Katya is a dealer in Authenticities and Captures, remnants of a world long gone. She finds old things and sells them to her rich clients. She is constantly connected to the grid, which provides her with information when she asks it to, gives her warnings when she needs them and so on. One day, Katya is forced to stop her bike on her way into the city, in order to let some deer cross the road undisturbed. Suddenly, one of the deer is shot and Katya’s life gets very interesting. For one thing, she is no longer connected to the grid. Secondly, shooting deer is illegal, and the masked man who now stands in front of her with a rifle in his hands doesn’t seem too keen to have witnesses to his crime.
Katya retells the events as she remembers them. In this world, being connected to the grid does your job of remembering things for you, uploading information constantly. So, if you never have to use your memory, how well can you do it when you have to? Is Katya a reliable narrator? Did things really happen the way she told them?
It is an intriguing thought. Studies have shown that memories are fickle things to begin with, and they only deteriorate the more we try to access them. The premise of Mary Robinette Kowal’s novella ”Forest of Memory” is, I find, particularly interesting in this day and age, when you hardly ever have to remember things like birthdays and appointments, because your computer or your phone does that for you. So this book had a lot of potential. But somewhere along the way (quite early on, to be honest) it lost me. The big question that it asks, the reliability of its narrator, is never really an issue. The story doesn’t give us reason to doubt Katya, except when she says so herself. There are no conflicting events, no muddy descriptions, nothing to contradict her account of what happened. I felt there was a lot of wasted potential there to discuss the nature of memories.
The writing was generally good, giving off kind of a steampunk vibe for me. The only complaint I have with it is that Katya is documenting these experiences on a typewriter, and Robinette Kowal makes sure we know that by littering the pages with typos on purpose. I thought that was distracting and didn’t add much to the story.
All in all, this is an interesting, surreal kind of book, which stops just short of crossing over to good stuff. Maybe if it had been full-length it would have had more room to really elaborate on its ideas.