Review: Forward Series Pt. 1

Amazon recently released brand new original stories in the form of the FORWARD series. Provided to all Prime users for free as e-books along with Audible narration from various actors and actresses in the trendiest sci-fi shows/movies.

I managed to get through the first three this past week and unlike some series that are a mixed bag, I was pleasantly surprised. I’m reading them in the order Amazon gives them, but they are all standalone stories, so read whichever that sparks your fancy.

Ranging from the near future to the very far future, these FORWARD series takes a concept or theme of humanity alongside technology and reexamines it under the light of a few decades or hundreds of years.

I’ll offer a brief summary and review of each of these and keep your eyes open for part 2 next week!

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Kicking this series off is ARK by Veronica Roth, with the audio version narrated by Evan Rachel Wood from WESTWORLD. I have read Roth’s DIVERGENT series many years ago and found them overall pretty underwhelming, although I know I wasn’t the audience, I was pretty pleased with this story.

It’s been twenty years since the asteroid was spotted. Most of Earth has now been evacuated with only a lonely team, left to catalog plant samples for the survivor’s journey. Only, Samantha isn’t planning on going with her peers. She is preparing to stay behind to watch the world end, but she is unprepared when one of the other scientists opens up and she is forced to be vulnerable.

A story that is both tragic and hopeful, Roth makes this brief aside a lovely reflection on what is like to be human, even in the face of utter annihilation. Samantha’s unwillingness to be vulnerable, alongside her clear compassion for others is textbook human complexity and insightful touch. Both a meditation on humanity and on grief, ARK is a quiet, but stirring story of human connection.

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Changing gear quiet a bit, is the science fiction thriller, SUMMER FROST by Black Crouch. Almost double the length of the previous story, Crouch depicts a story of intimacy and obsession. We follow Riley, a game developer, who becomes fascinated with an NPC-script and begins a closer study. This code taken from the NPC, named ‘Maxine,’ becomes an obsession for Riley, who develops an emotional relationship with this new Artificial Intelligence. The only problem is, does Riley put too much faith in Maxine’s benevolence?

Straddling the line between a high-octane thriller and the off-putting horror that is BLACK MIRROR, Crouch has managed to synthesize both genres into one. Riley is a particularly well-drawn character, who you love and hate throughout this story. It takes some real craft to make that happen in a sub-100 page story. The themes surrounding trust, love, and obsession are woven together quite tightly and really pushes the story toward a thrilling conclusion.

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And finally, EMERGENCY SKIN by N.K. Jemisin, which is my favorite so far. This story takes place far far into the future but remains surprisingly grounded if not strikingly relevant to our time and place in history. I’ve loved just about everything Jemisin has written, so finding this story enjoyable was not a surprise. I did listen to this one on audible and Jason Issacs does a fantastic job.

When a single passenger sent from a far-flung planet returns to climate-ravaged Earth, his mission becomes much more complicated when they arrive. While I don’t want to say more lest I spoil it, this story is told in a classicly Jemisin way, which allows the story to work. Despite its overall simple nature and somewhat contemporary messaging, Jemisin is able to create a moving, ultimately hopeful narrative. It all works so well and I wish I could say more, but you just have to listen or read it in order to understand. Do not sleep on this novelette by the 3-time Hugo winning author!

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