Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: Machine of Death

Author: Various
Genre: Fiction Anthology
Pages: 439
Warnings: Lots of Death
Rating: 4/5

"Machine of Death" is a fiction anthology in a universe where there is a machine that can predict the exact cause of an individual's death. Every short story comes starts an illustration. I haven't enjoyed such a high image/word ratio since I was in elementary school, but this anthology is the exception which changes the rule. As far as the content goes: sometimes the Machine was required for the storyline but usually it was part of the background of the story.

I was surprised by the huge variation in the quality of the stories in the anthology. Most of them were fun. I would say I really loved maybe five, and I completely skipped two. There's something very liberating about starting a story, realizing you're already counting the pages to see how many are left, and deciding to screw it. There are enough stories that's it's worth sitting down to enjoy only the ones you want to. And no matter what your fancy, I predict you'll find enough stories likable to make it worth purchasing the book.

Plus, because I love the internet, I want to point out the idea for the "Machine of Death" was conceived at Dinosaur Comics! I appreciate that the anthology pays tribute to it's origins by placing the comic on the second page. It's adorable, so you should follow the link and see for yourself.

I was also surprised to see some of my favorite online personalities contributing. Kate Beaton of  Hark a Vagrant (who draws the most adorable web-comics in the history of the internet) was an art contributor so I was delighted before even starting the story. Ben "Yatzee" Croshaw also wrote a story, which was unexpected. I know his cutting wit from the Escapist where he reviews video games, but his story is devoid of cock-related jokes. The entire work is an exciting collaboration of young artists and authors who make the internet worthwhile.

I don't read anthologies a lot, so I'll review four of my favorites and touch on four of my least favorites. The summaries will be borrowed from the official website.

Flaming Marshmellow
Author: Camille Alexa
Summary: This story of high school cliques was funny and genuine, with a great, punchy ending.
Rating: 4.5/5
I was surprised by how much this short affected me. "Flaming Marshmellow" was a disturbingly accurate illustration of a teenager just beginning her life by receiving a slip of paper that tells her how she'll die. I took an immediate liking to the main character, and to her father, who shows up to drive her to the MoD. The ending made me cry and laugh at the same time.

Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions
Author: J. Channing Wells
Summary: Hands down the funniest story we read, this one also had a great take on the insurance implications of the Machine.
Rating: 5/5
I think I giggled the entire way through this one, just like the summary said. Not just because the main character has a healthy sense of humor (and irony?) but because it's great to imagine a world where finding out how you're going to die makes you happy. Who would have though "Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions" would be the most exciting part of your life?

Author: Alexander Danner
Summary: A pitch-perfect story about a magician who hates insipid party games.
Rating: 4.5/5
Another humorous story: I'm sensing a pattern here. Unlike "Devoured" this one is all about the punchline. I mean, yes it's entertaining to read before that, but the last bit really makes this story. If you don't like it, don't worry. Most of these stories are hardly more than 20 pages.

Prison Knife Fight
Author: Shaenon K. Garrity
Summary: The worst fate for a child born into privilege? Perhaps, but a delightful story for the rest of us.
Rating: 5/5
I usually have very little sympathy for characters who are too "well off". That just sounds ridiculous to me, like they're complaining about how being able to eat ice cream whenever they want destroyed their love for the food because it wasn't a treat anymore. Boo hoo. "Prison Knife Fight" made room in my cold heart for children of the wealthy. I'll never pity Cotton (the main character) but I can respect his loneliness.

Author: Kit Yona
Summary: [The] story of a young couple forever(?) in love.
Rating: 2/5
Erk. Even I can tell that the main character's going to have trouble in his relationship. Even though he's supposedly "in love"  his description of his girlfriend sounds more like an advert for a porn-bot than a person. Wow, she's blond, hot, loves to wear the naugh-tay lingerie you buy her and go shopping. I mean, yes, there are women who have those characteristics but only if you cut out lots of other interesting bits.

Author: Tom Francis
Summary: This story about the accidental inventors of the machine felt brutal, desperate, and real.
Rating: 0/5
I don't know why this story rubbed me the wrong way. Part of it's probably the reductive description of the main character's girlfriend (again). Maybe it was the choppy storytelling. Either way, I didn't make it through this story, so I don't have anything else to complain about.

Author: Randall Munroe
Summary: What happens when physical science rejects the idea of precognition?
Rating: 0/5
I don't like westerns. This story wanted to cast John Wayne for the main character so bad it made me cry a little. Or Bruce Willis. Either way, this story screamed Manly, or Rugged. I only made it two pages in.

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