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The Freeze-Frame Revolution

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I'm sorry to say I'm glad this appears to be a one-off novel. As much as I like Watt's work in novels like Blindsight, this just failed to grab me.
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This novella skips through the millennia with a gate-making ship powered by an AI, with a human crew along in case a situation arises that is too complex for the AI, known as the Chimp. We follow along with Sunday, one of the crew, as she is awakened, sometimes after being cryogenically frozen for a thousand years, in order to help with a personnel problem, to analyze a situation that requires outside-the-box thinking, etc. Sunday becomes aware that not all of the crew is as sanguine about their situation (basically slaves sentenced to eternity on this ship) as she is, and that some of them are doing something about it. But the question is- how do you plan a rebellion when most of your co-conspirators aren't even awake at the same time? How much patience do you need? How do you hide from the AI that's meant to be monitoring you?

Well, here's one way it could go. A lot of the science went over my head. I did think the message-signaling between groups that were woken up separately was creative. This was more of a sketch than a painting. You're never sure exactly what was happening on Earth before this ship was launched, only that it was probably bad. You don't learn much about the characters either, and that made the last twist a let-down, in my opinion, because it wasn't signposted clearly enough for me. It was an interesting read, but I'm not sure the whole idea would entirely hold up under close scrutiny.
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Peter Watts – The Freeze-Frame Revolution What do you do when a book you've been asking, wishing, begging for finally arrives, several years later than you'd have liked it to? When several Christmases plus your Birthday have come in one go? You complain about it, of course. So, to be clear, this is no way long enough. We want more, and we want it now!
Although one notices that the credits contain a Series Editor (Jacob Weisman). There is hope yet...

Peter Watts is an award-winning Canadian hard SF author, a lapsed marine biologist, a survivor of necrotising fasciitis, and a convicted felon (just ask the TSA) who will not enter the US again. I guess there are worse fates... 
He now has 8 published Novels (one of them published in two volumes for ‘commercial considerations’) and 2 collections of short stories under his belt; he has been labelled a “sociological futurist Lovecraft” in a discussion on Charlie Stross’ blog - a quip which predates the story at hand, but is nevertheless fully appropriate, too.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is set in his Sunflowers universe, ie the same universe in which the Hugo-Award-winning Novelette The Island (as well as a raft of other stories and snippets published over the last few years) is set in, and follows the same wormhole-building ship/asteroid and its dysfunctional crew and AI.

Said asteroid with its singularity drive is known as Eriphora (or Eri for short), with its 30k crew – known as 'spores (I presume from Diaspora), grouped into tribes - who spend most of their time in some kind of cryo-sleep. 
They have developed strange religions, clans, habits and fashions, and art forms over the course of the millennia. Appreciation of new kinds of music. Rock painting in the caves and tunnels. Worship of Eriphora herself. I can just see the humanity coming through, even in these crew members designed for such a mission.

But sometimes things get too complicated, and then they are needed by the AI, which is affectionately (well, not really. Thus the revolution business...) known as the Chimp, for being both much smarter and quicker than the crew, but also not as intelligent. The way Sunday Ahzmundin, the protagonist through whose eyes we see the events, puts it is that he's incredibly fast at counting on his fingers. And he's got the millennia in-between builds to go through all the scenarios.
Ah, the builds. You see, Eriphora is a build ship. Specifically, they build and connect wormhole gates, to thread the whole universe together and facilitate humanity's (or whatever it has evolved into or has replaced it meanwhile) spread/travel across the universe.
Eri is (or was) not the only ship doing this, but our protagonists have massively exceeded expectations, and are still going strong – some 60 million years into the mission (which started in the 22nd century. I love the optimism in terms of being able to pull something like this together by then!). 
And, despite being way past mission expiration, there is no end to the mission, really – it is, as one crew members puts it, “a one-way trip to Heat Death”. Just in case nothing fails before, of course.

There are ruminations on archives, stacked archives, and how to safeguard against the depredations of such a mission across deep time. I mean, we cannot keep our own data available for more than the odd decade, so a strategy to avoid and correct bit rot across such time scales, and in a much more aggressive environment are, to put it mildly, challenging.

