This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death
Edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki
Cover Artist: Hachette Book Group
Review by Benjamin Wald
Grand Central Publishing Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781455529391
Date: 16 July 2013
List Price $18.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
This is How You Die is an anthology of short stories all based around a single premise. The stories all start with the assumption that a machine has been invented that, when given a simple blood sample, will predict exactly how someone will die. The prediction can be straightforward, like heart attack, or infuriatingly vague, like hubris, but it always comes true. This anthology is a follow up to a previous anthology, The Machine of Death, that explored the same premise. The first anthology mostly explored the effects of the machine on ordinary people in contemporary settings, but this anthology widens the scope and explores what might happen if the machine of death were transplanted into the past, or discovered by our far future descendants, or even built by dwarves in a fantasy setting.
One of my favorite things about this anthology is the way that so many of the stories managed to come up with applications people would find for the machine of death that are non-obvious, but would clearly happen. For example, of course there would be companies that specialized in analyzing people's death predictions. Of course the military would want to recruit people with deaths like colon cancer for special ops missions. Of course people's deaths would be used to try to track the path of future epidemics. There are many such clever ideas in these stories, and it adds a lot of verisimilitude to the admittedly far-fetched premise.
The authors in this anthology explore a range of themes and ideas. Some stories explore the effects of specific deaths on the person who receives them, others explore the social or societal effects of a world in which people all know their deaths. Despite the seemingly morbid premise, most of the stories are profoundly hopeful, and while a few stories are on the dark side, this is far from a depressing anthology.
The big question, of course, is how this anthology stacks up to the first one. I would say that, while both are strong, the first is superior. The first anthology, just by virtue of coming first, covered a lot of the most resonant and interesting terrain on the issue. This anthology does an excellent job of not being repetitive, but this leaves it exploring slightly less promising directions at times.
Overall, I would say that this anthology is a great read for people who enjoyed the first anthology and were left wanting more. For newcomers to the series, however, a better bet would be to pick up a copy of Machine of Death, which I highly recommend, and give it a look. If that leaves you wanting more, then This is How You Die will satisfy that craving.
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