Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die by Ryan North
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is, in a way, not what you think it’s going to be when you read the premise. Essentially it’s a dozen or so Oedipus Rex stories – in the oracle sense, not the incest sense. There is a machine called The Machine of Death and it tells you how you will die. Not when (except in one story). Just how. So if you get CANCER you might die of cancer in two months or at age 99. Sometimes, like Oedipus, what you do to avoid it causes it to happen. Other times that’s not the point of the story, but it can’t be avoided. If your death is EATING A PEANUT you cannot commit suicide by any way other than eating one. The predictions are also vague and/or ironic. OLD AGE might mean you die old or it might mean a senior citizen kills you. So I thought this would be a bunch of stories of people trying to outwit the machine. Instead, what I got were about a dozen stories in which the authors explore how our world would change with the existence of the Machine of Death.
Today as I was reading, I knew I was near the end and I was reflecting on what I had spent the last 10 days reading. I came to the conclusion that, with the exception of the 3 stories which were meant to be origin stories for The Machine, they were not mutually exclusive stories. Humans are a unique and varied bunch. We are just as likely to be driven mad as we are to play party games in a world with The Machine.
Well, as I do with anthologies here are some thoughts (usually only slight variations on my status updates) per story:
Flaming Marshmallow: perfectly captures the idiocy of high school concerns. The story is about a girl who hopes she gets a gruesome death so she can sit with the cool kids.
Fudge: Good although denied again seeing how it works out
Lions: The story of a guy who becomes obsessed with his death, but not in the way you think. I wrote, “the machine sure does inspire some kooky behavior”. This person just thinks about how neat his death will be, despite its gruesome nature.
Despair: What would it be like working in a hospital in a world in which The Machine existed? The answer: truly terrifying.
Suicide: Someone tries to prove the machine wrong…
Almond: This is told through the logs of a tech who mans one of these machines. The tech is a great character. The ending was amazing for both reveals.
Starvation: Crazy to see a military situation in a world with the Machine of Death.
Cancer: My least favorite. But it’s certainly one possible reaction to the MOD.
Firing Squad: Although I thought the story flailed at the end, it had a pretty fun premise. Someone ends up in a third world country and helps them get a Machine of Death.
Vegetables: Both the smartest advice: “You were going to die this way anyway, so why let it rule your life” and the scariest premise: a sociopath who believes it’s his duty to being about the predictions.”
Piano: great story of knowing how you won’t dee being awesome. In other words, if you will die from being shot, then every other dangerous behavior is safe.
HIV from Machine of Death: BEST story so far.
Exploded: Story of the creators and how things go so right and so wrong”
Waving but not drowning: a different view from FLAMING MARSHMELLOW about how a teen in school would view it. Also neat in what was similar.
Bad Fish: Yakuza story; One of the more compelling stories. Very pulp feel to it. I enjoyed nearly everything about it.
Ad nauseum: chuckle-worthy
Murder then suicide: a different origen story for the box
Cancer: very sad and very powerful
Aneurysm: Great use of magic tricks to get what he wants.
Death from Exhaustion from Sex with minor: hilarious twist
Asleep with smile on face: a cute, short romance
Death from Daniel: Sad in that his son is named Daniel, but it could be any one named Daniel.
Friendly fire: knowing death and the changes to the world leads to some college kids becoming terrorists against the machine
Nothing: Even getting nothing on there is a curse of sorts. I do like the way it resolves, though.
Cocaine and painkillers: another origin story for the machine. I love the idea of it being a 1-800 number product.
Loss of Blood: A Scary Dystopian future in which people are pre-killed to ensure least civilian deaths.
Prison Knife Fight: Funny look at rich kids whose parents cannot fight the scandal of their kid’s report.
While Trying to Save Someone from a Fire: Very touching.
Miscarriage: Very hard for me to read.
Shot by sniper: another look at what the machine does to soldiers.
Heat Death of the Universe: Realistic teens. The plot seems like it’s the prequel to Loss of Blood.
Drowning: What is happening in this world? Too many changes from the real world vice just a real world in which the machine changed things.”
?: A guy goes crazy because The Machine is a violation of scientific principles. Of course it’s written by Randall Monroe of XKCD fame
Cassandra: A mathematician figures out how to outwit the machine…maybe. But she’ll never know if she was right. Even in this world in which the machine ends up being a novelty, it still seems a realistic possible world.
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