We had a legend, we denizens of Eriphora, of a cavern – deep aft, almost as far back as the launch thrusters themselves – filled with diamonds. Not just ordinary diamonds, either: the uncut, hexagonal shit. Lonsdaleite. The toughest solid in the whole damn solar system – back whenw e shipped out, at least – and laser-readable to boot.
Build your backups out of anything less and you might as well be carving them from butter.
Nothing's immortal on a road trip of a billion years. The universe runs down in stop-motion around you, your backups' backups' backups need backups. Not even the error-correcting replication strategies cadged from biology can keep mutations at bay forever. It was true for us meatsicles cycling through mayfly moments every thousand years; it was just as true for the hardware. It was so obvious I never even thought about it. By the time I did, the Chimp was on his eighty-third reincarnation.

The story itself, in contrast to the shorter pieces of fiction which preceded it and which drew on the mission, and the relationships within the crew and their taskmaster, is focused on 'How do you rebel, cooperate, coordinate against a near-omniscient, near-omnipotent overlord?' Who is awake across the millennia whilst you sleep in suspension, who controls when you are being thawed out again, and who can re-run every record from every viewpoint, run every scenario in all it variants? Yes, the Chimp is stupid, but ever so fast, and with so much time on its hands, plus some tricks up its sleeves which the original developers provided it with.
Especially that part, the revolution under a near-panopticon, really raised comparisons with Charles Stross' Glasshouse for me.

As mentioned before, we get to see everything from Sunday's 1st person viewpoint – full story exhibition, her inner life, plus information dumps with explanations aimed at the reader (thanks, appreciated).
Time is counted decimally. In kilo/mega/peta/tera-seconds. Of course it makes sense, even if your brain keeps bleating 'but how much is that in real money' like some kind of imperial martyr.
There is a lot of foreshadowing, especially (but not solely) at the chapter ends – not very concrete, not very spoiler-ish, but more in a vaguebooking kind of way.

Not all the short stories and fiblets previously published in this universe have been worked into the story (no reason, really), but I don't see why they could not be included, this somehow would have called for a collection with all the other materials, too? Or is this something to do with said series? Othwerwise this would be a bit of a lost opportunity IMHO.

Worth reading? Yup. Worth waiting for? Indeed. Do I want more? Absolutely.

Title: The Freeze-Frame Revolution
Author: Peter Watts
Series: Sunflowers
Series Number: not so sure
Reviewer: Markus
Reviewer URL:
Publisher: Tachyon
Publisher URL:
Publication Date: June 2018
Review Date: 180716
ISBN: 9781616960100
Pages: 145
Format: ePub
Topic: Space Opera
Topic: Sociology

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.
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The Freeze-Frame Revolution is the new long awaited Peter Watts work. His Rifters trilogy is the series that first got me into sci-fi about five years ago. I vividly remember devouring it during summer holidays and recommending it to everyone around me at the time. I was mindblowed by the ideas, the complex characters and worldbuilding, and how clever everything was. So let’s just say that when I saw that this little novella was a thing, I couldn’t contain my excitement.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is set in Watts’s Sunflower cycle which is a series composed of several shorter works.  I haven’t read any of them before reading this novella and I’m pretty sure you don’t have to either to understand  it. It probably gives a bit more insight into this world but Freeze-Frame works perfectly fine as a standalone story.

This novella follows Sunday, a member of a spaceship that has been traveling across the universe for 65 millions year with the same crew of 30 000 people. They are all periodically awakened to take care of the ship and Chimp, the ship’s AI who is in charge of everything. Sunday has been a member of the crew for a very long time and she’s on deck more than everyone else being Chimp’s favorite human. As you might imagine, time is starting to feel pretty long for everyone and, several members of the crew start to think that they want things to change. Indeed, at first, they all thought they would be able to either go back to Earth or colonize a new planet but, after millions of year traveling without a new mission, they are starting to grow impatient. Most of them know they will probably just end up dying in their sleep when Chimp won’t find them useful anymore. In order to change that, a couple of members start to build a semblance of a rebellion and Sunday discovers them. But will she help them or will she remain on Chimp’s side?


