chapter "The Mayan Caper," which adopts a more linear storytelling approach than the rest of the work. It features a secret agent who can metamorphose his body using "U.T." (undifferentiated tissue), enabling time travel. The agent's mission against Mayan priests, who use the Mayan calendar for mind control over slaves, unfolds into a complex narrative of infiltration and rebellion.

The novel's title is a metaphor for the human body, portrayed as vulnerable to external control and manipulation. This central theme, intertwined with Burroughs' personal battles with drug abuse and recovery, pervades the book, offering a stark commentary on the nature of human autonomy.

The Soft Machine first appeared in print in 1961, published by Olympia Press in Paris as part of their Traveller Companion Series. This rare, heavily fragmented first edition was organized into 182 pages across 50 chapters, color-coded into four different units.

The second edition, released by Grove Press in the United States in 1966, marked the novel's first American and hardcover edition. Burroughs extensively revised this version, removing 82 pages, adding new linear and narrative prose, and restructuring the remaining content with additional cut-ups. This edition, arguably more accessible than its predecessor, saw many chapters renamed and rearranged, and the original color code removed.

The Soft Machine remains a landmark in literary experimentation, reflecting Burroughs' audacious exploration of narrative form and his profound insights into the human condition.