In recent weeks, I've mentioned again and again (with reference to our locked-down world) last year's serialization of The Machine Stops by E M Forster. So I thought, instead of bringing it up every other show, we might as well just schedule an encore presentation over the next three nights. From a hundred and eleven years ago, here's one writer's view of a society in which everyone shelters in place - indefinitely:
"I have been threatened with Homelessness," said Kuno.
She looked at him now... Homelessness means death. The victim is exposed to the air, which kills him.
"I have been outside since I spoke to you last. The tremendous thing has happened, and they have discovered me."
"But why shouldn"t you go outside?" she exclaimed, "It is perfectly legal, perfectly mechanical... One simply summons a respirator and gets an Egression-permit. It is not the kind of thing that spiritually minded people do, and I begged you not to do it, but there is no legal objection to it."
"I did not get an Egression-permit."
"Then how did you get out?"
"I found out a way of my own."
The phrase conveyed no meaning to her, and he had to repeat it.
"A way of your own?" she whispered. "But that would be wrong."
Indeed. Just ask a Brit Wanker Copper - or a Parisian who's been stopped for not having M Macron's own version of the "Egression-permit" about his person. Many members of The Mark Steyn Club requested this particular Tale for Our Time over the first two years of our serializations - and I was very happy to oblige. As I discuss in my introduction, in this novella young Forster takes a break from writing about class and empire and hypocrisy to conjure a brilliant vision of how we live now, anticipating the Internet, Google, Apple, Skype and, even more brilliantly, their likely effect on us:
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 apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, 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 there sits a swaddled lump of flesh--a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs...
She is immersed in gathering second- and third-hand ideas about music and history and culture from ...the Machine.
But, when the Machine makes everything so easy, what would happen if it should ...stop?
The Internet went down here the other day, just for twenty minutes or so. But for a moment or two I thought, "What if they've switched it off?" - and the self-isolation is going to get seriously isolated. To hear me read Part One of The Machine Stops, prefaced by my own introduction to the tale, Mark Steyn Club members should please click here and log-in.
And to hear three years' worth of audio adaptations of classic fiction starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's cracking tale of an early conflict between jihadists and westerners in The Tragedy of the Korosko, please see our easy-to-navigate Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club exactly three years ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who signed up to be a part of it and then enthusiastically re-subscribed two Mays back, and re-re-re-subscribed this month - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone. None of it's going behind a paywall, because I want it out there in the world, being read and being heard and being viewed, and maybe changing an occasional mind somewhere along the way.
However, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including our monthly audio adventures of classic fiction by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, H G Wells, Baroness Orczy, Jack London, Scott Fitzgerald, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson - plus a piece of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here. We're very pleased by the response to our Tales -and we even do them live on the annual Mark Steyn Cruise with special guests, assuming we're ever again allowed to take one of those.
I'm truly thrilled that one of the most popular of our Steyn Club extras these last three years has been our nightly radio serials. If you've enjoyed our monthly radio serials and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Club Gift Membership. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The opportunity to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly (such as last Saturday's);
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark's Mailbox, and our other video content;
~My video series of classic poetry;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the opportunity to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to The Machine Stops but to all our other audio adventures at our Tales for Our Time home page..
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you like this particular Tale for Our Time, or think I'm as mechanical and sedating as the dreaded Machine, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for Part Two of The Machine Stops.