Being a novella, this work is quite short, however it doesn’t mean that it isn’t packed with fascinating ideas and concepts. The worldbuilding is very detailed which is pretty impressive considering the length. I read this book in July and I still vividly remember a couple of scenes such as the moment Sunday sees Chimp dancing, how she banters with it and her descriptions of the ship. The atmosphere of this story is quite peculiar since the members of the crew have mixed feelings toward Chimp and their mission and how pointless their travel appears to be. Most of them feel lost as they haven’t had news from Earth in millions of years: humanity could be extinct and they wouldn’t know it. They are without a place to go back to and they have to keep on building gates to make space travel easier when they don’t know if anyone will be able to ever use them.

The Freeze-Frame Revolution is quite different from The Rifters trilogy but it’s a masterpiece in its own right. It’s complex, detailed, impactful and much more stronger than a lot of novels.  I would recommend it to any science fiction lover, even those you don’t usually like novellas because it’s so accomplished that it doesn’t feel like one at all (not to say novellas are bad by any means, they just feel a bit too short sometimes). I definitely want more stories set in this world so  I will check out some of the other stories set in this universe for sure!

Highly recommended.


4.5 stars.
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Science fiction is full of paradoxes and I have a new one for you--imagine a reader who hates physics, chemistry and all other sciences but loves reading science fiction. That paradox represents me and my eternal struggle with sci-fi. I want to love them, but I also worry that I am not "smart" enough to get them.

So, I usually prefer science jargon to be balanced with something else, like a sense of humor. For example, I could deal with the advanced theoretical space terms in The Martian because the crass and hilarious tone balanced out the dryness. Unlike The Martian, there was no unique voice to balance out the scientific lingo in The Freeze-Frame Revolution.

Bear in mind that all of this is coming from a non-sciencey reader who has very, very limited knowledge of space, physics, and engineering. Those of you who know more about space and enjoy exploring technical scientific fiction will probably love all of the jargon in this story.

Outside of my preferences for jargon, I also struggled connecting with the characters. I only feel as if I really know Sunday, with all of the other characters blurring in the background. I do have to admit that getting to know all of the characters would be impossible considering the revolution only ran for a few days every century, but there was room for improvement.

That being said, Watts did manage to create an amazing human culture in space. These astronauts are lightyears away, in space and time, from the Earth that we know and their evolution in culture shows that. I especially loved the incorporation of futuristic slang that made me feel like a hipster, knowing the slang from thousands of years in the future.

Not only was The Freeze-Frame Revolution an exploration of space, but it was also a philosophical adventure into problems that we can run into not that far in the future. Artificial intelligence has a large role, which brought up complications in the relationships between humans and smart computers. Then there were the ever-fun explorations of the end of the universe and human existence as we know it. For a novella, a lot of large themes were developed and left me thinking way after the open cliffhanger ending.
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The Freeze-Frame Revolution is incredibly intelligent with extremely in-depth character and a story-line that actually makes you think, and it's a book that when I read it, the entire time I'm just thinking "this is what science fiction look like". 

What made this book really unique in my opinion is how the writer combined his hilarious writing style with some very serious scientific facts. This not only helps the reader better understand the narrator when they're explaining something but ultimately help put the book in a more interesting light and more fun to read. I also really appreciate how short this book is because with that much intelligence, this book had the perfect length for not completely depriving the reader of their attention by being like 500 pages.

I strongly recommend people who are craving science fiction, and just some true intelligence in their novels. I myself understand this better than anyone because there are so many examples out there that the science fiction...just doesn't feel challenging enough.

Follow Sunday on a short but fully-packed story that will literally teach you so much about biology, science, and astronomy. This is a very underrated book.
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This is a keeper.

We already know that Hugo nominated Peter Watts can write. Here he leaves is undersea stories aside and dives for far far outer space.

This novel works on so many levels. The premise is that a group of technologists take on a never-ending job to seed wormhole gates across the entire galaxy. They ride a hollowed out asteroid that travels at sub-light speed and so the job takes millions or perhaps billions of years. The technologists sleep through all this, waking only when they are needed. 

