Can anyone help me identify this book please? I read a book in the 80s about a woman living underground in a pod. Everyone had a big tv which gave them news etc (but it was starting to go wrong) and their food was delivered direct to their pod.

They weren't allowed to go to the earth surface as it was supposedly contaminated (post-war?). She gets a message from her son on the other side of the world and she takes the tube train from outside her pod and then some sort of aircraft to see him and eventually gets onto the surface of the earth and breathes the air and meets free people.

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    Possible duplicate of Short story about underground living Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 17:26
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    @DennisWilliamson - We don't close Story-ID questions as dupes of un-accepted answers.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 17:50
  • @Valorum: Hmm, interesting. My question was closed today as a duplicate of this question and mine and its accepted answer are older. Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 19:40
  • @DennisWilliamson - We leave open the question with the better answer. Arguably User14111's has more relevant info.
    – Valorum
    Commented Oct 12, 2016 at 19:51

1 Answer 1


Sounds like "The Machine Stops", not a book but a novelette, by E. M. Forster; also the subject of this old question and maybe this one. Here is the plot summary from the Wikipedia page:

The story 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. Travel is permitted but unpopular and rarely necessary. Communication is made via a kind of instant messaging/video conferencing machine called the speaking apparatus, with which people conduct their only activity, the sharing of ideas and knowledge. The two main characters, Vashti and her son Kuno, live on opposite sides of the world. Vashti is content with her life, which, like most inhabitants of the world, she spends producing and endlessly discussing secondhand 'ideas'. Kuno, however, is a sensualist and a rebel. He persuades a reluctant Vashti to endure the journey (and the resultant unwelcome personal interaction) to his cell. There, he tells her of his disenchantment with the sanitised, mechanical world. He confides to her 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. Vashti, however, dismisses her son's concerns as dangerous madness and returns to her part of the world.

As time passes, and Vashti continues the routine of her daily life, there are two important developments. First, the life support apparatus required to visit the outer world is abolished. Most welcome this development, as they are skeptical and fearful of first-hand experience and of those who desire it. Secondly, a kind of religion is re-established, in which the Machine is the object of worship. People forget that humans created the Machine, and treat it as a mystical entity whose needs supersede their own. Those who do not accept the deity of the Machine are viewed as 'unmechanical' and threatened with Homelessness. The Mending Apparatus – the system charged with repairing defects that appear in the Machine proper – has also failed by this time, but concerns about this are dismissed in the context of the supposed omnipotence of the Machine itself.

  • Brilliant, thank you. Was it also part of a collection of short stories including one about someone getting stopped by the police for walking in the evening while everyone sat and watched tv, and another one about time travel and some guy had been back in time and stood on a butterfly which had affected the future and had been executed as punishment.
    – cam
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 21:28
  • The two Bradbury stories, "The Pedestrian" and "A Sound of Thunder", can be found together, e.g., in the Bradbury collection The Golden Apples of the Sun. I couldn't find an anthology containing "The Machine Stops" together with either of the Bradbury stories.
    – user14111
    Commented Aug 2, 2015 at 22:22

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