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Old 01-16-2010, 11:40 AM   #1
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Discussion: The Machine Stops by E. M. Forster (spoilers)

Let's get this party started. I haven't read it yet... but I know it was a short read and many have. I thought it would be good to start this a bit early so people could post their thoughts and start the discussion before they forgot what they wanted to say.

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Old 01-16-2010, 11:47 AM   #2
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For those who wish to discuss this story, please see this website for possible ideas for developmental discussion (although this site really doesn't cover specifically the work under discussion, but rather other aspects of Forster's writings).

http://www.literaryhistory.com/20thC/Forster.htm

Forster studies concentrates on such aspects as emperialism and colonialism; historigraphy; polyphonic aspects of storytelling, in addition to gender issues, to name only a few. (I'm particularly fascinated by rhetor Kenneth Burke's dramatistic pentad for excavating motive through action and discourse.)

Additionally, there was a TV adaptation of this novelette [it is not a short story] here:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060643/

which may be available for purchase somewhere in your area.

Further discussion can be gleaned from here

http://www.britannica.com/blogs/2008...pixars-wall-e/

wherein the author attempts a comparison/contrast on the Pixar film WALL-E.

And finally, a FREE AUDIO BOOK is available from

http://librivox.org/the-machine-stops-by-e-m-forster/

I have not listened to this and can offer no comments as to the audio quality of the production or to the interpretive stanch of the narrator(s).

Hopefully, this information will help jump-start meaningful discussion, to include (as merely one example) a study of Forster's homosexuality and how he might view the technology and ethos of the future.

Happy reading, y'all ! I'll join everyone when we start discussion on Stephen King's "Under the Dome."

(Me - I'm back to whipping Zombies and torturing dead cats - and I certainly have my work cut out for me! ACKKKK!!!! )




Don

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Old 01-16-2010, 12:15 PM   #3
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... Additionally, there was a TV adaptation of this novelette [it is not a short story] here:

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060643/

which may be available for purchase somewhere in your area. ...
That show can be view free in it's 50 minute 37 second entirety here:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...ient=firefox-a

It is an excellent and very literal adaptation of the novelette. There are some minor changes to allow for story-telling in a TV medium, but the dialogue is practically word-for-word.
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Old 01-16-2010, 12:33 PM   #4
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There is another adaptation of The Machine Stops here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRIlegVJIoQ

Don't confuse this one with the excellent Out of the Unknown production. This one is stylish and beautiful to look at, but the story cannot be properly told in 9 minutes and 34 seconds, and the result is that much of the story is sacrificed for style. A prison is introduced, as well as some dialogue about the Machine crying. Neither of those elements were in the novelette.
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Old 01-16-2010, 12:40 PM   #5
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Okay, so I guess I was not totally impressed by the story, but I think that is because I've read so many like this, but, but, but, when I consider the date it was written and find that it still holds up pretty well I'm very impressed.

I guess it's the typical advance technology (for whatever reason) until you rely on it completely and then when it fails civilization is doomed -- a casualty of it's own progress.

Here are a couple discussion/analysis links I posted in the voting thread.



http://wiki.english.ucsb.edu/index.p...tions#See_Also
and
http://www.pkwy.k12.mo.us/west/teach...ng/machine.pdf

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Old 01-16-2010, 12:49 PM   #6
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I thought parts of it were absolutely prophetic. He really nailed it when he spoke of how globalization has led to homogenization.

"Rapid intercourse, from which the previous civilization had hoped so much, had ended by defeating itself. What was the good of going to Peking when it was just like Shrewsbury? Why return to Shrewsbury when it would all be like Peking? Men seldom moved their bodies; all unrest was concentrated in the soul."

Remember; there were no McDonald's in 1909!
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Old 01-16-2010, 02:22 PM   #7
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That show can be view free in it's 50 minute 37 second entirety here:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?do...ient=firefox-a
Wonderful find WT!!

I agree that 'The Machine Stops' is extraordinarily prophetic. The impact of globalisation has already been mentioned; but also the aversion to risk taking - here in the UK reference is often made to our 'nanny state', and the burgeoning Health & Safety industry that some people see as being overly protective.

I was also struck how much closer we are to the world the story depicts in terms of global communications (e.g. MobileRead forums ); and the way we often choose vicarious over direct experiences.

In the voting thread, Ea mentioned that Forster said his story was a reaction to Wells' 'heavens' - it's interesting to note the way Forster's troglodytes and surface dwellers differ to those in Wells' 'The Time Machine'.

