A review by Steve Cameron
Imagine a world where anyone can pay a basic fee, poke their finger into the slot of a machine that draws blood and instantly receive a slip of paper informing them of the manner of their death. Such is the setting in Machine of Death. This collection of 34 stories takes this premise and attempts to explore the possibilities. Of course nothing is ever straightforward, and the machine itself seems to play games with people. A person who receives a slip simply stating “boating accident” might spend years avoiding the water, only to be killed in traffic when a yacht falls from a truck travelling in the opposite direction. And the machine is infallible. You cannot beat your destiny, even when suicide is attempted. And what are the ethical considerations here. Is it beneficial to know how you will die? How will it affect your relationships, work and life? How will corporations and governments utilise this device to their own benefit?
The quality of narrative varies within this collection, as is to be expected with an open submission anthology. Generally, though, the editors have selected wisely, ensuring that the stories are above average, with scenarios that are varied and engaging. While some stories play semantics with the often cryptic messages generated by the machine, others consider the consequences of knowing one’s future without actually reaching the time of the protagonist’s death. One story, which I thoroughly enjoyed, is only a few sentences long. At times, however, I found the minor inconsistencies in the world structure to be a little frustrating. For example, one story has the machine’s invention and subsequent marketing on infomercials and in variety stores, while others have the machines initially dispersed to doctor’s surgeries. Some suggest you have to be a particular age before you can legally use the machine; other stories have students and even babies being tested. But this is a minor quibble, and it’s easy to see in hindsight that there could have been a few more guidelines in the submission process. The internal artwork, by a variety of talented artists, has an overall unifying feel, and generally captures the essence of the narratives. Overall, I found this an entertaining read, and I certainly look forward to the possibilities in a second collection.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date.