This one is going to be a little different for me because I’m reviewing a collection of short stories. Author and screenwriter Blake Crouch asked some of his favourite dystopian writers to contribute to this project, all about technology and the future… and it’s terrifying, to a degree. I’m not usually drawn to science-fiction or even short stories for that matter, but when I saw Veronica Roth and Andy Weir were participating, and that every story was short enough to be read in one sitting, I figured I would give it a go. Doesn’t hurt to broaden my horizons a little, right?
The synopsis of the whole collection is short and sweet: Six visionary writers explore the far-reaching effects of tech breakthroughs. For some, it’s the end of the world. For others, it’s just the beginning.
Ark by Veronica Roth
On the eve of Earth’s destruction, a young scientist discovers something too precious to lose, in a story of cataclysm and hope.
It’s only two weeks before an asteroid turns home to dust. Though most of Earth has already been evacuated, it’s Samantha’s job to catalog plant samples for the survivors’ unknowable journey beyond.
Preparing to stay behind and watch the world end, she makes a final human connection.
As certain doom hurtles nearer, the unexpected and beautiful potential for the future begins to flower.
I’ve been ranking these stories from the Amazon Forward series in order, and I’d say this one falls third out of the six. It was also the first one I read. It’s probably the least technology heavy of the series, but I liked the characters a lot. I can see the plot of this story actually happening in a not-too-distant future where humans have to leave Earth.
“Well, you can’t love everything equally,” she said. “You just can’t—and if you did, then it’s the same as loving nothing at all.”—Veronica Roth, Ark
Summer Frost by Blake Crouch
On the eve of Earth’s destruction, a young scientist discovers something too precious to lose, in a story of cataclysm and hope.A video game developer becomes obsessed with a willful character in her new project, in a mind-bending exploration of what it means to be human.
Maxine was made to do one thing: die. Except the minor non-player character in the world Riley is building makes her own impossible decision—veering wildly off course and exploring the boundaries of the map. When the curious Riley extracts her code for closer examination, an emotional relationship develops between them. Soon Riley has all new plans for her spontaneous AI, including bringing Max into the real world. But what if Max has real-world plans of her own?
This is my absolute favourite of the Amazon Forward series, which makes sense to me because it was his idea to curate this small collection. I love the fact that it was based on a video game/AI world, and I found it kind of believable in this crazy technological way. I don’t usually read short stories, but this has definitely got me to consider to keep doing it. Love!
“I’m afraid, Riley. I think, therefore I fear.”—Blake Crouch, Summer Frost
Emergency Skin by N.K. Jemisin
What will become of our self-destructed planet? The answer shatters all expectations in this subversive speculation.
An explorer returns to gather information from a climate-ravaged Earth that his ancestors, and others among the planet’s finest, fled centuries ago. The mission comes with a warning: a graveyard world awaits him. But so do those left behind—hopeless and unbeautiful wastes of humanity who should have died out eons ago. After all this time, there’s no telling how they’ve devolved. Steel yourself, soldier. Get in. Get out. And try not to stare.
This was my second favourite story of Amazon’s Forward series. It was also the first time I’ve read anything written in the second person, and it was a great way of giving away only bits and pieces of information as needed. I started out thinking this was going to go one way, and it took a turn that I wasn’t anticipating. It also gave me faith in humanity, which was exactly what I needed during this Covid-19 pandemic.
“Sometimes that’s all it takes to save a world, you see. A new vision. A new way of thinking, appearing at just the right time.”—N.K. Jemisin, Emergency Skin
You Have Arrived At Your Destination by Amor Towles
Nature or nurture? Neither. Discover a bold new way to raise a child in this unsettling story of the near future.
When Sam’s wife first tells him about Vitek, a twenty-first-century fertility lab, he sees it as the natural next step in trying to help their future child get a “leg up” in a competitive world. But the more Sam considers the lives that his child could lead, the more he begins to question his own relationships and the choices he has made in his life.
I’d rank this one four out of six in Amazon’s Forward series. It was perfectly okay and really made me think about what is going to soon be possible beyond IVF (in terms of handpicking genetic material), but it didn’t really go anywhere for me. I wish the ending was better.
“We are who we are, right? There’s no point in pushing our personalities uphill.”—Amor Towles, You Have Arrived At Your Destination
The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay
What’s more frightening: Not knowing who you are? Or finding out? The answer is explored in a chilling story about identity and human consciousness.
Imagine you’ve woken up in an unfamiliar room with no memory of who you are, how you got there, or where you were before. All you have is the disconnected voice of an attentive caretaker. Dr. Kuhn is there to help you—physically, emotionally, and psychologically. She’ll help you remember everything. She’ll make sure you reclaim your lost identity. Now answer one question: Are you sure you want to?
This one is ranked fifth out of six for me in Amazon’s Forward series. This was one written in the second person, which I’ve learned I enjoy; it adds extra mystery. I was excited by the premise and was really intrigued by where the plot was going to go, but I was disappointed. The topic (which I won’t mention for spoiler purposes)? Boring.
“To forget is to lose something that was once yours, that was once of yourself. But how could one lose something as expansive as an ocean in a dusty corner of one’s mind?”—Paul Tremblay, The Last Conversation
Randomize by Andy Weir
In the near future, if Vegas games are ingeniously scam-proof, then the heists have to be too, in this imaginative and whip-smart story.
An IT whiz at the Babylon Casino is enlisted to upgrade security for the game of keno and its random-number generator. The new quantum computer system is foolproof. But someone on the inside is no fool. For once the odds may not favor the house—unless human ingenuity isn’t entirely a thing of the past.
I was most looking forward to reading this story in Amazon’s Forward series because I absolutely loved The Martian, but it was my least favourite of the group. The technological part seemed possible now, and the stakes weren’t really high. I didn’t really care about what happened to any of the characters. Weir tried to give us a plot twist at the end, but it didn’t take me on an unpredictable adventure. I don’t even have a quote that I can use…
Thank you to Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash for the featured photo.