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Machine of Death – Book Review

Machine of Death

Edited by: Ryan North, David Malki ! & Matt Bernardo
Published by: Bearstache Books

Imagine a world where there’s a machine that–given a simple drop of blood–will tell you how you’re going to die. This is a supposition originally posed by T-Rex in the popular web comic, Dinosaur Comics. The simple question sparked the imagination of people across the internet ultimately culminating in a volume of short stories entitled Machine of Death.

The editors of this anthology–Ryan North, David Malki ! and Matt Bernardo–sifted through over 700 stories and chose thirty-four to be included. Various cartoonists from around the internet contributed a unique illustration to each story, including John Alison (Bad Machinery), Kris Straub (Starslip) and Kate Beaton (Hark! A Vagrant). The book was brought to my attention since I am a fan of both of Malki ! and North’s respective online comics (Wondermark and the aforementioned Dinosaur Comics). On October 26th, the editors had a push on Twitter and on various websites to get Machine of Death to hit the number one spot on the Amazon book list. Unbeknownst to them, Glenn Beck’s new book, Broke, was released that same day…but Machine of Death managed to beat it. This, however, only served to upset the Beckster. He called the success a result of America turning towards a “culture of death” and released his minions to thwart the indie book–that insolent little tome with no publishing house or major figures behind it. My favorite part of the story is when–after that point–Glenn Beck’s producers contacted the crew and requested some copies of Machine, once again proving that Glenn Beck ran his mouth without knowing what he was talking about.

[ad#longpost]All this was icing on the cake to me as I had already bought the book before the whole Glenn Beck fracas. It’s a fascinating concept: a prick of the finger and then a piece of paper emerges with your fate on it. The machine is never wrong…but often the deaths result in a way that is often unexpected and ironic. The example from the comic that was the catalyst for the entire book was a card that says “natural causes”–and that could mean a koala falling on your head. And “old age” could mean you end up killed by a senior citizen.

While the concept elicits ideas of morose, depressing, dark stories, the majority of the pieces range from thought provoking, to funny, to inspiring. The theme explored which really resonated with me was the idea that, by knowing how you’re going to die, you can actually start to live. Some of the stories deal with taking risks and trying things you may never have done before. If you’re due to die by drowning, sky diving is suddenly an acceptable risk. Some of the stories definitely deal with the darker side of the existential quandary of knowing how you’re going to die but there’s an excellent balance between light-hearted and soul-crushing.

If you’re unsure whether you want to spend the $18 to pick up this tome the editors have made the book available as a free pdf over at Read a couple stories (or all of them) and if you like it, pick it up. What else is the internet for?

Whether you’re a fan of sci-fi, what-if scenarios or just want to stick it to Glenn Beck, Machine of Death is a great read.

Widge’s Note: Mallory is the Mal of the award-winning Chuck vs. Mal podcast. When she is not battling Chuck for supremacy of the Earth, she curates the world’s largest toothpick museum and occasionally writes for greeting card companies. You may have seen that card–you know, the one with the bunny on it. That was hers–she made a frickin’ fortune. We are pleased she decided to throw this review our way.