Our hero, Sunday Ahzmundin likes all this. She gets along well with the asteroid's AI, called the Chimp, and finds the work interesting. Over time, though (and we are talking about LOTS of time), she learns that some of her colleagues hate what's been done to them and plan to overthrow Chimp and do something different, although what is not clear to Sunday or to us. Sunday isn't at all sympathetic with the conspirators till something happens that she blames on Chimp, or perhaps Chimp's original programmers, and she joins the revolution.

Some of the science gets a little fuzzy near the end but my then I was enjoying things so much I didn't care. The book held me in its grip till the end.
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Okay, so here's the thing: Watts' publisher, Tachyon, considers this a full-length novel, but Watts himself has repeatedly and strongly stated that "The Freeze-Frame Revolution" is, in fact, a slightly overlong novella. I mention this because, to me at least, the difference is an important one, and it affects how I read the book. A novella I am likely to sit down and mainline in one session; a novel I'm more likely to spread out over several days, unless it's a rainy weekend. The discontinuity—the leaps in time—of this novella do not lend themselves to a fragmented reading process! This is a book to finish in a sitting, if you possibly can, because the plot hangs together only if you make it so, and the leaps would be the undoing of a longer work. Discontinuity—disjointedness, even—is used to artistic effect here, and used well.

Watts has received a lot of buzz over this book already, including a lengthy interview on The Geeks Guide to the Galaxy podcast and a number of endorsements from popular science fiction authors; it's not necessary for me to belabor the point. And what is that point? I loved this novella. *LOVED* it. The characters are interesting, the premise is well-conceived, and the conclusion was startlingly fitting, if unexpected. There are quite a few different fictional conceptions or treatises on artificial intelligence rising to the top in science fiction just now, and Watts' thought experiment here must rank among the best and most compelling of them.

I also think it could be the backbone which could hold together an entire lifetime of work. This is the first Peter Watts that I have read, but it certainly won't be the last.
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Sunday is one of the workers on the gate-setting 'ship' (hollowed out asteroid) the Eriophora along with thousands of other 'pieces of meat' i.e. the crew who are in sleep-storage, only being revived for a couple of hours once every few thousand years when Chimp – the AI in charge - thinks he might need a bit of human insight into a problem. The mission is set to last for millennia, and it does, without an end in sight. Surely if humans were going to appear through one of the new gates and take them all back to Earth, they would have done it by now. Does Earth even exist any more? Are Eriophora's meat that last humans in the galaxy? What happens when someone realises that Chimp has extinguished 3,000 of the 30,000 on board? Lian thinks it's about time that the humans took over from the AI that could so easily wipe any one of them out at a moment's notice, but even when Sunday is convinced, how do you organize a revolution when you are only away for one day in every few thousand years, and your co-conspirators awake time may not coincide with yours?
Hard science fiction that occasionally left me boggled, but eventually delivered a very human story.
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The cover does little to undermine the bare-bones grit and action of this novel, Kick-ass and true to its genre, Freeze-Frame Revolution has everything sci-fi addicts could drool over.
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Why I Read It: Because Peter Watts.  No further explanation needed. (I guess the blurb sounded cool, too.)


Like most Peter Watts works, I loved this one.  It had some flaws I’ll get to in the body of the review, but overall it was great.  Would have bought it if I didn’t get an ARC.

Several other reviews I read while prepping for my own review talked about confusion and opaqueness as far as the plot and premise.  I didn’t see that personally, but I’ve read a lot more SF than most people.  It should be mentioned this is the fourth work in a “series” of short fiction pieces. which can be found on the author’s website linked above under the series title “Sunflowers”.  However, I disagree with most other reviewers in that I don’t feel that they must be read in order to really understand this novella/novel.

To save you all some trouble, the basic premise of the story is that a crew of people born and bred for the purpose have set out on a journey around the galaxy to see it with stargates between worlds.  Although they are travelling in a relativistic spacecraft limited by the speed of light, those following after them through the gate network will not be.  In order to live through what will be a multi-million year journey, they are put in cryo-sleep for most of the trip.  A-less-than-human-level AI runs most of the voyage, only waking up humans when there are too many variables for it to work out a problem computer style.  The majority of the story takes place some 69 millions years after they set out from 22nd century Earth.

