I should really be more positive about the short story vending machine (in case you've missed this story  in the news, you can read about it here). I'm all for encouraging short stories, and anything that makes them more accessible must surely be a good thing, but I can't help thinking this is a gimmick. In an era where most of us can choose to download a story at the click of a button (or have a free one sent to us via email every month!), it seems archaic to introduce a large physical machine to dispense stories on demand. I wonder where the vending machines could possibly be located where they would make a difference; schools? offices? not at the train station, which already has shops selling books, magazines and sweets. I just can't imagine going to grab a can of soda from the vending machine, and thinking, may be I will grab an Alice Munro to go with that. Let's face it, I'm far more likely to get a kitkat. I do like the fact that the company is using it as a forum to encourage newbie writers, though. Kudos for that. It did make me wonder though, what other strange machines we might need.

How about a machine for writers? It could randomly dispense story prompts, miniatures of alcohol, little black notebooks, or for the lucky few, the unscreened telephone number of an agent. I'd quite like a robot in my house that could both reorganise the books on the shelves into a decent order, so that short stories are in one section, reference books on a different shelf, and so on. Of course, it would need to be able to make sure the books were of a uniform height, so they didn't look odd, and I would also expect it to solve conundrums like whether to group novels and short story collections by the same author in the story or general fiction areas, and what to do about the one irritating book that is too large to fit on a specific shelf. Perhaps it could also decide whether the Handmaid's Tale should be in my Sci-Fi, Feminist, or Literary Fiction category. A basic feature would be for it to locate any book, and bring it to me. This would include books I have loaned to friends, and have no recollection who or where. I just know that I DO have a copy of that book, and I want it back now.

What else? What machines for readers and writers would you like to see...?

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