The Freeze-Frame Revolution

At first I believed that The Freeze-Frame Revolution was an omnibus comprised of all the Sunflower Cycle short fiction pieces, yet I soon realized that it wasn't the case. Nothing to worry about, as this novella was meant to work as a stand-alone and it does work perfectly well at that.

Still, had I known I would have read what came before and will certainly do it sooner rather than later given the quality of Peter Watts' latest work. The rest of the cycle includes The Island, which won the Hugo Award for best novelette in 2010, Hotshot, and Giants, all of which can be read for free on the author's website.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution marks the triumphal return of Peter Watts. Best known for his hard science fiction novels and stories, this new novella could well be the author's most accessible work to date. I've always claimed that Blindsight was the best novel to read for any SFF fans who wanted to give Watts a shot. But now it's obvious that The Freeze-Frame Revolution is the way to go.

Here's the blurb:

She believed in the mission with all her heart.

But that was sixty million years ago.

How do you stage a mutiny when you're only awake one day in a million? How do you conspire when your tiny handful of potential allies changes with each shift? How do you engage an enemy that never sleeps, that sees through your eyes and hears through your ears and relentlessly, honestly, only wants what best for you?

Sunday Ahzmundin is about to find out.

I was hooked by the premise from the get-go. The crew of the starship Eriophora spent the last 65 million years building a web of wormholes gates throughout space in order to make interstellar travel for human expansion more accessible. Every few millennia or so, a team is selected and awakened from among its 30,000-plus population by the ship's AI to assist in the logistics of gate construction. But how can one stage a mutiny during such short periods of wakefulness? This is what The Freeze-Frame Revolution is all about. It's hard scifi, no doubt about it, with a vast scope as enormous as the universe itself. And yet, Peter Watts managed to "dumb" everything down in a way that will satisfy any speculative fiction readers out there. Themes such as identity, alienation, the nature of self and consciousness, the persistence of time, and the worth of existence are explored throughout the vignettes which comprise this novella. It may sound heavy, and at times it was just that. But the narrative is imbued with the author's dark wit and humor, which made this book a pleasure to read.

Eriophora and its mission is overseen by Chimp, an artificial intelligence built with a lower synapse count to supposedly maintain it at a relatively human-level mental capacity. Sunday Ahzmundin is the main character and the narrator of this tale, and hers is the only perspective of this novella. As Chimp's favorite, she finds herself awakened more often than any other crewmember. To a certain extent over the millennia, Sunday has come to consider the AI as some sort of friend. Being part of more gate-building missions than most, she has also gotten to know more people from the many tribes that comprise the ship's population. This allowed Sunday to perceive the first seeds of mutiny and watch them grow, as certain crewmembers start to question whether or not the Chimp can be trusted. But how can anyone possibly stage a coup against an AI that can see and hear everything, when the allies have no idea who or how many of their fellow mutineers will be awakened by the Chimp at any given time, and at intervals which can span countless ages?

Weighing in at only 192 pages, The Freeze-Frame Revolution doesn't suffer from any pacing issues. I went through it in only two sittings during my roadtrip around Gaspésie. It doesn't happen often when I review books, but I wish this work had been longer. Yes, it was that good! Thankfully, there are three more Sunflower Cycle short fiction pieces that I can sink my teeth into on the author's website.

In my humble opinion, this novella showcases a Peter Watts writing at the top of his game, recounting a story that should please hard science fiction aficionados and SFF newbies alike. This is the author's most accessible work thus far, making it the perfect jumping point for any readers who have yet to give Watts a go.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is quite a treat! Definitely one of the speculative fiction titles to read in 2018.

Highly recommended.

The final verdict: 8.5/10

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