Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Machine of Death

Machine of Death
Edited by: Ryan North, Matthew Bennarde, and David Malki!
Paperback: 464 pages
Publisher: Independent/Bearstache Books
Language: English
October 2010, $17.99
Genre: Fiction/Anthology/Science Fiction/Fantasy

"The machine could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die...

It didn't give you the date and it didn't give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE, or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. And it was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delightful in the ambiguities of language. OLD AGE, it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death — you can know how it's going to happen, but you'll still be surprised when it does...

We tested it before announcing it to the world, but testing took time — too much, since we had to wait for people to die. After four years had gone by and three people died as the machine predicted, we shipped it out the door. There were now machines in every doctor's office and in booths at the mall. You could pay someone or you could probably get it done for free, but the result was the same no matter what machine you went to. They were, at least, consistent."


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What would you do if you knew how you were going to die? Would you fight against it, avoid water at all costs if your slip read DROWNING? Or would you live life as fully as you could knowing that death is part of life and if DROWNING is how you are going to go, then you really cant be afraid of other things such as SKYDIVING, TRYING NEW FOODS, etc.

Would you even decide to know? In getting that slip of paper, its the acknowledgement that yes you are not immortal and some day you will in fact die and all of this will end. But we all know that don’t we? We always worry that there wont be enough time, that elusive question of what happens after it ends and will it hurt? As a society we spend more time, money and energy preventing death and aging when we’re 65 and older than we do when we are 30. Its as if we hope that all of the medicines and machines and doctors will somehow change our inevitable fates...the finality of it all. No one wants to die. But it happens. Its gonna happen.

And yet if I got that piece of paper, unless it said OLD AGE IN SLEEP (which could also mean that a deranged geriatric smothers me in my sleep because he thinks I am the antichrist) would I be so pre-occupied by that little piece of paper that I would forget how to live?

These are the kind of questions that the stories in Machine of Death pose. I first heard about the book when Glenn Beck whined because his book Broke got beat by an independent self published book. He said that because of how popular it was, and that beat his book therefore making him cry like a little boy, American society was obviously obsessed with death and that the success was a result of America turning towards a “culture of death”. Obviously the man did not read the book because if he had he would realize that this book isn't really about death when you think about it. Obviously death is a theme but so is fate, living life, and more. Of course I had to buy it. How could a crazy libertarian such as myself not.

Things I loved: What did I not love about this? The stories range from funny to sad, charming to depressing. Some are long, some are short and each are illustrated. Some of my faves include:

FLAMING MARSHMALLOW - death by Millennium Space Entropy would be interesting, but wheres a teenage girl to sit during lunch. Its not like there’s a clique for that.

DESPAIR - the machine is a bit vague and one doctor discovers this. tests can mean a lot of things - an exam, medical tests, or lack thereof.

SUICIDE - you cannot change fate no matter what your plans are.

STARVATION - two soldiers find themselves in a situation where each thinks that they know how it is going to end because of their slips. 

HIV INFECTION FROM MACHINE OF DEATH NEEDLE - “Well”, I thought, “that sucks”.

MISCARRIAGE - You just have to read it.

The illustrations are wonderful and though like most anthologies there are excellent stories, meh stories and probably wont read that one ever again stories. But I love the idea behind it. I love that it started out as an online project that eventually made it to print. It is the kind of book that makes both a reader and a blogger, internet geek happier than I can say. And I also loved the bios at the end. Seriously my bio kind of sucks compare to some of theirs.

Mostly I love that the book made me think. How would I react? What would I do? What would I like my slip to say? Would it be marketed like the Foreman grill? Would soldiers use it to find traitors? Could I escape my fate at all? What book these days makes you think like that?

Things I didn't love so much: There wasn’t enough? Luckily the editors have been accepting submissions for Volume Two up until July 15th, which hopefully means the book might be out sometime next year? Though amazingly not only can you hear a hand full of the stories for free on iTunes (their podcast is Bearstache), but you can also still read it online if you don’t want to shell out the bucks, but please do and support independent press. Plus its just awesome really.

Buy or Borrow: Buy. Buy. Buy. Though be warned, you might actually be thinking a lot about death and life. And having amazing conversations about it. But if you cannot afford the couple of bucks as I said you can listen to some of the stories on iTunes or you can find and read it for free on the interwebs.

Part of: Anthology, Volume 2 will hopefully be about sometime next year.

Also Recommended: Hard one. I like anthologies because short stories are wonderful. The last awesome anthology I read was Side Jobs by Jim Butcher but that was because it featured Harry Dresden and co. This one is hard. Just go read Machine of Death though Amazon.com does recommend John Dies At the End by David Wong which is currently in my to be read pile.

4 out of 4 happy bibliosnark bookmarks

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