Monday, November 08, 2010


Title: Machine of Death
Author: the internet!

Here's the premise: imagine that someone invents a machine which, upon sampling your blood, can accurately predict your cause of death. Not the time, not the circumstances, just the cause. Except that it can sometimes be vague, cryptic, or misleading. OLD AGE might mean you see 98, or it might mean that a 98 year old kills you. Drawing OBESITY could cause you to turn your life around, start eating right and exercising, only to be crushed to death when a fat guy falls on you. It's a twisted machine. And it's available in malls, next to the photo booths, at your doctor's office, or even as a party game.

Now imagine that someone posited this idea on the internet, originally as a joke, then thought... that's a great idea for a book. And the internet responded with hundreds of submissions for stories. Their only problem was visibility. Without any Big Name Authors submitting stories, no publisher was interested, despite many agents who really liked the collection. Thus, the editors asked the Internet People to prove the power and might of Internet People by making their purchase the day the book was released, November 26, and making it Amazon's Top Seller Of The Day.

I'm happy to say that not only was I one of the people who helped achieve that goal, but by doing so, we made Glenn Beck sad. I could have never opened the book and been happy with that purchase. And if Beck had read even a little of the book, or the website that spawned it, he'd know that it is not, as he said, a book celebrating a "culture of death," but a celebration of life. Most stories don't even include the death foretold within them, which is admittedly disappointing with predictions like "ALMOND," "NOT WAVING BUT DROWNING," and "FLAMING MARSHMALLOW." Most of the stories are about people who realize too late how they didn't want their predictions, or how becoming more acquainted with their own demise leads them to try to lead better lives. Granted, there are also many stories about individuals or even entire societies spiraling off in wildly unhealthy directions with the advent and spread of the Machine. Stories where "getting your ticket" is not only optional, but required at a certain age--even at birth, or as a pre-natal health scan. There's some pretty messed-up possibilities from the possibility of knowing how everyone will die.

The Machine is always right, though--there's no use trying to trick it or make it wrong. Some people will try to find another way out, but suicide attempts fail, or merely render you comatose until your real fate can get you. One story details how scientists work out a way to possibly send themselves a message from the future using the Machine and its inevitably correct predictions, while another tells of a young woman using Schroedinger-like reasoning to try to prevent a nuclear war by removing knowledge of it. Some are darkly humorous, a couple are deeply unsettling, but most are about hope above all else. All of the stories (even the one which is shorter than its own title) are very, very good.

I have only one problem: I don't like the idea that we can't control our fates. A couple authors get around that by pointing out that even though the Machine writes the end of our stories, it doesn't write the middle. And that's still a problem I only have witht he Machine itself; not the book. The book is fantastic.

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posted by reyn at 5:54 PM


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