I read a short story in the mid 1970's in which people lived underground with the constant hum of machinery. I seem to remember the constant noise as a significant plot point as when a particular character made his way out he found the quiet to be unnerving. Perhaps also humans did not run the machines, they ran themselves?

This story was part of a collection in a paperback that was I believe part of my dad's college course. I'm not sure if all the stories were science fiction, but this particular one was.

Anyone have any ideas what the title and who the author might be?


1 Answer 1


This might be the classic short story "The Machine Stops" (1909) by E. M. Forster. The hero, Kuno, makes a point of the silence of the outdoors in contrast to the constant noise underground:

“There was a ladder, made of some primæval metal. The light from the railway fell upon its lowest rungs, and I saw that it led straight upwards out of the rubble at the bottom of the shaft. Perhaps our ancestors ran up and down it a dozen times daily, in their building. As I climbed, the rough edges cut through my gloves so that my hands bled. The light helped me for a little, and then came darkness and, worse still, silence which pierced my ears like a sword. The Machine hums! Did you know that? Its hum penetrates our blood, and may even guide our thoughts. Who knows! I was getting beyond its power. Then I thought: ‘This silence means that I am doing wrong.’ But I heard voices in the silence, and again they strengthened me.” He laughed. “I had need of them. The next moment I cracked my head against something.”

The Machine does indeed run itself, humans having forgotten how, until in the end it... stops.

The story is in the public domain in many countries around the world (just not the U.K.), so you can find a copy online with a simple search. There is an audio version at the Internet Archive.

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