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The Machine Stops

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The Machine Stops is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster's The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928.

After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories. In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two.

The book is particularly notable for predicting new technologies such as instant messaging and the internet.

48 pages, Paperback

First published November 1, 1909

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About the author

E.M. Forster

542 books3,343 followers
Edward Morgan Forster, generally published as E.M. Forster, was an novelist, essayist, and short story writer. He is known best for his ironic and well-plotted novels examining class difference and hypocrisy in early 20th-century British society. His humanistic impulse toward understanding and sympathy may be aptly summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel Howards End: "Only connect".

He had five novels published in his lifetime, achieving his greatest success with A Passage to India (1924) which takes as its subject the relationship between East and West, seen through the lens of India in the later days of the British Raj.

Forster's views as a secular humanist are at the heart of his work, which often depicts the pursuit of personal connections in spite of the restrictions of contemporary society. He is noted for his use of symbolism as a technique in his novels, and he has been criticised for his attachment to mysticism. His other works include Where Angels Fear to Tread (1905), The Longest Journey (1907), A Room with a View (1908) and Maurice (1971), his posthumously published novel which tells of the coming of age of an explicitly gay male character.

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Profile Image for Cecily.
1,118 reviews3,970 followers
May 30, 2020

Would you panic more at losing your wallet or your phone?

A few years ago, the question would be ridiculous, but now, it’s a tough call, and many of us fear losing our smartphone more, even with data synced in the cloud. Our world, and all our access to it, is there. I no longer know the phone numbers of my closest family.

We have outsourced our knowledge, and maybe ourselves, to our devices. Perhaps by recording my thoughts on this website, rather than trying to remember them in my head, I’m compounding that.

As machines become more human, will we become cyborgs, and then machines - or worse, irrelevant?

Update, January 2019: I was recently without a smartphone, and locked out of all data and apps for four weeks, and at a particularly difficult time. Sorting it out, and managing in the interim was far, far worse than the time my wallet was stolen.


This short story is told in three chapters. The first describes the situation, and has a hook as to what follows. The middle has someone questioning, and the third explores consequences.

The surface of the earth cannot support life, so everyone lives underground. Identical, solitary, sedentary lives, their every need provided by the Machine at the press of a button. People give and watch lectures, always on a quest for “ideas”, and ever grateful to the omnipotent and benevolent Machine. Each has their own Book of the Machine, with “instructions against every possible contingency”. That appeals to the technical writer in me.

Civilized people neither need nor want to be polluted by touch or smell. Contact with others is invariably by videocall, even between Vashti and her adult son, Kuno:
"‘Parents, duties of,’ said the book of the Machine, ‘cease at the moment of birth. P.422327483.’".

They have everything they need, but nothing that matters to being human.
Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.
Do you have a soul when there’s so little opportunity for emotional engagement with anything, let alone anyone?

Only Connect

"Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer."
From Howards End.

Like GoodReaders, the people in this story are hyperconnected: simultaneously always and never alone.

She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously.

Can one have meaningful friendships with so many? Can you even remember who’s who? Having so many connections surely dilutes the value of each one. Maybe hyperconnectivity makes us more isolated, despite the veneer of popularity?

Vashti has an isolation knob, mainly used when sleeping.
What if GoodReads capped friends at 500 instead of 5000?

Image: cover of Hawkwind’s concept album, The Machine Stops, from 2016
Title track (audio+video), A Solitary Man, HERE.

God in the Machine, or God IS the Machine?

Humans may have created the Machine, but now it bestows life, sustains life, and chooses when to allow life to end. Reverence, rituals, and liturgy accrue to the Machine, and to the Book of the Machine. Eventually, the Machine seems to believe as well, and to institutionalise and coerce that faith, gaslighting as it goes. Humans subjugate themselves to the Machine their forefathers made to serve them.

We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries.

I asked the same question about God and the Machine of Harlan Ellison’s 1967 story, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (see my review HERE), last week. That also has people living underground, their lives controlled by an omnipotent computer, but in that, it’s the machine itself that usurps the mantle of God, and with very different consequences.

For a different and more comical slant on the apocalyptic danger of big brains, see Vonnegut's Galapagos, which I reviewed HERE.

Edwardian Sci-Fi

EM Forster wrote this staggeringly prescient short story in 1909, set a few hundred years in his future, though we’re almost there now. He was 30, had published A Room with a View the previous year, and would publish Howards End (see my review HERE) the year after. Queen Victoria had died only eight years earlier, and The Great War wouldn’t start for another five years. A world or three away from now, even allowing for the technological and industrial progress of his age. I almost wonder if he had access to HG Wells’ The Time Machine, as he describes things close to Skype, Spotify/streaming, MOOCs, online shopping, social media, virtual reality, and post-truth, fake news.


• “Just as the imponderable bloom of the grape was ignored by the manufacturers of artificial fruit. Something ‘good enough’ had long since been accepted by our race.” Note, the anonymous narrator says “our race”.

• “I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you.” Skype and virtual reality are not quite reality.

• “The [previous] civilization that had mistaken the functions of the [airship] system, and had used it for bringing people to things, instead of for bringing things to people.”

• “We have lost the sense of space... I determined to recover it, and I began by walking... and so did recapture the meaning of “Near” and “Far”... Man is the measure.”

• “Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not? In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus, in its twilight our strong will suffer euthanasia... that the Machine may progress eternally.”

• “On atavism the Machine can have no mercy.”

• "There will come a generation that had got beyond facts, beyond impressions, a generation absolutely colourless, a generation seraphically free from taint of personality.”

Cartoon: Are we there yet?! (Source.)

Update, May 2020. Will Gompertz, BBC arts editor, thinks we're there. He writes about the specific parallels with Coronavirus Covid-19 lockdown, HERE.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
November 1, 2021
The Machine Stops, E.M. Forster

The Machine Stops, is a science fiction short story by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster's The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928.

The story describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard room, with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine.

Travel is permitted, but is unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand 'ideas'. Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel.

He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his room. There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world. ...

