Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Machine of Death

ed. by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !

Why You Should Read This:
  • The awesome premise: there is a machine that can tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you are going to die. It doesn't give a date or specifics, just a slip of paper upon which is printed in block letters the words DROWNED or CANCER or OLD AGE or CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.  But it's frustratingly vague: OLD AGE can mean dying of natural causes, or being shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion.
  • Which such an unusual and interesting premise, there is plenty for the various authors to play off of. Different kinds of deaths, different meanings and varying degrees of vagueness, and different reactions from different people. Great field for originality, the study of human nature, and scientific musings.

And Why You Shouldn't:
  • It's fairly dark. Again, not surprising considering the central premise. This is actually a bit of a bonus for me, most of the time, but I can see it would throw some people off.
  • Personally, I found a few too many stories to have a "male gaze". In other words, there were quite a lot with hot girlfriends and sexualized women. Or at least this was an impression right after reading it. Upon skimming through it again for this review, I found many, many of the stories enjoyable and not really many examples of this. Maybe I exaggerated the number of unenjoyable ones because that kind of story really isn't my cup of tea.

Thoughts: Immensely enjoyable book. So many ideas, so many twists, so much death, but also so much life. It is so much my type of book: take a random weird idea and see from how many different angles you can come at it.
Unfortunately, I read it too long ago to comment as fully as I'd like on the stories themselves, but here are a couple that struck me upon skimming through it a second time:

  • "Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions" was both a striking character study and an impactful story.
  • "Almond" had a great central character, amusing writing, and some interesting scientific musings. One of my favourites, I think.
  • "Starvation" had a good twist--not exactly a surprise, but though-provoking. But most all, I liked the character of the Sergeant, and the interactions between him and the view-point character.
  • "Vegetables" was really, really dark, but it gave a good idea one of the many ways the machine could affect people.
  • "Improperly Prepared Blowfish" was one of my least favourites, despite the twist ending. It had unpleasant people and an unpleasant story and it was dark without intriguing me.
  • "Murder and Suicide, Respectively" discusses science in an awesome way and I really liked it. It made me want more science-focused stories in this anthology.
  • "Cassandra" has a cool twist, in that the death notes don't make a difference. Except they really, really do... Also there's more of a scientific angle, which is always fun. (I liked in a very similar way to the way I liked a previous story, "Heat Death of the Universe", actually. Both have some interesting thoughts on some wide-scale implications.)

Grade: 4 stars

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