Book Review: The Machine of Death

The internet is a fascinating thing. With the rise of quick virtual communication, collaborative efforts have become the norm as people from every part of the global society now have the ability to work together. This momentum was captured by the enterprising creators of the web-comics Dinosaur Comics (Ryan North) and Wondermark (David Malki!) for a new anthology of short stories titled Machine of Death: A collection of stories about people who know how they will die.

Submissions for the book project came from numerous writers and artists (each story has a unique picture inspired by the specific plot). What is remarkable about Machine of Death is that despite the broad range of writing styles and story-types, the common cannon of the machine’s role remains consistent.

Basically, the premise is that a machine has been invented that can tell a person how they’re going to die based on a blood sample, although the results are usually fairly vague. A slew of moral, scientific, and social dilemmas arise as the machines become pervasive throughout society. Each story is a unique reflection on this premise; some are dark and deeply thought provoking while others are quite funny. The chapter titled “HIV Infection from Machine of Death” is short and hilarious: ”Well,’ I thought, ‘That sucks.'”

This book is a must-read for any student of engineering and is highly reminiscent of the technocratic-satire popularized by the late Kurt Vonnegut. While the writing styles are incredibly easy to read, the content is by no means an “easy read.” Each story will present the reader with plenty of questions about the role of technology in society and room for reflection on how science can influence philosophy.

Utilizing the power of internet-based collaboration once again, Malki and North encouraged people to purchase their book en-masse from Amazon on one specific day. The result was a 14,000% increase in rank and a #1 spot on the book-sales website for the day- an impressive feat by any means. However, as would be expected, the distribution methods for Machine of Death have been anything but normal. On November 2, a companion podcast to the book will begin publishing episodes and the entire manuscript will be available as a freely distributable Creative Commons-licensed PDF through

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