My name is Katya Gould. As you’ve requested, to guarantee this is a unique document, I’m typing it on the 1918 Corona 3 typewriter that I had in my bicycle cart when I was abducted by the man known as Johnny. You will receive both these pages and the typewriter.
And all of the typos that accompany this account.
Some time, well into a highly technological-dependent future where nostalgia is priced high and lived experience is rare, Katya Gould is a dealer of Authenticities and Captures. In this world, everybody is uber-connected, your own personal AI is continuously at your beck and call and memories are reliable because they are verifiable.
When on a job to secure a typewriter for a rich new client, Katya witnesses something she shouldn’t have and is kidnapped by a mysterious masked man who goes by “Johnny” (or “bastard.” That works too). What happens next is a harrowing experience in which she is cut off from the grid, disconnected from her AI for days.
Our story is the aftermath. It’s the (re)telling of that experience and Katya has only her own memory to rely on. Her own fading, unreliable, unverifiable memory. There are no recordings she can pull, no photos she can see, no double-checking her AI can perform. The accounting itself is typed in the old typewriter she is selling, an odd request by the future owner, a way of authenticating the device and the account is riddled with the types of mistakes one can expect from a machine that has no delete button.
In this evocative novella by Mary Robinette Kowal, the narrative is story, the telling (the typing) is plotline, and memory is everything. It’s a story that works on multiple levels: the science-fiction background is more allusion than groundwork but it’s still rich nonetheless, taunting us with what we know and what we don’t. What we don’t know, we can infer because it’s easy to make the jump from now into this future where people are utterly dependent on technology. On that note, the relationship between memory and technology is a topical one; we begin to rely more and more on the cloud, social media, and other devices to rescue what we forget and to not only forge our memories but to make sure they are easily available for us to pull from oblivion. What’s great about the story is that this presentation is not condemnatory of technology per se.
Another level where it works is the way that storytelling folds into itself like a M.C. Escher illustration. Katya’s writing is about authenticating the typewriter, but by writing about her own unique experience, she is authenticating herself. There is no beginning and no ending, all the more so when one takes into consideration the fact that this is an epistolary narrative and those are unreliable by their very nature, depending on who writes it, why, and when. When adding all that, Katya’s unreliability as a narrator is as multifaceted as everything else in the novella.
The reader, whoever they are, just needs to decide whether what is written is the truth. Whatever the truth may be.
In Book Smugglerish: 8 out of 10.