Read This: Machine of Death

machine-of-death.jpgI love a good success story, and the self-published short story collection Machine of Death has a doozy: “When we picked a release date, we tried to aim for a day far from other major book releases—why invite more competition than we needed to?”the editors report. “Unfortunately we don’t know anything about publishing, and so missed the fact that a number of high-profile books also had official release dates of October 26.” Those included a new novel from John Grisham, Keith Richards’ memoir, and the new book from Glenn Beck. And, thanks to a highly effective online campaign in which those editors—Ryan North, David Malki, and Matthew Bennardo—reached out to their fans and asked them to buy the book on Amazon on its release date, they managed to become the #1 bestselling book at the site that day. That made Beck nuts enough to whine about how he’d been squeezed out of the championship that was his birthright by some left-wing culture of death. So, naturally, I ordered my own copy.

And now, the real question is: Is Machine of Death any good? I’m about a third of the way through, and I can tell you that I’m happily impressed. The premise is simple: There’s a machine that will tell you how (but not when) you are going to die, but the messages are not always straightforward: “Suicide,” for example, may not refer to your own attempts at self-annihilation. Each of the stories is titled with a death prediction; one of my favorite so far is “Torn Apart and Devoured by Lions,” in which Jeffrey C. Wells describes the enthusiasm with which an insurance salesman embraces his fate because, hey, it means he’s not going to be stuck in this cubicle for the rest of his life. (But there are also some seriously bleak tales here, like Bennardo’s “Starvation,” and more quietly disturbing stories like J. Jack Unrau’s “Firing Squad.”) I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the book whenever I can steal time away for a story or two, but based just on my initial impressions, these guys totally deserve all the success they’ve gotten and (if the momentum holds) will continue to enjoy.

9 November 2010 | read this |