ALMOND Review

A Machine of Death story by John Chernega

A lab assistant charged with one of the first machines of death refuses to test himself, while everyone around him succumbs.

Pure pleasure to read – or in my case, listen to. It’s the longest story so far, but every time reader Kevin McShane (who sounds excitingly like Peter from Fringe) pauses for more than a second, you’re hoping it’s not going to end.

The whole story is a log, that rapidly devolves into a journal, written in a friendly and clear-headed style. The watch-word of this collection has been ‘refreshing’, and what’s refreshing about Chernega’s protagonist is his almost complete lack of curiosity. He’s curious about other people’s predictions, but he’s one of the few characters in the book so far not even tempted by the prospect.

His diary charts the escalating public reaction to the machines, covering some of the same territory as my own, and I’m honoured they didn’t just scrap mine when they read this. ALMOND plays much more with the machine’s enjoyably sinister ambiguity – when it starts giving more than a few people GOVERNMENT, you know something interesting’s about to go down.

Some predictions are clever enigmas that are unraveled during the story, others are unexplained and seemingly unexplainable, and others seem to be openly fucking with you. That’s important, because the tension the story builds hinges on the narrator inferring a personality to the machine – one that becomes increasingly infuriating to him.

It has a punch, but doesn’t conform to the usual twist-story structure: the set up is almost immediately before the payoff, which prevents it from risking anticlimax. The voice, humour and escalating intrigue don’t need a giant question mark hanging over them to keep the story compelling throughout.

Machine of Death: a book 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.

10 Replies to “ALMOND Review”

  1. “The voice, humour and escalating intrigue don’t need a giant question mark hanging over them to keep the story compelling throughout.”

    Yes, this.

    One of my favourite stories in the book (I’m only half way). It had an end that I had imagined at least one of the stories would have. Even still, I didn’t see it coming. :)

  2. Yes, so far this is the one I keep coming back to as one of my favourites. I’m glad the ending was a simple as it turned out as well, because anything more unusual wouldn’t have fit.

  3. This one is certainly the best I’ve listened to so far and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting it. I really like the way it handled the rising tensions and leaving the listen/reader to fill out the gaps between entries (much like a real journal, if you’ve read your own or someone else’s).

    The ‘Government’ bit was excellent, I’m glad that at least one of the stories has done this (others might have, I’ve only listened to the ones on podcast so far, despite the book sitting on my desk I’m almost unwilling to read it. Bit like the machine of death and its predictions).

  4. About two-thirds of the way through MoD, I wondered if I was going to see a serial killer who used the end sting of this as his gimmick/fetish. I’m a little surprised I didn’t, but I have no doubt there were a dozen among the submitted stories.

  5. It does, now that I think about it.

    Which is fun. Always enjoy being a bit late to the end of the world.

  6. One of the best ones I’ve listened to so far, it was really well read. Brilliantly dark, too, especially with the final moments.

  7. Please forgive this completely unrelated query, but I was wondering if you ever planned on reviewing the DLC for Mass Effect 2 like you did with TF2’s content. I’m really interested to hear your opinion on it.

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