The Freeze-frame Rev­o­lu­tion

Peter Watts

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - PETER DABBENE

Tachyon Pub­li­ca­tions (JUNE) Soft­cover $14.95 (192pp) 978-1-61696-252-4

Hard sci­ence fic­tion that reads like a first-per­son para­ble, Peter Watts’s The Freeze-frame Rev­o­lu­tion is thought­ful, sus­pense­ful, and un­for­get­table.

Free­dom and near-im­mor­tal­ity are the stakes in a mul­ti­mil­lion-year mutiny that un­folds across rel­a­tively short snatches of con­scious­ness. Sun­day Ahz­mundin, like the other 30,000 hu­mans on­board her ship, is awak­ened from hi­ber­na­tion on an “as-needed” ba­sis by Chimp, the ship’s ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence.

Sun­day gen­uinely likes Chimp, but other mem­bers of the crew have be­gun to bris­tle at the me­chan­i­cal dic­ta­tor­ship. Soon Sun­day is re­cruited into a se­cret re­bel­lion that must take place in short pe­ri­ods dur­ing the crew’s brief awakenings, their ac­tiv­i­ties com­mu­ni­cated across the cen­turies through coded mes­sages.

The idea of AI that ex­ceeds its pro­gram­ming is a com­mon one in sci­ence fic­tion; The Freeze-frame Rev­o­lu­tion avoids the fa­mil­iar tropes, with Chimp sim­ply do­ing as he’s been pro­grammed, while the hu­man crew evolves past its in­tended func­tion.

Watts deftly weaves hard sci­ence, both ac­tual and the­o­ret­i­cal, into the book. Those fa­mil­iar with cut­ting-edge ideas like Boltz­mann Bod­ies or the Ste­fan-boltz­mann law and the Al­cu­bierre warp drive will come away sat­is­fied, but the sci­ence is so fully in­grained into the nar­ra­tive that it doesn’t draw at­ten­tion to it­self—a high com­pli­ment in­deed.

So­phis­ti­cated enough for hard sci­ence-fic­tion purists, the book is nev­er­the­less in­ti­mately writ­ten. There are many ex­am­ples of Watts’s in­ven­tive writ­ing, per­haps most no­tice­ably the use of the gen­der-neu­tral pro­nouns “se” and “hir” through­out the book.

The story’s mas­sive time span in­vites in­trigu­ing ques­tions, as when Sun­day asks a crew­mate, “How do you tell the dif­fer­ence be­tween go­ing ex­tinct and just, you know, chang­ing into some­thing else?”

The re­sult of all this is an epic of epochs; en­ter­tain­ing and provoca­tive, bril­liant and am­bi­tious.

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