Most Unusual Comic-Based Diversion Ever
Ever wondered how you’re going to die? Well, get ready to…think about it now.
Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die
Publication Date: October 13th 2010
Genre: Short Stories–Science Fiction
Page Count: roughly 300
Purchase Price: $18
Available At: machineofdeath.net
For all of my fellow sci-fi nerds out there, this is the kind of book you wish you had thought of first. The inspiration came from Ryan North via a T-Rex (North is the author of the web-based Dinosaur Comics). The premise is simple: what if there was a machine that told you how you were going to die? It doesn’t give you any details, it just prints out one word or phrase, like HEART ATTACK or CANCER or SPAGHETTI, and that’s it.
As you can probably guess, the opportunity for irony is huge. For example, if you get PLANE CRASH, you can stop flying for the rest of your life, but then one day a plane crashes into your house. Check and mate, Life.
You’re already thinking about possible scenarios, aren’t you? A lot of people did. The reader response was so great that North and his collaborators Matthew Bennardo and David Malki ! (not a typo) began taking story submissions. Hence–book.
The stories are written by people with all levels of experience, but I didn’t catch a single one lying down on the job. Granted, there were some I liked better than others based on content or style, but I could tell that each one was written in a fit of inspiration and excitement, even the depressing ones. This passion, combined with a decent job of post-fervor editing, makes the final product exciting, interesting, and often very moving.
Even though all the stories are well worth your time, my defining factor of great science fiction is whether or not I’m haunted by it, constantly returning to the story in my mind and discovering new things long after I finished the book. This effect is best acheived when the story is both ironically humorous and ominously creepy. Based on this criteria, my personal favorites are “Torn Apart and Devoured By Lions,” “Vegetables,” and “Loss of Blood.” “Lions” fits the humorous/creepy criteria perfectly, while the others fall more exclusively into the creepy zone.
Also, “HIV from Needle of Machine of Death” is so clever I can’t not give it honorable mention. And I do keep thinking about it, so in a way it’s haunting too. It’s a friendly ghost I guess.
This book is not just a collection of stories about people dying in tragic or ironic ways. It’s about how people (individuals and society both) live and survive under the weight of this knowledge. For a book with such silly origins, it throws the context of our existence into surprisingly sharp relief. Death is inevitable. You can welcome that fact or chose to ignore it, but it’s gonna be there no matter which path you chose. Yes, it’s a downer, but it’s also a reason to relax. If the destination is the same regardless, you should make extra sure you appreciate the journey. And that includes your manner of death. It is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.