This story feels a bit like a mid-century John Cheever story – middle class professional men of the buttoned-up cul de sacs encounter a proto-hippie commune in the redwoods and partake of marijuana and music – with a subtle undercurrent of suggested science fiction, implying something a little like Black Mirror’s “San Junipero.” It has some lovely, lyrical moments – the river swim, the awkward flirtation between two of the men, the walk through the woods in inappropriate shoes – and an air of melancholy, of a world that has been lost to fire, divorce, and death.
I’m not sure that the science fiction thread – the ability to externalize memories and upload them into a virtual “Collective Unconscious” to allow anyone to experience anyone else’s perceptions – is entirely successful. It seemed at first like a clever dodge to introduce the narrator as a character, a person who could not have known the details she describes of the encounter in the redwoods. Then it suggested a theme of the sadness of knowing things that might be best unknown – the narrator is not her father’s favorite child, and perusing his memories makes that unavoidably clear. There wasn’t enough of the memory collection technology in the story for it to be as interesting as it could have been: the themes could have been handled with more realistic tropes, and even an acknowledgement that the narrator is engaged in her own imaginative invention could have delivered the themes of consciousness, loss, and the mystery of others’ minds. It felt a bit like the tendency of contemporary literary fiction writers to sneak some genre trappings into their stories without engaging in the genre’s ideas – science fiction as color, not content.
Overall, though, this was a good and enjoyable story – well-written (as one expects from Egan), rich in description and emotion, suggestive without being overt in exploring some interesting themes. A good start to the story-a-day challenge for 2022.