For such a short work, 'The Machine Stops' is stuffed with thought provoking concepts!
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Old 01-16-2010, 05:42 PM   #8
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Wonderful find WT!! ...
You're welcome, Sparrow, but I can't claim the credit. Another MobileRead member posted it in another forum first, and that's where I got it.
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Old 01-17-2010, 07:32 AM   #9
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Haven't yet made up my mind to form an opinion yet, except it was interesting to see a decription of the Internet. I last read this about 14-15 years ago, a few years before I properly started to use the Internet. It's interesting how much my perception of the story has because my environment has changed. And perhaps my English has gotten better in the mean time

I have two questions:

- Why do you think the star constellation Kuno describes to to Vashti is that of Orion? (i.e. why this exact constellation?)

- Do you have any idea of the intention behind choosing the name 'Vashti' for the protagonist? If there is one - or Forster just wanted two names from different cultures.
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Old 01-17-2010, 07:38 AM   #10
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I forgot... I loved the irony in the story. I think it's one of the things that keeps it sounding fresh even 100 years later.
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Old 01-17-2010, 08:03 AM   #11
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Why do you think the star constellation Kuno describes to to Vashti is that of Orion? (i.e. why this exact constellation?)
Maybe making a connection between Orion the Hunter and Kuno's quest for knowledge.

Other constellations would have lacked symbolism, and most readers wouldn't have recognised them just from a description of the stars - Orion is the most widely known, and easily recognised constellation seen from Britain.

I found it a stretch to believe that Kuno would have so accurately duplicated the Greeks' representation of the stars as that of a man with a sword. I can't decide if Forster was hinting at some sort of race-memory, and that it was this that may have spurred Kuno into questioning the Machine in the first place.
Also it seems the constellations weren't unknown to the inhabitants of the Machine, when Kuno is on the surface he seems to have quite detailed astronomical knowledge:
"The sun grew very feeble, and I remembered that he was in Scorpio - I had been to a lecture on that too. If the sun is in Scorpio, and you are in Wessex, it means that you must be as quick as you can, or it will get too dark."
But maybe they just have a knowledge of the star patterns and not the mythological stories behind them. It's a puzzle.
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Old 01-17-2010, 08:17 AM   #12
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Sparrow, I don't think the situation is of "lost" knowledge, it is all there history wise, images of the surface, knowledge of what went before, but more a choice or willingness to "go along" with a virtual environment where all needs are met by the machine. A willingness to experience reality virtually and an aversion to actual direct experience.

The thing that intrigued me most (I think) about the story was the "search" for ideas on the part of Vashti and others including Kuno. I just re-read this section where he really sets up the tone and conflict that is behind the story (this just precedes the Orion description:

The air-ship barely takes two days to fly between me and you
I dislike air-ships.
Why?
I dislike seeing the horrible brown earth, and the sea, and the stars when it gets dark.
I get no ideas in an air-ship.
I do not get them anywhere else.
What kind of ideas can the air give you?
He paused for an instant. ...
(description of orion).
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Old 01-17-2010, 08:25 AM   #13
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If you had to sum up the story in a few words or one sentence what would it be?
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Old 01-17-2010, 08:35 AM   #14
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The thing that intrigued me most (I think) about the story was the "search" for ideas on the part of Vashti and others including Kuno.
Does their society originate ideas; or are they just chewing the cud of ideas that have been handed down to them?
New ideas come from direct experiences, but they deliberately avoid them:
'Beware of first-hand ideas!' exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. 'First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by life and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation...

But, regarding Orion, I would have thought the representation of the stars as a hunter would have been known; so it puzzled me to read:
The three stars in the middle are like the belts that men wore once, and the three stars hanging are like a sword.'
'A sword?'
'Men carried swords about with them, to kill animals and other men.'
'It does not strike me as a very good idea, but it is certainly original...


It seemed to me that maybe knowledge was decaying; and parts of it had been lost entirely. (E.g. no-one had a full understanding of the Machine any more.)
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Old 01-17-2010, 08:44 AM   #15
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Does their society originate ideas; or are they just chewing the cud of ideas that have been handed down to them?
New ideas come from direct experiences, but they deliberately avoid them:
'Beware of first-hand ideas!' exclaimed one of the most advanced of them. 'First-hand ideas do not really exist. They are but the physical impressions produced by life and fear, and on this gross foundation who could erect a philosophy? Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element - direct observation...

But, regarding Orion, I would have thought the representation of the stars as a hunter would have been known; so it puzzled me to read:
The three stars in the middle are like the belts that men wore once, and the three stars hanging are like a sword.'
'A sword?'
'Men carried swords about with them, to kill animals and other men.'
'It does not strike me as a very good idea, but it is certainly original...


It seemed to me that maybe knowledge was decaying; and parts of it had been lost entirely. (E.g. no-one had a full understanding of the Machine any more.)
Yes, you are right, the way it is described and presented that is exactly what is being conveyed by Forster I think! Great point.
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