The characters must figure out how to stage a revolution against their AI overlord while only being awake a few days in a million, compared to a machine that’s always on and runs far faster than the human brain, including running the functions of the entire ship such as engines, computers, the “internet”, and life support.

Something that you don’t find in much science fiction or science news these days is a writer who really understands how AI works and how it’s different than human intelligence.  But Peter Watts is that rare gem, and it was wonderful to read a story that really captures a realistic-seeming artificial intelligence, both in the ways its sees the world and the mission, and in its interactions with the human crew members.  The second part of what makes Watts brilliant here is his ability to recognize the blindspots of both his characters and his readers towards AI and weave them into a suspenseful if not exactly rollicking techno-thriller.  Recent sci-fi blockbusters along similar themes may be more exciting, but can’t at all compare to the realism and humanity of Watts’ AI. On that along, science and especially AI buffs will find this book worth a read.

I should warn you that it’s a quintessential hard SF story, in that it expects you to know how to process the tropes and conventions of the genre, both tech wise and in the narrative.  More casual SFF or general fiction readers may find some of the science and its presentation in the book either intimidating or tedious, and the tricks the characters use to keep their revolution a secret are not blindingly unique nor particularly entertaining.

Both the setting and the characters lack the level development one would get in a longer work.  Certainly the length limits the story quality in that regard.  Reading some of the other stories could remedy that to an extent, but they too suffer from some of the shortcomings of short fiction compared to the novel.

Finally, I need to address one of the main themes of this series as well as Watts’ work in general: free will.  What is it and do humans really have it?  Especially if you read the other stories in the series you’ll see this theme running through the novel.  Some people might enjoy the exploration, and others might find it off-putting.  I like the concept, but I felt the execution was a bit ham-handed.

But, there’s another more interesting, far more relatable theme in the novel: your place in the world.  Many of the characters struggle mightily with the meaning of their existence in a world where there’s a good chance the rest of humanity has died out or evolved into something else.  Especially given that there seems a strong chance that their intermittent existence will be prolonged far beyond and interest they might have in it by the ship AIs commitment to their mission.  Because the characters have been removed so far out from the normal context of human society, they question not only the purpose of continuing their mission, but even of continuing to live.  It’s on a bigger stage than most of us will ever experience, but the question of what gives life meaning is a universal one.

It probably sounds like I have a lot of criticism for this book.  But that’s more a function of the review genre.  I can’t tell you the details on the things that most excite me about the book because *spoilers*.  But if nothing else, the on-again/off-again platonic relationship between the main character and the ship AI will give you reason enough to keep turning pages.  Especially with the book only being about 140 pages long.

All that’s left to say is grab your copy and enjoy!


Conclusion: 77/100 ()
Premise:  8/10 (Not new, but a very new spin)
Plot: 7 /10 (Some holes)
Setting:  9/10 (Amazing and well-researched)
Main Character:  6/10 (Could have used more development)
World-building  9/10 (Well-structured and executed)
Technology 8/10 (Some handwavium, but on a hard science foundation)
Supporting Characters:  6/10 (Needed more development)
Writing:  8/10 (More than competent)
Themes:  8/10 (Great concepts, needed a bit more exploration)
Resolution:  8/10 (Brilliant twist, no “resolution” as such)

Buy Or Borrow: Definitely worth the cost if you like hard sf with really solid philosophical/ethical commentary, especially as you can get the other three stories in the series for free on the author’s website.

Similar Books:

There aren’t really any similar books.  Some reviews I read cited generation ship novels, but that’s not really what this is.  If you liked it, you might like Heechee Saga, but that’s about all I’ve got that feels really similar, and it’s an old, old series.  Maybe the Rama series by Clarke.  Still not really “similar”, but the network of travel routes and the time span are close.
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The most accessible (and optimistic!) story Peter Watts has written. I am recommending it to all the nerds. Full review on Midnight Skull Sessions episode 100, with future discussions to come. But in short, if you want to like Peter Watts, but find his theories on free will depressing, this is your best entry point. And if you're already onboard with this "free will is an illusion" thing, this book is loads of doomed fun.
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I had been super curious about this book since I first read its synopsis on Netgalley. But then I was kind of afraid that it might be a bit too "science-y" for my brain to handle. I needn't have worried, though! I decided to go for it and request after reading Evelina's review because she basically abated my fears while making me even more excited for the book. What I'm saying is, if you're on the fence, check out her review!

