Permafrost is about time travel and the apocalypse.

You’d think that an established author like Alastair Reynolds who has written eighteen novels, six novellas, and more short stories than I could possibly count would know how to structure a story so readers could understand what on earth (or off it) he hoped to get across. Well, I’m sorry to say that with Reynolds’s short 2019 novel, Permafrost, that understanding is not in evidence. It’s a tale about time travel and the apocalypse, but who’s involved, and how, and why, is far from clear for at least the first third of the book. It’s obvious enough that something big has gone awry on Earth, but not until at least two-thirds of the way through the story does Reynolds deign to explain what happened. By that point we’d gotten the characters figured out, but the backstory was still hidden.

Permafrost by Alastair Reynolds (2019) 178 pages ★★★☆☆

So, for the sake of your sanity, should you unaccountably choose to read this book, here’s what happened starting “around 2050.” Reynolds calls it “the Scouring.” It’s “an environmental and biological cascade. Not much comes through the other side; certainly not enough for anyone to live on. All animal and plant life gone, except for a few laboratory specimens. By 2080, we’re down to stored rations, the last human generation.” Now you know. It’s about time travel and the apocalypse. Q.E.D. Still interested? My advice is, don’t bother.

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