“Mutiny of the Machines” (unfnished) by Valery Bryusov
English Publication History: Red Star Tales (Russian Life Books, 2015)
Original: Russian (Мятеж машин), 1915
Translated by Anindita Bannerjee, 2015
Synopsis: From the nineteenth century on, inventions have become so common that any simpleton could conjure one up. On through the thirtieth century, mankind has progressed with ample forms of power including the powerful source of radium, but much if that power is for automation: trade, production, transportation among them, save for accounting. Aside from inventing, people have little activity in their lives, which doctors warn about due to illness stemming from their sedentary lifestyle. Meanwhile, all whim within the city can be theirs.
Pre-analysis: Aside from speculation of the future relationship between man and machine, Bryusov adds only one section of number that refers to the world’s urban population. Consider the United States’ urban population from 1890 (29.2%), 1910 (46.3%), and 2010 (80.7%), which doesn’t account for the so-called megacities, only the urban areas. In 1910, megacities hadn’t even existed—New York was the first in 1950.
In “Mutiny of Machines”, Bryusov predicts that a quarter of earth’s five billion people will live in these same megacities (those with populations of over 10 million). While Bryusov predicted 112 cities, the figure in 2015 (with a global population of about 7 billion) was actually only 35, or about 47% of the world’s population. He may have overshot the mark in regards to the number, but considering that he tried to nail it more than 100 years ago, you can’t say he was far off the mark.
Analysis: With the population’s influx into the megacities, everything is at their convenience, which makes them all the most sloth. Power for the machines is readily available, and so all ways to implement this supply of energy is used, many ways, of course, are useless but not wasteful. As the unseen energy use increased, the population’s physical activity decreased, leading doctors to “issue warnings about muscular atrophy, decreased mobility, or impairments in arm movement” (110). Automation followed the population for dusk to dawn, from eye-rise to eye-shut; their entire world was provided by a press of the button, all carried out by machine.
Review: Unfortunately, the story stops there with the editor’s note, “the text ends here” (110), similar to the other Bryusov unfinished story “Rebellion of the Machines” (1908). If this, in fact, were the true end of the story, it might signify the laziness of the writer in modern times, unable to summon the effort to put pen to paper or to document not the mutiny of the machines, but the meekness of the masses (I love alliteration). Perhaps extended three- or four-fold, the story could have better taken a glimpse into life in the megacities… a bit of dialogue wouldn’t have hurt either rather than the didactic delivery of this story and “Rebellion of the Machines”.