The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A saddening and melancholic tale of a all-too-possible dystopian future, of a world where all life is lived underground, below the surface of the Earth; where human contact is mostly confined to forms of video and audio communication; and where parents’ role in child-rearing ends at the moment of birth. Children are raised in “public nurseries” and later assigned living quarters, anywhere in the globe (as long as it’s underground). The protagonist, Vashti-whom I hesitate to call “protagonist” because she is a woman far more acted-upon than acting or self-reliant-lives in one room, closed off, with many acquaintances and friends with whom she only communicates by the aforesaid audio and visual modes. She gives lectures-but she doesn’t travel-she sees no one. When her son who lives beneath the Northern Hemisphere asks her to travel to visit him, she-living under the Southern Hemisphere-is distraught.
This is a future where the Machine rules all-everything is taken for granted: climate, comfort, literature, sleep, medicine-as the Machine is in charge of it all. I am reminded of psychological studies of rats and monkeys in isolation, for even though there is communication here, it is at several removes; and as Vashti demonstrates, even the idea of leaving her room (womb), of travelling, of speaking and being spoken to, seems monstrous.
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