REVIEW: “The Machine in Shaft Ten” by M. John Harrison

Review of M. John Harrison, “The Machine in Shaft Ten”, in Settling the World: Selected Stories 1970-2020, with a foreword by Jennifer Hodgson (Comma Press, 2020): 127-139 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the Review of the anthology.

This anthology is a master-class in how to nail opening sentences. Just look at this:

Although I was later to become intimately involved with Professor Nicholas Bruton and the final, fatal events at the base of Shaft ten, I was prevented by a series of personal disasters from taking much interest in the original announcement of his curious discovery at the centre of the earth (p. 127)

Every single thing about this sentence is perfection. It’s pretty much an entire story in itself! Between this and the title, I’m already hooked: But when on the second page we are presented with the “what if” question underlying this story — what if humans found out they were being used as resources in exactly the same way they use the rest of the planet — there’s no escape. This is an excellent story, and every page of it will remind you of that fact. This is classic SF at its best.

(Originally published in New Worlds Quarterly, 1972, under the pseudonym Joyce Churchill.)

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