عنوانهای چاپ شده در ایران: «ماشین میایستد»؛ «روزی که ماشینها میمیرند»؛ «ماشین از کار میافتد»؛ نویسنده: ادوارد مورگان فورستر؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش نسخه قارسی روز دوازدهم ماه آوریل سال1992میلادی

عنوان: روزی که ماشینها میمیرند؛ نوشته: ادوارد مورگان فورستر؛ مترجم: محمود علیمحمدی؛ تهران، امیرکبیر، شکوفه، سال1370، در64ص، موضوع داستانهای نویسندگان ایرلندی ولزی اوایل سده 20م

عنوان: ماشین از کار میافتد؛ نوشته ای.ام فورستر؛ مترجم: علی منصوری؛ تهران، روزگارنو، سال1393، در128ص، شابک9786006867229؛

عنوان: ماشین میایستد؛ نویسنده: ادوارد مورگان فورستر؛ مترجم: مهناز دقیق نیا؛ نشر چترنگ؛ سال1395؛ در232ص؛ شابک9786008066286؛

ماشین از کار میافتد، شامل دو داستان کوتاه «انگلیسی» سده 20م، و اثر «ای.ام فورستر (ایرلندی / ولزی)» است؛ عنوانهای داستان‌ها: «ماشین از کار می‌افتد» و «اتوبوس آسمانی» هستند؛

در داستان «ماشین از کار می‌افتد» در قالب روایت‌ ماجراهای مادری با فرزندش «کیونو» که به مثابة آیینه و تصویری از شربت است، گرفتار آمدن در زندگی ماشینی به تصویر کشیده می‌شود؛

داستان «اتوبوس آسمانی» ماجرای پسری اهل «سوربیتون» است، که پدری خردمند دارد که سرپرست کلیسا و کاندیدای شورای روستا است؛ در روبروی خانه ی پسر، تابلویی با نوشته ی «به سوی آسمان» قرار داشت؛ پسر با کنجکاوی فراوان، درباره ی تابلو و اتوبوسی که در جلوی چشمان وی ظاهر می‌شد، سفر خود را آغاز می‌کند و این در حالی است که پدر و مادر، سفر او را سفری ناممکن می‌دانستند

نقل از متن «ماشین میایستد»: (به نظر زن رسید، که او غمگین است؛ نمیتوانست مطمئن باشد، چون ماشین، جزئیات چهره را، نشان نمیداد؛ تنها نمایی کلی از آدمها میداد، که به نظر «وشتی»، برای مقاصد کاربردی کافی بود؛ ظرافت روابط انسانی، که فلسفه ای منسوخ، آن را ذات اینگونه روابط میپنداشت، توسط ماشین، به درستی نادیده گرفته میشد، درست همانطور، که سازندگان میوه های مصنوعی، ظرافت دانه های انگور را، نادیده میگرفتند؛ مدتها بود که نسل ما، هرچه را که تنها «قابل قبول» بود، میپذیرفت.)؛ پایان نقل

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 03/10/1399هجری خورشیدی؛ 09/08/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Lyn.
1,868 reviews16.5k followers
April 13, 2019
My first thoughts on finishing E.M. Forster’s brilliant novella The Machine Stops, is that I cannot believe he wrote and published this in 1909.

More of a chronological peer of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (1895) than of modern day science fiction, this nonetheless is downright prophetic in its anticipation of a global dependence on technological communication and the ironic social isolation and alienation that results.

Forster, better known for his realistic and modernistic contemporary fiction such as A Passage to India, A Room with a View, and Howards End tells a haunting speculative fiction story about a world that had become completely dependent upon “The Machine”, a global network of living arrangements in which everyone lived in an identical box and communicated and existed through lifelines supplied by the machine.

Told as between correspondences between a mother and son, who live on either sides of the world and who, according to the mother, have no need to actually visit when they can speak everyday via the network created by the machine.

Forster has invented a cautionary response to Wells optimistic future expectations, one that warns against a breakdown of physical and actual connections in exchange for those presumed by technology.

Eerily relevant to our society over a hundred years later, this is a rare gem for a fan of science fiction and probably a surprisingly refreshing anomaly for a fan of Forster’s more recognized work.

Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
June 2, 2019
Beware the New Scholasticism

The Machine Stops, written in 1909, is certainly a remarkably prescient tale of technological development. Like a proto-Cryptonomicon, it introduces ideas that we can now identify with the internet, the iPad, and even the 3-D production of goods, including food, from information. But its lasting value isn't about technology; it's about the mistakes we make when we start to think in a particular way. The biggest mistake is that of what we have come to call fake news.

Fake news is nothing new. But it is not merely unsubstantiated rumour. Fake news is that which confirms our existing views about the world. It consists of facts which cannot be gainsaid because no other facts are sufficient to displace the views we have already committed to. And it exists historically most markedly in societies in which established power is threatened.

There is an historical epoch that was in fact dominated by fake news, the Middle Ages. This was the era of Scholasticism, a mode of thinking that prided itself in summarising the implications of what was already known about the world and making sure nothing else, particularly if it disturbed established views, could be known.

In this, Scholasticism served the establishment of the Christian Church. Revelation, according to church doctrine, had been completed at the death and resurrection of Christ. This was the ultimate knowledge available to humanity. Nothing more was necessary. Further factual information or experience was at best superfluous and at worst distracted from the import of doctrine, which might be extended by inference but never altered.

Forster's fictional world is one of technological Scholasticism. It is a world of "undenominational Mechanism." New experiences are considered not only unnecessary but positively harmful to this new religion. Vashti, the protagonist, " is seized with the terrors of direct experience." She and her fellow-travellers on long distance air ships refuse even to look out at the Himalayas since the sight "gives them no ideas." In good scholastic tradition, the only valid ideas are those that can be inferred from existing knowledge:
"First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by love and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element -direct observation."

Our modern information technology is the vehicle for just this tenth-hand news. And the effects are similar to those that affected Forster's dystopia as well as the latter Middle Ages. We have experienced the same growing tensions between the governed and their governors; the same rise in extremist views and violent clashes among those who have adopted them, and the same yearning in many parts for the good old days of permanent, unchanging truth about the world.

I suggest as a rule of thumb: any news that claims historical continuity, from any quarter whatsoever, is probably fake. Conservative politicians call it ‘family values’; the Catholic Church calls it ‘tradition’; Protestants call it the ‘fundamentals’; scientists call it ‘established theory’; Silicon Valley and Madison Avenue call it ‘improvement’; anyone over 60 calls it ‘yesterday’. All fake and all directed toward the maintenance of power. As Forster says, fake news is undenomenational.
Profile Image for Kevin Ansbro.
Author 5 books1,397 followers
June 10, 2020
"The saddest aspect of life now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom."
—Isaac Asimov

This is a short sci-fi story in which English humanist author, E. M. Forster, astonishingly predicts the internet age way back in the early 1900s (when a selfie would have left you with a blast of magnesium dust all over your face).
In this dystopian future, people no longer get together for a chinwag over a mug of coffee; instead, they are hermetically sealed into rooms that resemble cells in a beehive and only communicate via monitors. Gosh, imagine such a thing ... spending all day talking into a little screen! The world is controlled by technology, so face-to-face social interaction and, gulp, touching each other has long since flown out of the window.
All human needs are mechanically catered for at the press of a button and main character, Vashti, has no need to even get up out of her armchair, for it can glide across her hexagonal floor as easily as could a Dalek.

