Forest of Memory
“so well done.”
Forest of Memory is another beautiful novella from Tor.com. Katya is a dealer in Authenticities—antique objects that have survived into a near-future where people can print anything, important because they have real history, real craftsmanship, and real age. People buy them for their realness in an easily artificial world. On one of her trips to gather items for sale, she stumbles upon a man in a mask doing something mysterious in the woods. Because of him, she's cut off from the automatic recording of the Internet and her onboard artificial intelligence device Lizzie, and so her story of what happened in the three days when she was taken by that man cannot be verified and can only be as reliable as unaided memory.
It's a slim book, only 88 pages, but it's packed with interesting and believable ideas about a world where everyone and everything are connected to the Internet automatically—and what happens when you find yourself disconnected. It's almost more of an artfully posed question than a story, offering details and pointedly not interpreting them.
Katya doesn't know what the events that happened to her mean, and she tells them so that the reader can interpret their own meaning from them. She doesn't have a physical record of those days, and so she's forced to confront how actual memory works, how mutable it is, and what it means to be a person separate from the technology she takes for granted.
In those few pages, Forest of Memory manages to build a world that's close to ours but far enough advanced that it's intriguingly different. It presents a portait of a woman who has never questioned that world, just beginning to realize that there are questions that need asking—questions that are left for the reader to ask themselves, and that are neither warnings nor predictions, but something of both.
And it offers a series of weird events that point to a bigger story that Katya is almost entirely unaware of, but we can see the edges of by the end of the book. It does this with an easy grace that pulls you along in a quick read, smoothly presenting a world and then showing the cracks in it, through the point of view of a girl who feels real.
If the best thing good art can do is leave you wanting more, Forest of Memory has done it right. A lot is left implied, but the story being told here of those three days doesn't feel cheated. It feels like everything we need is there, and the mystery is a gift for us to figure out. Some novellas feel rushed or like they're skimmed over, but this isn't one of them; it reads as whole as any short story, expanded long enough to be exactly what it is: a report of a mysterious event. The open-endedness of the conclusions drawn is the point of the narrative, the reason for the story, not a failing. And it's so well done.