I said in my review of Mogworld that I don’t read. This is very, very true. So, for a man who doesn’t read, I assume the natural question is why are there now two book reviews on my blog? The more applicable question is: given that I bought Mogworld and Machine of Death a day apart and was equally eager to read both books, how come it’s taken me so long to finish Machine of Death? Until literally minutes ago, in fact. The truth is plain, and kinda sad: I don’t read. I don’t read often enough for pleasure for it to be an immersive medium for me. I can’t get past the fact that I’m staring at words on a page. But enough about me, what about Machine of Death?
Well, frankly, if you’re between the ages of twelve and thirty-five, what not about Machine of Death. It’s the first anthology published by “people on the internet”–authors with no established fame aside from their personal fanbases online. It’s edited by Ryan North (of Dinosaur Comics fame), Matthew Bennardo (who I’m having the world’s worst time tracking down) and David Malki ! (the man behind Wondermark). Its premise is simple: what if there were a machine that could take a small sample of your blood and thus tell you how you will die. I’ve spent long enough answering questions from people who like to poke holes in one-sentence premise summaries, so if you have any (god damn) questions, just read the (god damn) book to find that several nice, intelligent people have (god damn) answered it already, in their own ways. The point is: you live in a universe where the knowledge of how you will die is available from a machine that’s near universal–go.
I’m gonna take this time out after the jump to say that it’s almost impossible to review this book. I’m not kidding, and I’m not being a dick. Here are some quick facts about how awesome this book is, without even having to be a high-quality speculative fiction anthology. First, when the editors couldn’t find a publisher with the courage to publish a book by a bunch of people from the internet, they published it themselves. The book is handsome, well-kerned and contains very few typos. Second, they distributed it through Amazon.com, but they told their buying public to purchase it together, as an army, on October 26th. And it went straight to number one on the bestseller list for all books. There were a couple other books coming out that day–a John Grisham, or was that a James Patterson? In any case, the important one that they didn’t know was being released that day–I don’t blame them, neither did I–was Glenn Beck’s new book. And hopefully, that is the last time you will see that man’s name on my blog. His book shot up all the way up the charts… to number two.
But it is very much impossible for me to honestly review this book. I have a signed copy of Dapper Caps and Pedal-Copters in the next room, my girlfriend and I have signed copies of the first four Girls with Slingshots compilations. These contributors are not people that are far, far above me, like Trent Reznor, David Fincher or Christopher Nolan. These are people whose hands I’ve shaken, whose booths I’ve visited at conventions–people that I follow on Twitter, here. And the things this little book has achieved are incredible enough for you to absolutely need to buy it, right now. The fact that it’s incredibly inventive, surprising, by turns hilarious, heartwarming, horrifying–all of that is almost beside the point. The point is that people online, like you or me, who decided to put their work out there for free, have published a book that publishers ignored until it hit number one. You best believe publishers were knocking down doors after that.
There was an article I read a while back about how to behave when meeting your favourite webcomic artist in real life. Rule number one was don’t unintentionally insult their work. … Yeah. So how the hell am I supposed to be able to say that there were stories in this book that made me put it down for weeks at a time? There were stories I read with rage barely restrained behind my face. There were stories where reading them was more akin to a chore than a pastime. And you know why that is? Cos I don’t read. That’s it. It’s not the author’s fault. Indeed, one of the stories I couldn’t get into which I can’t friggin’ name because–… that’s it. Screw this.
FUNNIEST STORY (Not HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle division): For my money, the most laugh-out-loud, gutbustingly hilarious story in this book is Exhaustion from Having Sex With a Minor by Yahtzee Croshaw. Yes, that’s right, the author of the only other book I’ve reviewed. Piss off, I’m allowed to like what I like. I was reading this story to pass the time while my girlfriend’s family watched some Julia Roberts movie, and I had to resist the strong urge to burst out laughing. The man who pulls this fate and all the subsequent reveals–priceless.
FUNNIEST STORY (HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle division): HIV Infection from Machine of Death Needle. Before reading this book, I’d honestly wondered where a title like that could go. It goes exactly where it needs to. Right to your knee, in the form of your hand, slapping it. Gangster.
MOST UNEXPECTEDLY TOUCHING STORY: Cancer by David Malki ! is perhaps one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read. His examination of the family dynamic and its changes as a father dies is among the most beautiful and true fiction available for purchase. Read it.
MOST EXPECTEDLY TOUCHING STORY: After Many Years, Stops Breathing, While Asleep, with Smile on Face. You like romance, Johnny? This tale of modern love in a world where we know our ultimate fates just feels right.
Other awards being distributed whose stories I will not name: Story I just couldn’t get into, best concept marred by execution, oh great soldiers again, this guy should be in Dos Equis commercials award for badass raconteur, most frustratingly obtuse–the list goes on. None of these are the fault of the author–I stress again, I don’t read. And the fact is, Machine of Death is not only worth reading, it’s worth treasuring. This is the start of people from the internet being taken seriously. You know that the words internet and online are still seen as spelling errors by my internet browser? Machine of Death is a fantastic book, and you should buy it already. THREE AND A HALF STARS