The Machine Stops (1909)
By: E.M. Forster
Vashti's life is made comfortable by the machine. It feeds her, clothes her, puts her to bed, allows her to see anything she wants to see and be inconstant communication with her friends.Her son has been trying to contact her, but she is worried about what he'll say. She puts it off until finally she gives in. But what does her son have to say and how will it affect the future of humanity?
A short story about the dangers of over-reliance on a sort of internet-like machine written over a hundred years ago... Sometimes science fiction is scarily prescient. This is a fantastic cautionary tale about something that was invented at the earliest eighty years later. The vision of a society stepping backward due to technology is fresh and speaks far beyond the author's scope.
Kuno is peripheral character in terms of the story, but he's the only main character who sees the coming fall. His tale takes place over the course of part two and concludes in part three with the warning in the title. He also gives us our only hope for humanity.
Vashti is our narrator. She is also Kuno's mother and a true believer in the machine. We witness society's over reliance on technology through her. We also see that society's downfall. To her credit, she gives us an interesting perspective on her own society.
The use of screens and pneumatic tubes and gramophones to created 'the machine.' lends it a nice steampunk feel. However, the leap to just calling it the internet is quite easy to make. So much so, that I found it difficult to to separate the two.
In the End
The end is quite desolate, but provides enough hope to finish on. I wanted more actually. It leaves us to figure out the rest, but this could have easily expanded into a novel. This short story is around fifty pages and could have easily been expanded like The Last Man with accounts of human civilization after the fall.
This classic should be read as part of all high school curriculum today. It is nice and short, it relates to civilization today and it's a classic. Put it on your reading list, now!
9/10 (An additional point for being way ahead of its time)
The final of the four freebies, unfortunately you'll have to read the text online. It is short enough that I can say it's worth it and shouldn't cause much eye strain.
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