Tor | 2019 (19 March) | 176p | Bought copy | Buy the book
The year is 2080. The Earth is not as we know it. The Scouring has changed it beyond all recognition. This recent environmental disaster has removed every last hope for the future of life on Earth. Except for one. Scientists have discovered a means to travel back in time. Their aim is to go back to the 2020s, before the Scouring, to search for seeds which, it is hoped, will be able to save the planet. Gathered in the Arctic circle, this community of potential time travellers needs just one new member to help bring their experiment to success – 71-year-old teacher Valentina Lidova, the daughter of a genius in the paradox of time travel.
Alastair Reynolds is such a favourite author of mine and I was thrilled to learn of Permafrost, a novella which tackles two irresistible themes – time travel and an apocalyptic environmental disaster. Add to that a Russian feel and Arctic setting and I couldn’t wait to read it. As a novella of under 200 pages, it wasn’t a long read but it was packed full. As is almost always the case with a novella, though, it left me wanting more.
I’m not going to go into the plot of Permafrost any further because it is densely crammed into the pages, resulting in a compelling and multi-layered read. What it did give me are moments that made my stomach lurch. Those moments when you realise that something has happened that is so extraordinary that it takes the breath away. When characters have made a connection that resonates with so much emotion and you sit and wonder at what you’ve just read. Alastair Reynolds is a master of jaw-dropping moments and it’s not a surprise to find one or two here.
I really enjoyed having the older protagonist, Valentina. It isn’t often that you read a science fiction novel, or any novel, with a main character such as this. And she isn’t made to feel old and decrepit either, thankfully. The focus is on her experience, wisdom and empathy, not to mention her courage and resilience. It was good to spend time with her.
I’m not the biggest reader of novellas, although I do make exceptions for science fiction, because I’m such a reader of brickbooks! I like to spend time immersed in these worlds. Nevertheless, as with Alastair Reynolds’ ingenious short stories, Permafrost is an excellent read, full of big ideas as well as thrills and action. I can’t help wishing it were longer but what we have is thoroughly enjoyable, thought-provoking and full of surprises.
Blue Remembered Earth (Poseidon’s Children 1)
On the Steel Breeze (Poseidon’s Children 2)
Poseidon’s Wake (Poseidon’s Children 3)
With Stephen Baxter – The Medusa Chronicles
Beyond the Aquila Rift