Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review: FORWARD COLLECTION (Amazon Original Stories)


This collection of stories is about looking forward in some way, usually involving futuristic technology or scientific discoveries. The stories fall into the science fiction, fantasy, or dystopian genres, and each author has a different take on the idea, producing an eclectic mix of stories. I don't tend to read or enjoy short stories very often, but I wanted to give these ones a try because I recognize all these authors and I do enjoy the general concept behind this collection. 

"ARK" by Veronica Roth3.5/5 stars  

I have come to realize that I really enjoy apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic/dystopian stories. This one follows Samantha, one of the last humans left on Earth. Most humans have already escaped to Earth the Sequel to avoid the imminent collision of an asteroid that will wipe out all life on Earth, but Samantha and a group of scientists are the last ones to leave because they must catalogue all the flora and fauna species possible so they can take the data with them to their new planet. There is a lot of talk about plants in this story, and I really enjoyed it; plants are fascinating to me. This story also talks about the value of life and what's worth living for. This was one of the stronger stories included in this collection.

"EMERGENCY SKIN" by N. K. Jemisin4.5/5 stars

This story was so fascinating, but I also don't know how to explain what it's about. It's told in second-person POV from the voice of your commander that's inside your head. You don't say anything or have any thoughts on-page in this story, but it can be inferred what you are thinking based on what the commander's responses are to you. You are from a new Earth, coming back to this, the original Earth, now called Tellus, on a mission to acquire HeLa cell cultures to keep the population on your home planet alive. But when you arrive, the people on Tellus are not the uncultured savages you expected to find. I'm not doing a very good job of explaining this story, but it's amazing; go read it. It's the best in the collection. N. K. Jemisin knows how to write impactful and timely stories, touching on social topics that are relevant to our current society. Her stories have such a unique concept and a distinct voice, and "Emergency Skin" was no different. 

"RANDOMIZE" by Andy Weir1.5/5 stars  

This story was rather confusing, to be honest. Basically, it follows an IT guy setting up a quantum computer at a casino to stop hackers from winning megabucks in futuristic Las Vegas. Not science-fictiony enough for me because it seemed like it took place in the current world and I expected something more. While I love reading about futuristic technology, the stuff in this story went right over my head. I’m not a physicist, and it almost feels like that’s what you need to be to understand the details going on here. I got the gist of the plot, but I’m sure I would have enjoyed it more had it not been full of technical jargon that would be more suited to someone actually in IT. While I normally don’t mind new terminology if it benefits the story, it did nothing for the plot here. I think this same story could have been told using language more suited to us plebeians and it would have been just as impactful. Not to mention the characters are flat, the conversations are stilted and unrealistic, and the story was lackluster, albeit slightly unpredictable. I still want to check out The Martian by Andy Weir, but I sure hope it’s not as technical as this story or I know I won’t enjoy it. "Randomize" is by far the weakest story in the Forward Collection in my opinion. 

"THE LAST CONVERSATION" by Paul Tremblay4/5 stars

Wow, that was a trip! I definitely want to read more from Paul Tremblay after this story. He’s known for horror but this story wasn’t scary, more unsettling because of a constant feeling of not knowing something. This story starts out with you waking up, and you don’t know how long you’ve been asleep or where you are or what’s going on. Slowly throughout the story, you start to become aware of your surroundings and you start to regain your memories. And yes, I mean you. This story is told in second-person POV, which I always love! It’s so rare and unique, and it really fitted the story here. I won’t say anymore because the feeling of being in the dark, both literally and metaphorically, was so compelling for me. I flew through this story and I want more; this is a story that has me wanting it to be part of a full-length novel because I want to know more details about the world. "The Last Conversation" is definitely one of the more engaging stories in the Forward Collection.


This was the most interesting story in this collection. The concept was very intriguing, and Amor Towles sure knows how to craft a fascinating story.

Sam and Annie go to Vitek for an IVF, but the company is unlike any other fertility business out there: they give you the option to customize the personality of your child. Using genetic data from many generations of people in similar socioeconomic backgrounds and with similar nurturing, Vitek is able to hypothesize about what your child will be like. Sam and Annie watch three videos about three options of a future child they could have, videos that show the highs and lows of each model’s entire life. What would it be like to see your child’s life before they were even conceived? The parents get to decide what kind of child they want to raise. This concept was very interesting because it seemed so realistic, like this technology could actually happen within the next five to ten years.

I didn’t really understand the ending though. I tried to find an explanation online of what the implications meant, but it seems like a lot of other people struggled with the ending as well. The story was really strong and thought-provoking up until the last couple of pages where things just went downhill.

I definitely want to check out more from Amor Towles now though because the writing in this book was impeccable and the story was imaginative.

"SUMMER FROST" by Blake Crouch3/5 stars

This story was kind of hard for me to wrap my head around at first, but it’s about Riley, a human, and Max, the AI NPC that Riley created for a video game who ends up becoming self-aware and gaining autonomy through a human body. There is a lot of great characterization in this story with both Riley and Max, especially for it not being a full-length novel. This story talks about what it means to be a human and what the limitations of humanity are. It talks about the relationships between humans and technology. I love stories about video games that go beyond the current boundaries of gameplay, so I enjoyed this story.

There is a lot of philosophical debate in here as well, which I found really interesting. Crouch talks about humanity and consciousness and what happens when artificial intelligence becomes all-knowing—are they more like God or like Satan?

This is the longest story in the collection, and it definitely feels more like a novella than a short story, but the length only benefitted the story and its outcome.

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