The Machine of Death, ed. Ryan North

This was my book club’s selection for January.  It’s a collection of short stories based around the premise that a machine that accurately predicts how people are going to die has been invented.  But it’s cryptic – answers like “almond” or “piano” or even “joy” (spoiler – the latter was run over by a woman called Joy).

It’s a terrible idea, and this volume consists of 400-odd pages of stories examining what a horrible idea this is.  Like all anthologies, some stories are better than others, but this is particularly badly curated.  There’s just too much of it.  The first story about teenagers reaching the age where they’re allowed to find out how they are fated to die is pretty good; by the third one I’d definitely had enough.  There is one story where the twist would have been hilarious, but it was too long and rambling and I’d ceased to care before I got there.

On a personal note, I really hate tropes that involve people getting so wound up in fatalism that they fail to live their lives (it’s why I am not a fan of Poe) and that’s what a lot of these stories revolve around, so there was a lot of wanting to throw the book across the room.

Having said that, it was all easy to read and, despite its length, I knocked it off on the bus and at lunch in a few days.  Some of the stories were individually engaging.  It might have benefited from me not having a deadline and not reading it all at once, but I doubt it.

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