And in the midst of this nightmarish vision, Forster offers the reader a bouquet of sumptuous prose to ease the cheerlessness of our future world, and to remind us of what humankind will one day forfeit...

It was night. For a moment she saw the coast of Sumatra edged by the phosphorescence of waves and crowded by lighthouses, still sending forth their disregarded beams.

*sigh* beautiful, yet so desperately sad.
Yet, for all Forster's remarkable clairvoyance, he does fail to predict that Peking would not be called Peking in the future (or will it?). Nostradamus would've known that, just like he'd have foreseen that Bedford Falls would become Pottersville if George Bailey had never been born. : )

Wow! For having such vision and possessing such astonishing prescience I couldn't possibly award this work of genius anything less than five stars.
If I owned one, I would take my hat off to E. M. Forster.
Of course, in the future, there would be a machine on hand to do that for me!
Profile Image for Fergus, Quondam Happy Face.
971 reviews17.6k followers
June 1, 2023
I first read this short novella when I was thirteen, and still in junior high school. It was in our class literary textbook, which speaks highly of the board of Ontario educators who assigned it to our provincial curriculum. It was written more than a century ago.

It is about a future world, which is almost upon us, and is accurately prescient.

In it, no one is really happy. Isn't that almost us now?

Everything is tightly controlled. Every aspect of life is carried out at home, and citizens rarely leave those tiny underground homes. All living is done in cyberspace. No one is truly happy or fulfilled.

Personally, though, I think Forster has missed the point. Dystopia is not the inevitable conclusion of our unhappy lawlessness. Unhappiness is not really inevitable.

Sure, humankind is generally only as good as it must be, but by Grace we are directed to a higher ideal: to live better than is humanly possible, by turning out lives over to God.

And not just our lives. Our entire being: including our otherwise intractable wills. All this happens by submitting to the devastatingly cleansing fire of conviction. I'm not kidding.

Not all of us can bear to live in a mediocre comfort bubble, as folks in their dystopian society do here: and that's the beginning of our spiritual liberation.

In other words there IS a Way Out of our Depressive Despondency. But Forster doesn't see that. Alas, the walls have also closed in on HIM. But hope is real. It can save us from misery.

It is one thing to be bright and clever enough to make light of our futuristic comfortable sloughs, Mr. Forster - but your wit won't buy you safe passage through Hell.

We must "make perfect our wills. "

Our will is strengthened, though, in bearing the ordeal of life with a stoical faith, having seen our salvation.

The anodyne of banal comfort damns these denizens of the future to despair. It's their choice. Cause the Machine is only the reification of that comfort.

Must we REALLY stop the Machine to finally know Peace?


But we have to escape from our comfort zones!

And we must work out our salvation, alone in Fear and Trembling -

Right NOW.
Profile Image for Richard (on hiatus).
160 reviews182 followers
April 7, 2020
The Machine Stops is a Sci fi novella by the famous author of A Room with a View, A Passage to India and Howards End.
I became aware of this quirky, atypical work many years ago when studying Howards End at school. I made a note to read it then and have finally got round to it ........... 40 years later!
The story concerns Vashti, a woman living on her own in a hexagonal room under the surface of the earth. Everybody leads an isolated existence, in identical rooms, their every need catered for by ‘the machine’. The machine, a quietly humming presence in the background was originally created by humans but has now evolved and taken control of the world.
Vashti is contacted by her son Kuno who lives thousands of miles away in an identical room and needs to see his mother, face to face ......... a shocking, unheard of request and a very unsettling one. What could be the matter? What cannot be said through the machine?
Direct contact and direct experience is firmly discouraged.
The Machine Stops is an amazing work of imagination. Amazing, as the novel foresees the internet, Skype-like communication, social media, driverless cars, internet shopping, Alexa-like control of household functions - the list goes on ....... and all written/ imagined in 1909!!
The near total isolation of everybody in this cautionary tale, connected only by screens, forms an eerie parallel to the strange and frightening times we are now living in.
The language is a little archaic and strangely, the text, on kindle, is strewn with spelling and punctuation errors. The book was very inexpensive so I can’t complain but it would be interesting to know how the text is set and finds its way into kindle format in such raw way.
A much recommended curiosity by this classic author.
Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book863 followers
October 2, 2020
The Machine Stops is a three chapters novelette written in 1909 by the author of A Passage to India; probably one of the earliest dystopian works of the 20th century, before Brave New World or 1984.

It tells, in a few brush-strokes, the story of a son and his mother in a world, far in the future, where humans on the whole planet live in sterilised and isolated cells underground, that they rarely leave. They reluctantly meet each other in person and prefer communicating through a network that foreshadows our modern internet and messaging technology. They exchange ideas, preferably second-hand “and if possible tenth-hand” since they don’t trust direct experience. The mysterious and almighty “Machine”, to which one can access through a book — a tablet? —, tends to all the needs of this human hive. As says Forster, “Humanity, in its desire for comfort, had over-reached itself. It had exploited the riches of nature too far. Quietly and complacently, it was sinking into decadence, and progress had come to mean the progress of the Machine.” One day, of course, the machine stops.

A visionary short story. I suspect Houellebecq had precisely this book in mind when imagining the future in La Possibilité d'une île.
Profile Image for Regina.
1,136 reviews3,009 followers
July 6, 2021
The Machine Stops is a novella written by E.M. Forster (A Room with a View, Passage to India) about a society where people live underground, siloed in individual spaces, relying on an omnipresent Machine to communicate via messages and videos with one another. People worship the Machine, shun physical human interaction, and exchange second-, third-, and even tenth-hand ideas. In fact, the further an idea is away from an original thought, the better.

Sounds pretty mundane and unoriginal, except HE WROTE IT IN 1909. 1909!!!!

In fact, his predictions of the internet, Zoom, and 21st century groupthink were eerily prescient, particularly nailing what it was like for humans to live through 2020’s COVID lockdowns.

It’s not surprising then that Audible opted to produce an original recording in September 2020, with honey-voiced Carey Mulligan handling the narration. After Mulligan’s performance on The Midnight Library audiobook, I thought the old cliched line, 'I’d listen to her read the phone book.’ That lead me to this under-promoted classic lurking in the Audible Plus catalog.

Those without Audible memberships will have no issues accessing the story elsewhere though.* While my mind did drift ever so occasionally, I’d still recommend the 1.5 hours (or 12,300 words) it takes to get through it.

*You can even read it online here: https://manybooks.net/book/137318/rea...

