Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die

by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, David Malki | Science Fiction & Fantasy |
ISBN: 0982167121 Global Overview for this book
Registered by wingGoryDetailswing of Nashua, New Hampshire USA on 2/12/2016
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Journal Entry 1 by wingGoryDetailswing from Nashua, New Hampshire USA on Friday, February 12, 2016
I read and enjoyed this a while back, so I was delighted to find this only-slightly-battered softcover at the Book Cellar for another release copy. [You can see more about the books, along with news about contributors and even an associated card game, on the web site]

This collection highlights the tremendous variety of stories that can be spun on a very specific theme. (I liked nearly all of the stories very much, so it was a problem figuring out when to stop with the review comments, lest I transcribe the entire book...)

The titles of the stories are all causes of death, though not all of them apply to the main characters of the stories, and even when they do, the stories may not take us to the time of that character's death. In some cases the title practically *is* the story (see page 138 {wry grin}); in others, the title - whether threatening, funny, touching, or just plain weird - sets the reader's expectations, and sometimes it's the process of figuring out just who the title applies to that makes the tale.

There are coming-of-age stories, humorous stories, grim suspense tales, science fiction, medical dramas - all sorts. I recommend them all, but of special note:

"ALMOND" by John Chernega, which is told in the form of a maintenance log by a very bored employee whose worldview is a bit limited.

"EXPLODED" by Tom Francis, in which a character who's come to terms with his own cause-of-death - or thinks he has - learns differently when he has to face the reality of it. And this takes place in a scene of real-world domestic horror that's - just wrenching.

"IMPROPERLY PREPARED BLOWFISH" by Gord Sellar features some entertaining - if dark - gamesmanship among yakuza, including questions of betraying the boss, having an affair, and working out how their death-machine readings factor in.

"ANEURYSM" by Alexander Danner, in which a machine of death is used as a party game, with interesting results.

"EXHAUSTION FROM HAVING SEX WITH A MINOR" by Ben Croshaw - this one, with its tabloid-headline cause-of-death, speculates on how public knowledge of so lurid a cause-of-death would affect an election. Some nifty twists in this one.

"KILLED BY DANIEL" by Julia Wainwright - this one suggests a cause-of-death that includes a name, a name that happens to be the character's boyfriend's name. While imagining the many other meanings this could have, the knowledge still seems to be poisoning the relationship... (One of the ongoing themes in the stories is the reaction of individuals - or entire societies - to this rather iffy knowledge; some treat it lightly, some worry about it but try to hide it, and some change their behavior dramatically.)

"LOSS OF BLOOD" by Jeff Stautz concerns the use of death-machine predictions by emergency medical personnel, for triage; that is, if two people are badly injured and one's cause of death doesn't involve blood loss or trauma, perhaps that means that person is more likely to survive without being treated immediately. But is that really how it works? [The concept that knowing one's cause of death somehow makes it happen sooner or differently than it would if you'd never had the reading is a common element in the stories, either as a belief by some characters or as the way things really do work in that particular setting.]

"WHILE TRYING TO SAVE ANOTHER" by Daliso Chaponda takes the can-you-change-fate idea and runs with it, taking the main characters through some serious emotional changes. (This one includes a "when" option, something that's not normally part of the death-machine guidelines; knowing when makes a HUGE difference, and while I'm glad that most of the stories don't allow it, this particular one does make good use of it.)

"DROWNING" by C. E. Guimont has a character who's a seer, having prescient dreams that sometimes help other people realize some step they have to take in life - and sometimes letting them know how they'll die. The Machine of Death is considered serious competition, and the seers-etc. labor union is very concerned...

"CASSANDRA" by T. J. Radcliffe features a truly alarming cause of death - "global thermonuclear war" - and its main character goes to great lengths to work out just how inevitable the predictions are, how much leeway there is in the interpretations, and whether there's anything at all that can be done to make this one other than it seems.

There's a follow-on collection called This is How You Die, which I find even better than this one - recommended!

[There's a TV Tropes page for the book, but do beware of spoilers.]

Journal Entry 2 by wingGoryDetailswing at Mt. Auburn St. (see notes) in Watertown, Massachusetts USA on Thursday, February 18, 2016

Released 6 yrs ago (2/18/2016 UTC) at Mt. Auburn St. (see notes) in Watertown, Massachusetts USA


I left this book, bagged against the elements, in the fence of the historic Old Burying Ground on the Mt. Auburn Street side, at around 2 or so; hope the finder enjoys it!

*** Released as part of the 2016 Heads, Shoulders, Knees, Toes release challenge, for the embedded "chin" in the title. ***

*** Released as part of the 2016 Science Fiction release challenge. ***

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