The future isn’t that bad! Well, it is full of disasters- pandemic, plague, asteroids, climate change, robot uprising -but there are always sparks of humanity ready to push through none the less.
Amazon’s Forward collection, a group of five short stories from some big names, throw some big ideas out into the universe and let you, in a way, choose your own adventure! I suppose there is a “correct” order in which to read these, but I didn’t bother. I don’t think my experience suffered from it, other than the fact that I read what was clearly (and not surprisingly) the best piece first: N.K. Jemison’s Emergency Skin. Being the racoon that I am, I then just grabbed whichever cover caught my eye and set myself upon devouring these stories in one sitting- which was the point! This collection was created to be a bite-sized collection; like a spread of sci-fi tapas as opposed to a three-course space opera. All of these stories are also available with audio narration, but I only listened to You Have Arrived at Your Destination– which was also the last of the collection for me. David Harbour narrated (all of the adaptations have recognizable names) and he was great! He sounded so much like William Hurt, I was absolutely entranced.
Ark – 3/5
I have to admit, I went into Ark expecting very little. I am not a fan of the Divergent series, and I am not familiar with anything else from Roth. Ark changed my mind with a delicate and crushing story of a woman facing down the end of the world. Sam grew up knowing that an asteroid was coming to destroy the world, and now she and others who share her fate are clustered around the Svalbard Global Seed Vault cataloging countless horticultural specimen and counting down the days until their Ark leaves the Earth for greener? Safer? Existent? pastures. Sam and other people with “nothing left to lose” are bundled up together at the North Pole waiting for the end of the world. Her state is fragile without being helpless, and she’s resourceful without being thrust into “inexplicable badass” territory. Ark is stark, bleak, fatalist, but strangely hopeful- I’d love to see it developed into something bigger.
Emergency Skin – 5/5
Emergency Skin breathed life into my dystopian future fatigue! This is my only journey into the work of Jemisin, and I intend to dive-in head first into more of their work ASAP. Emergency Skin hit me in the same way that Becky Chamber’s Wayfarers series did; yeah maybe the future has a good deal to overcome and to atone for, but that does not mean that we are all doomed to dystopian nightmares! A being from the post-Earth world is sent back to the “doomed” home planet in order to collect much-needed samples to keep their current world afloat. Except, the new world is a capitalist and racist nightmare lorded over by “The Founders” (sound familiar?!) – a group that got the hell out of Dodge after triggering and refusing to attend to the climate crisis. The Founders – shock of all shocks – have not been truthful with this grunt (or the countless others before it) who has been sent to the “ruined” world to scrounge for scraps. I cannot tell any more, as I do not want to ruin the adventure. If you need a sci-fi boost, especially right now around our current political climate- then hook Emergency Skin directly into your veins. You will not be disappointed.
The Last Conversation – 4/5
Paul Tremblay delivers the creepiest piece of the bunch- surprise, surprise. A man wakes up blind and weak in a walled-off, glassed-out space and is cajoled into sentience and strength by a voice claiming to know, and be known, by them. Something is dreadfully wrong, and with every step towards rehabilitation for the narrator, the reader will take another step into a deep, dark, and murky lake. We may not know exactly what is wrong (although you will figure it out pretty quickly, I promise) but our poor doomed narrator has no idea what they are up against. This piece frequently rubs uncomfortably against our current pandemic world, but Tremblay knows how to make choose to explore the abyss further than we should; we know better than to trust, but we follow his directions nonetheless- much like our hapless and doomed narrator.
Randomize – 2/5
Hmm. Andy Weir must have been told, over and over again, how very very smart he is. He goes out of his way to make sure that you also know that he is the smartest smart boy in smart town, and that you will never have a tenth of a chance of understanding what he is laying out as, once again, he is SO very smart and you are SO very slow. He would like you to know that it is so charitable of him to take the time to explain to you how very smart he is, and to soothe you over the fact that you will never be smart enough to understand the concepts that he is so generously laying out before you! Randomize does shitty things with race, gender, and intelligence. I suppose it is compelling- what sort of dreck is this man going to force onto us in these next few pages, and if I roll my eyes hard enough will they become permanently lodged in the back of my head- but Randomize is a cheap and lazy story from a…dare I say? Cheap and lazy man.
You Have Arrived at Your Destination – 4/5
Designer babies have been in the conversation for a bit- but what if you could choose beyond gender and eye color? What if you could choose a life trajectory based off of a few common denominators? Amor Towles takes credit reports and middle aged dudes by the lapels and throws them headfirst into a future where a movie trailer can decide the fate of your designer child. Have a seat, kick up you feet, and watch the next 35 years of your potential child unfold on the screen in front of you. What’s that, it’s too much to handle? It hits too hard against your own upbringing? Don’t worry, he’s also provided a dive bar with intriguingly broken fluorescent lighting for you to throw your body in supplication to the bar. The main character is a boob, the concept is fun, and the writing is razor-sharp. You will enjoy the ride and hate the rider with equal enthusiasm.
Summer Frost – 3/5
Blake Crouch is the curator of this collection, and his addition is-fine! Summer Frost is derivative of every person-bonds-with-AI story ever told, but it is well developed and constructed. A game developer rescues a character from a game, building a world for that character to become a terribly capable and intelligent participant within the human world. If you’ve seen Ex Machina (and if you haven’t- what are you waiting for?!) then you know this story- but it’s a creepingly crushing experience none the less. It’s like watching a car crash in slow-motion; there’s nothing you can do, but man of man do you hope that flailing your arms and yelling “STOP!” might help!
All together, the collection was a 3.4 rounded up to a solid 4.