Machine of Death: a collection of stories about people who know how they will die
Author: Various; Eds. Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, & David Malki
“This book, unlike most others, started its life as an off hand comment made by a bright green Tyrannosaurus Rex”
The book is based on a comic from Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics in which T-Rex describes a world where it is possible to know how you will die. The Machine of Death takes a sample of blood and then spits out a piece of paper giving a cause of death. No date, no context, just a word or phrase.
No one is sure how the machine works – they just know that it does. The machine seems to delight in being vague and ironic. Would you get into an aircraft knowing that the pilot’s card reads PLANE CRASH? Perhaps you wouldn’t hesitate, as you know without a doubt that you will die from CANCER. In terms of physical accidents, you are untouchable. But perhaps that is the pilot’s star sign? Perhaps his mind is not on the task at hand, as his daughter has just been diagnosed with leukemia? The idea that knowing the unknowable serves only to generate more uncertainty is a common theme with which contributors have grappled.
The idea of a world in which everybody knew how they were going to die was so intriguing and thought-provoking for readers of the comic that in 2007 they were invited to submit short stores for a published collection. 34 were selected from nearly 700 submissions and eventually self-published after publishers doubted the success of a collection of authors that nobody has heard of. They were proved wrong; the book reached number one on Amazon on its release date.
The book kicks off with the comic that spawned it. The authors range from teenage nobodies to professional writers, and as such the quality and style varies from story to story. They are not all great, but none are long and some are gripping and original. I was excited by the concept, but found that instead of launching into a different world with every new story, the content appeared limited by the guidelines given.
Nevertheless the stories span a number of ideas and themes, considering the impact that such a machine might have on insurance companies, healthcare and society as a whole. The collection plays on our obsession with death and elicits reflection on the way we conceptualise mortality. Each story is accompanied by an illustration from a different artist, giving it a truly collaborative feel.
The best part is that the book is free! You can pay if you want a physical copy or feel that it is worthy of a financial contribution. Otherwise, the book is available as a pdf from its website. Additionally the editors have opened submissions for Machine of Death 2; if you are interested you have until mid-July to write you own MoD story.
It is definitely worth checking out this “morbidly interesting” collection if you have a spare moment.
Visit www.machineofdeath.net to download the free pdf or podcasts or for links to purchase.