Katya lives in a futuristic world where everyone and everything is linked to the web. Her AI speaks in her ear and fills her vision telling her about the people around her, their histories, past business deals, and anything that could be of interest to her in her job as an “Authenticities” (basically antiques) dealer. One day, on her way back from a purchase, she sees a man shoot a deer (very illegal) and realizes that her connection to the web has crashed, leaving her marooned in the real world with a potential maniac. What’s he doing and is she going to survive?
I see where Kowal was trying to take this novella, but it didn’t really work for me. She wrote as her narrator, trying to recount a story without the use of computers, which, in this world is particularly difficult as everyone in the future uses computers to remember anything, and shows her discomfort at her disconnected state by inserting misspellings and typos. But, she didn’t do this consistently… it was just random enough for me to forget that she was using this device and say to myself, “Typo!” and then remember that it was supposed to be there. So, it turned into this annoying distraction.
I was most interested in Katya’s job as an Authenticities dealer, but, when Kowal moved the story off the grid, that essentially removed that element. In this passage, Katya’s analyzing a typewriter: “It looked to be from the mid-twentieth century, though without picking it up or using my loupe, I couldn’t confirm that. The fine dust caked into the grooves around the base seemed real enough, though. Most people who print fakes know enough to add dust to make it seem older, but they usually put it on too thickly and without regard for the use patterns of everyday objects.” pg 7, ebook. The parts that I loved the most read like a futuristic Antiques Road Show, which would have been awesome if the story had continued along that vein.
The novella reached for depths that it never really explored, but this passage caught my attention: “It feels like he wanted me there to bear witness, but maybe it was just an opportunity that presented itself because I stopped. If I hadn’t, if I had biked on through, would I have known that this was a cusp point in my life? Probably not. It makes you wonder, doesn’t it, how many other cusp points you sail through in life without any awareness.” pg 11 ebook. I do wonder about that. Life seems to be a series of stumblings and fortunate events but is it really as random as it seems? If you take one road, instead of another, does it even matter? Aware or not, life unfolds… I don’t know. What do you think?
What ruined this short read for me was that I didn’t get the ending at all. I essentially had to go back and read it all again, but then I still had a moment of “Huh?” Katya describes my over-arching feelings well: “There were so few things that made sense about the whole experience; I’m not sure why I expected events to suddenly appear orderly and rational now.” pg 25, ebook
I do not recommend Forest of Memory unless you’re looking for a puzzling sci fi read that raises the question of reliance on AI at the expense of everything else. And, if you find deeper meaning in it than I did, please do explain it to me. Thanks for reading!