Book Review: Machine of Death

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will DieMachine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die by Ryan North

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The premise of this book is pretty much given away in the title. It’s a bunch of short stories written about people who have found out how they are going to die via a blood test given by a machine.

I was not familiar with the editor (Ryan North), nor any of the contributors, I don’t think. This was a book club selection. Overall, I quite enjoyed it – this was definitely not something I would’ve picked up on my own.

However, the quality of the story telling varied widely from tale to tale. Some were definitely more polished, and the authors had a better grasp of what makes a good story (including the writing style, rhythm, and in a few cases, grammar).

During the book club discussion, however, it was determined that what I consider a good story is not always echoed by all (shocker, right?). For example, one story entitle Love Ad Nauseum, was a series of personal ads placed after the Death Machine had been loosed on the world, each ad placing greater restrictions on who the woman would date based on cause of death. I thought it was boring & a cop-out, others found it to be fairly clever.

Many of the stories dealt with the inevitability of the cause of death & the way people reacted. Those reactions ranged from living in fear of whatever the cause was, and doing their best to avoid it as long as possible, to taking up activities that would’ve been scary before (such as sky diving) knowing that they’d die of something else (lung cancer or something), to reveling in the planned death (most notably in the story entitled Torn Apart & Devoured By Lions.

There was some discussion at my book club about fate (with one member in particular hating the whole concept of these stories based on his complete lack of belief in fate and inevitability), and it was determined that the stories did start to become a little repetitive after awhile.

Overall, however, the concept was interesting, many of the stories were well-written and interesting, and it’s always nice to pick up a book that wouldn’t have otherwise caught my eye.

Some of my favorite stories from the collection included:
Heat Death of the Universe
Torn Apart & Devoured by Lions
Killed By Daniel
Firing Squad
Not Waving But Drowning
Improperly Prepared Blowfish
Exhaustion From Having Sex With a Minor
although the twist at the end of this one almost ruined the whole story for me. It felt like a cop-out.
Nothing and
Prison Knife Fight

I would definitely recommend this for anyone who enjoys short stories, a little morbidity in their reading, thinking about predestination, or all three.

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