Imagine there was a machine that could predict your death. With the prick of a needle it would tell you a vague, sometimes ironic, description of how you would die but with no specifics of when. Would you want to know?
Just in time for Halloween, this machine was at the heart of our latest book club pick. Machine of Death is a collection of short stories from various authors, all with their own structure and style that aim to predict how life would be in a world where a death machine exists. The stories varied not only in length but also in tone. Some focused on humor and how ironic the predictions could be – a chapter titled “HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle” consisted of one sentence, “Well,” I thought, “that sucks.” Others looked to comment more on how society would deal with the predictions by focusing on an individual’s experience – the first story, “Flaming Marshmallow”, followed a just-turned 16-year-old girl as she anticipated going to the mall with her dad after school so that she could visit the machine and finally know where in the lunchroom she belonged.
The book club discussion started off with what our favorite stories ended up being; from the one with the man who was seasoning himself as preparation for being torn apart by lions, to the story where a woman received a simple blank slip. But soon, as with most of our discussions, it expanded to be a discussion of something greater. In this case, free will verses fate.
With a machine of death, can free will really exist? Regardless of how you change your life once you find out your death prediction, the machine is always right. This must mean free will in this world doesn’t exist, but does it in ours?
While our discussions might have strayed from the book’s general premise, we enjoyed hearing what each other thought. In the end, most of us decided we would put our finger in the machine and find out our fate. The dissenters felt there was no reason to find out the inevitable.
On a lighter note, join us this month in reading our next book club pick: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. Taking place in the not-so-distant future (our book club’s favorite time period), this sci-fi selection takes the reader into a world where life takes place through virtual reality online utopia.