Forward is a collection of short science fiction stories available for free download if you’re an Amazon Prime member, much like Amazon’s earlier horror collection Disorder.
Andy Weir, who became successful after self-publishing his novel The Martian, provides a short story titled “Randomize”. Present-day computers can’t actually generate random numbers, just pseudo-random numbers. In this story, quantum computers disrupt the casino industry because they’re able to figure out what the pseudo-random numbers are.
I personally didn’t care for this story. First off, I didn’t buy that only one person at one casino was able to see the quantum-computing problem coming. Secondly, too much of the story consisted of info dumps explaining things to the reader. Thirdly, the characters didn’t feel fleshed out enough to me. Most of them seem little more than embodiments of their jobs. The IT guy doesn’t have much personality besides being enthusiastic about computers, the casino owner only cares about making his casino more money, etc.
Paul Tremblay’s novel A Head Full of Ghosts stuck with me long after I’d finished reading it, so I was looking forward to “The Last Conversation”. However, this one disappointed me. As the story starts, “you” wake up in a room, disoriented. You can’t leave the room, but a woman called Anne communicates with you through a speaker. She says you are not a prisoner and she’s there to help you recover your memories. Is Anne telling the truth or has she gone to a ridiculous amount of trouble just to gaslight you for little to no reason?
“The Last Conversation” has a fairly standard sci-fi plot with a predictable surprise ending that sci-fi fans will have encountered several times before. It’s written in the second person, which always feels gimmicky. Also, when the name of the narrator appears in dialogue, it appears as ______. I initially thought the author did this so the reader could feel like they were the narrator, however, we’re given specific details about who the narrator is, so it can’t be the reader. I then wondered if he did this in order to keep the gender of the narrator a secret, but he could have easily done that by giving the narrator a gender-neutral name. Besides, there’s really no reason to keep either the narrator’s name or gender secret. It seems to be just a gimmick.
Making the story feel more gimmicky, there are chapters which consist only of dialogue, and one chapter which gives us only one side of a conversation. Also, ______ is a literal person at first and has to learn what a metaphor is, which I also found annoying. However, as a writer myself, I know it’s fun to engage in experiments like this just to see if you can do it, so I guess I shouldn’t be too hard on him.
At one point we’re told that “within the glass is a small, reversed image of you sitting in your bed” however later on, we’re told ______ has never looked into a mirror. I guess this small reversed image doesn’t count. When ______ finally does look into a proper mirror, age, gender, and race are still kept secret from the reader for no discernible reason.
On the plus side, the story does a good job of building tension, even if it takes a bit too long for ______ to finally realize what the reader figured out long ago. I also liked a few lines like “She tells you that you’re okay even though you don’t feel okay” and something “might not be true, but it feels true, and that’s okay because you are expanding beyond binary thinking, beyond true and not-true.” Also, the characters do feel like real people with real personalities. I like the way they joke around with each other sometimes. So it’s not all bad.
The subject of “You Have Arrived at Your Destination” by Amor Towles is designer babies, so it’s a bit reminiscent of Gattica. Not only does the company combine the best genes from both mother and father, but they also use demographic information to predict how the nurture component will likely affect the child’s personality.
Sam’s wife Annie has narrowed down the choices of who their child will be to three very different life paths. Sam watches a simulation of the different ways his son’s life will turn out. Although each version of his son has a different personality suited to a different life path, they each find happiness in their own way. The story raises an interesting question. If you could predict what your child’s life will be like, which life would you choose for them? Parents often treat children as a way to do their own lives over, try to steer their children away from making the same mistakes they did. Would you rather pick a child who is a bully or a child who gets bullied? Would you rather choose success or happiness? I’d personally prefer to roll the dice and just see what happens rather than plan everything out, which I think is the answer the author is going for.
This story really made me think. Although I liked the bar scene at the end, it did seem a bit disconnected from the rest of the story.