Forest of Memory
This book was provided to me by the publisher at no cost.
Mary Robinette Kowal takes the idea of memory and its fallibility as her central theme in this novella, and pairs it with the ever-fascinating ideas of narrative, and unreliable narrators, and their motivations.
Kowal’s narrator lives in a world of permanent connection, through her intelligent system, and a world of permanent life-casting – ideas that have a strong hold on the world of science fiction writing at the moment. I was strongly reminded of Ted Chiang’s awesome “The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling.” That story is a much more rigorous exploration of the same general themes, not least because it is much longer and because it pairs those themes with ideas connecting language and meaning and memory. The two work really nicely together.
Anyway, Katya is telling a story to persons unknown who have asked for the story of three days when she was offline. (The page before the story opens has this dedication: “For Jay Lake and Ken Scholes / Who asked me to tell them a story” – which is pretty amusing in context.) She is a dealer in Authenticities, meaning old stuff with wabi-sabi (a Japanese term, she explains, of something that witnesses and records the graceful decay of life), as well as Captures on the side – that is, she sells the record of her personal experiences. The difficulty she has, of course, is that for the three days she was offline she will need to rely on her own memories, rather than asking for a replay from her i-sys. She is super aware of the possibilities here of her own unreliability, reflecting on them and looping back on herself as she considers whether or not to trust herself. It’s a wonderfully constructed piece of worry.
There’s not a whole lot of action in the story, really, and it raises enormous questions about the world in which it’s set and the reasons for why someone wants Katya’s story. I rather hope that Kowal might consider writing more stories, or a novel, set in this world and further exploring the issues raised.