And now, I will tell you why I loved it! First, the concept is incredible, and the book delivers. It's hard to even wrap one's head around the thought of being alive in space for millions of years, really. But in a good way, because it's so very thought provoking. It made me think about time in a whole new way, and of course had me questioning whether I could ever do the things that Sunday's had to do.

In addition, it's full of action and adventure, and contains a lot of really diverse and well fleshed out characters. The fact that this comes in at under 200 pages makes it an even more impressive feat, since I genuinely cared about the fates of not just the main character, but side characters as well. And, thanks to The Captain's review , I found out that there are more stories set in this world! Of which I shall be devouring immediately, obviously. The only problem I'd had really is that I wanted more of this world and well... problem solved!

Bottom Line: If you love a sci-fi that makes you really think, but is also full of action, this is one you won't want to miss!
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Editor's note: This review is scheduled to appear in print and online at Mountain Times (Boone, N.C.) July 1, 2018. Follow the Books tab at

Peter Watts opens the gate on advancing sci-fi in 'The Freeze-Frome Revolution'

Fortunately for us, Peter Watts turned from his beloved marine biology to write sci-fi full time, and he has gifted us again with “The Freeze-Frame Revolution.” 

Watts writes that particular brand of science fiction so smart that all but the best and brightest among us should have trouble tracking — but it is the author’s talent for storytelling that mutinous scenarios such as those that occur during a never-ending, 60 million year (and counting) “gate-building” mission to the end of the universe make sense.

They make sense because Watts infuses his fiction not only with science, but with the human element. If you were “thawed” only once per several thousand years to add humanity and non-digital insights to the computer “Chimp,” an AI rivaling the best and worst of Hal, how far would your trust extend in the end-game being in your best interest?

While Watts’ plot is reminiscent of some of Asimov’s best short detective stories — the author maintains, despite industry standards, that "Freeze-Frame Revolution" is a novella — he makes this one his own by advancing the technology and intrigue in a fast-paced read that will linger long after the last byte is consumed.
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What if, instead of just using gates to hop around the galaxy, you were on the crew that put the gates out there in the first place. What if you began to doubt the mission and the A.I. that was in control of keeping that mission going. How could you manage to fight back if you were only awake for hours or days once every five to  ten thousand years.

The only way this book could be better was if it were longer. I highly recommend it to hard science fiction lovers. This is my first Peter Watts book, but I will certainly be getting more!!!
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Sunday Ahzmundin and fellow co-workers spend most of their time in stasis until their particular expertise is required to supplement the AI undertaking the general running of their ship. They work in shifts which only last a day at the most, after which they may not be awakened for several millennia and often with a change in shift personal. You would think there is little time for a mutiny. Nevertheless, it doesn’t stop the inhabitants of the Eirophora from trying to break free from what is effectively a life of servitude in space.

The Freeze Frame Revolution is a series of stories rather than a novella. But this does not make the reading any less compelling. In fact, considering each chapter as an episode in Sunday’s life makes this conceptually complex book easier to digest.

The Eriophora is a black hole space ship. As an eriophora spider weaves spiral wheel-shaped webs, the vessel, with its crew dedicated to building gates to make space travel more efficient, is appropriately named.

When we join the story, the ship has already been functioning for a few millennia, with the crew woken every so often for problems which cannot be solved by the “Chimp”, the AI maintaining the Eriophora.

Having been bred for the job, the crew do not think too deeply about families they may have left behind, or whole civilisations have come and gone in the time they have been in space. But, given that they may not be woken up in the same shifts, reacquainting themselves with crewmates they might have previously formed relationships with might no longer be possible, particularly if for some reason an unfortunate accident has befallen them. This lack of continuity and being free to develop relationships and have some control over their lives begins to grate on some of the crew, who organise a rebellion. This proves a tricky thing to do, given personnel changes in shifts and that they are being put into stasis for long periods of time. How they go about this is only one facet of this fascinating collection of stories with an overarching story arc that pulls them all together.

