Review: UNFORGETTABLE, by Eric James Stone
Prolific short story writer Stone gives us an American James Bond with real-world tech and an uncontrolled ability to slip between the quantum layers of human memory.
In 2016, a popular Mountain West short-story author landed a contract for a full-length novel with the estimable Baen Books; his name is Eric James Stone, and if you haven’t heard of him, you’re leaving some fun on the table. He’s perhaps best known for That Leviathan, Whom Thou Hast Made and Tabloid Reporter To The Stars. I heartily recommend that second one, as it’s both a poignant commentary on man’s hubris and a laugh-out-loud gut punch that you won’t see coming.
Today though, we’re talking about his Baen debut, UNFORGETTABLE.
Right out the gate, you get a little bit of backstory on the main character. It’s necessary, because he’s got a complicated condition and you, the reader, need to understand what it means for him. This is perhaps the only excusable example I’ve seen of “starting out by looking in the mirror.”
Nat Morgan is a quantum accident. He doesn’t know why or how, only that his condition is hard-wired into him: once he’s been out of your sight for a minute or two, you completely forget you knew him. His name, his face, any interactions you had together, all of it, just gone.
This was troubling for his mother, who forgot she had a baby when she went to the hospital. She kept forgetting she had an infant in the crib next to her room. Kept wondering why she woke up to a crying child. She started writing it all down in journals so she could remind herself day after day after day, because the simple act of going to sleep made her forget about her son.
She managed for a while, as only a loving parent could, until one day her house burned down and all the journals went with it, and Nat was utterly screwed. He had to say goodbye at a very early age because he couldn’t convince his mother that he was her son.
So he lived a day-to-day existence, surviving by taking what he needed when he needed it, because nobody was ever going to come looking for him. Eventually he realized this would make him the perfect secret agent, so he walked into the CIA headquarters, demonstrated his ability to the brass, and got hired on as a spy.
It’s kind of funny when Nat is out on a mission for the Agency, and he has to call in to his handler, and the first words out of his mouth are “Hey, open your bottom right drawer and read that file that explains who I am, it’s all in your handwriting.” Stone does an AWESOME job of managing the mechanics of the character without dumping a thousand words onto the page every time.
(Unlike your reviewer here…)
Anyway, if that’s not a cool enough setup, things go sideways when Nat is on a mission and ends up briefly handcuffed to a hot Russian spy (because hell yeah) named Yelena. While they’re farting around in a lab looking for something to cut the cuffs off, something happens to them and Yelena becomes the one person in the world who doesn’t lose her memories of Nat.
Imagine the implications…
Suddenly their fates are tied together in a way Nat has never had to experience, and they team up to rescue a scientist whose work may very well be the key to controlling the future of mankind.
Get ready for a very entertaining ride.
Nat and Yelena play off of each other very well. Nat might be James Bond as far as his credentials go, but he’s not a tux-and-specialty-drink kind of spy; he’s a little bit more Jason Bourne, without the Special Forces training.
Yelena is more of the entrenched bureaucracy cog, though not as forgettable as Nat, so their natural strengths and weaknesses fit for the job at hand. Stone writes believable human beings, doing and saying believable things.
Our world, five or ten minutes into the future. Similar geopolitics, and Stone stresses in an author’s note that the technology he writes into the story all exists IRL.
None of the crap you’d see on Twitter. Typical international stuff, America is the good guy, Russia is the bad guy, go grab this Iranian dude, etc.
100% clean. No sex and I remember thinking by the end of it that Stone didn’t drop a single curse word in it.
Who’s it for
If you like spy-capers and “95/5 science-fiction,” pick this one up and see how it treats you.
Why read it?
Stone gives us a throwback to the “what-if” sci-fi that Philip K. Dick used to throw at you, where you’re in the head of a protagonist dealing with this one incredibly weird thing that makes his entire life different from ours. And he does it at the speed of an Ian Fleming novel. UNFORGETTABLE is a well-executed overlap of two skillsets that deserves a little more appreciation.