the Little Red Reviewer

The Freeze-Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts

Posted on: May 12, 2018

The Freeze-Frame Revolution by Peter Watts

Release Date: June 12th 2018

Where I got it: Received a review copy from the publisher (Thanks Tachyon!)








How do you crew a ship whose mission will take hundreds or thousands of years? Let’s see, you could do a sleeper ship, a generation ship, for something a little more unusual you could go the route of Marina Lostetter’s Noumenon or David Brin’s Existence. Those options will surely cover you for a few hundred or maybe a thousand years.  But what if the ship’s mission is even longer than that? What if we’re talking more like a million or more years?


The mission of the Eriophora is building a gate system through the galaxy. As the gate system grows, the outbound growth of mankind will surely follow. Sunday and many of her crewmates are forever hopeful that something almost human will come out of the next gate they build.  They are forever hopeful that their ship will finally receive a radio message that it’s time to come home. It’s been sixty million years, and they are still waiting for that message. No wonder the crew forms a music appreciation club, it’s not like there is much of anything else to do.  Yes, you read that correctly, they’ve been hurtling through the galaxy, awake for only a few days out of every few hundred or thousand, for sixty million years.


The solution sounded so simple, once upon a time.  Raise a bunch of children to feel special, to feel chosen. Train them together, let them watch their AI grow and learn.  Raise them to know the ship is their home, and everything they do, they do for the future and the betterment of mankind, and that being awake for 3 days out of every few hundred years is a completely normal thing.  Trust the AI to keep them in line and convince them that it’s totally normal that in millions of years no one has invited them to come back home.

The AI on the Eriophora, known as Chimp, is exactly as smart as he needs to be. He’s smart enough to wake a few people up when there are too many variables for him to work through, he’s smart enough to realize that humans need friends, so he wakes people up to work alongside people they know as often as possible, and he’s also smart enough to do his very best to keep the highest quantity of people alive.


Chimp is smart enough to understand what a scapegoat is, he thinks he is smart enough to control communication between people who haven’t been in the same room together in hundreds of years.  Chimp makes Hal9000 look like an idiot.


Sunday never planned on being a revolutionary, or a double agent, but she’s about to become both. Can she outsmart a sly AI?  And even if she does, then what? It’s not like they can just fly the ship home by themselves. Things get really creepy when Sunday and Chimp know he can have her sleep forever, if he wants. That he can kill off all her friends while she’s sleeping, and there is nothing she can do about it.  Wow, the more I think about this book the more I think about the possible endgames, the creepier it all becomes.


Two of Watts’ more famous novels, Blindsight and Echopraxia, feature genetic vampires as apex predators, Watts enjoys playing around with the idea of humans being prey, both literally and metaphorically. In those novels, it was human genetic biologists and engineers who created living vampires, and it became this intricate game of do the humans control the vampires, or do the vampires control the humans? (sort of like is your cat your pet, or has the cat got you trained to be at their beck and call?).  Chimp was created by human engineers, and Chimp is controlled by his programming. . . right? Chimp controls all life support on the Eriophora, Chimp controls who gets to wake up for another few days, and if that person will ever again be awake at the same time as their friends. The programmers who programmed Chimp have been dead for millenia. So, do we control Chimp, or does Chimp control us? So many fun, wonderful, and horribly creepy questions out of this addictively readable little novel! Even if you don’t get into the plot, you’ll have a ball untangling all the questions and discussions about being alone but not lonely, trust, how to lie to an AI who knows you better than you know yourself, battling endgames, and really the list goes on.


Watts tends to gravitate towards characters who are alone. Characters who are surrounded by co-workers, or crewmates, or family members, but who are ultimately alone inside their own heads.  Freeze-Frame Revolution gives physicality to this alone-ness, the Chimp can wake you up whenever it wants, it can wait until every member of your tribe is dead before it wakes you up again. Sure, people have relationships in the book – lovers, friends, but it’s all transient, because who knows when you’ll ever see the person again, if ever?  I suddenly see why the hive-mind community in Echopraxia was so alluring.


Just longer than a novella, but not long enough to feel like a novel, The Freeze-Frame Revolution is a smartly written stand alone story with enough meat around the edges to easily be expanded into a longer work if the author ever wished. If you’ve never read Watts before, this new novel is an excellent place to start.  If you like what you read in The Freeze-Frame Revolution, but want something shorter, Watts has some superb short stories floating around. Like what you read, but want something longer? Grab a copy of Blindsight, and prepare to have your mind blown.

10 Responses to "The Freeze-Frame Revolution, by Peter Watts"

You’ve convinced me. While he intruiges me, I’ve stayed away from Watts before because his books seem a bit overdone, but this feels different.


this new one is very subtle, almost sparse. Not overdone at all.

Liked by 1 person

Wow! This sounds right up my alley … *adding to wishlist* 😀


Intriguing, I feel like i’ve read something very familiar…like an adult discovers a ship full of children with AI, racking brain. Will give this a look!


Found it, Heinlein – Orphans of the Sky. Will read and dare to compare, thanks @RedHead


i’m looking forward to your comparison! Will be interested to see what you think of Watts playing with an older idea. 🙂


*adds everything to tbr*

Liked by 1 person

so, um, my blog will kinda blow up your TBR. #SorryNotSorry.

Liked by 1 person

That’s what it’s here for so ;D

Liked by 1 person

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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