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Somewhat surprisingly, E. M. Forster, the author of A Passage to India, wrote a science fiction short story, The Machine Stops, that was published in 1909.

Many works, both fiction and non-fiction, have been noted as influences and sources for The Matrix. While clearly not identical by any means, there are parts of The Machine Stops that bear a close enough resemblance to the film to make me wonder if it could be yet another inspiration.

The story, set in a post-apocalyptic world where humanity lives underground and relies on a giant machine to provide their needs, predicted new technologies such as instant messaging, and the Internet.

[It] describes a world in which most of the human population has lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. Each individual now lives in isolation below ground in a standard 'cell', with all bodily and spiritual needs met by the omnipotent, global Machine.

Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine with which people conduct their only activity: the sharing of ideas and what passes for knowledge.

[Kuno] confides to [his mother, Vashti] that he has visited the surface of the Earth without permission and that he saw other humans living outside the world of the Machine. However, the Machine recaptured him, and he has been threatened with 'Homelessness', that is, expulsion from the underground environment and presumed death . . . . — Wikipedia

The story was first published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review, and later included in Forster's collection, The Eternal Moment and Other Stories, in 1928. It was reprinted in 1965, in the anthology Modern Short Stories, and once again in 1973's The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume Two. A quick search will reveal a number of other editions.

In 1966 Philip Saville directed a TV adaptation that was shown on the British science fiction anthology Out of the Unknown.

George Lucas's film THX 1138, released in 1971 and the original novel Logan's Run, from 1967 and written by William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson, are both reported to have significant similarities to the story.

The story was out there, in some form or another, so the Wachowski brothers could have known of it. But I'm not an expert in subjects Forster or Matrix, and so I can't be certain.

The best possible answer would be a source that proves a direct link between the two works, but that might not exist. It might also be possible to connect the two between an intermediary, as long as the connection could be proved. Finally, I have to accept that there may be no connection. That's obviously hard to prove, negatives always are. But if no evidence surfaces, then I'll have to accept that at some point.

The full text to The Machine Stops can be found here.

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    Why did you edit the title?? I read "The Machine Stops" in this anthology long before I ever heard of A Passage to India (is it any good?). – user14111 Mar 25 '16 at 9:14
  • @user14111 Should I change it back? I thought it was a little bland before. But I make plenty of mistakes. – rosesunhill Mar 25 '16 at 9:16
  • @user14111 ashamed to say I haven't read the book. The movie was good. I'm impressed you read the story. – rosesunhill Mar 25 '16 at 9:20
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    The story comes up on this site now and then. – user14111 Mar 25 '16 at 9:26
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    The more time you spend on this site, the more impressed you will become when @user14111 has not read a story. ;-) – Praxis Mar 25 '16 at 16:56
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Unknown, but themes related to Forster's work appear in more than one Wachowski production

Many would certainly agree that there is a close resemblance between ideas in The Matrix and Forster's 1909 story. For example:

That being said, pinning down a statement that the Wachowskis were directly influenced by Forster is far more difficult. If such a statement exists, it is not easily referenceable.

However, it is interesting to note that the Wachowskis' 2012 big-budget film Cloud Atlas was based on a novel by David Mitchell, who explained the novel's inspirations:

My teenage reading diet was rich in colourfully jacketed science fiction, so conjuring up an underground dome staffed by clones for my novel's fifth section came naturally enough. Architectural features from pioneering SF classics such as Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, and "The Machine Stops" by EM Forster — yes, that EM Forster — are present, with rich dollops of Blade Runner.

(SourceGuardian, 2010)

While we cannot rule out that Wachowskis are disciples of Forster, they certainly are not card-carrying ones, given the distinct lack of comment on the matter.

It is conceivable that the Wachowskis are simply attracted to themes represented by Forster's work, causing those themes to recur in their productions, but without having been directly influenced. Rather, they may have been inspired indirectly as in Cloud Atlas (in which case the original author took inspiration from "The Machine Stops"). It is also safe to say that some ideas and themes from the story have entered the general consciousness, in which case the Wachowskis could have drawn upon them in a way that was consistent with the late 90s zeitgeist — a nearly limitless potential for machine intelligence combined with general nervousness over the practical and philosophical implications of the Internet. (The film The Thirteenth Floor, released within two months of The Matrix, expressed similar fears over machinery and simulated reality.)

Another possibility is that they were directly influenced but have refused to acknowledge that influence (for various reasons).

Short of an explicit statement, this is the best we can say.

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  • I think that's as close as we are likely to get. Thanks! – rosesunhill Mar 29 '16 at 7:03

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