Review: This is How You Die – Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death

‘Is there anything you want to do before we put our heads in plastic boxes for two days?’
I thought about this for a second, then held the side of her face and kissed her.
We both zipped up our suits just in time to see the reactor blow: a column of green radioactive fire, belching black smoke. Di squeezed my hand, our big boxy heads knocked clumsily together, and I tried to think of something romantic to say.
‘Well, I guess that’s why they all die of cancer.’
~Tom Francis, This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death

Plot summary

“If a machine could predict how you would die, would you want to know? This is the tantalizing premise of This Is How You Die, the brilliant follow-up anthology to the self-published best seller, Machine of Death.

The machines started popping up around the world. The offer was tempting: With a simple blood test, anyone could know how they would die. But the machines didn’t give dates or specific circumstances – just a single word or phrase.

DROWNED, CANCER, OLD AGE, CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN. And though the predictions were always accurate, they were also often frustratingly vague. OLD AGE, it turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or being shot by an elderly, bedridden man in a botched home invasion. The machines held on to 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.

This addictive anthology – sinister, witty, existential, and fascinating – collects the best of the thousands of story submissions the editors received in the wake of the success of the first volume, and exceeds the first in every way.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Travelling towards death
  • Pre-determined death
  • Why do people accept how they die?

The death anthology This is How You Die – Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death is a hilarious but naturally gloomy tale of different predictions on one’s death. It captures moments of ironic coincidences as well as the example of OLD AGE above suggests. I enjoyed most of the stories although I had a hard time with the ultimate premise that the machine of death is always right.

This basically got me thinking. Would there not be an easy way to influence one’s death or other people’s deaths? Public knowledge of the way of death would put the person in jeopardy, so the knowledge has significant bargaining value. It would be easy to cause somebody else’s death according to the death slip. So the information received from the slip could cause great havoc.

Cigarette. Photo: Pixabay
One way to go, right? Photo: Pixabay

I loved the fact that the stories in the book consisted of so many genres. In the first half, many of the stories were rather naive, so I think they improved towards the end. There were stories in the science fiction and fantasy categories as well. Once zombies entered the setting, I was laughing out loud. One of my favorites is the very last longer story, Furnace by Erika Hammerschmidt, picturing a world in the far future. In the storyline, archeologists find an ancient device, a machine of death, but their interpretation on how to use the machine is interesting.

I highly recommend the audiobook version. Have fun and enjoy the deathly bumpy ride 🙂

“’Well,’ Lydia said, ‘I guess Armageddon’s back on.’
Eliot fought back a grin.
‘You’re smiling?’, Lydia said. She looked at her car and at their house and down the empty street. ‘That’s totally inappropriate.’”
~D.L.E. Roger, This is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death

More information
– This Is How You Die, Trailer for the book (hilarious scenes), link retrieved on 6 July 2017

“Mort isn’t my name, of course – I was creative director of mortality, and Dr. Jeth had us all go by titles.”
~Tom Francis, Lazarus Reactor Fission Sequence


Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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