If a machine could predict how you would die, would you want to know? This is the tantalizing premise of This Is How You Die, the brilliant follow-up anthology to the self-published best seller, Machine of Death.
The machines started popping up around the world. The offer was tempting: With a simple blood test, anyone could know how they would die. But the machines didn't give dates or specific circumstances - just a single word or phrase. DROWNED, CANCER, OLD AGE, CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. And though the predictions were always accurate, they were also often frustratingly vague. OLD AGE, it turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or being shot by an elderly, bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machines held on to that old-world sense of irony in death: You can know how it's going to happen, but you'll still be surprised when it does.
This addictive anthology - sinister, witty, existential, and fascinating - collects the best of the thousands of story submissions the editors received in the wake of the success of the first volume, and exceeds the first in every way.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2013 Matthew Bennardo, David Malki, Ryan North (P)2013 Hachette Audio
"Machine of Death is a marvelous collection, riddled with intelligence, creative reach, and a frankness that makes the best use of the central gimmick." (The Onion A.V. Club)
"Recalls the best writings of Harlan Ellison and Charles Beaumont... Machine of Death brought me laughs, terror and tears.... Highly recommended." (Paradox Magazine)
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
This is a fun little anthology. All the pieces here revolve around the same premise: the idea that there's a machine that can predict a person's death from a blood sample, spitting out its answer on a small card. The machine sometimes words its oracular messages in an ambiguous or poetic way, but it's never wrong. If it predicts that you'll die by drowning, moving to the desert won't save you -- you'll just die in the shower or by choking on a drink. Perhaps, like Oedipus, you might even suffer the paradoxical fate of being doomed by your attempt to escape fate.
Naturally, there are a number of logical, philosophical, and moral implications that can arise from the premise, and the various authors get pretty creative in exploring them. How would you act if you knew your death? What if your friends or family knew? What if your government knew? A few pieces are set in the present day, but the genres of most of the others run the gamut from sci-fi to dystopian to fantasy to zombie horror to time travel to Sherlock Holmes. There's even a choose-your-own-adventure. The most interesting ones, for my money, tend to weave in some other issue.
The tone of the stories ranges a lot as well. Some are witty, some are serious, some dark, some absurd, some poignant, some melancholy, and some cryptic. Some feature better writing than others, but there was a good deal of talent and imagination on display. Similarly, the various audiobook readers range from competent-but-unremarkable to skilled. I particularly enjoyed the voices done by the guy who narrated the story told from the point of view of an orc.
In sum, a collection I could recommend to any adult who enjoys creative short fiction (I say "adult" because of some profanity and a few grown-up topics). I would note that this is the followup to any earlier anthology, called Machine of Death. I haven't read that one, but the grapevine (well, the Internet) says that this is the more inventive of the two.
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