Mostly I got this collection because I was interested in some short stories for walks and I like the mix of authors in general. Blake Crouch tells us in the intro/outro to each story the basic purpose of the collection, and like all such genre anthologies, it’s a mixed bag. The audio productions are really good with Evan Rachel Wood, Jason Isaacs, Rosa Salazar, David Harbour, Steven Strait, and Janina Gavankar are the readers of these stories. Each come in around an hour and all amount to a much better Audible Original than the monthly ones tend to be. They are cheaper individually than as a credit. Go figure.
Ark – Veronica Roth
I have to say that I hated Divergent and thought it was particularly poorly written. But Veronica Roth was like 22 when she wrote the first one. This story is oddly quite subtle and touching. Humanity is doomed, now under the shadow of an asteroid on a near certain bee line for Earth some decades or years away, but the inevitability of the event is everything. We are with a young horticulturalist in the wake of her father’s suicide wrapping things up on Earth in Svalbard Global Seed Vault cataloguing entries into a would be ark to collect the fauna of Earth. As she deals with her task, deals with the seeds, deals with her father’s life and death, and deals with the trajectory of her own life, forever in the shadow of the asteroid, born into the world on the path, she considers life. What makes this interesting and subtle especially is the way the book mirrors and emulates the great nuclear war novel On the Beach by Nevil Chute, where Australia waits to be hit by the wave of nuclear radiation that has killed off the rest of the world. Evan Rachel Wood proves to be as good a narrator as an actress.
Emergency Skin – NK Jemisin
A considerably less subtle (sometimes glaring) story about a former Earthling (an ancestor to long-gone colonists) returning to Earth as a skinless being in a bio-suit in order to collect and abscond with precious bio-material used in the genetic engineering of his home planet. The story is primarily told through the narration to the traveler by his on-board computer intelligence that is mean to guide him on his journey. As he lands, aware of his danger he takes precaution in his approach, the intelligence tells him, and us about the history that has led him there — the colony’s running from human’s wasteful use of resources on everyone, regardless of their ability to contribute back. For his task, he is promised true, genetic, organic skin. He can survive on Earth through synthetic skin.
He is surprised to find out that when he arrives on Earth he’s treated kindly, given what he needs, and given time to reflect on the history he’s been taught.
Like I said, it’s about as subtle as a hammer, but it’s inventive and interesting. It does “short story” really well and also feels a lot like the kinds of overt stories written in the 1950s.
The Rest of “Forward”
The rest of the stories are also a mixed bag. The Amor Towles story, about a genetic engineering firm that can help you predict the possible paths your unborn child’s life will take based on looking at lives in a classic “Three act” structure. A man is viewing the possibilities his wife has chosen. He’s beginning to realize that maybe these choices aren’t really for them together. This is the least science fiction of all the stories, but it’s the best written of the bunch.
The Andy Weir story uses a lot of recent computer technology and quantum computing math to throw at you as an engineer and his wife attempt to swindle a Vegas casino by scamming keno based on “random number generators” recently installed.
The Black Crouch story is about an AI in an online VR video game that takes on a literal life of its own.
The Paul Trembley story is about a man who wakes up with his wife, but he has no memory. They’re all alone in some kind of post-apocalyptic lab as she coaches his on his memory.
When it’s all said and done, I like these stories, but they’re not changing lives. They’d make for a really good anthology tv series and could lead to other stories down the line. They’re very Twilight Zone-y or Black Mirrorish, which makes them fun and interesting, but limited.