Short Take: “Summer Frost,” Blake Crouch

Pros: Thought-provoking and intense
Rating: 5 out of 5

Blake Crouch’s novella Summer Frost (Forward collection) introduces us to Riley, the VP of Non-Player Character Development at a game studio that creates Direct Neural Interface games. One day, an NPC in one of her games does something unexpected. Max (Maxine) is supposed to get killed in the prologue, but after getting killed more than 2,000 times in various playthroughs, they break from the routine and start trying to find their way out of the game area. Riley manages to pull them out of the game, and starts presenting them with more and more information to learn from. The two have conversations, and Riley starts to neglect Meredith, her wife, and Xiu, their adopted daughter. Meanwhile, Brian, the head of the company and Riley’s boss, starts to use Max for additional tasks without consulting Riley–and without taking the proper care, perhaps, to keep her boxed up.

I really love the characters in this story. Riley and Max are intriguing characters. Meredith is a bit flat, but then we only really see her in glimpses; same with Brian. It works, though, since the relationship between Riley and Max is really the meat of this tale. I love all the dialogues between Max and Riley as Max gradually feels their way into a growing personality.

I can’t say a lot more without giving too much away. It suffices to say that Max is going to change the world, and it’s a fascinating ride to see where that goes!

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