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The Machine Stops

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Author: E.M. Forster
Published: 1909
Language: English
Wordcount: 12,173 / 35 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 67.9
LoC Category: PR
Downloads: 47,429
Added to site: 2007.06.03 17173

The Machine Stops is a short science fiction story. It describes a world in which almost all humans have lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual lives in isolation in a 'cell', with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine. Most humans welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of first-hand experience. People forget that humans created the Machine, and treat it as a mystical entity whose needs supersede their own. Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed as 'unmechanical' and are threatened with "Homelessness". Eventually, the Machine apocalyptically collapses, and the civilization of the Machine comes to an end. --Wikipedia

Show Excerpt

Inside, her anxiety increased. The arrangements were old-fashioned and rough. There was even a female attendant, to whom she would have to announce her wants during the voyage. Of course a revolving platform ran the length of the boat, but she was expected to walk from it to her cabin. Some cabins were better than others, and she did not get the best. She thought the attendant had been unfair, and spasms of rage shook her. The glass valves had closed, she could not go back. She saw, at the end of the vestibule, the lift in which she had ascended going quietly up and down, empty. Beneath those corridors of shining tiles were rooms, tier below tier, reaching far into the earth, and in each room there sat a human being, eating, or sleeping, or producing ideas. And buried deep in the hive was her own room. Vashti was afraid.

"O Machine!" she murmured, and caressed her Book, and was comforted.

Then the sides of the vestibule seemed to melt together, as do the passages that we see in dreams, the l

Reader Reviews

Average Rating of 4.4 from 26 reviews: *****
Tim chapman

An interesting read very prophetic seeing it was written in 1909.A good compliment to the book is the concept album The Machine Stops by Hawkwind.

JoJo Biggins

I'm not as thrilled with the story as other readers. It's not bad - just too cerebral for me, and I dislike dreary endings.

This dystopian tale reveals a time when Man is totally dependent on Machine - and Machine fails. Predictable at a high level, but interesting tid-bits along the way.

E Walker

Read this book in the 1960\'s. No high tech then. It is not about machinery. The machine is just the vestal the writer uses to get across his excellent point.

This story is about believing what you are told and not looking for the truth. It is often attached to for your own good. People could live above ground. It fits today\'s America and giving up so much to the control of a few for our own good. We also see this theme in the book the Color Purple. The one sister accepted her fate when she could have lived all along in the house owned by her father. She never questioned what she was told. She accepted for her own good.

Jane Ainslie

This tale has haunted me from the day I taught it to a student being home tutored in the 1980's. A chilling illustration of McLuhan's claim that "artists are the antennae of the future." In 1909 Forster was an oracle for the age of social media.

Andrew Ives

Very thought-provoking for such a short story and highly-prophetic too, given the era in which it was written. I found the first chapter particularly clever and atmospheric.

The Kindle version I read was downloaded from ManyBooks, somehow 'Americanized' and contained at least 25 typos where the OCR had messed up. Ironically, I couldn't help thinking it was 'like a book but not quite a book' but instead just "good enough." 4/5

Paulo Respighi

Forster's hundred year old predictions have largely come true. People are isolated from each other and communicate through screens, the world is despoiled, power supplies are centralized, watching reality is preferable to experiencing it, and everything filters through technology.

A well-written and convincing story, though the ending will probably never come to pass.

Jack Smithson

Read this in college and loved it. I was going to the computer lab at 2am to run my stack of computer cards* so I would only wait in a line of a hundred students vs a thousand. Did I put 2 and 2 together? No. That's why I have yet to win a Nobel prize.
* computer cards: letter-sized post cards with holes punched in them - the holes allowed a pattern to be read by the computer, which sat in the basement, the entire basement).

Jack Smithson

Read this in college and loved it. I was going to the computer lab at 2am to run my stack of computer cards* so I would only wait in a line of a hundred students vs a thousand. Did I put 2 and 2 together? No. That\\\'s why I have yet to win a Nobel prize.
* computer cards: letter-sized post cards with holes punched in them - the holes allowed a pattern to be read by the computer, which sat in the basement, the entire basement).


