Peter Watts’ captivating THE FREEZE-FRAME REVOLUTION is one of the Best Science Fiction Books of 2018 So Far
Even more love for Peter Watts’ brain-teasing THE
For B&N SCI-FI & FANTASY BLOG, Joel Cunningham includes
the novella among The
Best Science Fiction & Fantasy Books of 2018 So Far.
This brain-teasing novella from Peter Watts (Blindsight)
works brilliantly as a standalone but also connects to several other
short stories in the Sunflowers sequence (“The Island,” included
in his collection BEYOND
THE RIFT; “Hotshot,” found in the anthology Reach for
Infinity, and “Giants,” published in Clarkesworld Issue
96). THE FREEZE-FRAME REVOLUTION is a sci-fi thought
experiment disguised as a story of deep space revolution.
There’s a lot of complexity packed in these 192 pages,
and hints that there are more stories yet to come (and at least one
that is already out there, if you know how to decipher
the clues Watts has left within the text). If only we could
stop time so we didn’t have to wait for them.
Paul Di Filippo at LOCUS praises
Given its restricted setting and lack of exterior events,
the book could have been limited in interest or
claustrophobia-inducing. But Watts captivates the reader entirely
with the techno-melodrama of the rebellion (“If you followed the
beam path of Graser 172…it would hit an unremarkable patch of
bulkhead and bedrock… We’d tracked the Chimp to an uncharted node
about four meters to the left of the bullseye…”), and the
back-and-forth among the humans and between Sunday and Chimp. There
is never a dull moment in this compact, philosophical, heart-rending
tale, and the suspense is ever-present.
If you processed Barry Malzberg’s classic
novel Galaxies through an Instagram filter set to
“Christopher Nolan,” you might end up with something like THE
ALLIANCES enjoys the story.
Sunday Ahzmundin and fellow co-workers spend most of
their time in stasis until their particular expertise is required to
supplement the AI undertaking the general running of their ship. They
work in shifts which only last a day at the most, after which they
may not be awakened for several millennia and often with a change in
shift personal. You would think there is little time for a mutiny.
Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop the inhabitants of the Eirophora from
trying to break free from what is effectively a life of servitude in
THE FREEZE-FRAME REVOLUTION is a series of stories rather
than a novella. But this does not make the reading any less
compelling. In fact, considering each chapter as an episode in
Sunday’s life makes this conceptually complex book easier to
THE FREEZE-FRAME REVOLUTION is one of those books that is
very special because although it is conceptually heroic, in that it
attempts to psychologically dislocate the reader from everything they
experience on a daily basis and feels familiar, it gives them enough
humanity to hang onto. Watts manages to successfully weave in
relationships of characters struggling for a sense of self-worth, as
well as trying to find their place in the grand scheme of things into
this other worldly narrative, even though you are often left with
little more than a few exchanges and sparse backstory. This is the
type of writing that provides the stepping stones for the reader to
use their own imagination to take the worldbuilding to the next level
in terms of how they see the spaceship and the type of civilisation
that built it, rather than spoon feeding them.
In all THE FREEZE-FRAME REVOLUTION is a fascinating
novel, which will take more than one reading, no less because it may
need several goes for a reader to get their head round the complex
and expansive ideas.
BOOK BALLOON was thrilled by the experience.
Yet despite these constraints, Watts manages to spin a
compelling narrative, albeit one that requires the reader to stay
sharp and pick up hints from the text. I didn’t find this difficult,
this (admittedly short) book is one of those that whizzes along,
almost demanding to be read in a sitting. (If you are worried about
the hard science overtones and physics stuff making that difficult,
don’t be – just focus on the central point, this ship is basically a
floating factory for making black holes and wormholes).
It is though more than just a whizzy SF plot,
there is a lot here to think about. I spotted overtones of 2001 in
Chimp’s enthusiasm for the Mission and their general benign – or is
it? – affect, which were very pertinent given the nature of that
mission (establishing wormhole powered gates allowing for jumps
across spacetime; not actually black monoliths, but, you know…) I
also found Sunday’s moral dilemma with regard to Chimp and to her
fellow humans plausible, as well as the impossible position of the
entire crew, seemingly the last humans in the universe.
Altogether then, an enjoyable and fun SF read
and one with some genuine surprises for me.
For more info on THE FREEZE-FRAME REVOLUTION, visit
Cover and design by Elizabeth