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Monday, November 25, 2019

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (reviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)



Official Author Website
Order Permafrost over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)


OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Alastair Reynolds was born in Wales in 1966. He has a Ph.D. in astronomy. From 1991 until 2007, he lived in The Netherlands, where he was employed by The European Space Agency as an astrophysicist. He is now a full-time writer

FORMAT/INFO: Permafrost is 192 pages long. It was published by Tor on March 19th, 2019. 


OVERVIEW: I love novellas. When done right, they’re the perfect form of fiction. No unnecessary ramblings. No swollen midsections. The demands of the format require clarity and intensity. Easier said than done, but Reynolds nailed things down - Permafrost is almost perfect.

Set in 2080, it shows humanity on the verge of extinction because of the environmental disaster. Famine and severe food insecurity are rampant.

Something bad happens around 2050. At first, we almost don’t notice it. There’s a steepening in the rate at which insect species are going extinct, but even then it just seems to be part of a pattern of something that’s been going on for a long time, and to begin with only a few scientists are really worried. But it gets worse, and really quickly. No one understands what’s happening.


A group of scientists and engineers tries to save our species through time-travel. Instead of turning the past upside down, they want to make the tiniest changes necessary to give us a chance of survival. One of their recruits, Valentina Ludova, is an aging schoolteacher and the daughter of the brilliant mathematician whose work on the mathematics of paradox made the time-travel possible.


I loved the mechanics of time-travel - the injection of the consciousness of a “pilot” into the body of someone from the past sounds new to me. Reynolds uses a single but malleable timeline. Even small alterations cause paradoxes that create “noise”. Too much noise reduces the chances of successful and timely intervention. It can also cause tragic mistakes, such as injecting the consciousness of a human being into a lesser life form.

Despite solid preparation and dedication to the cause, our heroes soon find themselves swimming in some deep paradox. Valentina Lidova is an interesting protagonist, not only because of her advanced age (she’s a septuagenarian), but because she thinks fast, and has a great dynamics with Tatiana, the woman whose body she inhabits in the past. Their banter and relationship are superb. Valentina’s experiences, wisdom, courage, and resilience are admirable.


CONCLUSION: Tense, clever and intellectually stimulating, Permafrost is a memorable work of fiction. It has it all - big ideas, action, thrilling reveals and heart-breaking moments. 





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