~edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !
Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories about People Who Know How They Will Die had its genesis in a webcomic by Ryan North called "Dinosaur Comics." T-Rex describes a story concept that eventually led to the creation of the Machine of Death anthology, edited by North, speculative fiction author Matthew Bennardo, and fellow comic creator David Malki ! of "Wondermark" fame. They put out a call for submissions and received a tremendous, world-wide response of six hundred seventy-five stories to choose from. They shopped around for a publisher and despite positive responses to the collection, none were willing to take a chance on an anthology of relatively unknown creators. And so they published it themselves, complete with illustrations, under a Creative Commons license.
Machine of Death poses a question: What if there was a machine that with a simple blood test could determine how a person would die? Of course it's not quite as easy as that. No one is certain exactly how the machine works, just that it does and that it seems to delight in ambiguous and ironic pronouncements. OLD AGE could mean you will live a long life, or maybe you'll be run over by an elderly driver within the next three days. Even results that at first appear to have only one viable interpretation may be actualized in unexpected ways. The title of each story in Machine of Death is a prediction obtained from one of the machines, although it isn't quite accurate to call them predictions since the machine is always, always right. The only thing that can be changed is how people choose how to deal, or not, with the information available to them.
When I began reading Machine of Death, I was afraid that the collection would become repetitive. Happily though, while the first few stories may have had a vaguely similar feel to them, my fear was mostly unfounded. In fact, the variety in Machine of Death is fantastic. The many different creators take many different approaches to the same basic premise and the stories aren't necessarily consistent with one another. Instead, it's like peering into a number of different parallel worlds and "what ifs." Some of the stories explore the social, legal, and governmental implications of the existence of the machine, including points that I hadn't even considered on my own. Other stories looked at the more personal aspects and effects of the machine. While many of the contributions were serious considerations of their subject matter, just as many were more humorous or even gags. Machine of Death really is a delightful and multifaceted collection.
Out of the six hundred seventy-five submissions, the editing team whittled the anthology down to thirty-four selections, including four of their own stories. I didn't realize at first how many of the authors and illustrators that contributed to Machine of Death I actually knew about previously until I read the creator biographies. When I didn't recognize their names, I often recognized their work. Of course, there were plenty of contributors with whom I was unfamiliar but am glad to have been introduced. As with any anthology, I enjoyed some stories more than others, however with Machine of Death I was pleased to find the quality consistently high and for me the inclusion of illustrations kicked it up another notch. Overall, Machine of Death is a very strong collection and one that I would easily recommend not only to speculative fiction readers but to anyone interested in a diverse exploration of, as T-Rex put it, a "morbidly interesting" concept.
(See the Machine of Death website for more information or to download the eBook.)