The Machine Stops

The Machine Stops

E.M. Forster isn’t particularly known for his connections with Science Fiction. Instead, he’s better remembered for his novels such as ‘A Room with a View‘ and his lectures on creative writing and literary theory in ‘Aspects of the Novel‘. However, his 1901 short story ‘The Machine Stops‘ [1909] shouldn’t be overlooked.
From the 1966 BBC TV adaptation
Forster describes a dystopia where humanity has lost the ability to live on the surface of Earth, and have formed an underground network organised and sustained by ‘The Machine’. More than just a computer, the machine is relied on by everyone for survival and communication. Humanity has become entirely dependent on it and through their own inertia they have enslaved themselves. They rarely leave their ‘cells’, tiny bare rooms through which they communicate with other people and the machine, and a cult of worshipping the machine has developed through the generations. This cult is founded on little fact; there are rumours of the dangers of the world outside, but no one has been on the Earth’s surface for centuries. Ideas of the surface seem terrifying, and any knowledge prior to the time of the machine has been passed into legend. It is ignorance as restraint that keeps humanity from overthrowing ‘The Machine’.
 
Despite the myth perpetuated by creators of ‘The Machine’, the system is fallible and on the brink of collapse. Unmanned, and lacking in improvements or upgrades, the machine soon fails. It is this crisis that prompts the population to act, purely out of necessity. The story follows the protagonist Kuno, and his mother Vashti, as the former attempts to make his way to the surface and discover the truth about life outside the mechanism.
Forster is concise in his descriptions of this bleak and gloomy underground world. His prose is sparse and his dialogue for utility purposes, but despite this he succeeds in creating an atmosphere of foreboding and the enigmatic. Forster’s story is concerned with creating a plausible realism and the effect on the collective, rather than the emotional journey of the individual. The succinct narrative is both plausible and daunting, keeping the reader distant but close enough to watch humanity attempt to figure out the machine’s secrets.
The Freise Brothers have produced a short film to promote their potential up and coming new full-length adaptation of the short story.

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