Review: The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster

The Machine Stops
The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars


How can a book from 1909 be so accurate about the way we live our lives today? OK, so we aren’t all trapped willingly in little cells isolated from the outside world and relying on a faceless machine of take care of our every need while we spout our opinions to the world from a screen…not ALL of us. Enough of us for this to feel very odd indeed.

Thanks to this uncanny accuracy in predicting the future, this is easily the most chilling dystopian future story I’ve read. It’s not “1984”, which takes ennui, despair and Government control in very different direction. No, this is the self-inflicted hell of regressing to childhood willingly. The humans in “The Machine Stops” are coddled into inhumanity, much like the humans on the spaceship in Pixar’s WALL-E movie. Moving around and doing anything for yourself has become socially distasteful, and the main protagonist, Vashi, exists purely to converse via screen (Web cams, anyone?) and to discuss and produce her ‘ideas’. The overall aim of her culture is to make true experience obsolete, to only allow any understanding of historical events through the many times removed interpretations of the current generation. Eventually, no one will know or feel anything. These guys don’t even pick up books when they drop them.

Vashti’s total disconnect from normal human emotions of awe is best shown during her reluctant journey to visit her son, who lives far away across the world. Here she takes a trip in an airship which passes over the Himalayas. She refuses to be inspired and all the other passengers find the view disgusting.

This is because most humans live beneath the earth in these cell like cubicles, which is something echoed on television recently, by Charlie Brooker in his Black Mirror episode ’15 Million Credits’. Humans rules by television and their interactive screens and disconnected from the real world is an ever more realistic scenario. Most terrifyingly, the story reminds us that this state of things cannot go on. the pinnacle of human civilization will corrupt and fail, as all human civilizations seem to have done before us.

Predicting that one day the machine WILL stop, the story ends on the question – and THEN what will we dependent children all do?

Truly chilling. Very highly recommended.

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