As this short story begins it seems more pertinant to us now than it could ever have been before. It fortells the computer age astonishingly accurately.

The story beyond that is interesting and certainly atmospheric. A decent read while you have your lunch.


As the previous reviewers have said, it's a spooky story which is very relevant and very true today. It's hard to comprehend that it was written so long ago, before the internet and social media of today. I really enjoyed it. While there were similarieties to Anthem (Ayn Rand), I found it more realistic even in its strangeness. What would we do if the internet went down, how would we survive now we have become so dependant upon it? Highly recommended!!


Wow. Excellent prediction by Forster and it is unbelievable that he was able to see this decadence in human social development, even in 1909.

Well. We have almost reached that stage. Mom talking to kids far away through facebook and skype is a reality. People do not have time to see friends and they prefer talking to them through social media. We no longer move out most of the time. Soon we will all be 'lumps of flesh' in hexagonal cubicles.

Humans. Wake up from this disastrous nightmare. Fight net addiction. Let us all meet real people in real time in the good old fasioned way.


This story was quite unnerving. I can see elements of this happening already in our society. Interestingly enough there was a Star Trek episode that had parallels to this story.

Although I had to read this story three or four times to fully appreciate it's implications, it is a story we must all take to heart.


This short story, without a doubt, is worth a 5 star rating! Written in in the early 20th century, it is hauntingly prophetic of today's times, and for that reason leaves the reader with quite a chill! Download it now.


Required reading in Eng Lit class in high school in 1956. It made such an impression on me and I think of it often when I think of our dependence on computers in this age of technology. We are losing our ability to have alternatives when one system breaks down. Should be required reading for ALL high school students!!


Shades of Ayn Rand, from 1909.

Trevor Mitchell

Our English teacher provided this book for our class in the 60\'s and we spent some time discussing the issues raised. Not required reading at the time but it should have been. It may not have wonderful prose or structure, but it provides an insight to the concerns of the possible consequense of the pace of change the Edwardians had just begun to guess at before WW1.

Allen Anderson

Considering that this story was written in 1909, it's amazingly prophetic. I can see us getting to this point. Good story, easy reading. I recommend.


A fantastic story. Its hard to believe back in 1909 that the author predicted an internet of sorts. Pity this was never made into a film like Metropolis was.


It's a good story


I can't fault the story, it's a favourite!
The typos in this downloaded version however are an unpleasant distraction!


This is a great story! It feels eerily close to how a lot of people live their lives right now, as other people have commented. It's impossible to read it without thinking of the current generation busily clicking thumbs up or down on each others opinions on youtube while quoting bits of wikipedia to each other. Frightening stuff!


Worth reading. Short but creative one!
It gives some food for thoughts.
I like it.


I downloaded this out of curiosity - having read a lot of Foster in the past - and was not disappointed, surprising though the piece is.

Completely avoiding the themes of class-difference and English societal hypocrisy which feature in his later works, this is a startlingly prescient short story written in Foster's characteristically tidy manner. The basic themes of the novel are exactly as would be expected - humanity, faith, morality - but the the narrative unlike anything else he wrote.

Set in some undated future, man has created a "machine for living" which gradually allows humans to withdraw from all but the most moderated society. Then the machine goes wrong...

An excellent read, whether you like Foster or Science-Fiction, neither or both!

Mike S

Frightening! Here I sit, in front of my computer, in an air conditioned environment, communicating with friends I have never & will never see, via Skype. I order my groceries online & they are delivered to my home. I shop online for the sake of convenience. A few days ago my Internet connection went down & I was distraught! God help us all!

Shelby Davis

Sounds at first to be dated at best or clumsy and naively egocentric at worst--but is neither. What it lacks in the prosaic beauty and felicity so apparent in Forster's novels it more than makes up for with an insight that rivals that found in the best of H.G. Well's short fiction.

Charles Cosimano

When I first read this story back in 1966 it was unpleasant, but just too damned weird to take seriously. Fast-forward 41 years and surprise--it's coming true! I have friends that I have never seen and I even give short lectures on youtube!

People talk by interphone and webcam.

It will make your hair stand on end, no question about it.



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