Quick Review: FOREST OF MEMORY by Mary Robinette Kowal (Tor.com)

Kowal-MR-ForestOfMemoryAn intriguing, thought-provoking near-future story

Katya deals in Authenticities and Captures, trading on nostalgia for a past long gone. Her clients are rich and they demand items and experiences with only the finest verifiable provenance. Other people’s lives have value, after all.

But when her A.I. suddenly stops whispering in her ear she finds herself cut off from the grid and loses communication with the rest of the world.

The man who stepped out of the trees while hunting deer cut her off from the cloud, took her A.I. and made her his unwilling guest.

There are no Authenticities or Captures to prove Katya’s story of what happened in the forest. You’ll just have to believe her.

This is the first thing by Mary Robinette Kowal that I’ve ever read. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I really liked what I found. This won’t be the last thing of Kowal’s that I read.

The synopsis above really tells you everything you need to know about the story — it’s not only short enough that any more detail would spoil everything, but Kowal’s world-building within the text is sparse and sometimes vague. At times, I really wanted to learn more; but for the purposes of the story, it’s actually unnecessary. For example, we never learn any specifics about Katya’s employers, or the motivations of a person she stumbles across in the forest. If we had, then the story might have felt a little bit more substantial, true, but it’s still a satisfying read.

The novella is presented as a typed account by Katya (typos and all), and she has an interesting voice. If you take the purposeful typos out of the equation, this is very well-written, and Kowal’s prose is excellent. Unwittingly, Katya’s writing highlights the complete dependence her society has developed on mobile and networked technology. It’s a nicely-composed critique, perhaps, of today’s ever-increasing addiction to cell phones, tablets, the internet and, especially, social media. There are references to “captures” and feeds, painting a picture of willful, conscious abdication of privacy. The subject is well-presented, and lacks the heavy-handedness of, for example, David Eggers’s The Circle — a novel that practically bludgeons the reader with a critique that borders on technophobia. I’d be interested in reading more fiction in this setting.

If you like your near-future sci-fi thoughtful and thought-provoking, then Forest of Memory is for you. Recommended.

*

Forest of Memory is published by Tor.com next month. For more, check out the author’s website, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Goodreads. The author’s next novel is Ghost Talkers, due to be published by Tor Books in July 2016.

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