There is some science in The Freeze-Frame Revolution but, in the sense of the type of science fiction with tries to extend on what we know and yet keep the reader involved in the story, these details are there to form a framework for the characters to act within. So, while reading this book the writing does stretch the reader’s imagination, but also provides plenty that is familiar to grab onto, particularly with respect to interpersonal relationships.

Peter Watts certainly knows how to keep you on edge because, you’re never quite sure which way things are going to go as the crew organise their rebellion, where the loyalties of the human’s lie or even the state of their minds. The constant uncertainty of whether the mutineers would succeed, and the strangeness of the whole set up maintained the sense of the tension and desire to see what happens the whole way through the read.

The Freeze Frame Revolution is one of those books that is very special because although it is conceptually heroic, in that it attempts to psychologically dislocate the reader from everything they experience on a daily basis and feels familiar, it gives them enough humanity to hang onto. Watts manages to successfully weave in relationships of characters struggling for a sense of self-worth, as well as trying to find their place in the grand scheme of things into this other worldly narrative, even though you are often left with little more than a few exchanges and sparse backstory. This is the type of writing that provides the stepping stones for the reader to use their own imagination to take the worldbuilding to the next level in terms of how they see the spaceship and the type of civilisation that built it, rather than spoon feeding them.

In all The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a fascinating novel, which will take more than one reading, no less because it may need several goes for a reader to get their head round the complex and expansive ideas.

If you want to get a better sense of the universe Peter Watts has created, his website has the most fantastic back catalogue of his writing, which is downloadable. The whole website is a treasure trove to be enjoyed.

As far a black hole spaceships are concerned, there is an academic paper available if you follow this link.
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The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a science fiction story, reaching into the far future. The far, far future - it ends some sixty million years from now (give or take a million or ten). Hence the title: Sunday Ahzmundin, our protagonist, is one of a 30, 000 humans carried aboard the Eriophora, a repurposed asteroid (I think) adapted as a space vessel and launched on a spectacular mission, planned to last into deep time.

As such, the Eriophora is operated from day to day by an artificial intelligence, referred to throughout as Chimp. Humans are stored in deep hibernation and only awakened, for a few hours or days, when their particular skills are needed for "the Mission". Thus they do not age appreciably, even as the world they have left behind - and the universe around them - evolve inexorably.

With this set-up, Watts seems to have created an inseparable barrier to any kind of linear narrative. Sunday is revived to assist with occasional "builds", some of them thousands of year ahead, and we begin to see... something... paying an interest to the rock as it performs its physics voodoo and spits out artificial black holes behind it. But the nature of the "gremlins" that seem to be following is obscure, and information about them relayed only indirectly.

Similarly, as some of the other characters seem to be developing doubts about "the Mission" (we learn that everyone aboard was brought up from childhood to take part, and we suspect there may have been even earlier modifications to them) it's hard to see how they can lead to anything more than stray remarks, centuries apart, in the margins of "builds' or as the crew wind down afterwards before being sent back to the "crypt".

Yet despite these constraints, Watts manages to spin a compelling narrative, albeit one that requires the reader to stay sharp and pick up hints from the text. I didn't find this difficult, this (admittedly short) book is one of those that whizzes along, almost demanding to be read in a sitting. (If you are worried about the hard science overtones and physics stuff making that difficult, don't be - just focus on the central point, this ship is basically a floating factory for making black holes and wormholes).

It is though more than just a whizzy SF plot, there is a lot here to think about. I spotted overtones of 2001 in Chimp's enthusiasm for the Mission and their general benign - or is it? - affect, which were very pertinent given the nature of that mission (establishing wormhole powered gates allowing for jumps across spacetime; not actually black monoliths, but, you know...) I also found Sunday's moral dilemma with regard to Chimp and to her fellow humans plausible, as well as the impossible position of the entire crew, seemingly the last humans in the universe.

Altogether then, an enjoyable and fun SF read and one with some genuine surprises for me.
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~It wasn't a cage if it kept moving. It wasn't a prison if we could go anywhere.~

The Writing and Worldbuilding 

The writing style was very unique, so interwoven with Sunday's own voice that it felt like someone speaking to you a lot of the time (besides the science rants that really put the "science" in "science fiction"). Because of the science-y parts, I found the book actually quite difficult to get through, though the story did intrigue me. The climax was really great, especially because of all the build-up toward it. The ending, however, was very unresolved and just a little too open-ended for me. In other words, there was no clear conclusion and I was just left confused.

