Reading Response 1: The Machine Stops

The “Machine Stops” was a little hard to get into as it started in the middle of story but over time, the entire situation unfolded making it more understandable.  Earth was considered uninhabitable, a desolate wasteland almost akin to a desert, and people were forced to live underground with the help of technology called “The Machine.”  As the story goes on there are several signs that the Machine is not some ordinary appliance such as its capabilities, how people treat it, and how it treats the people.

The Machine first appears as a piece of technology with a multitude of capabilities.  It plays music for people, can move people across the room without forcing them to get up, and acts as a communication device for people.  But as the story progresses, it becomes more obvious that it’s not just a tool that makes people’s lives more convenient. It decides where people live, housing them in hexagonal rooms, creates artificial air and lighting for people, several things which aid people in living underground.  It might have seemed like a utopia to the people but it was clear that they were too dependent on this Machine. They practically became incompetent since the Machine took care of their every need. When the Machine began to fail, they didn’t know how to fix it, leading to the death of many.

Even before the re-establishment of religion was implemented into the story, there were indications that people already worshipped the Machine.  When the Book of the Machine was introduced and Vashti was on the airship, she clung to it tightly along with other passengers on board. The next sign was when the airship attendant stated “How we have advanced, thanks to the Machine”and their comment was quickly repeated by Vashti and another fellow passenger.  Even the quiet hum of the Machine was enough to comfort people in times of distress. People don’t treat their computer like a god but in this story, it was evident that the Machine was viewed like one. It wasn’t taken for granted, at least, not until the later half of the story after it started failing which roused complaints from the people.  Although people treated it like a sentient being, in the end it was just a machine, one that failed to function after being overused.

As for the Machine’s interaction with the people, it initially appears to be somewhat of a caretaker to the people but it’s also possible that it wasn’t so amicable.  It constantly catered to people’s needs, such as whipping out a bed for them when needed or raising a platform to pick up a dropped item. When one of the protagonists, Kuno, finds his way to the surface illegally, the Machine deploys a robot called The Mending Apparatus to go find and recapture him.  The Mending Apparatus even kills a woman that attempted to help Kuno. It began to look like the Machine actually cared little for human life and simply wished to keep people under its rule. Other signs are not allowing Kuno to adopt children because he’s athletic and rebellious, qualities which would cause a lot of trouble for the Machine.  People often mistreat machines in real life, so the idea of a machine wanting to keep humanity under its thumb isn’t too far fetched. The real reason it didn’t annihilate humankind is possibly because it knew that it needed someone to fix it, only to realize near the end, the knowledge of repairing technology was lost forever.

On a side note, while I was reading this, the whole concept reminded me of a movie that came out two years ago called 10 Cloverfield Lane, a science fiction psychological horror film.  It involves many of the same ideas that were found in this story, an Earth that’s considered dangerous on the surface, people being forced to live underground, and even an escape to the surface through a ventilation shaft.  The biggest difference is that 10 Cloverfield Lane’s Earth is uninhabitable because (Spoiler Alert) it got invaded by aliens that try to kidnap or kill humans on sight.

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