Thommy Ford Reads

A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library

Free eBook Review: “The Machine Stops” by E.M. Forster

Looking for some free books to fill your eReader? You may already know that there are plenty of classics available as free downloadable eBooks, but if you explore enough you’ll find some free titles you might not expect: forgotten bestsellers, early genre classics, pulp fiction and more. Here’s a free title that has caught my attention lately, with links to the download below.

OOTU Machine stops original article promo

A still from the 1966 BBC Television production of “The Machine Stops” which you can catch over on YouTube if you are so inclined.

E.M. Forster’s 1909 short story “The Machine Stops” is considered one of the great classics of early science fiction, and I’ve been ignoring this fact for years. Having loved Howard’s End and A Passage to India (and to a slightly lesser degree his shorter works like Where Angels Fear to Tread and Room with a View), I’ve never been able to reconcile myself with the idea that the author of those books could also write decent genre fiction.

Well, this past weekend I finally forced myself to read “The Machine Stops” after catching yet another reference to its classicness. Maybe I was just on my guard, but the first few lines gave me the distinct feeling that I was reading the work of a third rate H.G. Wells.

I was wrong though. While Forster’s world building does seem a tad heavy-handed at first, it quickly begins to fascinate. It’s bold, and certainly prescient for 1909. You see, Vashti is living in a future where the surface air is not breathable. She lives by herself in an underground cell, as do all other humans. Interaction is limited to a sort of video communication, and all aspects of life, from reproduction to death, are regulated by a universal computer system simply called the Machine. The plot really kicks off when Vashti receives a video-call from her son, Kuno, who requests to see her in person. It’s a face to face encounter that has never happened before, not even at Kuno’s birth.

The triumph of the story is that it’s neither a heart-warming tale of mother and son, nor a depressing dystopian vision of a hopeless future. The interaction between Vashti and Kuno feels surprisingly real—the mother who views personal contact and interest in the earth as sacrilege vs. the romantic minded son trying to rebel. Likewise, the apocalyptic vision that Forster works toward doesn’t seem forced at all, and offers us a sliver of hope. There’s even a bit of humor and some action mixed into the story too.

So yeah, it was pretty foolish of me to think that the author of A Passage to India couldn’t write whatever he wanted and make it powerful, compelling stuff. Recommended for everyone, especially those with an interest in the roots of SF.

Available for Kindle, Nook, iPad and more from

Review by Matthew

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This entry was posted on November 22, 2013 by in Book Review, eBook, Fiction, Free eBook Reviews, Science Fiction.
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