Forward: A Terrifying Future Awaits
Author Jeremy Finley examines Forward, a short story collection featuring six visionary writers who explore the far-reaching effects of tech breakthroughs. For some, it’s the end of the world. For others, it’s just the beginning. Forward is available for free to all Amazon Prime members. For more information, click here.
The future, as a concept, has a duality that is too often ignored. We prefer, instead, to place it on a dizzyingly high platform, surrounded on all sides by glaring spotlights, accompanied by a trio of trumpets. Attend any high school graduation and the future is revered, declared a place where anything is possible, where the best days are waiting, in which all our hard work will finally be rewarded. The future, we are taught, is the reason to keep believing, even as politicians padlock our collective humanity in a cage and toss it into the deepest part of the ocean, waiting to see how far it will sink into the muck.
The astonishing and chilling collection of stories, Forward, reveals the other side of future, revealing a mindset that therapists and the coaching staff of the Baltimore Orioles cannot embrace: what if the worst is not in our past or present, and the days and years to come is something to fear?
This is not to say Forward professes futility. The starting line up of contributing authors—Blake Crouch, Amor Towles, Veronica Roth, N.K. Jemisin, Paul Tremblay, Andy Weir— is plucked from among the best science and speculative fiction writers working today, and their visions often reveal a bleakness filled with characters of strength and resolve that demonstrate why the human race will not go quietly into the End of Days.
Chief among the collection is Ark, by Veronica Roth, who demonstrates once again why she continues to ensnare reads beyond her wildly popular Divergent series. As the title suggests, Roth introduces us to Samantha, who is among the last of the world’s population preparing to jet off to a new planet as an asteroid approaches, ready to lay waste to Earth.
If that premise sounds like a rerun of something you’d see on the SyFy Channel while folding laundry on Sunday, then Roth proves any doubters wrong by introducing Samantha, a horticulturist, and her friendship with Hagen, a scientist. The two form a bond over an agonizing choice: if you have already lost everything you love, is life still worth living?
Samantha is part of a team identifying and preserving samples of the world’s plants, and Hagen surrounds himself in his greenhouse with varieties of orchids. The flower plays an instrumental role in both their lives, and as the clock ticks down to doomsday, Hagen confirms that he does not intend to leave on the Ark ship. A widower who is still very much in love with his late wife, he simply does not want to leave his home.
Samantha, whose co-workers are also referred to as “orphans” given that they have no family still living, grapples with whether or not to remain on Earth as well. Samantha, as we all would do knowing the end was near, spends much of the time remembering bittersweet times with those she loved and lost.
After she makes her final decision, she then makes a discovery about an orchid that shakes her to her core. It is this moment that makes Ark a revelation, a story you wish would continue to linger.
If Ark is a gentle and gripping, then Paul Tremblay’s The Last Conversation is a gut punch. From the story’s first paragraph, the horror master responsible for The Cabin at the End of the World straps you for what he does best: disturb and enlighten.
The never-named main character awakes in a room void of light, in constant pain and without memory, whose only companion is a voice that is monitoring his every move. It is soon revealed that a plague of sorts has wiped out the world, and the voice outside belongs to the unseen Dr. Anne Kuhn, a taskmaster that leaves the man both in physical and emotional agony.
The brilliance of the story comes in the slow burn between the two, as Dr. Kuhn continually quizzes the man in order to jump-start his memory, and pushes him to regain his physical strength on a treadmill that, is noted, was originally created as a torture device (thanks Planet Fitness). The classic master-verses-servant tale is flipped on its head when Dr. Kuhn begins to reveal her own past in a series of home videos that the man repeatedly watches.
Deftly avoiding a jarring revelation of who Dr. Kuhn and the man in the room are, the story instead peels back a bit of truth at a time, until you are left with a connection that is completely unexpected. What begins as sinister and ruthless reveals itself as something else entirely. To say more is to ruin the brilliant and heart-breaking ending that demonstrates a fierce will to survive.
The title of Forward leads the reader to believe these are stories about adapting to what lies before us, but another meaning lies just beneath the surface. Even facing fear and uncertainty, there is truly only one direction to go. Forward.