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.

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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.

An Interview with DAVE HUTCHINSON

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Dave Hutchinson?

Dave Hutchinson is a 53-year-old journalist and writer, born in Sheffield and living in London. He likes cats and hates mushrooms. He is obsessed with Twitter to a disturbing degree.

HutchinsonD-EuropeInAutumnYour latest novel, Europe In Autumn, is published by Solaris. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader?

Europe In Autumn is, for want of a better term, a near-future espionage thriller. It’s set in a Europe where the EU has begun to fracture for various reasons, and new nations are springing up all over the place. Rudi, the central character, is a chef who becomes involved with a group of couriers and people smugglers, and finds himself mixed up in what may be a very large conspiracy. It wasn’t originally planned as part of a series, but while I was writing it I had an idea for a companion novel, and since I finished it I’ve started to see a possible sequel. We’ll see how things go.

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

Inspirations… that’s a tough one. Alan Furst’s novels were a big influence on the feel and structure of the book, and Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential inspired me to make Rudi a chef. Further back, Len Deighton’s definitely an influence, as is Keith Roberts. More widely, ideas come from anywhere. You can be reading the paper and a phrase will jump out at you and set off a chain of association that will wind up with you writing a story. Other times a bit of dialogue will pop into your head, or you’ll see something, and a few months later you’ll see something else and sort of subconsciously bolt them together, and that keeps happening until all the bits reach critical mass and you find yourself sitting down and starting to write. It’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open. That’s the easy bit; it’s the writing that’s hard.

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

WellsHG-FirstMenInTheMoonI’ve been a fan of science fiction ever since junior school, when I read First Men In The Moon. It was really the only thing that seemed interesting to me, and I spent years working my way through Asimov, Heinlein, Niven, E.E.  ‘Doc’ Smith and so on. Then I read Funeral In Berlin and really got into spy fiction. Then I read Farewell, My Lovely and really got into crime fiction.

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

I find writing very, very difficult. I’m an enormously lazy writer – I was picking around at Europe In Autumn for at least ten years, probably longer – but I love doing it. I love the act of imagining something and describing it, and seeing that turn into a book, an object you can actually hold, is a continual delight to me. It’s a very different discipline to journalism, which – at least in the journalism I did – doesn’t allow great scope for creativity. It does, however, knock any prima donna tendencies out of you; I once wrote a double-page feature on the Reagan-Dukakis Presidential election and saw it subbed down to four column inches.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I wanted to be a writer very early on – I was scribbling little stories in notebooks when I was about thirteen or fourteen. My first novel was a rip-off of the Lensman books. It was awful beyond belief, and the world is far better off without it. When I was sixteen my mother bought me a typewriter, and that’s really where I date my writing “career” from. And since then it’s just been a long slog of stories, some better than others.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

One of the things I like about science fiction is the way it’s constantly examining itself, asking itself questions. I’m not sure other genres do that. Sometimes, I think science fiction puts itself to the question a little too harshly, but it keeps everyone on their toes, keeps things moving forward, and that’s healthy. I think I’ve been seeing articles about how science fiction is dead, or at least stagnant, for the best part of forty years, but it always keeps going, there’s always new blood coming through, new points of view, new questions to face. If my stuff does fit into it at all, it’s in a small, quiet, English kind of way.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

At the moment I’m working on the companion to Europe In Autumn, which is a kind of parallel view of some of the events in the first book. I’m also working on a novel called Gunpowder Square, which is a detective story involving gnomes and the nature of Reality. There will also be a book of previously-uncollected short stories at some point either this year or next from NewCon Press.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

Right now I’m re-reading Alexandra Richie’s fabulous biography of Berlin, Faust’s Metropolis, which is an utterly terrific book, I really can’t recommend it highly enough. I’m also reading Dracula for the first time, and I’m finding it a bit of a surprise. Which is always good.

HutchinsonDave-Reading

What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

What would readers be most surprised to learn about me? I’m not sure anything would surprise people who know me. I was once quite athletic – I was Sheffield City discus champion, back in the day. But then I discovered the joys of sloth and I haven’t looked back since.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

I have a feeling the next twelve months are going to be a period of great change for me. Some of it for good, some of it maybe not so much. I’m really looking forward to Europe In Autumn coming out, though. It’s amazing to me to think that this thing, which began over a decade ago as a bunch of notes and bits of dialogue, is now a physical object which other people are reading, and whatever happens I’ll always be grateful to Solaris for taking a chance with it. A lot of writers aren’t so lucky.