The Last Conversation by Paul Tremblay

Lifelong fans of Nine Inch Nails know they have taste. Precious few other musicians from the grunge/industrial era of 90s music have had such staying power. To be fair, I shouldn’t even call Trent Reznor my favorite musician. He is now, and always has been, a composer, making psychedelic, moody music that dances in darkness, most recently scoring hit movies and TV like Watchmen, The Social Network, Birdbox, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and Gone Girl

Reznor is an iconoclast in the truest sense of the word.

When I picked up “The Last Conversation” by Paul Tremblay on my Kindle (free to Prime members), I wasn’t thinking of Reznor at all. It wasn’t until I finished the story and read the postscript about it being a part of: Forward, an anthology of near-future stories produced by Amazon, which includes stories by Paul Tremblay, Andy Weir, N.K. Jemisin, Black Couch, and Amor Towles that I thought about the Reznor’s early collaboration Atticus Ross, a 30+ track instrumental album. Created when the two composers sat in a room and just played whatever came to mind, sometimes, they used images as inspiration, other times, they just played what they felt and accompanied each other. There are breathtakingly beautiful, haunting tracks, and some real clunkers, but Reznor said of the work that it’s not something that could be achieved early in his career, when he was beholden to big studio execs. Judging from the titles and jacket copy of the Forward collection, I wonder if this collaboration between all-star authors is a shade of something to come from Amazon which, surprisingly, allows authors to find commercial success with experimental content.

Tremblay’s story, which is creepy in the extreme, follows a man who wakes up unable to remember where he came from or what he is doing. A voice from a speaker forces him to perform inane commands like playing word association games or run endlessly on a treadmill. When he realizes he’s a prisoner, he plays along, always subduing his anger and frustration, learns just how broken the outside world is. It’s a fascinating story with a bomb of an ending. 

Even though Amazon (and a host of others) were found guilty of price-fixing ebooks, and their monopolistic ways have been the discussion of many writers’ round tables, there’s no denying that they’ve become essential to the market, allowing authors like Andy Weir, most famous for his self-published smash hit The Martian, to rise to prominence alongside more traditionally published authors, and people like me, who are often too busy to make it to a bookstore, tend to read more because of ebooks–whether on Kindle or another platform. 

Maybe, just maybe, collections like these prove that we really are living in the new golden age of publishing, one in which the model allows small publishers like Word Horde and Small Beer Press (cough Vernacular Books) a chance to compete with the big publishing houses. For writers to tell stories they are passionate about and still find a market. 

Trent Reznor’s experimental Ghosts may be a few years old now, but it cast a long shadow that now falls on the publishing world. It’s almost as though Amazon Prime is seeking to do for the publishing world what services like Netflix and Hulu have done for TV. Talk about an interesting business model. No matter how you feel about the streaming giants, there’s no denying they have already had a profound effect on people’s viewing habits, green-lit content that would never have made it on major networks, and in the case of Netflix especially, supported diversity.

As always with Amazon, it remains to be seen whether the long-term impact will be positive for writers and readers, but Paul Tremblay’s Last Conversation certainly got me talking.  

Categories: Book Reviews


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