Thursday, 27 September 2018

Permafrost

Earlier this year I wrote a new novella about time travel, which I'm pleased to say will appear from Tor books in March 2019.


Cho reached into a pouch behind the pilot’s position. He drew out a document and passed it to me. It was a scarlet brochure, with a translucent plastic cover. On the front was the World Health logo, followed by a statement in several languages to the effect that the contents were of the highest security rating.

I looked at him doubtfully, before I opened the document.

“Go ahead,” Cho said. “You’re committed now.”

I opened the document.

On the inside page was a logo. It was a six-armed snowflake with three letters in the middle of it.

The letters were:

PRE

I turned over to the next page. It was blank except for three words in Russian:

Permafrost Retrocausal Experiment



I like novellas, both as a reader and a writer. Lying somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words, according to the people who decide these things (other definitions are available), they've got a bit more room in them than novelettes or short stories, but don't risk overstaying their welcome in the way that some novels do. Themes can be developed at a depth not really possible in the shorter forms, but at the same time the novella still encourages a tightness of approach, usually confining itself to a single viewpoint. It's been said that the form is particularly well suited to science fiction, and while I don't know how healthy the novella is in the wider literary world, it's certainly enjoying a period of renewed vitality within SF. The long-established print magazines such as Asimovs have always found a home for novellas, and in the last decade or so specialist publishers such PS Publishing, Subterranean Press and Tachyon Books have championed the form via various chapbooks and collector's editions. Even more recently, the form has been embraced by Tor with a line of novellas that have done very well, including such fine works as Nnedi Okorafor's Binti.

As daunting as it is to join such company, I couldn't be happier to have been given the chance to write this story, especially as it involved working with the ever-excellent Jonathan Strahan, an editor who not only knows and understands my work, but has published no small amount of it. When Jonathan kindly approached me about the possibility of doing a novella, I was fairly sure that I wanted to tell a time-travel story. I've long been fascinated by the form - one of my earliest memories is of watching the George Pal version of Wells' The Time Machine - but for the most part it's one I've kept well away from in my published fiction to date. Yes, there's a sort of pseudo-time travel in Century Rain, and some stuff about quantum signalling from the future in Redemption Ark (and elsewhere) but neither of those instances are real, true-grit time travel stories. By which I mean, one in which a protagonist goes back in time and gets to see, feel and taste the past. That's what I wanted to write, though, albeit with some self-imposed restrictions. Without getting into spoilers, I knew the sort of story I didn't want to end up with, and that included any plot that involved a time machine that functioned as either a vehicle (something you got into) or a portal (something you stepped through). I also didn't want a story that involved time-loops or time-paradoxes as they are conventionally handled, but I soon realised that making certain kinds of time-loop front and central to the story could be interesting, especially if handled in a matter-of-fact, technical manner, as it would be to any highly-organised time travel project.

I've said too much, so that's enough from me for now, but in the meantime you can find out a bit more about the book here:

https://www.tor.com/2018/09/20/revealing-permafrost-alastair-reynolds/

There'll be another book from me in early 2019, as well - Shadow Captain, which is now edited, proofed and in production - but I'll say a bit more about that in another post. In the meantime, I'm half way through Bone Silence, and tentatively beginning to think about the book beyond that.

Tempus, as they say, Fugit.

Al





17 comments:

  1. Could you give a hint about Bone Silence - it is SF, High Fantasy, a whodunit, or an urban, paranormal, vampire romance? Whatever it is, you have a dead lock certain sale to me.

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  2. Sorry - I see it is going to be part of the Revenger series.

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  3. Fantastic, looking forward to this and the sequel to Revenger. I also loved another novella of yours ("Troika"). Very happy to see that other writing projects are on the horizon.

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  4. I'm interested of course, more so because I've just finished writing a time travel short story also. Dont think I'd try it again, though I enjoyed hacking out its peculiar rules I made up for it.

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  5. Really looking forward to this and all your other projects.

