Synopsis: Fix the past. Save the present. Stop the future. Master of science fiction Alastair Reynolds unfolds a time-traveling climate fiction adventure in Permafrost.
2080: at a remote site on the edge of the Arctic Circle, a group of scientists, engineers and physicians gather to gamble humanity’s future on one last-ditch experiment. Their goal: to make a tiny alteration to the past, averting a global catastrophe while at the same time leaving recorded history intact. To make the experiment work, they just need one last recruit: an ageing schoolteacher whose late mother was the foremost expert on the mathematics of paradox.
2028: a young woman goes into surgery for routine brain surgery. In the days following her operation, she begins to hear another voice in her head… an unwanted presence which seems to have a will, and a purpose, all of its own – one that will disrupt her life entirely. The only choice left to her is a simple one.
Does she resist … or become a collaborator?
“It had taken one shot. The sound of it had echoed back off the buildings. Crows had lifted from a copse of trees nearby, wheeling and cawing in the sky before settling back down, as if killing was only a minor disturbance in their daily routine.”
Permafrost is my introduction to Alastair Reynolds, even though I may or may not own entirely too many of his books without ever having actually read anything by him (I do).
Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of literary time travel. It’s been done a billion times & the constant WHAT IF that constantly gets hammered into my brain while reading a time travel story is like a mental bludgeoning. Time travel is a fucking powerful tool when done right.. but it’s difficult. So often, it’s a tell don’t show concept. Which.. most of us readers at least have a general idea of what time travel entails. Please, PLEASE JUST SHOW US ALREADY!! We don’t need hundreds of pages explaining it. It’s been explored adequately already. Bring something new to the poor tired trope!
Something that I love hard are environmental movies & books, especially of the disaster variety! Permafrost is described as a time traveling climate science fiction adventure, which is exactly what I AM HERE FOR!!
It is set in 2080 & is about a secret project that is underway. One that involves past-directed time travel. The Permafrost Retrocausal Experiment consists of a makeshift community within a bunch of ships that are interconnected, where 1200 people are stationed. Valentina Lidova is a 71 year old teacher in Kogalym, Russia. She is approached by the Director of World Health with a job offer to become one of a few that would be irreplaceable in this project. Their mission? To go back in time to 2028 before the Scouring, which was an environmental catastrophe. They must locate genetically modified seed samples, so that they can then clone & distribute them. Otherwise, they risk running out of the small stock they have left since the climate collapse. These seeds may help in preventing the end of humanity.
Reynolds sidesteps a lot of the time travel issues. Much of it feels unfamiliar, yet it still certainly uses a typical formula within telling a time travel tale, such as changing the future by going back in the past. However, the method of how these people travel through time is a new one, at least to me. They are time-embedded through something the size of a grain of pollen that is injected into the subjects head during an MRI & grows into the brain, which allows the traveler to take over the subject for a short time. Talk about fucking bonkers! Also? How awesome that I read this shortly before I go in for an MRI. Goddamn. That’s all I’ll be thinking about while in there. Cheers for that!
This was twisty & smart & gut-punchy as hell, especially Vikram’s story. Vikram was, well.. he was implanted into a dog. Yes, some asshole put a dog into an MRI machine! Think about that for a minute. The human mind mashed into that of a dog. Unable to communicate, left alone, having to survive entirely on his own.. fucking hell. If that doesn’t make you feel something, I don’t know what will. HOW DARE YOU MAKE ME FEEL MY OWN FEELINGS?!?
Permafrost delivers brilliant storytelling of cinematic destruction that, at just under 200 pages, doesn’t overstay its welcome.
(Much thanks to Tor.com Publishing for sending me a copy!)
**The quotes above were taken from an ARC & are subject to change upon publication**