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Jakes, John – Machine (1952)

04/23/2013

Boiling down anti-modernist science fiction to the point of absurdity: the titular machine is an evil toaster. Opens with an argument between husband (“Helen, I want you to get rid of that Goddamned toaster!”) and wife (“I don’t know what we’re going to do, Charlie. Your notions about mechanical things are wearing me out… Those fixations of yours are… well, just plain silly.”), after which the wife leaves to go to a psychology lecture of some sort, leaving the husband to rant to himself:

I know machines do have souls! Helen and all the rest laugh, but none of them has ever seen a soul. How can they say a machine doesn’t have one, if they don’t know what to look for?… If you look, you can tell the bad machines. Most people just don’t look. The good ones won’t hurt you. But the bad ones will… kill you. I watch, and I can see the creations of men go to pieces and kill. The machines with the bad souls…

Left home by himself, he does what any of us would do, and goes to smash the toaster, only to have “something intangible and yet horribly real” creep from the toaster into his very soul. His wife comes back just in time to see him toss something flaccid, formless and sticky into the trash – although it reminds her, curiously, of a toaster. Charlie, meanwhile, is now described in various metallic terms (a grip like “bands of metal,” brassy voice, etc).

Like “The Conqueror,” I have to assume that this is a parody of anti-modernist stories (surely no one is supposed to take a demonic toaster seriously?). Either way, this is another very short story that sets up a situation and then ends when it seems like it should be beginning.

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