Review: Permafrost

Posted: July 19, 2019 by in Books We Love (5/5 single_star) Meta: Alastair Reynolds, Post Apocalyptic, Science Fiction, Short Fiction

I have to admit, I was really holding out for this story being a good one. After being supremely disappointed with what I found in the previous two (unrelated) hardback novellas that I read, I just wasn’t ready to find out that one of my favorite Science Fiction authors had written a dud as well. I should have taken a clue from the publication gods though when I saw that this one had not been put into a hardback. So obviously it was going to be different than the other two, right? After this whole hurrah of novellas from various authors, it really surprises me that those that were hardbacks really didn’t cut the mustard, and the one that probably deserved to be a hardback… didn’t get it. Man, the world’s funny sometimes, isn’t it?

PERMAFROST (Amazon) is a stand-alone novella written by Alastair Reynolds about a post-apocalyptic Earth where some scientists find a way to travel through time in a quasi-complete sort of way and attempt to save humanity from starving to death. “Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future.” The whole of the plot, summarized by nine words.

Valentina Lidova is a 71 year-old, partially lame woman that has been invited to the arctic location of an experiment sparked by science pioneered by her mother. The world is dying. An ecological cascade of events has resulted in the extinction of mass droves of flora and fauna all across the expanse of the globe. As such, humanity is quickly losing the time it needs to find a solution to the problem of survivability. Technology surrounding the concept of “Luba Pairs” allows those within the reach of the noted experiment to “pair” with persons in the past, inserting certain volunteers into the heads of these targets in history and taking over their bodies. Their goal is to first survive the pairing and subsequent hostile takeover of another’s body, and second to acquire a cache of seeds with which those in the present will be able to provide themselves a stable source of food.

I love it when the description of a story so easily flows forth from my fingertips. Makes me aware of at least one of the probable many reasons why a story was so enjoyable. Clarity and drive, engagement, and a constantly building understanding of where the story is going are just a few of the puzzle pieces that every short fiction needs. Never should it lag, and this one doesn’t; trust me. This is a time travel story though. So there are a few parts, mostly toward the end, where the technical nature of the science comes into play, but I really enjoyed this take on time travel. Something on the order of quantum entanglement across the fabric of space-time. Really interesting stuff, and nothing like anything I had come across before.

A time travel story that's twisty, engaging, and fun, PERMAFROST doles out a story that has the best parts of Science Fiction and Alastair Reynolds in one

As per his usual, the author paints a personal picture amidst the backdrop of the story’s details and the science woven through it. He does a great job throughout every page of keeping us wondering, entertained, and engaged. Valentine Lidova’s soul comes bleeding onto the page, and even some of the secondary character of the woman whose body she overtakes. Her life is intimately woven into the plot and comes into play multiple times. It’s a story that’s not only important for her but for everyone else as well.

This is the kind of short fiction that I love. This is the kind of short fiction that will win Alastair Reynolds more fans. If you haven’t read him before, pick this up. Just a few dollars for the Kindle version and you’ll get a great taste for the kind of story that he loves to tell. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’ll never get tired of reading stories from this author. He delivers time and time again. It’s brilliant. It’s uncanny. It’s some of the best science fiction out there because it has a heart and soul that starts and ends with the most important piece of the puzzle: great character.

  • Recommended Age: 14+, mostly for comprehension
  • Language: Maybe a handful of strong language
  • Violence: Some talk of death, but most of the violence is off-screen
  • Sex: Nope


  • Ritika says:


    I really want to start with Alistair Reynold’s books. Can you suggest with which book shall I start with?

    • Writer Dan says:

      As I mentioned above, this is a great one if you only want something short. But if you’re wanting some of his long fiction, I’ll suggest three options and let you decide, based on what kind of read you’re in for:

      1) The Prefect (or Aurora Rising): Probably the best balance of the three. Lots of cool idea, awesome character, but doesn’t get too science-deep. Average sci-fi reader will love this. Elysium Fire, the second in this series, may be my favorite Alastair Reynolds book I’ve ever read.

      2) Revelation Space: Mucho-much hard science. Absolutely mind-blowing and character-centric, but can get a bit long-in-the-tooth with the science. Science nerds that go in for the hard stuff will love this.

      3) Revenger: This is YA, so it’s a lot more approachable. Still some great ideas and great character, but the science is much toned down.

      Whichever you choose, hope you enjoy!

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