I often have the same response to reading older science fiction: wow writers in the past were stupid/crazy. Obviously it is unfair to apply hindsight to a work as though content of the Twenty First Century and beyond are somehow intuitively obvious but I still find myself wanting to reach back through time, grab the author, and tell them "that's not how that works" with regards to several of the assumptions about humanity and society. I had the same response to Edward Bellamy's Looking Back which is so much more egregious in its presentation of it's future and our recent past.
So what in this story grates against my Twentieth First Century sensibilities? Well for starters everything created by the society of the machine is one size fits all. To quote the text: "for beds were of the same dimension all over the world, and to have had an alternative size would have involved vast alterations in the Machine." While I can understand irritation with the massive standardization occurring everywhere the author also would have seen new products showing up at a terrific rate. From what details I can glean from the story the machine society appears to be equal to or higher than us on the Kardashev scale so it's not an issue of resources. What forces shaped history such that the Machine would be built with no variety and no simple way of changing it to meet peoples needs. The same basic question can be asked about the cinematophote not showing faces in detail or transmitting voices faithfully. The assumption seems to be that people will think that good enough is good enough. I admit to ignorance on the finer points of the societal mindset of 1909 but in what world does the whole Planet just give up on progress? I'll tell you: Brave New World.
Huxley's story remains my favorite dystopia in it's presentation. Orwell's 1984 is a good source of paranoia fuel, Gibson's Neuromancer has a solid mix of 1980's trends extended into the future and fairly original technological development, and even Blindsight presents a post scarcity society where humans are becoming redundant in unprecedented numbers with the expected concerns; but A Brave New World sold me on its setting because it took the time to explain itself near the end. The elites decided that sustainability was preferable to extinction even if most of the value had to be drained from life in the process and they went about creating a stable society with just that at it's core. The logic is twisted but not hard to follow and it even includes an out for anybody that didn't like the society.
The machine stops has none of that. Most of the people go from cradle to grave in the embrace of their all powerful machine and this is apparently by design. Any dissenters from this system were apparently ineffectual in carving out a niche for themselves and the machine appears to fail in a fairly short span of time implying it's deeply interconnected and not very redundant. I could very well have missed some crucial plot point but the machine seems like more of a plot device than anything that the modern world would produce. I'm technically gifted or at least capable. I've fixed clothes dryers, weed eaters, lawn mowers, and more. My family includes network administrators and a nuclear plant technician. In short I have the knack, at least a bit. This story grates against that part of me. It feels like a weird, poorly thought out straw man of technology and society where the Machine just sort replaces these complex and dynamic supply and demand chains that undergird the industrialized world both then and now. I'd be okay with that if it didn't feel like a huge Diabolus ex Machina.
IRON NODER X: XTREME XCELLENCE