The Machine Stops
By E. M. Forster
SF authors score a lot of points for getting the future right, and E. M. Forster’s 1909 novella (or “meditation,” as he calls it) looks pretty good with a century-plus of hindsight.
Most of humanity have moved underground where they live in monastic cells, cared for by a mighty Machine and basically devolving into giant grubs (“white pap,” or a fungus) while connecting to others virtually by way of a proto-Internet. The pursuit of comfort has led to a paradoxical decadence: a “civilization” given over entirely to the life of the mind that’s helpless when faced with a mechanical crisis. The lectures and “ideas” that are its raison d’être all have to do with history and the arts, and there are no engineers.
Written as a response to The Time Machine, it’s a story that presents a similarly divided world where the Morlocks have gotten soft, and the Eloi more muscular and healthy by living close to nature. But what city would Forster have seen himself being a citizen of? This may be the real meaning of Homelessness.