Hello! I'm Tom. I designed a game called Gunpoint about rewiring things and punching people, I'm on a weekly gaming podcast called The Crate & Crowbar, I wrote these two short stories in the Machine of Death collections, and I used to write articles like these for PC Gamer. I'm now prototyping two new games, Heat Signature and one about grappling hooks.
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The book I’m reading just got putdownable, so I’ve finally dug into Machine of Death. I’d also been following the podcast, trying each entry to see if I like the reader’s voice, and saving it to read in the book if I don’t. What? That’s not weird. I’m overly fussy about reading voices.
My plan is to review every story in the book except my own. We’ve had lots of lovely reviews, but in a normal review you don’t analyse every story – most don’t even mention standouts. But short story collections are diverse, if they’re good, and for all I know ours is both. I don’t know any of the other authors personally, except for brief e-mail exchanges about the book, so it’s not hard to be objective. I will be more polite than I am in game reviews, though, since I can’t claim to be well-read or good at analysing literature.
A school girl frets about what social clique her prediction will put her in.
I have to admit I avoided this story at first, because the title made me think “Sigh, comedy death.” It’s not a comedy, and that prediction has almost nothing to do with it.
Instead, it’s an incredibly focused picture of what feels like a very thoroughly imagined version of the Machine of Death world, set long after any initial shock or uncertainty about the use of the machine. Everyone’s so settled into it that schoolkids define their hang-out groups and social status by their predicted deaths; violent ones the coolest.
Something rings very true about the ease with which kids accept the morbidity of death predictions, and get more excited about the possibilities than bogged down by the fatalism. The story’s payload, to me at least, is a situation where a girl is desperately hoping for the stickiest possible end, while her father longs for something dull and distant.
She does get her prediction, but the only failing of Marshmallow is that it isn’t immediately clear what it means. That ambiguity’s a useful tool in other stories, but here I’m just not totally sure if the words are referring to something I’m not familiar with. The characters understand it, and we understand it through them, but the scene could have had more punch if it was something we could immediately grasp the implications of, to both parties.
This feels like one of the most convincing worlds, though, and the voice of the narrator is authentically young and fun.
Machine of Death: a thing that appears to be good so far. It’s now $18 whether you buy it from Amazon or Topatoco, and I think Topatoco have faster international shipping. The whole book is free in PDF form, and is trickling out steadily as an audiobook in podcast form. My story for it is online here.
The_B: Both the audiobook version and the news you're reviewing every story are Awesome Things.
I just finished the book myself and quite enjoyed many of the stories, although I have to admit there were a few ones that I didn't quite like as well. Hopefully these might give me the inclination to go back to some of these sooner than I usually would.
The_B: (Also will you be adding your own story to the Audiobook version Tom?)
Tom Francis: It'll be included, though I didn't ask to read mine myself. Don't know who's doing it or when it'll be out. Fount of knowledge.
Bret: You're reviewing the whole book?
Something to look forward to. Huzzah.
Helvetica: Don't forget to mention the art. The pre-story art did influence some of the mood and feeling I had whilst reading the subsequent story.
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