Tachyon Publications, 192 pages, $14.95
You say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to. He says novella, others say novel, I say long story, a sometimes long, indecipherable story.
In the far future — sixty-six million years, give or take a million, from now — a spaceship trundles across the galaxy planting wormhole gates. The ship, the Eriophora, is powered by a black hole, sent on its mission in the 22nd century by people who probably have no discernible descendants sixty-six million years in the future. So what is the purpose of the 100,000 or so gates anyway? Nothing but monstrous cankers, giant bubbles, or gremlin-like things have ever emerged from them, to the knowledge of the 30,000 humans who help to build the gates in shifts.
Sunday Ahzmundin is our narrator. She has a particularly friendly relationship with the primary AI that maintains the ship while most of the humans lie in crypts, literally dead to the world, awaiting resurrection to serve their shifts. “The Chimp” is what everyone calls the disembodied AI who controls the ship, targets missions, and looks after the humans. Surely, it is the servant and the long-gone Mission Control on Earth is still the master. Hmmm.
Sunday is part of a “tribe.” Mostly she is roused from death to work with them, but sometimes she is roused to work with another tribe, just as others are rotated into other groups to avoid psychological and work stagnation. Time is spongy for the humans. In total, Sunday has maybe been activated (been alive) for a cumulative twenty years since blast-off, despite the passage of millions of years. During one work go-around and the presumptive beginning of Peter Watts’ story, one of Sunday’s group, Lian Wei, has a breakdown and eventually (centuries or millennia later) dies.
Lian dies asking the ultimate question: What is the meaning of life?
The humans on board have been engineered to accept and be happy with life on board their ship and with their amorphous goal of connecting the galaxy. But is that all there is? They all believe their mission will end when they receive a “call back” from Mission Control. In the absence of that call back, they continue to cast their gates. Until the end of time. Or until the ship has used up all the resources available in the galaxy to make the gates and space is too cluttered to move. In any event, that point in time (a very human phrase) is asymptotic, an event horizon that is never breached.
“Freeze-Frame Revolution” is very geeky. There is even an Easter egg for those willing to find and follow it. There’s even a sub-Reddit about that Easter egg. So, go forth and geek!