Permafrost – Alastair Reynolds

It is the year 2080 and Valentina Lidova is a teacher for what will be the last generation on the dying planet Earth in the wake of the Scouring, the devastating cross-species illness which has killed all insects and marine life then all that depends on them, flowering plants and larger animals, when she is approached by Director Leo Cho of the Permafrost Retrocausal Experiment.

The elderly daughter of mathematician Luba Lidova, famous until her theories became so outlandish as to appeal only to cranks and she was shunned by the scientific mainstream, Valentina recalls something of her mother’s work, enough to make her valuable to Permafrost in the madness of their mission, but with the end in sight, what has she to lose?

In 2028, Tatiana Dinova is recovering from a brain tumour when she suddenly loses control of her body as though she were a puppet operated by an unseen other, sharing her head with a strange voice which carries with it glimpses of another place and refuses to explain what its purpose is, only that it has a mission which will require them to work together.

More often seen in the far reaches of space in his novel series Revelation Space, Poseidon’s Children and Revenger, Alastair Reynolds has returned from beyond the Aquila Rift to Earth to tackle time travel rather than space travel in his new novella Permafrost as Valentina’s consciousness hitch-hikes a ride across five decades in a desperate attempt to save the future which is unravelling as fast as she can plan it.

Reynolds having touched peripherally on temporal mechanics in other forms in Century Rain and Harvest of Time, here the technology is front and centre, the binding of “Luba pairs” of allowing the transfer of information through time but their underlying principal also leading to “grandfathering” effects as the universe realigns to accommodate and absorb paradox, the superimposed memories of the witnesses fading as the causal lag catches up.

An idea which could easily have provided material for a full novel, Permafrost weaves a tangled tale of cause and effect as Valentina tries to build hope for the future while becoming aware of a greater threat overshadowing her mission with twists unexpected and tragic as she and her host try to keep their date with a shifting destiny less predetermined and more malleable.

Permafrost is available from now from Tor



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