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  6. Exciting news, I look forward to both releases.

    I very much enjoyed Death's Door. To me, it conveyed a sense of wonder not unlike House of Suns, particularly the episode on Mercury and the encounter with the Luminal Minds. I think it’d be a cool universe to return to.

    Also, Luminal Minds would be a great band name; your work seems to have a lot of awesome potential artist/album/song titles.

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  7. What wonderful news! Can't wait to see how you handle this particular SF staple.

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  8. It is a sad day when Alistair Reynolds writes a time travel story. I was barely able to accept quantum signalling from the future in Redemption Ark.

    Time doesn't exist. It is a construct of the human mind in order to communicate the concept of the changing nature of matter and energy.

    The past conditions of matter and energy no longer exist, so you can't go back to them.

    The future conditions of matter and energy do not exist yet, so you can't visit them.

    It would take more energy than is available in all of existence to move matter and energy back to a previous state, or forward to a future state. Hence, time travel in any form would consume all of the universe.

    Time travel, while sometimes fun, is a poor writer's crutch to tell an interesting story, by using the impossible to trick the reader into making assumptions about what will happen next, or how the hero might win the day. It has been an overused writing mechanism. Just look at some of the great story-lines that get spoiled by resetting the time line.

    I will always enjoy "Doctor Who" and "The man who folded himself", but I really don't enjoy books that use time travel to fill gaps in the natural flow of a story.

    Shame on you Alistair. I love and look forward to most of your works. But not this one I think.

    Please write some more hard science fiction with great story-lines. I will read all of those.

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    1. Alistair became one of my favorite authors due to his engaging science fiction that sticks primarily to the known laws of physics and concepts that are mathematically feasible given the known laws of physics. I consider time travel stories to be fantasy. I enjoy reading some fantasy, though, especially fantasy that is not typical epic stuff. I will read the novella as a fantasy decide thumbs up or down after I finish.

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    2. We share similar reasons for loving his work then, although I am quite happy with extrapolating known physics beyond our current understanding, and using that in a storyline. I can easily justify that along the lines of Arthur C Clarke's observation, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."

      But yes, time travel is fantasy, some of which I enjoy. Hopefully it is a good read for most people.

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    3. Physicists have been debating the possibility of past-directed time travel, within certain cosmologies, for decades. It was an interest of Stephen Hawking's. So it's a little silly to discuss all such speculation as fantasy, or to say that it has no place within science fiction.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closed_timelike_curve

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  9. Other writers are available, RoderickGI.

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  10. Thanks for responding Alistair.
    Sure, there are lots of other writers.
    However, your best work is the best modern Science Fiction I have read. I would like to read lots more of it. I trust that you will create some amazing works in future.

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  11. Mr. Reynolds - I wonder if you would permit an unrelated question. I'm a big fan of your works and am currently re-reading Pushing Ice. I had a few nagging questions that I hoped you could clear up. Where was the final Spican structure intended to be? I have to assume it was a great distance from our galaxy to provide enough time during transit for another sentient species to arise and potentially co-mingle with the other races. Can we assume it would be millions of light-years distant then? Also puzzled how Fountainheads reached the Spican structure ahead of the humans as it was implied they arose well after the demise of human civilization. I suppose it meant they had the ability for superluminal travel but never explicitly stated.

    Anyway, fantastic novel and hoping to see a sequel in the near future!

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  12. The idea is that it's within our own galaxy, but a long way in the future. The species that stock it have been kept in relativistic holding patterns, circling the galaxy at close to the speed of light, so their order of arrival doesn't necessarily reflect the eras from which they came. That's how the Fountainheads appear to have got there earlier, despite coming from a time after human civilisation. There's no superluminal travel involved.

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    1. Thanks for the reply! Wow, I would not have guessed that explanation but it does make more sense then building the structure millions of light-years distant. Also makes it more plausible that Chromis's datacube found its way into the structure.

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