Machine of Death Submissions are CLOSED.
See below for details.

FAQ  /   Approaches to Avoid  /   Interview

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.

The problem with the machine is that nobody really knew how it worked, which wouldn't actually have been that much of a problem if the machine worked as well as we wished it would. But the machine was frustratingly vague in its predictions: dark, and seemingly delighting in the ambiguities of language. "OLD AGE", it had already turned out, could mean either dying of natural causes, or shot by an bedridden man in a botched home invasion. 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.

The realization that we could now know how we were going to die had changed the world: people became at once less fearful and more afraid. There's no reason not to go skydiving if you know your sliver of paper says "BURIED ALIVE". The realization that these predictions seemed to revel in turnabout and surprise put a damper on things. It made the predictions more sinister -- yes, if you were going to be buried alive you weren't going to be electrocuted in the bathtub, but what if in skydiving you landed in a gravel pit? What if you were buried alive not in dirt but in something else? And would being caught in a collapsing building count as being buried alive? For every possibility the machine closed, it seemed to open several more, with varying degrees of plausibility.

By that time, of course, the machine had been reverse engineered and duplicated, its internal workings being rather simple to construct, given our example. And yes, we found out that its predictions weren't as straightforward as they seemed upon initial discovery at about the same time as everyone else did. We tested it before announcing it to the world, but testing took time -- too much, since we had to wait for people to die. After four years had gone by and three people 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.


Before sending us anything make sure you read this whole page, as well as the book's introduction, above. If your submission doesn't fit what we're looking for, then it has ZERO chance of being accepted, no matter how good it is! But as long as you read this page all the way through (and maybe refer to it once or twice while you're writing) you should be fine. We aren't looking to zing people on technicalities here -- we just want to make sure that everybody understands what we're looking for before they spend a lot of time writing.


Machine of Death is an upcoming published anthology of short stories edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki !, inspired by this episode of Ryan's Dinosaur Comics.

We are actively soliciting short story submissions for the book. Submissions are free and open to everybody. Ryan, Matt and David ! will choose their favorite stories from all submissions, and each contributor will receive $45 USD for each story selected. (Payment is upon acceptance.)

The book will be available through Amazon or any other retailer. We are also trying to work it out so that each contributor will have the right to purchase copies of the book at cost (with no retail markup), and will be free to resell the book however they like and keep their profits.

The manuscript will also be placed online, in PDF form, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution - Noncommercial - Share Alike 2.5 license. That means people will be able to read, copy, and distribute your story for free, which we hope will expose more readers to the material, and which has proven to be a good method of building awareness and even driving physical sales. There may also be an audiobook version created, which will be placed for free on

Finally, any eventual profits made by Ryan, Matt and David ! will be turned back around into the project, helping to promote and publicize your work.


The premise of the anthology is covered in the book's introduction, above. Your mission, as a writer, is to come up with the best possible story that fits in the world described in the introduction. The only major difference between THAT world and THIS world is that people in THAT world can undergo a cheap and easy blood test to find out how they are going to die. So the stories that we're interested in are those that somehow explore that idea in an interesting or entertaining way.

This death-predicting machine is (at its mechanical heart) a modern version of the ancient Greek Oracle. It gives you a clue about what your fate will be, but it never tells you enough to really give you control of your life. You only have the illusion of control. So one kind of story that fits in this world is the kind of story that the Greeks loved -- a story about a person who learns his fate, who tries to escape it, but who ends up trapped by fate in the end anyway. There are a lot of clever ways to handle this kind of scenario in the modern world, but we also hope to get stories that push beyond this idea and explore other implications of the machine.

> UPDATE: We're seeing a lot of stories right now that involve ironic twists, or rely heavily on wordplay in the prediction. We'll be including a few stories like that in the book, but we are also very interested in stories that reach beyond that, that really feel out the corners of this world and examine the different ramifications such a device would have on all facets of life. And just because the machine is often vague doesn't mean that every single prediction is a play on words!

For instance, how would such a machine affect the way we understand science or religion? How would it change the way we make war, or investigate crimes, or distribute social services, or treat sick people? How would people feel when they learned their fate? How would they feel when they learned the fates of their loved ones? Would people face discrimination if others knew how they were going to die? In short, we want stories that will explore some aspect of how this machine would affect the world or people individually. If you're stuck for ideas, there's plenty of inspiration on
this forum thread.

There are more details about content in the FAQ and the Approaches to Avoid section!