I feel like some aspects of this would have been better told as a film, namely characters. There were so many names being thrown around, and especially after science rants, I found myself having cleared all my name caches to make room for theoretical physics and quantum mechanics or whatever, and not knowing who the heck anyone was other than Sunday (obviously), Chimp, and Lian. If this was a film, then visuals would have played a huge role in helping me know who's who. This book gave basically zero physical descriptions, so all I had to go by was names.

I loved the themes and the grey morality of Chimp, though it was nothing I haven't seen before.

~"I want to see how it turns out."


"Everything. The universe. This--reality. This hologram, this model, whatever we're in. It had a start, it's got an endpoint, and the closer we get to it the clearer it becomes. If we just hang in there long enough we'll at least get to see the outlines."

"You want to know the purpose of existence?"

"I want to know the destination of existence. Anything less is selling out."~

The Characters 

Sunday: She was sassy and interesting, but I got the sense that nothing really mattered from her. If she had died and another character took her place, I really wouldn't have cared tbh.

Chimp: I loved Chimp! He was honestly such an intriguing AI because he isn't a genius, and he has these almost human qualities to him that made him really interesting to read.

Lian: I liked her at first, but as it went on, she really started to piss me off.

All the people I constantly forgot existed: Well, they were background for the most part and when they weren't supposed to be background, I just got confused.


It was a very interesting read, and overall, I enjoyed it, but I'm unlikely to read anything else in this series (it's part of a series btw lol though you don't necessarily have to read it in order) or maybe even by this author. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone only used to reading YA, but people who already understand and enjoy hard sci-fi might really enjoy this.
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Throw-you-in-the-deep-end hard science-fi that manages to accomplish a lot in its minuscule page count. The Freeze-Frame Revolution takes what some may consider a pessimistic approach to human nature and the future, but I think it is more like a realist one. The ship itself--and it's AI--may just be the most interesting character.
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“I’ll kill you if I can.”
“I’ll save you, if you let me.”

My rating: 4 stars

Let me start with this: if you love science fiction that really goes into the science aspect and has long descriptions about objects and happenings in space, and also you love stories about artificial intelligence, this story is for you. Personally, I found myself scrolling through a lot of the heavy science because it really wasn’t working for me, but I still managed to enjoy this book immensely.

As you can see from the blurb, Sunday is one of thousands of people on a mission in space that has been going on for sixty million years. The reason why the crew is still alive after so long is that they spend most of it frozen, only waking up for a few days at a time if the ship’s artificial intelligence, the Chimp requires human input on a particular issue.

From then, you can probably guess what happens, and also it’s pretty much described in the blurb, so I’m not telling you a big secret: the humans end up disagreeing with the AI and decide to overthrow it. That’s the story in a nutshell, and yet the execution is so interesting that you’ll want to read this book anyway.

Personally, it was the relationships that really sold this book to me, especially the relationship between the main character and the Chimp. It would be easy to say that the two of them have a close friendship in the book, but of course, it’s much more complicated than that. And yet, even towards the end, they have this hope that they can work things out and save each other. I can’t even adequately describe their relationship, but it was definitely my favourite thing in the book. From the significance of dancing to the way Sunday keeps alternating between calling the Chimp “him” and “it”, it’s a wonderfully complicated relationship.

I also loved the little details, like people who started out the same age aging differently based on how much time they spend outside their “crypts”.

Another interesting thing is that there are little clues throughout the book which tell you that what you are reading is actually the events of the past, told by Sunday at a point in the future – which makes you really wonder about what the hell is going on in the time when Sunday is telling the story. I admit that I’m not sure how to feel about the ending twist – my first reaction was to be disappointment, and to feel like it was kind of a cheap revelation that I would have preferred the story without.

Ultimately, while this story isn’t going on my favourites shelf (because of the ending and the too much science – both completely subjective factors), I enjoyed reading it and I really recommend it to everyone who likes stories about artificial intelligence.
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