October 2011
A review of

Machine of Death

Edited by Ryan North,
Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !

Central Question: What happens when our ability to use language breaks down?
Genesis of the narrative machine: a 2005 episode of “Dinosaur Comics”; Partial list of deaths foretold by the machine: cancer, cholesterol, vegetables, tainted beef, jealous ex-wife, love, piano, tests, millennium space entropy, nothing; Least likely death: old age; Sample descriptions of the machine’s various iterations: “a big hunk of metal with a hole and a slit,” “no larger than a microwave oven,” “a little gunmetal-gray piggy”; Common location of the machine: malls; Total number of writers and illustrators: seventy; Type of Creative Commons copyright license for most individual stories: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike; Representative passage: “You’d think it would warn people, let them know what was coming, or at the very least aid in diagnosis and emergency room triage, but somehow it rarely did.”

Given a sample of blood, a machine prints out the cause of a person’s death on a small piece of paper. But the results are brief and deceptive: OLD AGE can mean getting killed by an elderly person. The story “Almond” is narrated by a lab technician in Cleveland who begins to record a maintenance log for a machine of death (as the device is called), but who is soon so overwhelmed by the monotony of the job that he spends the year contemplating, say, how a word so seemingly innocuous as ALMOND could be fatal. When a man receives JOY as a readout from the machine, the technician envisions a death from intense ecstasy, only to discover later that the man has died when struck by a car driven by a woman named Joy. Horrified, he wonders why the machine would choose this detail over something more appropriate, like CRASH.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Andrés Carrasquillo

Andrés Carrasquillo lives, works, and volunteers in the Chicagoland area.

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