Blog: https://www.confettibookshelf.com/
Profile Image for Jon Nakapalau.
4,928 reviews685 followers
May 21, 2018
Shocking in its predictions - a machine that runs everything and asks only that you live through it - even to blocking out the sun and any other stimuli that might place you outside of the control of the prescribed focus of virtual design (sound familiar)?
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,892 reviews1,924 followers
August 21, 2020
Rating: 3.5* of five

2020 UPDATE I think a lot of ear-readers will enjoy this audio drama of The Machine Stops.

COVID-19 UPDATE I re-read this tale in light of the frustrations of quarantine. I have to say that, while I can't oooch a scoche higher than three-and-a-half stars, I *can* round up instead of down because the experience of reading it is much more surprising.

The Publisher Says: The Machine Stops is a science fiction short story (12,300 words) by E. M. Forster. After initial publication in The Oxford and Cambridge Review (November 1909), the story was republished in Forster's The Eternal Moment and Other Stories in 1928. After being voted one of the best novellas up to 1965, it was included that same year in the populist anthology Modern Short Stories. In 1973 it was also included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two. The book is particularly notable for predicting new technologies such as instant messaging and the internet.

My Review: As amazing as reading about the Internet, streaming video, and instant messaging must have been in 1909, it's more amazing in 2014 to think that, 105 years ago, the ubiquity of such central facets of out lives was placed in a far distant future.

I mean really, what's 105 years in the sweep of history? It's even less impressive measured in geologic time. Electric lighting was still in its infancy then, though, and the automobile was a plaything for the very rich. Much like computers in 1989 and the Internet in 1999.

Well then. Sobering perspective on the speed of change in the modern world, eh what?

What mars this read for me is the vast amount of SFnal reading I've done in my life. Unlike the readers of 1909, I've imbibed the waters of the Styx and forgotten more than they ever knew about things predictive. And the trope of "civilization is making meat-sacks of us all, woe woe" has moved from startling insight and clarion warning to the dreary moaning of the Longface Puritans League that says not to eat anything that has any taste, do anything that is remotely fun, and NEVER EVER EVER have sex. Be miserable, it builds character, as Calvin's father would say!

Live longer, as Doctor Oz would say!

What ever for?

Anyway, the story's free here and it'll take about a half-hour to read. I come down on the side of that being a worthwhile investment. Barely.
Profile Image for Joshua Nomen-Mutatio.
333 reviews878 followers
September 22, 2010
Leonardo da Vinci famously anticipated the advent of helicopters, scuba gear, and automobiles, and had well-laid plans for primitive versions of these things.

(Da Vinci also used mirror writing in his notebooks.)

The revolutionary astronomer, Johannes Kepler, similarly wrote of the invention of rocket ships traveling outside of the Earth and this was in the 1620's. This can be found in his novella The Dream, which is a work that is widely regarded by literary scholars and historians as the first example of writing that fits into the science fiction genre.

Following in this tradition of ingenuity and jaw-dropping foresight, E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops ranks along side as an amazingly prophetic story. Written in 1909 Forster anticipates the television, video conferencing and the internet and its attendant Age.

On top of this impressiveness it's also a pretty decent apocalyptic adventure story. Were this written today I'd consider its attitudes towards machinery to be naïvely Luddite and a wee bit much in the fear-mongering department, but given its historical contingencies I'm capable of seeing it in a more admirable light.

It's ultimately a nightmarish vision of a world more or less drained of human warmth and meaningfulness by the totalitarian clank and clatter of steel beams and inexorably greased engines. In a slightly reaching way it's like the inverse of The Road , if that makes any sense. The world is turned upside down by functioning machines rather than their collapse. In both scenarios humans become rather powerless. Ultimately, as the title suggests, the machine does stop and since it had gradually become so highly automated and systematically complex no one even knows how to repair it. And thus the fascistic steel world of instant gratification and decadence erodes into The Roadish terrority.

(It's a quick and entertaining read. Give it a shot. It can be read online here.)
Profile Image for notgettingenough .
1,026 reviews1,183 followers
November 9, 2019
I was straightforwardly gobsmacked when I first read this story last year. Wow. Here is our world, described one hundred years before it happens. These are just a few samples that particularly appealed to me. I don’t want to give away the story and there are lots of other interesting ideas about the future, including, indeed, the idea of the idea that I will leave you to discover for yourselves,

"Who is it?" she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously. But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into smiles, and she said: "Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes-for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno.

Modern life indeed.

On the subject of us accepting what is inferior but convenient, interpolating the machine in our relationships with each other.

In this world all people live in isolation in their rooms with technology supplying everything. Kuno is her son and wishes to see her. When she exclaims that he is seeing her, he replies:

“I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I hear something like you through this telephone, but I do not hear you. That is why I want you to come."


The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms. Seated in her armchair she spoke, while they in their armchairs heard her, fairly well, and saw her, fairly well.

On globalisation:

Few travelled in these days, for, thanks to the advance of science, the earth was exactly alike all over. Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul.

On modern selection of foetuses, which shall live and which shall die, a process during which we believe ourselves to be morally correct:

By these days it was a demerit to be muscular. Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him; he would have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills against which he might measure his body. Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not?

And, close to my heart, on the nature of the revision of history according to the contemporary mores of the revisionist:

rest here: https://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpre...
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,963 reviews294k followers
October 18, 2021
The Machine Stops was a really good short story. Forster, writing in 1909, predicts Facetime / Zoom, amongst other things, though he sets it in a creepy nightmare future where humanity lives underground and everything they need is controlled and delivered by the Machine.

There are certainly parallels with our own world and concerns. The Machine is perhaps best likened to the Internet-- it connects people (who live in solitude) with others around the world, plays music, caters to their every need and whim. In this world, people view mountains, nature and people through the machine, but rarely, if ever, have any direct contact with any of them. People worship the machine and cannot imagine life without it. While we're not exactly living in Forster's dystopia, some aspects of it are eerily prescient.

In my copy of this book, it also came with the short story 'The Celestial Omnibus', which I didn't care for. It was silly and, maybe because it came so soon after my reading of The Machine Stops, it lacked impact. My rating is for The Machine Stops only.
Profile Image for Henk.
851 reviews
August 2, 2020
The Machine Stops is quite well done and prescient, The Celestial Omnibus was less my thing
Thing went from bad to worse unchallenged.

The Machine Stops in 1928 brutally foreshadowed a world filled with a kind of internet, VR, webinars and always being reachable and busy, with all associated risk of humanity fully relying on technology for its survival. The fall of civilization starts with no longer relying on firsthand experiences (which also destroys the empire in Foundation of Isaac Asimov that I am reading at the moment).

It makes you think what would happen if in our interconnected, stay at home Covid-19 world, the internet would just simply stop working.
E.M. Forster has no qualms on what will happen in such a case, The Machine Stops is a gloomy but all to believable tale of alienation and overreliance on things we don't understand anymore (Loud were the complains, impotent the remedies).

