The Machine Stops is a science fiction story written by E. M. Forster. It is a short story which is set sometime in the future when most people no longer lived on the surface of the Earth, but lives instead in isolated cell, under the surface, where all of their needs are serviced by something called The Machine. The Machine controls all aspects of people lives including feeding, medicating, and even dying.
It isn’t specified why people cannot live on the surface of the planet, it just seems that people are discouraged from doing so. Even though people live in isolation they do have contact with other people through the use of something called a ‘speaking apparatus’ which is basically a way to contact other people both through audio and visual means.
Procreation is regulated in this world with people who want to become a parent, have to make a request to the Machine itself and there are really tight guidelines in who would be recommended as a parent.
You can also travel around, but that is also something that isn’t really required anymore and you have to have permission to do so. It also only takes a couple of hours to get from Australia to the UK.
The story is about two people, a mother and son, who are poles apart (quite literally). The mother Vashti, is quite happy with her lot in life and has no problems with the Machine, but her son, Kuno, is a bit of a rebel and tells his mother about what he has seen when he went to the surface of the Earth without permission and the fact that he saw people living there despite what the Machine says.
Considering that this story was written more than a hundred years ago (it was written in 1909) it interesting to note that Forster seems to have predicted Skype, video phones and computer screens!
The science fiction series Out of the Unknown broadcast an adaptation of this story in 1966 starring Yvonne Mitchell and Michael Gothard, which was a very faithful version of the story really capturing the sterile atmosphere of the world, and how different Kuno is from his mother, and what the Machine has done to the human life. It is a very intriguing, and thought provoking, piece of television