Noah Goats's Reviews > The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
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it was amazing

Forster wrote this story in 1909. To put that into perspective, in 1909 Europe was still mostly ruled by monarchs and horses outnumbered cars by a huge margin on the world’s roads (even on America’s roads). Airplanes had only been around for six years. Home refrigerators hadn’t been invented and nobody had a radio in their home yet, let alone a television. In 1909 computers, at least as we understand them, did not exist. And yet Forster envisions a technology that closely resembles the internet and includes social media. Not only that, he also realized that social media would be profoundly alienating. People sit around in their homes (underground pods, really, because the surface of the earth has been destroyed) and interact through machines, sharing their worthless “ideas” for the meaningless applause of other people who are passing their lives in their own pods.

In the internet age it’s easy to understand the anguished plea of one young man who wants to break away from this trap, “I want to see you, not through the machine... I want to speak to you not through the wearisome machine.”

The Machine Stops is right up there with Wells’s novel, The World Set Free (which predicted atomic power and atomic weapons in 1913), and Verne’s novel, From the Earth to the Moon (which predicted the Apollo program, with a huge cannon instead of rockets, in 1865) in the fun of its on-target predictions. (Btw, The World Set Free is garbage and you shouldn’t read it, From the Earth to the Moon is tons of fun).

Post apocalyptic dystopias are a dime a dozen in the modern literary landscape, but again, Forster wrote this thing in 1909! I don’t know if he was the first to write this kind of book, but he must have been right up near the head of the pack. And, unlike Orwell, Forster wrote about dystopia without ever seeing a real life example in the form of Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. He got to the idea with leaps of imagination. As a story about technology being used to prop up a form of totalitarianism, The Machine Stops was way ahead of its time.

If it had been written today, I would say that The Machine Stops is just a tiny but clunky and heavy handed. But it was written in 1909 and is amazing. If you like old, old, science fiction, like I do, you have to read this one.
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Reading Progress

June 11, 2019 – Started Reading
June 11, 2019 – Shelved
June 11, 2019 – Finished Reading

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