Friday, 1 June 2018

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts is a long novella — or a short novel, according to comments in the back-matter — about people on a very long-haul space flight that they mostly spend cryogenically frozen. The title comes from the idea of staging a revolution in short snippets over long periods of time. (Very long periods of time: the story opens about 65 million Earth-years after the journey started.)

She believed in the mission with all her heart. But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you're only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

This book caught my eye because of the premise and because I’ve been in a science fiction mood for a while now. I haven’t read more than short fiction by Watts before (a long time ago when something was shortlisted for a Hugo, I think), so why not give this a try? In the end, though, I didn’t love it. It wasn’t a terrible book but, for me, it didn’t live up to the expectations set by the premise.

First off, it remains a great premise. The purpose of the long haul flight and one-way ticket to the future is to build Star Gates (not actually infringing copyright by being called that) around the galaxy for humanity to, later, be able to get around faster. The ship (actually a flying asteroid with a built in singularity generator) has to travel at sub-light speeds to set up the future FTL highway. The people on the mission know they can never go home and are brought out of stasis mainly for more complicated situations that the AI can’t be trusted to handle alone.

So far, so interesting. Where it fell down for me was in the balance between the science and the tech in the writing, and a bit in the characterisation. Near the start, I thought that the science was the most interesting aspect but we mostly got a bunch of characterisation. Near the end, when the human aspect was more interesting, there was more of a focus on the cool science (I'm being vague to avoid spoilers). Some of the meh could have been avoided by writing slightly more interesting characters. I found them all a bit bland, even the ones that were supposed to be interesting. I didn't feel very invested in the narrator, Sunday, even though she was overwhelmingly the character we got to know best. (I was also pretty surprised when a pronoun identified her as female a quarter of the way into the book, so, hmm.)

This isn't a bad book and if the blurb grabs you, you could do worse. But for me it was a disappointment because I had hoped for more. I was left with a feeling of somewhat wasted potential and I don't think I'll be bothering to seek out more Watts books. I'm glad I gave it a shot, though.

3.5 / 5 stars

First published: June 2018, Tachyon Publications
Series: Maybe? Looks like there are related short stories (thanks Goodreads), but I'm not sure how they're related.
Format read: ePub ARC
Source: Publisher via NetGalley

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