The Machine Stops
E. M. Forster
to the first set of reviews for Phase II of Young People Review Old
Science Fiction and Fantasy. In the hope of selecting more accessible
works, I crowd-sourced my selections and now provide my readers with
more (well, any) background information on the pieces.
first Phase II story comes from an author not generally thought of as
an SFF author. E.
M. Forster is
perhaps best known for mainstream works like
Passage to India
and A Room with a View. Forster did write fantastic fiction, however. 1909’s “The Machine Stops” is the one Sfnal work of his many who rarely venture outside SF have read, thanks to all the genre anthologies that featured it. Set in a wired world not too dissimilar to our own,
it hides its age well. Or so it seems to me.
going outside the boundaries of standard genre be the key to finding
accessible SF? Let’s find out!
Machine Stops” is
Feel free to comment here.
Machine Stops is over 100 years old, but feels extremely relevant. It
talks about what pundits have repeatedly warned us about – a time
when all we do is sit around not actually experiencing anything not
on the internet. It is pretty impressive how the story, written in
1909, did such an excellent job of predicting what is kind of
happening to us with the Internet. I enjoy the creepy dystopian
elements of the story, the world that was built up and torn down, and
I would definitely read a prequel or sequel to the story.
of my favourite elements of the story is how the middle aged main
character is completely reliant on the technology and needs her
rebellious child to point out to her that there is more to life than
being on the computer. The child does all these weird things like,
want to speak in person and play outdoors. I appreciate how it's the
opposite of what seems to be happening today. But who knows, maybe as
our aging population's health starts to fail, older people will
become overreliant on technology, and we as their children will miss
seeing them in-person.
if the story comes true, there will come a day where all baby boomers
are old enough that they can't take care of themselves without the
assistance of technology, their grown millennial children will beg
them to spend time outdoors and not rely entirely on machines, and a
baby boomer will write an article declaring that millennials are
ruining the internet.
Machine Stops" was a pleasant story. Written in 1909, it is
impressively prescient and predictive of how energy-greedy consuming
modern humans work.
story reminds me of many things:
reminds me of the generation ship in Wall-E, in which the ship
handles caring for all the humans. People have made themselves
prisoners by being complacent, like in this story.
reminds me of post-apocalyptic movements. We have everything from
vapid post-apocalyptic entertainment to hardcore preppers who plan to
have enough to live self-sufficiently for years should all human
infrastructure collapse. In everyday ways, the anxiety of this story
reminds me of the big push towards buzzwords like “all-natural”,
“clean living”, “non-GMO”, etc.
reminds me of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “When the
Bough Breaks” in which the Aldeans steal children from the
Enterprise because the planet’s population can no longer reproduce.
The Aldeans don’t know why because their technology and
understanding hasn’t improved over time, but it turns out they’re
infertile because (29 year old spoiler alert) the machine that takes
care of them – the Custodian – is flawed and has been destroying
the ozone layer, which serves as protection from radiation. As you
can guess, none of the Aldeans really know how their technology
works, so there’s no one to diagnose the problem and to fix it
unless others interfere.
ultimately, this story reminds me of the loneliness of the modern
age. It’s easier than ever to connect with people, and yet I find
it easy to surround myself with people while feeling lonely. There’s
a difference between being lonely and being by yourself.
in the story, there’s pressure to present an interesting (or at
least positive) face. Do that too often though, and you end up
exhausted. The worst is when ‘friends’ reject you for not feeling
great today. Personally, I’m lucky to feel very little pressure to
perform positivity outside of work (yay, customer service). I share a
few things here or there online, either significant life events or
something that I think other people will find interesting. In
contrast, the stereotype (especially for young people) is that we
share everything in our lives. Really, I’d say I share online about
1% of what I’m doing. This rant is a weirdly ironic thing to put up
on a public blog, but hey you’re still reading this.
found the horror of contact with other people to be similar to a
horror of being outside one’s comfort zone. The horror of seeing
another person face-to-face reminds me of extreme introverts and/or
socially anxious people: this is a great way to describe the stress
of free-form socialization. I grew up with both extreme introversion
and social anxiety. One of the things that helped was experience –
something the isolated underground inhabitants of this story fail to
have and which is actively discouraged. Experience and some measure
of control are key. In life, this seems like a bad idea. I’m told
this is how we end up with super-spoiled children. (insert joke about
current American politics)
give this story a soft thumbs up. I liked it well enough, and it was
definitely impressive for having been written over 100 years ago. But
overall it was a bit of a long story. I like a bit more plot in my
stories, especially if the story is divided into several parts. It
was an interesting story for reflecting on today’s world.
Machine began a long time ago for us.
story has aged remarkably well. Except for some details of the
technology, it sounds like it could be someone from today who is
convinced that the internet is ruining kids these days, and we all
need to get away from screens to engage with the so-called real
unfortunately, means that I didn’t care for it that much. I’ve
seen so many iterations of “people will get too obsessed with
technology and stop caring about the outside/talking to each other
and it will DOOM US ALL” to need to read yet another one.
plot of this story also felt very thin. Maybe it’s because most of
the technology is something I’ve seen before, either in science
fiction or real life, and that the plot feels like one that’s been
recycled so many times, there isn’t very much to keep my interest.
me, a major weakness in this story is that it fails to have any
nuance about the society it has built. Technology is framed in this
as universally bad and isolating, which ignores how it can be a
benefit to connecting people and building community. I would have
liked to see more exploration of the idea than was actually present.
I can’t take it seriously, because I live with many of these
technologies and they have been a net positive in my life. I would
not want to exist in a world without video calls and instant
messaging and, shockingly, they have not yet lead to the downfall of
feel like I am impressed by how early this story was published, but
that is the only impressive thing about it. I’ve seen it done too
many times, and done better, for it to be a compelling critique of
the way we interact with technology.
Machine Stops by E.M. Forster poses the idea of a possible
future where humanity become slaves to a machine which serves their
every need after transitioning into subterranean colonies. While
citizens of this future view their existence as a utopia, as the plot
progresses it is re-imagined as a dystopia.
interesting aspect of the story is how characters interact with
their entire existence is supported by a single machine, they are
still amazed by what they have built. The fact that they can see low
quality images of each other in real time is frequently referred to
in awe, which is interesting seeing how we currently take services
such as skype and social media as a given part of life.
the language and grammar used by Forester does date the piece, it
remains relatively easy to comprehend and does not retract from the
story being told. Overall this was an enjoyable story which is
especially interesting in the context of our technology and
information based lives today.