So, last night at a talent show organized by David Malki !, featuring the works of Machine of Death fans around the world, Malki ! dropped the bomb. He revealed, at the end of the show, that there will be a second volume of Machine of Death and that it too will feature submissions from the public–all new material he’s asking us to submit between May 15th and July 31st. For those of you who are unfamiliar, either read my review or the rest of this paragraph. Machine of Death is a speculative fiction anthology about a machine that can tell you with infallible accuracy how you will die. However, in addition to being 100% accurate every time you get tested–and getting the same result, no matter which machine you go to–it can also be maddeningly vague or ironic with your death. A man who gets OLD AGE may die in his eighties or may be struck down by a car driven by a senior citizen. And the thing that David Malki !, Ryan Q. North and Matthew Bennardo are asking us to do is give them stories set in a universe where this device exists. That’s all we gotta do. They’ve also given us a bullet point list of stories not to write and said that we can submit a maximum of three stories. So here are the three ideas I have for mine.
Number one, and likely the best: “THAT GUY”
I’ve had a few fascinations in my life, but the primary one for wanting to write stories is language. And that’s where the inspiration for this story comes from: the phrase “don’t be that guy”. It assumes so many things–we all know that guy, we all know everything there is to know about that guy and none of us would like to be that guy–so what if that guy was the person who was going to kill you? Scott is a normal guy whose death prediction reads “THAT GUY” (quotation marks included) and, seeing how incredibly and amazingly vague that prediction is, he doesn’t worry about it. It’s on his driver’s license, along with his organs to be donated, but he doesn’t look at it or pay it any mind. Steve is the kind of guy to insist on his normality. His card reads SUCCESS. And his card, the fate of his life, has hung over his head every day of his life from the day he got tested to the present day. The story opens with both Scott and Steve in the same year in college.
Over the course of the school year, Scott and Steve become the best of friends, despite only a few of Scott’s friends ever warming to Steve. I know how it’s going to end, but I don’t feel like spoiling it for everyone if it gets picked. Let’s just say that if I write it and submit it, it will likely explore themes of friendship, secrets, and the dangers of non-mutual knowledge. See, that first thing is another one of my fascinations as a writer: the friendship between two people. Not all love has to be romantic, you see, and friends are some of the most beautiful relationships I’ve seen written into various media. But still, there are never nearly enough stories of friendship-as-worth-dying-for, and Machine of Death provides a rather unique context to write that in. Friendships like Alan Shore and Denny Crane. If you ever want to know what it means to be friends as men, look no further than those men. Or Kirk, Spock and McCoy if you don’t think they’re gay.
Number two, and likely the funniest: [whatever ridiculous death prediction I can come up with]
There are a number of things that fascinate me as a writer and as a human being, and another one on this list you’re only hearing more and more of tonight, is the gossip pages of magazines. I’ve never been quite sure what the appeal is in reading about the downfall of celebrities, as I said yesterday in my post “Michael Jackson.” However, just as I was pondering that today, I thought “What if we knew how all of them were inevitably going to fall, but were just waiting to see it happen?” And this, the idea for [wrdpIccuw] popped into my head: the gossip pages from magazines in a world where everyone is not only able to find out how they die, but is expected to find out at sixteen years old. Would there be equivalent (and equivalently meaningless) controversy over the President’s hesitation to provide his death certificate? What would it mean to watch Jersey Shore and know that Snooki dies of a concussion, only to then see her punched in the face?
The real meat of this would be the application of gossip columnist snark and sarcasm to even the most sacred and private of moments: your death. You think Perez Hilton would let up for even a tiny second if he knew that Lindsay Lohan died of OVERDOSE? He’d never for a moment suspect it was an accidental overdose of painkillers while she’s laid up with cancer in her sixties, no. He’d just make fun of her for being a cokehead at all times. Exploring that voice: it would totally be fun.
Number three, and the least defined: [Machine of Death–HIGH FANTASY]
This was inspired by an offhand comment the editors made in their “Tips for writing a better MoD story” piece. They said it can be set whenever we want and however we want. And I know that while I hate high fantasy, I love concepts that shouldn’t be in a high fantasy setting being put into high fantasy with brute force until they fit. For instance: high fantasy and marijuana. High fantasy and swearing. High fantasy–and speculative fiction devices modified to run purely on magic.
Overall, I literally have no idea what that story would even be about. But I have a setting, and honestly, that’s good enough to go on for the moment.