Book Review: Machine of Death

What if you knew how you were going to die? Do you think you would be relieved or terrified, or some strange combination? The contributors of the Machine of Death, a speculative fiction anthology, tackle intriguing and varied answers to this very question.

Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, & David Malki

Machine of Death book cover
Machine of Death

Imagine the following scenario: scientists have just invented a machine that, requiring only a drop of your blood, can predict how you’ll die. Would you eagerly use the machine? Shun its existence? This premise forms the basis of all thirty-four stories in Machine of Death. 

This anthology tackles lots of the implications of such a machine. If a machine can predict how you die, this might negate the role of choice and free will in your life. Or alternatively, you may find this information freeing – if you already know that you’re going to die of, say, drowning, then you don’t have to worry about participating in other dangerous acts since you know that none of them are going to kill you. However, the situation is made even more sticky by the possibility of being “tricked” by your death prediction. Since the machine only spits out a word or a phrase that tell you how you will die, there can sometimes be ambiguity in what your prediction REALLY means.

Not all of the stories carry this heavy tone. Some discuss the societal effects of the existence of such a machine while successfully incorporating humor into the narrative. Although all qualify as short stories, the works in this collection vary from a few pages to a single line.

The book’s preface provides some backstory for the creation of this anthology, elaborated upon on the book’s website. The idea for the anthology came from a comic created by one of the editors, Ryan North. After attempting the traditional publishing route, Machine of Death was then self-published in 2010, leading to great success. So much so that the editors released a sequel anthology This Is How You Die (which I have, sadly, not yet had the chance to read).

As if the stories on their own weren’t good enough, each work is prefaced by a beautiful piece of artwork relating to the story. This gorgeous pieces, which also vary in style, provide a thematic compliment to the stories within the anthology:

"Cassandra" illustration from Machine of Death
“Cassandra” illustration from Machine of Death by Matt Haley
"Fudge" illustration from Machine of Death by Vera Brosgol
“Fudge” illustration from Machine of Death by Vera Brosgol
"Cancer" illustration from Machine of Death by Danielle Corsetto
“Cancer” illustration from Machine of Death by Danielle Corsetto











If you enjoyed reading Machine of Death, you should check out the companion website, Machine of, where you’ll be able to find the free audiobook and info about the game inspired by the anthology.

Webpage of Machine of Death
From Machine of

Overall, Machine of Death is a wonderful, inventive speculative fiction anthology, ranging from the serious and inquisitive to light and humorous. A must-read for anyone who enjoys science-fiction. You can grab the free eBook on the Machine of Death’s website or buy a Kindle or physical copy on Amazon.

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