(Disclaimer: English is my second language, so I want to apologize in advance for there may be mistakes in the text below. If you find any, please let me know so that I can correct it. I'd really appreciate it. Thanks.)
A couple of weeks ago, I stated that The Devil You Know, by K.J. Parker, was the best novella of the year so far. I still think it is, but Forest of Memory, by Mary Robinette Kowal, that came out shortly after, is a close runner-up. In less than one hundred pages, the author manages to explore several different topics with a story that is interesting and very intelligent and has lots of well-thought-out elements.
The first one of them is the format of the novella. Forest of Memory is a document that explains a story involving, among other things, an old typewriter and that is written with that same typewriter. The protagonist, a dealer in antiques that is selling the typewriter to a customer, is not very used to typing in it. This implies that there are some errors and typos throughout the text, something that constantly reminds the reader of who is narrating the story.
And that is the main focus of the novella: the narrator. A narrator that is unreliable because, for reasons that are slowly revealed in the story, lost for some days the connection to all the recording technologies that are omnipresent in the world she lives in and has, thus, to rely only on her memory:
It's important to understand, through this next bit, that I didn't know that I was offline already or that I was talking to Lizzie's buffer on my inboard system.
None of the warning indicators went off to indicate that I'd lost connection to the net.
I doubt my own mind, at times.
I'll tell you that it's strange trying to remember without being able to pull up the recording and just look at it.
In that sense, Forest of Memory addresses questions that have been prominent in science fiction in the last few years (for instance, in "Single-Bit Error", by Ken Liu, and "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling", by Ted Chiang). But it also adds a different dimension, for the novella is also a mystery. Or several ones, in fact: What happened in the forest? Why did Katya loose her connection? Why is she typing the document? And what about the deer? Since the protagonist's memory is unreliable, the reader must doubt every statement and consider every possibility and, in fact, the final revelation is an invitation to interpret all the story in a very different light.
The world-building is also very interesting. Perceived only through glimpses and indirect comments, we discover that Katya's world is one where privacy is almost non-existent and everything can be copied (or printed), thus giving extreme importance to experiences and objects that are original and unique. All this perfectly dovetails with the themes of memory and identity and, in fact, also with the idea of storytelling itself, adding another layer of metareferentiality to the novella.
All in all, Forest of Memory is a very intelligent, though-provoking story in which Kowal masterfully introduces and combines quite a number of original elements while she explores several important topics. I can only give it my highest recommendation.