Thursday, September 15, 2022

Book Review: Freeze Frame Revolution

book cover for Freeze Frame RevolutionHow 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 job 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's best for you? Trapped aboard the starship Eriophora, Sunday Ahzmundin is about to discover the components of any successful revolution: conspiracy, code—and unavoidable casualties.

Earth is dying, yet civilization has access to some amazing technology—almost de rigueur for Watts. In this case, the Eriophora, an asteroid turned generation starship of sorts, has been tasked with building jumpgates throughout the galaxy in hopes that humans, or their successors, will be able to make use of them and spread through the galaxy. While a noble cause, the UN doesn't expect everyday people to stick with the mission (Successive generations could rebel, arguing that they weren't given a choice and are forced to be slaves to someone else's dream). Instead, the crew of 30,000 are genetically engineered with the traits that make them perfectly suited for the never-ending job. Even so, the UN doesn't wholly trust them either. A limited AI (a full-powered AI would probably wind up just as unreliable as humans after a while) with less than half the synapses of a human brain (referred to by the crew as "Chimp") runs most of the operations, waking small groups of humans from cryosleep to lend a helping hand when Chimp stumbles across a problem that requires good old fashioned human ingenuity.

Tens of millions of years have passed. A hostile encounter shortly after the completion of a build triggers doubts about the mission. Chimp's abilities seem lacking, possibly degrading, and a grim discovery made by some of the crew sparks talk of rebellion. But as the book blurb points out, planning a mutiny against an all-seeing AI, even a limited one, over the span of millennia—while hopping in an out of the freezer—is a staggeringly difficult task. But plan they do.

The story is told from the POV of Sunday Ahzmundin. Sunday's backstory, along with that of the mission, is told in the short story, "Hotshot," which I strongly recommend that interested parties read first. Honestly, it should've been included with this book for those reasons. Watts makes the effort to properly develop her character there instead of here. Watts is amazing at grabbing cutting edge scientific ideas and mashing them together for some incredible world-building, but his protagonists (this is my third Watts' novel) are very similar. They've all had something done to them to set them apart, render them outsiders. Lenie (Starfish) is a sexual abuse survivor who undergoes an operation to enable her to run away and work on the ocean floor. Siri (Blindsight) suffered from epileptic seizures so he had an hemispherectomy that rendered him emotionally detached from humanity. Makes for a solid candidate to go on a first contact mission in the farthest reaches of the solar system. Sunday was genetically engineered to want to leave Earth behind with an insatiable galactic wanderlust.

Eventually the rebels make their move and stuff happens. I won't spoil the ending, but it felt unresolved. There are a couple more short stories, and Watts admitted on his blog that he was working on a sequel, so there's that. Despite the ending, I enjoyed this more than either Starfish or Blindsight, so I'm holding out hope that Watts gets around to writing a proper sequel.

4.5 stars