Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Few of my Favorite Things: Collections of Short Stories

This is a stupid category. There, I said it. A “Collection of Short Stories” isn’t a real thing, any more than a treehouse is a real thing (Go ahead. Provide me with photographic evidence of a genuine house in someone’s tree. You can’t). However, it is the best way I could think of to describe “Machine of Death” without using words like “anthology”, and MENSA suspects me of breaking into their fancy-word vault enough as it is. For the sake of brevity, I will from now on be referring to “Machine of Death” as a book, because it is indeed possible to purchase it in that medium. For those of you who have forgotten what a book is, or are too young to remember the days of yore, it’s kind of like a sandwich with words. So this will be less of a “list”, and more of an unpaid advertisement for “Machine of Death”, because this blog is nothing if not a billboard for the things that I like.
1. Machine of Death

Imagine, if you will, that you lived in a world wherein a spectacular machine existed. A machine so spectacular, that one might even call it a Machine of Death. This wondrous machine, upon taking a blood sample from any human being, will spit out a small card with a single word or short phrase that tells the user how he or she will die. Much like bizzaro Sylvia Brown, the machine’s predictions are infallible: you WILL die in the way it says. It will not tell you when you will die, and the cause given can range from as vague as “cessation of heart” to as specific as “Choking on the $50 wedding ring that your cheap-ass almost-fiance put in your milkshake as a ‘creative’ way to propose (inspired by a true story)”. With these rules established, I ask you this: Would you take the test? Would you live in fear, or would you be emboldened by the knowledge that anything other than your CoD (Cause of Death, for those who refuse to admit to having ever watched a forensics show) will always fail to kill you? This was an interesting enough thought experiment to Ryan North, webcartoonist and internet pal, that he accepted a bunch of short stories from a bunch of internet writers, including several other webcomic writers. Then he and David Malki! (Another webcartoonist. The factorial is part of his name) curated the submissions into Machine of Death. It’s easy to think that after the first few stories, MoD would get old. After all, all of the stories follow the same format. Some person has a cause of death, so he lives in fear of that thing. Then, through a crazy loophole of wordplay, they’re killed by something completely different from what they’re expecting! For example, some guy has “Drowning” on his card, so he stays away from all water, and thinks he’s safe. But then he gets pneumonia, and drowns from the fluids in his lungs. Hilarious! With all the stories using the same premise, it’s hard to imagine each one coming up with a novel take on the subject.
If you found the above statement true, then you better exercise your imagination, because that’s totally what happens. I’d rather not spoil how any of the stories end, but few, if any, rely on the “It actually meant this the whole time!” plot twist. The stories were short and surprising in a way that I could probably compare to “The Twilight Zone”, if I had ever watched “The Twilight Zone”. Each story has society reacting to the machine in a different way. Some fear the machine, claiming that it ruins the mystery of life. Some celebrate the machine, reveling in the sense of destiny that it gives them. Some devolve into endless, painstakingly described sex parties. At least, they will if one of my submissions gets picked for the next book. Yes, that’s right: Machine of Death was so successful that they decided to make a follow-up. In fact the submissions have already been selected, so you’ll probably have to wait for MoD III to enjoy the publication of my author-insert fic (in more ways than one, if you know what I mean).
Now, I know what you’re probably thinking. “My money is far too valuable to be thrown away on some delusional blogger’s suggestion.” Did I mention that it’s available as an e-book, or even a PDF, for completely free? And you don’t even have to buy it from The Pirate Bay!* The creators are offering it for download on their site, and it’s completely legal, if that’s the kind of thing you care about. Honestly, I wouldn’t hold it against you if you downloaded it right now, and never even finished this post. I mean, why read my ramblings when you could be classing it up with real, professional literature, written by the kinds of people who churn out real, professional literature? You literally have nothing to lose. In economics, they say that every decision has a cost, but that’s not true for reading this book. Now, you might claim that, by reading MoD, you’re incurring an opportunity cost, in the form of the wasted time that you could be spending doing something else. I counter that if you are reading this blog, your time is of infinitesimal value, and is therefore negligible. Checkmate, readers.
But you’re a rational person, surely. It isn’t enough to not have a reason to not read MoD. The burden of proof is on me to give a good reason for you to do that. Well, what if I told you that this book made Glen Beck, a man that, statistically speaking, you dislike, angry? (Meta-appositives: For when regular ones just won’t confuse enough people.) That’s right! Through a bit of underhanded trickery in the form of requesting that their fans not pre-order the book, and purchase it on the day it was released, Ryan North and David Malki! managed to kick Glenn’s book off the bestsellers list. If there is a better reason to read something, I don’t know what it is.
*This euphemism is credited to Jontron, the game not-so-grump. Plagiarism is something I could get expelled for, so I reckoned I’d credit him for it. I won’t give Gaston credit for the “Sandwich with words” joke, however. He’s an asshole.

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