The Machine Stops is a tale of a far future Earth in which humanity has retreated underground to live in The Machine, which provides every comfort and has eliminated class. No one works. No one struggles. The Machine provides everything and people are free to “have ideas.” They read books. They listen to music. They listen to lectures. They live in isolation. They never touch, or even inhabit the same space. All communication is through The Machine. But what happens to a humanity dependent on The Machine when The Machine breaks down?
This compact tale for me evoked themes from Brave New World, The Matrix and some of Ballard’s science fiction short stories, about the downsides of becoming dependent on technology, of becoming too much creatures of leisure, of allowing technology to fragment and disconnect us from one another. But Forster was writing all of this in 1909. That simple fact kind of blows my mind, because there’s so much in this story that can stand as allegory for life a century later. The man had vision.