The machine stops by

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee
–E. M. Forster - The machine stops - c.1909

I came across mention of this story over on Metafilter and, while I have heard of Forster I’ve never read1 any of their works so I thought I’d give this a try.

It is set in a dystopian future, where everyone lives alone in a little room where everything is provided by the “machine” and you never need to go out. Press a button and you get what you want, interested in a lecture then simply watch it on a screen and likewise you can communicate with people. If it all sounds a little like a proto-internet complete with social media and zoom webinars, then imagine how fantastic it must have seemed when this work was written, back in 1909!

I’m not sure that I think technology is quite so negative as painted here by Forster, but it is an interesting read nevertheless. All these people giving lectures about things they have never seen or experienced and only know from other lectures and other people, a world where first-hand knowledge isn’t important, is in fact distrusted.

I was a little surprised that the main character was a woman, older science fiction doesn’t often have much interest in female characters, and that life for men and women in this future seemed the same, no overt sexism on display, which is always nice.


  1. I have seen adaptations, they were big when I was at school. Not of this, but certainly of A room with a view  

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2 Responses

  1. This sounds great. The only Forster I’ve read is A Room With a View. I read it after seeing the film for the first time and falling deeply in love with it, and I remember really enjoying the novel as well. Read it not long after I got married, so that had to have been maybe 30 years ago. I vividly remember reading it while working at an arcade in a downtown mall complex with an indoor ice rink back in Tulsa, OK. I also remember really wanting to read the book because the lines at the very end of the film didn’t quite make sense to me and I wanted to see how Forster wrote it.

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