First Lines: This Is How You Die

After the success of the first Machine of Death collection, there would of course be a sequel. This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death is that sequel, and its backstory is still the same:

The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters, the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.” It let people know how they were going to die.

And it was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. “OLD AGE,” it turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes or being shot by a bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death: you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does.

The editors looked for stories that pushed the boundaries beyond what had been explored before. It made this collection more rewarding than the original. The stories range from short gags (“Made into Delicious Cheeseburger” by Sarah Pavis) via could-be-an-fun-filled-James-Bondish-action-movie tale (Tom Francis’ “Lazarus Reactor Fission Sequence”) to Sherlock Holmes pastiche (“Apitoxin” by John Takis), and deaths range from “Peacefully” (M.J. Leitch’s take on what happens after the zombie apocalypse) via Ed Turner’s “In Battle, Alone and Soon Forgotten”, in which an Orc searches for his own demise, to “Your Choice”, a choose your own adventure story by Richard Salter.

A whole bunch of stories take a classic trope and apply the Machine of Death to it: “Not Applicable” by Kyle Schoenfeld is a perfect example of Set Right What Once Went Wrong, and “Drowning Burning Falling Flying” by Grace Seybold explores what would happen if alien technology got available to mankind. Then, some stories make you feel slightly uncomfortable, like “Screaming, Crying, Alone, and Afraid” by Daliso Chaponda, where a serial killer makes the predictions come through, and “Execution by Beheading” by Chandler Kaiden. If collecting Cause of Death cards is the hot thing, how would you like to get one from that creepy neighbor that is rumored to have an awesome death?

Two stories were just no fun at all. In “Old Age, Surrounded by Loved Ones” (by ’Nathan Burgoine) we find out that the machine cannot tell identical twins apart, which places one of them for quite the conundrum, and in Liz Argall’s “Blunt Force Trauma Delivered by Spouse” the title really says it all. These two were, coincidentally, my favorites from the book.

So, a Machine that will inscrutably, infallibly, inescapably yet obliquely tell you how you will die. Thanks, but I’ll pass.

Book read
This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death (edited by Matthew Bennardo, David Malki and Ryan North)
First line
The “Coming soon” sign was gone, and in its place stood a shining silver booth. (from “Old Age, Surrounded by Loved Ones” by ’Nathan Burgoine)