Wednesday, August 28, 2013

This is How You Die

A group of elite commando webcomic guys got together and made a book. An awesome book. A book so mind-blowingly sweet, in fact, that nothing short of a talking Tyrannosaurus Rex could possibly do the premise justice. But T-Rex did not, in fact write the book, possibly due to his arms being completely unsuited for typing; nor did the webcomics ninjas. Instead, they opened it up to their fans to pen an assortment of short stories all set in a universe where this incredible machine exists:

The machine had been invented a few years ago: a machine that could tell, from just a sample of your blood, how you were going to die. It didn’t give you the date and it didn’t give you specifics. It just spat out a sliver of paper upon which were printed, in careful block letters,the words “DROWNED” or “CANCER” or “OLD AGE” or “CHOKED ON A HANDFUL OF POPCORN.” It let people know how they were going to die. And it was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language.... The machine captured that old-world sense of irony in death: you can know how it’s going to happen, but you’ll still be surprised when it does. We tested it before announcing it to the world, but testing took time—too much, since we had to wait or people to die. After four years had gone by and three people had died as the machine predicted, we shipped it out the door. There were now machines in every doctor’s office and in booths at the mall. You could pay someone or you could probably get it done for free, but the result was the same no matter what machine you went to. They were, at least, consistent.

Comic from

That book is called Machine of Death, which became a #1 bestseller on Amazon for one whole day in 2010. You can read it for free in a handy PDF or listen to excerpted tales via podcast under a Creative Commons license with the blessings of the authors and without risk of violating anyone’s copyright here.

Because success begets success and because the publication of Machine of Death brought the concept to a wider audience of potential authors, there came many more story submissions for the intrepid webcomicerados to sort through, ultimately compiling the best of them into a second volume, This Is How You Die, which has a 90-page teaser available for you perusal here.

The Machine of Death universe continues to grow, with a board game now available and an independent film in the works. Many of the individual stories carry a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license which allows them to be adapted into other media, if you’re into doing such things. The webcomigicians, known to some as Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki, will even send you your very own (not guaranteed to be accurate) prediction if you send them a self-addressed stamped envelope as described here.

- Guest Blogger, RET3