July 11, 2020

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Permafrost cover

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds Review

Permafrost cover

Permafrost is the latest publication Sci-Fi author Alastair Reynolds. It is a novella in which time-travel is a central element, after Avengers: Endgame, that is a hot topic.

Permafrost stands out to me because it has hard Sci-Fi elements while it is still a very human story. Set in 2080 the world is in trouble because of an event called the Scouring. It is never explained what it is, but I presume the disastrous effects of global warming.

The world of Permafrost

Slowly the world is spinning out of control as food becomes an almost impossible resource to find. But before that happens there may be a chance to ward off starvation. The goal of project Permafrost is to obtain seeds from the past, seeds that have the ability to withstand climate change.

However, it is impossible to send back people in time. Only a person’s consciousness can be sent, and they then need to control a host to do anything practical. Enter Valentina Lidova, a 71- year old mathematician turned schoolteacher.

She is the projects latest recruit – ostensibly to provide better insight into the Math’s about time-travel. This had been developed decades before by her mother, with whom she had a falling out.

For Valentina the past is about to catch up to her when she becomes the first person to have their consciousness travel back in time. For Tatiana Dinova this becomes a trial as she is the person in whom Valentina now resides.

The mechanics of time-travel

Permafrost is a quick-paced story, it is only a novella after all. But the author does manage to find time to explain some of the mechanics of his theoretical time-travel mechanism. As the author has a background in hard-science I am far more willing to take his writing at face value then the writers of Avengers: Endgame.

In the world of Permafrost a time-travel paradox is not actually a paradox as time attempts to snap back into a state that makes sense. For a brief moment people may remember how things differed from the ‘road not taken’. If you accept that and the attempts by people further into the future to interfere in the past well you end up with a very effective and exciting time-travel story.

Conclusion

For those unwilling to read a lengthy tome should consider picking up Permafrost. Alastair Reynolds will return in the future with his next novel – Bone Silence – the third part in the Revenger universe.