There's nothing really in particular that would disqualify any story from consideration. We're open to all genres and styles, all kinds of content, and all themes. We don't have an over-arching political or artistic agenda we're pushing -- we just want to publish some really good stories. Here are some things we can tell you:

1. The notion of death prediction MUST be a main component in your story. You don't need to actually include the machine and nobody needs to die, but the machine's impact must be felt somehow. It's not enough to include a passing mention of the predictions -- they should have a central role. But we would like to see some very creative approaches to this, so take a chance!

2. It's also important that you play within the rules of the world. The machine is always right! There's no way around that, so if you do decide to kill off one of your characters then it must be in line with whatever you had the machine predict for that character.

3. There are three editors of this anthology, and we like all different kinds of stories -- funny, sad, adventurous, mysterious, ironic, haunting. So don't try and give us the kind of story you think we'll want to see. Just write whatever you like best!

4. We don't have any iron-clad restrictions on things like language, violence, or sex. But if your story is VERY violent or sexually explicit, it will probably also need to be VERY good to be accepted.

5. There are also no iron-clad restrictions on word count. We will read submissions of any length. But, as above, if your work is VERY long or VERY short it will also have to be VERY good.

6. Finally, be sure to proofread and spellcheck your story before you send it. We want to see your very best work, so make sure to present it that way! We will read every single story, but if yours is difficult to read because it is full of errors or badly formatted then we cannot guarantee we will give it full justice.

Also, because this world is so rich with great possibilities, we are always going to be predisposed towards stories that explore how characters' lives are affected by the knowledge of their fate, rather than stories that are gimmicky or deal ironically with the machine itself (for example, "PAPERCUT" or "INFECTION FROM MACHINE OF DEATH NEEDLE"). We already have as many of those stories as we will ever need, thanks! See more examples on the Approaches to Avoid page.


Just one! The title of your story MUST be a method of death that applies to your story somehow. It could be the predicted death (or the actual death) for one of your characters. Or it could be a prediction that your characters talk about. But the title must be the sort of prediction that the machine might give to somebody. Some examples might be "DROWNING," "KILLED BY RABID ELEPHANTS," or "EMPHYSEMA."


We will make an effort to read every story, but if you use an unusual file format then it might be impossible for us to do that. Therefore, we highly recommend that you save your story as .RTF or .TXT. Every word processor should allow you to save in these formats -- simply tell it to "Save As" and select the file type you want. Better than taking a chance on some other format is pasting your story into the body of your submission email.

When you send your submission, please include the following information:

• Your REAL name (not a pen name or email name)

• Your email address

• Your phone number

• Your mailing address

• The name you would like printed in the anthology (this is where your pen name would go)

• The title and word count of your story

We need these things so we can contact you in case your story is selected to be printed. Since email accounts can sometimes be deactivated or otherwise be out of commission, we need a phone number as a backup. And the address, of course, is the place where we will send your check. You are also welcome to include a BRIEF cover letter telling us a little about yourself -- especially where you have been published before. But the cover letter is not required, and if you do include one please limit it to a few sentences.


Send all submissions to: submit at machineofdeath dot net.

The first word of the subject line should be SUBMISSION. So a story about a person who dies from a heart attack might have the subject line: "SUBMISSION: Heart Attack". You are allowed to submit up to THREE stories (feel free to combine multiple submissions into one email if you like). Any stories after the third submission will be ignored.

You should receive an automatic reply to your submission.* This is generated by a robot, so don't write back because nobody is there. If you have a question about the anthology, send an email to info at machineofdeath dot net with "QUESTION" as the first word in your subject line. There is no need to query before you submit -- simply send us your story! There is also no need to check if we have received your story. If you got the reply from the autoresponder then you can be sure we have your story!

Before you ask your question, please check out the FAQ! We may have already answered it.

The early submission deadline is March 31, 2007. We highly recommend that you submit your story by then to ensure that we have adequate time to review it. However, we will still accept all submissions through April 30, 2007.

After April 30 (at midnight Pacific time), the submissions email address will be deactivated and no further submissions will be accepted.

* The autoresponder will only send out one reply per day. So if you send two emails on the same day, you will only get one response. This is to prevent people's out-of-office replies from causing an endless loop.


The jury will make final selections by May 31, 2007. Shortly after that, we will let you know whether your story has been accepted. All notifications will be done via email, so if you change your email address between now and then, please write to info at machineofdeath dot net and let us know.

If you have not heard from us about your story by June 15th, feel free to query us about its status. It may be that we are trying to contact you! However, we cannot tell you anything about whether your story is accepted or not until after June 15th.

Thanks for your interest! Now get writing.

This project is also one of the many writing opportunities listed at