05 December 2011

82. The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops - E. M. Forster

This was an excellent little science fiction novel first published in 1909. What a crazy world.

People no longer live on the Earths surface. They live in isolated "cells" beneath the surface. They stay within these cells all the time and communicate with each other and interact with the rest of the world through a world-wide network that supplies all their needs. This network is called "The Machine".

Travel is permitted, but is very rare. Usually it is only used to fill vacant cells when people die. But, Vashti (an older woman) gets a call on the machine from Kuno (her son) asking her to make the two day journey to visit him because something magnificent is about to happen. After much convincing she agrees and travels by airship to Kuno's home on the other side of the planet.

During the trip Vashti is forced to actually interact with other people without using the machine. That whole sequence of events is quite interesting.

She arrives at Kuno's place to find that he is some kind of rebel now. He leaves his cell and has visited the surface without permission or authorization from the machine. Vashti is angry that Kuno would go against the machine in this way. Kuno insists that the machine is breaking down and that the world needs to prepare. Vashti calls him a lunatic and returns to her own home/cell.

Needless to say, Kuno is correct. The machine slowly breaks down until there is nothing. No lights. No food. No air circulation. No communication. Vashti must once again open her cell and sees that the outside world has gone crazy. People are dying all around her. Kuno comes to try and save her.

What they realize before they all die is that man must be connected to the natural world.

It sounds stupid, but it is a pretty darned good story.

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