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Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die Paperback – October 13, 2010
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Machine of Death is a lot of fun.... Highly engaging, interestingly crowdsourced, and crafted with a great deal of care. You'll be thinking about it long after you're through reading. --Chris Greenland, Tor.com
But where this collection could have merely skated by on its own cleverness, it turns out to be a lot deeper than that. A lot more intelligent. A lot less predictable... -- Hannah Strom-Martin, Strange Horizons
About the Author
Matthew Bennardo has lived in Cleveland for the past twenty years. His stories have previously been published in Asimov's Science Fiction and Strange Horizons, among other markets.
David Malki ! is the author of the Eisner-, Harvey- and Ignatz-nominated comic strip "Wondermark." His latest collection is Dapper Caps & Pedal-Copters, published by Dark Horse Books. He lives in Los Angeles and he likes to fly airplanes. Read his comics at Wondermark.com.
Randall Munroe, a cartoonist from southern Virginia, is the creator of the webcomic "xkcd" (xkcd.com), one of the most popular comics on the Internet. Formerly a roboticist at NASA, he now makes a living writing comics. He spends his time drawing, traveling, and training computers to beat humans at Rock-Paper-Scissors. He lives in Massachusetts.
Kate Beaton draws men in fancy hats for a living. On an exciting day she'll draw a character with epaulets. Visit her at Harkavagrant.com.
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The big question, of course, is, would you use the Machine of Death? Logically, as a literature major, I know that it is never a good idea to know the future, much less how you die. It always ends badly. On the other hand, how could you possibly, as a human being, restrain yourself from obtaining that kind of information? To be human is to open Pandora's Box, to climb Mount Everest, to eat of the Tree of Knowledge. The maddening thing is that, even as such information could totally ruin the rest of our life, it could very possibly be the best thing to happen to our life. It could be as freeing as it could be constricting. It could cripple us with fear, or release us completely from it.
Even worse, could the knowledge of how we die, like with every Greek hero ever, cause that death? In running from fate, would we run right into it? Would this be self-fulfilling prophecy? Would we be like Sleeping Beauty, in being protected from the spinning wheel, run to prick our fingers on it?
Would the very existence of the Machine, the very ability to have this knowledge ruin life, mortality, and death?
If you were the one to invent the Machine, could you release it on the world? Would you feel responsible for the outcome? For the deaths? Would you be a savior, or a monster?
Would knowing affect everything? Is this a question of fate and destiny, or of human psychology, the self-fulfilling prophecy? Do we fight against the dying of the light or do we accept fate and die with a whimper?
Furthermore, is the Machine accurate? If it spits out "JOY" or "SUICIDE" or "ALMOND", is the truth in the fate what the Machine meant, or does the human psyche make it so?
Then we get into the meta part of this. Isn't modern medical technology essentially Machines of Death? Do we have any ability to try to face or change fate? Can we?
Moreover (and here we get literary), does the manner in which we die reflect the way we live? Does the end of our story reflect the beginning and middle? Is our death, the end of our story, random or determined? Is it a reflection of who we are as people? Does our manner of death reflect our manner of life?
Furthermore, could humanity ever possibly live with such divine (or meta) knowledge as the ending of our own stories? Would it save our lives or destroy them? Make us worse or make us better? Could humanity ever cope with certitude? Is hope a curse or a blessing? Can humans ever be human without hope? Would we ever strive to know or fight or do without hope?
If we (both as a human character in this alternative world and as the reader of these stories) know the ending of the story (the death), how does it affect the reader, the writer, the characters? Oh, hell, do I love that double layer!
Because, death gives life. Death affects life.
My favorite stories: Suicide by David Michael Wharton, Almond by John Chernega, Starvation by M. Bennardo, Killed By Daniel by Julia Wainwright, Cocaine and Painkillers by Daivd Malki!, Loss of Blood by Jeff Stautz, and Miscarriage by James L. Sutter.
This collection is highly addicting, incredibly absorbing, comprehensive, clever, imaginative, thought-provoking, and utterly brilliant. Grade: A+
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 with the Machine itself; not the book. The book is fantastic.
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