Celestial Omnibus from 1911 revolves around the power of poetry, youth and imagination versus formal knowledge of the arts. I found it a bit twee and this led to the stories jointly being a three star read for me. But definitely pick up The Machine Stops for the literary equivalent of a Dark Mirror episode; the title story is very well done!
Profile Image for Bernardo.
71 reviews60 followers
May 25, 2021
“‘You talk as if a god had made the Machine,’ cried the other. ‘I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but it is not everything.’”

The Machine Stops starts out with a conversation between a mother and a son. They both live in the Machine, really an isolated room, which seems to support every necessary detail for their living and for communicating with the rest of the world. During the conversation, the son asks the mother to come and visit him on the other side of the world, a request which she reluctantly accepts. As the mother leaves her cell we learn more about this future world, the Machine and the whole story becomes very interesting and the book hard to put down.

I find it surprising and, to be honest, almost shocking to think The Machine Stops was first published in 1909. In a way, it predicts the existence of a worldwide network of communications and mankind’s consequent dependence on this system. I read H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine a couple of months ago and, while I found it to be an enjoyable experience, I came away with the feeling that it was somewhat dated. After reading The Machine Stops, I retained a different emotion. Not only did I enjoyed it fairly more that The Time Machine, but I also believe it remains more relevant and up to date.

E. M. Forster wrote an excellent novella, especially if considering the time when it was written. It’s well worth a read and I’m actually surprised that it isn’t more famous, at least I wasn’t aware of its existence until recently.
Profile Image for Bionic Jean.
1,228 reviews1,062 followers
March 30, 2022
Where would you be without the Internet? Can you imagine your life? Can you even remember a time before personal computers?

"The machine stops."

Disaster! What a thought! Did you breathe a sigh of relief when the Internet seemed to carry on as normal after the millennium date? That computer technology had not broken down because of bad programming after all? Surely there had been just that smidgen of a possibility...

The Machine Stops is a remarkably prescient science fiction short novella by E. M. Forster. In the world he describes, humans live underground, as the surface of the Earth is thought to be unsuitable or dangerous. They rarely venture out, and have lost the ability to live their daily lives, or even to communicate except by virtue of an everpresent powerful and global "Machine".

"The clumsy system of public gatherings had been long since abandoned; neither Vashti nor her audience stirred from their rooms."

Each person lives in isolation in an individual "cell", and although we learn that the isolated cells are actually situated adjacent to other people's cells, all communication is nevertheless through the machine. There are buttons and switches everywhere. Everything is available at the touch of a button - food, music, clothing - whatever you like. It is a highly-mechanised world.

Ideas are much valued, and people spend much of their time chatting and lecturing on "ideas". They communicate by looking into a "round, blue plate", or in our terms, a screen or a monitor. Knowledge has become skewed by the people's reverence of the Machine. First-hand experience is not to be trusted. Everything must be considered according to the relevance of their lives ruled by the Machine.

The novella is divided into three sections and we learn that over time "The Book of the Machine" begins to be ever more revered. The story refers to a "re-establishment" of religion, with the development of arcane ceremonies and ritualistic chanting, and thus the Machine itself becomes god-like and to be worshipped.

"They described the strange feeling of peace when they handled the Book of the Machine."

Gradually any life support apparatus needed to visit the outer world is dismantled and eventually abolished. People begin to forget that humans created the Machine. Anyone who questions the supreme power and authority of the Machine is viewed as "unmechanical" and threatened with "Homelessness", which would be expulsion from the underground environment, therefore, presumably death. The title has already informed the reader of what apocalyptic event will happen.

At what point did this scenario begin to seem unfamiliar? About halfway through? Certainly aspects of this have already come to pass. We may still get out and about, but it is quite possible that the next person you see will be engrossed by their Machine, whether they are across the room from you, across the road, across the park, across the railway carriage. They are absorbed in their own world; their own "cell", aren't they?

So it is quite remarkable that E. M. Forster's dystopian vision was published in "The Oxford and Cambridge Review" in 1909. He had a prophetic vision of how a Machine could lead to disaster, over a century ago. It became part of a collection of short stories which took its name from another story, entitled, "The Eternal Moment", subsequently published in 1928. This was well before the Internet, personal computers, instant messaging, emails, videoconferencing and many of the other functions he describes with such accuracy, which have come to pass. As well as gramophones, which Forster will have known about, he predicted "cinematophoes" - machines to project visual images - of which we now have a proliferation, but called by other names. We even have "cells" to live in, which may all look alike, in a tower block for instance. Our city centres are look the same. We are dependent on technology. We have lost the quality of patience and calm; our devices have to be repaired or replaced instantly. Even the faceless "Committees" towards the end of the story, making empty promises of assistance, seem sadly familiar.

The first time I came across this story was as part of the "Out of the Unknown" Science Fiction series on British television, in 1966. It captured my imagination even then. At that point in time the story resonated, some aspects seemed to be eerily foreshadowing, yet the whole still seemed impossibly futuristic. Yet even so, it was over 50 years since it had first been published. How much more similar the world is now, to Forster's vision. How much more familiar the events.

E. M. Forster's story concentrates on two individuals. One is Vashti, an "Everyman" character typical of her age and society. The other is her son, the rebel, Kuno, who lives on the opposite side of the world. Such a physical distance is the norm for this society based on maintaining individuals, not families.

"I want to see you not through the machine," said Kuno. "I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine." "Oh Hush!", said his mother, vaguely shocked. "You mustn't say anything against the machine."

Kuno has a glimmering of a world outside, and tries to alert others to what might happen. He wants to see the Earth's surface. He wants to live outside the Machine. He wants to see if there are others. Will he? The story concentrates on Vashti, who is blinkered by her conditioning. She regards Kuno's ideas as "dangerous madness". Although the Machine was originally constructed to save the human race, lack of human interaction has led to a dependency on it. The story describes what we might call her "brainwashing", her reactions to the catastrophic events which follow, and her brief connection with Kuno.

E. M. Forster puts our humanity squarely back into focus at the end of the story. In the preface to a later collection, he wrote that,

"The Machine Stops" is a reaction to one of the earlier heavens of H. G. Wells."

Clearly this implies that Forster was concerned about human dependence on technology in the future. In the final analysis, we learn that it is our humanity itself which is valuable, and that this should be our measure of things. An over-reliance on technology leads to humans becomes subservient to Machines. Acceptance of the domination of Machines would lead to corruption, a debasement of values, and eventually to a society that has no chance of survival. It is a chilling and sobering tale, and should probably be read by anyone who ever uses the Internet, which in the end may possibly be us all.

