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E.M. Forster: science fiction visionary


Did you know author E.M. Forster predicted the digital age and the invention of the iPad in his 1909 science fiction story The Machine Stops? NPR had an interesting segment on our digital times and Forster’s vision for the future. His novella describes a society that is over reliant on technology and devices. Going out to meet people is unnecessary as it can be done without leaving home.

The cell-like living area described in the story sounds like a modern home:

Imagine if you can a small room, hexagonal in shape like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no musical instruments, and yet this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk – that is all the furniture. And in the armchair sits a woman, Vashti, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

Here is another excerpt:

The round plate that she held in her hands began to glow. A faint blue light shot across it, darkening to purple, and presently she could see the image of her son, who lived on the other side of the earth, and he could see her. ‘Kuno, what is it, dearest boy?’ ‘I want to see you not through the Machine,’ said Kuno. ‘I want to speak to you not through the Machine. I see something like you in this plate, but I do not see you. I want you to pay me a visit, so that we can meet face-to-face.’ “

FaceTime on the Ipad anyone?

E.M Forster will be forever associated with A Passage to India, Howard’s End and A Room With a View, but The Machine Stops is an important story in science fiction circles. He was an expert on detailing issues of class, race and sex, but he also understood how the world was going to evolve even though he wrote under gaslight and took a horse and carriage to meetings with this publisher.

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Richard Davies

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