Review: Freeze Frame Revolution

Posted: July 17, 2018 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Peter Watts, Science Fiction

Author Peter Watts’ newest offering, FREEZE FRAME REVOLUTION exists somewhere in the squishy space between a novella and a novel (according to the ‘Afterword’ it’s 1,000 words over the length of a standard novella, but who’s counting?). Watts is of the opinion that he has written a novella and I think that the story he tells is well-served at this length, which allows him to explore a single incident in-depth and with a focus that wouldn’t be well-served by irksome sub-plots or other novel-length narrative features.

For a novella, FREEZE FRAME REVOLUTION (Amazon) covers almost incomprehensible amounts of time. Watts dedicates the first pages of the narrative to impressing on the reader the sheer scope of his story and it’s an effective draw into the book. On an individual level, the reader follows the journey of Sunday Ahzmundin. Living on an asteroid powered by a singularity, Sunday is a ‘spore, a human who was created/cloned/engineered for the sole purpose of helping fulfill the ship Eriophora’s mission: to build gates around singularities and thus (like its orb-weaving namesake) create a web of connections that spans the galaxy.

Sent out by humanity millions of years prior, the crew shares a growing sense of certainty that they are the last remnant of humanity. With each new gate they open, they are greeted not by a new iteration of humankind but by silence, or worse, monsters. If humanity has ceased to exist except for the 30,000 ‘spores on board, how does that change their mission parameters? What is the point of continuing to make gates that no human will ever use?

Of all the crew, Sunday is closest with the Chimp, the AI that controls the ship during the centuries-long flights between the gates. Where Sunday finds companionship, other crew members distrust Chimp. The AI was programmed by the makers of the mission and has increasingly divergent goals from the crew, which has begun to question the entire purpose of their existence. Their conclusion is that there is no point to continuing and to escape the ever-watchful AI who has controlled their ship across the millennia, they must stage a revolution.

Sunday is increasingly aware of the discontent among her crew mates but is not personally affected by it until she discovers a secret of Chimp’s that changes her relationship with the AI and with her own sense of loyalty to the mission. Sunday’s unhappy evolution from ‘Chimp’s lapdog’ (48) to revolutionary is compelling, as are the unique challenges facing the crew.
As Sunday notes:

“How do you stage a mutiny when you’re only awake a few days in a century, when your
tiny handful of co-conspirators gets reshuffled every time they’re called on deck? How do
you plot against an enemy that never sleeps […] [a]n enemy with eyes that span your
whole world, an enemy that can see through your eyes […] in glorious hi-def
first-person? […] How do you even begin?” (p. 118)

FREEZE FRAME REVOLUTION felt like classic sci-fi (minus the sexism) and reminded me just how fun future dystopias can be.

As a co-conspirator, she only catches glimpses, strands, partial sequences that must represent the whole. Despite this ‘freeze frame’ story telling, Sunday’s narrative feels cohesive and believable instead of disjointed, a good indicator of the control Watts’ has over the narrative.

Indeed, Watts’ ability to balance big ideas with narrative and character is refreshing. ‘Idea’ narratives, or hard(er) science fiction often sacrifice plot and/or character at the altar of scientific description and detail. Instead, Watts uses the ideas to his advantage, shaping a sense of distance and scale from the nature of Eriophora’s mission and using it to amplify Sunday’s own increasing sense of paranoia and betrayal. This balance pulled me quickly into Sunday’s story and it’s the reason it will stick with me.

Although Watts calls the science in FREEZE FRAME REVOLUTION ‘handwavium’ (Acknowledgements) there are still enough ‘hard’ sci-fi concepts here to please readers, as well as compelling characters and a narrative. FREEZE FRAME REVOLUTION felt like classic sci-fi (minus the sexism) and reminded me just how fun future dystopias can be.

  • Recommended Age: 12+
  • Language: A little swearing
  • Violence: Brief and Clinical
  • Sex: Mentioned, but not described

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