"The machine is stopping, I know it, I know the signs!"
Profile Image for Matt.
752 reviews522 followers
March 21, 2020
An amazingly accurate prediction of today’s alienation from life and its artificiality through technology and the internet.

In E.M. Forster’s future society people withdraw from real life, spending their days and nights in a single subterranean room (which looks more like a cell or a honeycomb) surrounded by buttons to press and levers to pull and also some kind of communication apparatus to contact other people. Leaving one’s room is possible and not forbidden, but hardly anyone does it. Travelling in trains under ground or in “Air-Ships” high above the clouds and mountains are the only way you can go from place to place. The surface of the Earth has become uninhabitable.

Physical needs are provided for by THE MACHINE which also runs the gadgets in the rooms and controls communication channels. People are spending their waking time passing on “ideas” in the form of short lectures to other people or are in turn being lectured by them. First-hand ideas from direct observations are being frowned upon (where should those come from anyway?), but second-hand ideas or better yet tenth-hand are fine.

One day a woman, who developed an almost religious adoration for THE MACHINE, receives a call from one of her sons on the other side of the world. He requests the unthinkable from his mother: “Come, and visit me.”

The author apparently deliberately kept the description of the actual technology of THE MACHINE somewhat vague. A smart move, because his novella remains worth reading even after more than a hundred years have passed since publication. If I would accurately describe the state of the Internet today in a story, people would probably laugh me down in a 100 years, or 50 or 20 or 10 years. Who can know for sure? Exponential progress can be such a cruel thing. You have to be careful to not get under the wheels and be considered a misfit. Better keep your Facebook entries up-to-date and your messenger on your phone online all the time and ready to beep you off your thoughts. And always - always! - keep an eye on newer developments that might improve your life even a bit more. This way you also have fodder for conversation with virtual “friends”.

I realize that writing a review of a book that pretty much condemns the so called “social” media on a social media platform is somewhat absurd. I should rather go outside, meet a stranger in a pub, give them the book and say “Here, read this and get your life back. It’s the only one you have and there won’t be WhatsApp in the afterlife.” But, alas, I bought the electronic version of the book (which is not transferable) from a machine called Amazon and the pub has been replaced with an internet café.
[Update, Mar 21 2020]

Forget what I said about going out and meeting new people. There's a whole new ballgame. It's called #FlattenTheCurve and it simply involves spending your time in front of a machine lecturing people about staying home.

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Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,100 followers
January 5, 2021
Future is now; future is then. Old Man Forster decries the cold meaninglessness of life in the age of the world wide web and automation and being repulsed by another human's touch. He shakes a well-manicured fist at the new millennium, at 2017, except he shook that fist over a century ago, while no doubt wearing an elegant three-piece suit, with ascot, as he held court in his finely wallpapered drawing room. Could Grampa see into now? It sure seems like it. I really get Gramps and his carefully worded anger. He wrote an amazingly prescient short story; a sour, bitter little triumph.

Read this short story for free! Right here:


 photo tumblr_mrf23ojK9e1qzsvlyo1_500_zpsotjtxhi7.jpg

The machine stops, and so a happy ending is reached. A happy ending which means the destruction of all civilization so that we can start anew. That made me smile.
Profile Image for Apatt.
507 reviews782 followers
May 22, 2018
“You talk as if a god had made the Machine," cried the other. "I believe that you pray to it when you are unhappy. Men made it, do not forget that. Great men, but men. The Machine is much, but not everything.”
E.M. Forster could have been talking about Steve Jobs and iPhones!

I don't know how widely read The Machine Stops is but I think it ought to be required reading for all sci-fi aficionados. I don't know this for a fact but I suspect it is very influential; I can see echoes of it in sci-fi classics such as Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, Asimov’s The Caves of Steel, the classic short story “Nightfall” and even in something as recent as Hugh Howey’s Wool. Perhaps even Iain Banks’ Culture series to some extent.

This is a proto-dystopian sci-fi story first published in 1909. Here we have the human race all living underground to avoid exposure to a polluted poisonous Earth atmosphere (though things may not be as they seem). Mankind is totally ruled and nurtured by a global AI Overlord simply called The Machine. Everybody’s material needs and creature comforts can be conjured as needed (presumably backsides are also wiped).

So what happens when the entire human race is totally reliant on a single supercomputer* to the extent that their muscles have atrophied and decadence has set it? I'm not going to tell you obviously but this is a brilliant prescient story that I hope you will read.

Pity E.M. Forster only wrote this one sci-fi story, he really had a knack for it. He is of course best known for classics like A Room with a View (which I have read and reviewed) and A Passage to India (which I read years ago, and is very good) etc. The Machine Stops is so good that it makes me want to read more of his books regardless of genre.

This story is in the public domain and you can find a free e-book edition at Manybooks.net and a free audiobook at Librivox. Now all you need is an hour or so to soak it all up!

fancy line
* The word "computer" does not appear anywhere in the text of course, 1909 y'know, that makes his prescience even more remarkable.
Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 6 books3,971 followers
September 25, 2018
I was honestly surprised as hell to learn from my GR buddies that this old classic fantastic traditional fiction author wrote an SF novella. EM FORSTER???

Well, yeah! Contemporary of Wells, this particular novel seems to be a rather delightful stick to poke at the culture that spawned it.

Fear of the Machine, perhaps only Bureaucracy, but probably a lot more as in the kind of AI the world has become, I was more impressed with the snide comments it had about eschewing primary sources over a constant rehash of old ideas. :)

Now, of course, this came out in 1909 so I have to wonder if it inspired so many similar tales to come after. I'm reminded of Morlocks, but better than that... there's a little gem of a film that came out 20 years later called Metropolis that seems to be the best fit. :)

Never mind Tolkien and his condemnation of machinist thinking in The Ring, or even the Truman Show to break out of his virtual shell to see the world by first principles and first experience. :)

Honorable mention in the novella goes to the ideas of the videophone and the internet and AI's. :) Yes. 1909. :) And machine overlords, of course. :) Pretty awesome. But that's just for the ideas.

The writing, alas, is not quite as evocative as his traditional fiction. Oddly enough. Still, quite good. :)
Profile Image for Mohamed Khaled Sharif.
771 reviews877 followers
October 7, 2022

مُقدمة لا بُد منها:

يجب الشُكر والثناء على مجهودات "منشورات ويلز" فالحقيقة بعيداً عن اختياراتهم للأعمال الجيدة فعلاً والتي تهم كُل مُحبي الخيال العلمي وترجمتها بشكل جيد.. فالشكل النهائي للعمل مُمتاز.. الغلاف والورق وخط الكتابة الذي لن تجده في أكبر دور النشر من أجل المكاسب المادية.. وقد تظن أن أعمالهم غالية في الثمن ولكن وللمفاجأة؛ أعمالهم ليست غالية السعر أبداً على عكس الجودة التي يُقدمونها.. وذلك الذي سيجعلني أقتني كُل أعمالهم في أقرب فُرصة.

