It has been awhile since I have given a time travel story a try, and I was quickly reminded why I actually do stay away from such stories. PERMAFROST by Alastair Reynolds had promise of a thrilling ride, but instead handed out plenty of ideas with hardly a vehicle to carry them in.
It’s 2080 and humanity is putting all its’ eggs in one basket: experiment time-travel. If they can make small alteration to the past, they may be able to avoid the global catastrophe that is slowly exterminating the human race. They only have one shot at this, but they need one last recruit, a retired schoolteacher, whose mother was a cutting edge mathematician.
Flashback to 2028, a woman undergoes routine brain surgery. While in recovery she finds another voice is there, alongside her own…and it controls her body. Does she resign herself to her fate, or does she fight it?
This novella is on the longer side, closing in on 200 pages, but it contains at least three different subplots along with the overarching one of time travel to correct the present (2080). Reynolds managed to juggle all of these with ease, but does so without fully explaining to the reader the ramifications of those subplots and leaves some rather large holes by the end.
Overall, the premise is good along with a rather fun, interesting new take on time travel. Sending a consciousness back via particles and couched in other science-y speak, tends to verge on becoming a hard science fiction, but takes a step back. At its core, PERMAFROST is a thriller with the trappings of science fiction, alongside some light climate fiction themes. Reynolds dances around artificial intelligence, environmentalism, morality, and other themes, but only switches the partners with each new song(scene). This is not to say that his prose does not keep the tension tight, only that the story and characters become rather forgettable by the end.
The book did not land all the well with me, but the reader should decide for yourself. If you enjoy Reynold’s work or enjoy a good thriller with science fiction elements a la Michael Crichton.