The Last Conversation – by Paul Tremblay

As promised, here I am once again, commenting on another piece of the Forward collection – this time, The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay. I picked it up randomly from the stories I had left, without any specific expectation either on its quality or vibe. So let’s talk about what I have found.

Title: The Last Conversation

Author: Paul Tremblay

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Publication Date: 17 September 2019

Genre: Science Fiction – Horror

Length: 56 pages

Standalone or Series: Standalone (included in Forward, a collection of entirely independent stories by different authors).

Synopsis: A person — whose name and gender are never disclosed, as they’re simply designed as “you” — wakes up, alone in a room; blind and in pain, and with no memory whatsoever. The only existing interaction is with the disconnected voice of a mysterious caretaker, who later reveals her identity as Dr. Anne Kuhn, and who instructs the main character through a speaker: testing their condition, but also, bit by bit, revealing some information about their past connection, about the world they inhabit – apparently ravaged by a pandemic, to which the protagonist apparently survived only by being stored away by unspecified means. As the pieces of the puzzle somehow start to fall together, the main character is faced with a most disturbing reveal.

Analysis: The Last Conversation alternates a pressing second person narration with long, disembodied lines of conversation. The effect is unnerving by design, conveying very effectively the sense of alienation the main character is experiencing. Information is only sparingly provided to the reader, who not unlike the character must struggle to find their bearings.

Such a stylistic choice isn’t just organic to the narration, it also represents its main strength, making us crave for information and gradually but inexorably building up until the chilling conclusion – where we find out that not only the main character is just one of many clones that Dr. Kuhn has unsuccessfully tried to experiment on, but that they have no say in their destiny – in fact, all other clones had begged her not to repeat the experiment, but she had never respected their wishes.

While the setting hints to a future world with more advanced science, and to a history of catastrophic events, the worldbuilding is rather vague, and futuristic technology gets only a passing attention – understandably so, since our knowledge is limited to what little information the main character has access to. Besides, while the conclusion may inspire some reflection on technlogy, freedom, and personhood, the story isn’t so interested in its futuristic scenario, instead being more focused on immersing the reader in the terrifying experience of its main character.

Conclusions & Recommendations: As someone who doesn’t mind a touch of horror in their science fiction, I surely enjoyed this story, and even more so for the way its form was designed to enhanced its content. It’s a short read I recommend to anyone looking for futuristic chills – although with a word of caution if the very concept of alienating epidemics is something you’d rather shirk for a few more years.

Content Warning: Terminal Illness – Pandemic – Confinement – Death – Suicidal Thoughts

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