أما عن الرواية:

فالرواية جذبتني رغم عدد صفحاتها الذي لم يتجاوز الـمائة!
الرواية كُتبت عام 1909 يتوقع كاتبها شكل المُستقبل والذي ستجد أشياء كثيرة مشتركة بينه وبين عصرنا الحالي.
ولكني نظرت للرواية من بُعدين:

الأول: بُعد سياسي:

رددوا هاتفين: "الآلة تُطعمنا وتكسينا وتُسكنا بيوتنا عبرها يتحدث أحدنا للآخر.. عبرها يرى أحدنا الآخر.. فيها تكون كينونتنا.. الآلة هي صديقة الأفكار وعدوة الخُرافة.. الآلة كلية القدرة وخالدة أبداً.. فلتتمجد الآلة".

رأيت أن الآلة تُمثل النظام.. النظام الذي يُريد كبتك وحبسك داخل أفكاره هو فقط.. لا تُفكر لا تُبدع.. فقط كُن مُخلصاً للنظام.
حتى جملة "الآلة تتوقف" كنت أراها أنها مثل: "النظام يسقط" مثلما حدث في الرواية فالنظام سقط.. سقط على كُل المدعين والخانعين الذين قرروا البقاء في ظل الآلة والإخلاص لها.. حتى عندما بدأت مؤشرات سقوط الآلة بالظهور.. الخدمات تسوء.. المياه أصبحت ملوثة.. الهواء ملوث أيضاً.. لا توجد إضاءة.. ظل هُناك تلك الفئة التي أصرت أن الموضوع طبيعي وأن يجب أن نُساند الآلة وأن كُل ذلك سيمر بشكل طبيعي حتى أنهارت الآلة على أعناقهم.. ألا يُذكرك ذلك بشيء؟ بوضع تعرفه أنت جيداً؟
عندما تُصبح الآلة هي المُتحكمة في علاقاتك الشخصية في دينك في تفكيرك وتُقيدك حتى لا تستطيع أن تُفكر أو تقول "لا" في وجه الآلة!
وإذا تملكتك الجرأة وفعلتها.. عوقبت بالتشريد!
وضع مآسأوي قد رُسم بواسطة "فورستر" في أوائل القرن العشرين وما زلنا نرى صداه في القرن الواحد والعشرين.

الثاني: بُعد تكنولوجي:

ذلك البُعد بالذات لو كُنت شاهدت مُسلسل "بلاك ميرور: المرآة السوداء" كُنت ستربط بينهم فوراً.
التطور التكنولوجي الرهيب الذي يجعل الإنسان يُفضل أن يعتزل في بيته.. على الخروج للتمتع بالحياة.. فالحياة أصبحت مُتمحورة حول الإنترنت فقط.. التطور التكنولوجي الذي قد يحول أنقى علاقات البشر علاقة الأم بابنها إلى مُجرد علاقة ميكانيكية خالية من المشاعر.. العالم الإفتراضي الذي تحول إلى عالم حقيقي بالنسبة لنا.

كانت تجربة جيدة جداً.. والترجمة أيضاً كانت جيدة من اللغة المُستخدمة والمُفردات والتعابير.. ولن تكون آخر تجربة لمنشورات ويلز أو فورستر.

Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,034 reviews1,420 followers
August 7, 2016
It is absolutely astonishing to me that something written over 100 years ago can have such relevance in today's society. Whilst short, this science fiction masterpiece manages to create a future society that is not dissimilar to our own, in many respects.

This satirical look at a world run by machinery feels like it could quite possibility represent our own bleak future, as we already have apps and technology to make every aspect of our lives easier. This only progresses our current state by making every physical and mental movement predicted and provided for by the governing body of 'the machine'. Even human interaction has been spared and the citizens of the world live isolated and sedentary lives, where their only relationships happen over video-based technology and any personal, scientific and theoretic progression has stalled.

That the idea was even conceived for this, so long ago, is astounding but that the idea has been fleshed out so completely, in such a limited number of pages, and so beautifully, by the evocative writing style, makes this a very deserving science fiction classic!
Profile Image for Manny.
Author 29 books13.7k followers
August 13, 2010
After I'd read A Rebours last week, it occurred to me to wonder whether this well-known novella was yet another piece that linked to it. The main theme in Huysmans's book is the superiority of the artificial: the engagingly mad des Esseintes tries to construct an entirely artificial world to live in, and constantly explains how much better it is than the real one. For example, steam locomotives are much sexier than women.

Huysmans's presentation is completely deadpan, so it's difficult to know how ironic he means to be; anyway, it's not impossible to read the book straight, and maybe Forster felt that an unambiguous response was necessary. Here, the world has reached the end of the road Huysmans envisages. Everything is completely artificial and people love it like that. But, in this version, it is made abundantly clear that excessive artifice is not good.

I'm trying to think which one I prefer! It's difficult. They're both very memorable in their rather different ways. Huysmans's style is more compelling, but you get a rather less complicated form of pleasure from Forster. Really, if you've only read one of them and liked it, you're almost obliged to read the other.
Profile Image for Mackey.
1,057 reviews364 followers
June 17, 2018
“Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element – direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine – the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought Lafcadio Hearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution.”
― E.M. Forster, The Machine Stops

The first thing you will notice when reading E.M Forster’s “The Machine Stops,” is how eerily real it seems for a Science Fiction novella. You may even ask yourself “what is all of the hype about machines when they are all around us?” That is because you are reading this book today, 2018, but it was written over 100 years ago! While many hail Wells and Bradbury for their insightful vision into the future, here is Forster describing with inexplicable accuracy a cell phone, the internet, holographic imagery, 3D printers and, most frightening of all, the destruction of the earth due to climate change. Remember, this is prior to the ill-effects of the Industrial Revolution. Ahhh, if only people had read and learned.

Of course, as with anything that man has created, man must also maintain and that includes The Machine. But man, having to do nothing, where even lifting a real book is too strenuous for the atrophied arms, also becomes a bit atrophied and the machine glitches. What will happen to this perfect world then?

While many who read this book are astonished at the degree of technology that Forster created, I was mesmerized by the clarity in which he “predicted” human behavior. People no longer traveled for pleasure – there was no point when pictures on their screens were better, clearer than real life. They no longer actually read books but read what others wrote about the books – aaaahhh, not too different from here, wouldn’t you agree? In the end, they no longer relied on the “truth,” but rather another person’s version of the truth – even yet, the more interpretations of an event, the better. After all, an eyewitness to an event might actually be too easily influenced by the event itself. Perhaps the politicians of today actually did the novella and that is where they got the idea of “fake news,” for what is Facebook and other social media outlets if not the re-telling of the story through multiple sources?

Sadly, the story – like real life – does not end well. I cannot help but wonder if anyone who reads the book today sees the reality of their own fate on these pages. What happens to mankind when The Machine Stops?

This is a short novella; it took me a few hours to read at the most. I encourage you to download it – it is available for free from multiple sources. It truly is remarkable.

Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,494 reviews962 followers
April 6, 2021

“I want to speak to you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”
“Oh, hush!” said his mother, vaguely shocked. “You mustn’t say anything against the Machine.”

People are living in isolation inside their own rooms, only interacting with others through the Machine : a global structure that facilitates communications, ordering of basic necessities and entertainment. Sounds familiar?

This is 1909 and a visionary E M Forster reacts to the overt political slant of H G Wells’ imagined future in the ‘Time Machine’ by offering an alternative view where humanity has destroyed its natural habitat and retreated underground, where every human need is catered to by an artificial intelligence known as the Machine.
The connection is unmistakable and William Gompertz apparently wrote on 30 May 2020 on the BBC website:

"The Machine Stops is not simply prescient; it is a jaw-droppingly, gob-smackingly, breath-takingly accurate literary description of lockdown life in 2020."

I used to buy my science-fiction and fantasy books by the pound/kilogram : the longer, the better to my confused mind. Forster, like an earlier revelation by Shirley Jackson ( The Lottery ) proves to me that size doesn’t matter. I rarely have the chance to use the word ‘seminal’ in a review, but I cannot overstress how influential I believe this short story is. Isaac Asimov’s Robot series pays homage, and you should re-watch the Terminator movies and Wall-e after reading the story, see how easy it is to spot the connection.

There were buttons and switches everywhere – buttons to call for food or music, for clothing. There was the hot-bath button, by pressure of which a basin of (imitation) marble rose out of the floor, filled to the brim with a warm deodorized liquid. There was the cold-bath button. There was the button that produced literature, and there were of course the buttons by which she communicated with her friends. The room, though it contained nothing, was in touch with all that she cared in the world.

I am writing this review from the isolation of my apartment, a little over a year into the virus lockdown, and I feel chilled to the bones by the accuracy of E M Forster’s prediction of a future where humanity relies heavily on technology for basic life necessities, when going outside in the sun can give you radiation poisoning or an incurable pneumonia, by political expediency that rejects scientific facts in favour of self-serving propaganda.

Vashti was seized with the terrors of direct experience. She shrank back into the room, and the wall closed up again.

Vashanti is a typical woman of this imagined future, relying on the Machine to provide everything she needs. Her son Kuno is trying to break free of the routine life, daring enough even to flout regulations and go for a look at the surface of the planet, somewhere in the hills of Wessex. For this he may be punished with Homelessness (a Twitter ban?), a death-sentence in the Machine-run world, where alternative ideas are as dangerous as customization of standard furniture and where they are actively discouraged.

Complaints were useless, for beds were of the same dimension all over the world, and to have had an alternative size would have involved vast alterations in the Machine.

But what happens when the Machine malfunctions, or gets its own ideas about its priorities?

The Machine proceeds – but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die.

Read this story, today!
(It’s probably public domain by now)
Profile Image for Lizz.
220 reviews52 followers
July 27, 2022
I don’t write reviews.

This short story left it’s mark on me. Is it our future? Why would we want it? The more tech “conveniences” offered to make life better, the less men feel connected to each other and themselves. Note how many countries now have bureaucratic positions dealing with the matter of loneliness… Take away man’s ability to do for himself and you wound him on a level no test can measure. One big demoralized family safe and effective amen.

“And the spirits of the dead comforted me. I don’t know what I mean by that, I just say what I felt. I felt, for the first time, that a protest had been lodged against corruption and that, even as the dead were comforting me, so I was comforting the unborn. I felt that humanity existed.”
Profile Image for Sophie VersTand.
246 reviews310 followers
January 26, 2022
Dass mir dieser schmale SciFi-Klassiker solange entgangen ist, ist wirklich ein Wunder. Da sprach ja wirklich alles dafür, dass es mir gefallen würde. 1909 erschienen, beschreibt die Erzählung eine Gesellschaft, die unter der Erde in wabenförmigen Räumen lebt: jede:r für sich, immer isoliert, Bewegungen und Begegnungen sind unerwünscht und alle werden ernährt/gekleidet/versorgt durch "die Maschine". Dafür müssen die einzelnen Personen nichts anderes tun, als einen entsprechenden Knopf zu drücken. Ein Knopf produziert sogar Literatur. ;) Die Maschine ist vom Menschen erschaffen und kümmert sich um alle Bedürfnisse der einzelnen Bewohner dieses unterirdischen Bienenstocks. <: Sie brummt/summt sogar die ganze Zeit, sodass der Bienenstock-Vergleich nur immer offenbarer wird. Ebenso sind alle Menschen über ein Kommunikationsnetz miteinander verbunden (hello Internet?) und es wird sich via Sprache und Bildschirme über "Ideen" ausgetauscht. Etwas anderes tut eigentlich niemand. Ideenentwicklung, allerdings ohne eigene Erlebnisse und ohne eigenes Erkennen, sind das einzige, das den Menschen zumindest geistig noch "bewegt".

Interessant an solchen "Zukunftsschauen" ist für mich eigentlich, welche Konzepte des 20. Jahrhunderts bspw. beibehalten werden und hier ist es ganz klar der Aspekt von "Familie" und "Religion". Als Individuen begegnen uns hier bspw. eine Mutter und ihr Sohn. Und die Maschine wird verehrt wie ein Heiligstes und alle Personen tragen "The Book of the Machine" wie eine Bibel mit sich.

Diese Erzählung ist für mich das Zeugnis, dass Autor:innen auch in dieser Kürze prägnante Minidystopien zeichnen und entwickeln können, die mit genialen Ideen und Konzepten aufwarten. Das Weltbild ist denkbar pessimistisch: Flucht des Menschen unter die Erde, komplette Isolation, keine Kontakte, keine Erfahrungen, fehlende Innovation und völlige Degenerierung des Menschen zu einem Fleischklumpen, der nur versorgt werden muss per Knopfdruck. Und trotzdem so gut lesbar. Eine großartige Ergänzung, wenn man "1984" und "Schöne Neue Welt" schon einmal las oder überhaupt mit derlei Dystopie-Texten beginnen möchte.

4.5 / 5.0
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