In the near-future, technology has evolved that can create artificial constructs of recent days gone by – snapshots of the real world and real moments in time - but a raft of legislative rulings have imposed huge restrictions on how this invasive and potentially morally-dubious technology can actually be used. Ultimately the US government allows the snapshot facility to be utilised predominantly by law enforcement agencies who are able to effectively send officers and detectives “back in time” to solve crimes which they have been unable to crack in real life. But be careful out there; the “dupes” in the snapshots aren’t aware that they’re living on strictly borrowed time (the snapshots are turned off when their usefulness is over) and deviations in the timeline can have dangerous, if not catastrophic, consequences.
This is the intriguing premise which powers Brandon Sanderson’s Snapshot, a brisk and inventive novella which embodies many of the traditions and tropes of classic hard-boiled gumshoe fiction and marries them to a sky-high sci-fi concept which, inevitably, asks us the usual salient genre questions about the nature and fragility of the human condition. Here jaded ‘tecs Chaz and Davis (try not to think of Chas and Dave) have journeyed into a snapshot with a slate of fairly minor misdemeanours to get to grips with. Their relationship is fairly affable but there’s an uneasy tension between them, a sense of some underlying conflict of interests often characterised by their different working methods. Their business is proceeding more or less according to plan until they stumble across the terrible crimes committed by a serial killer known as the Photographer, whose work they’ve not been asked to investigate despite the fact that their superiors are aware of the atrocities he has committed.
Hugely readable, Snapshot’s brevity – 128 pages and we’re done – makes it seem a bit like a snapshot of a larger text, part of a grander story or else a testing ground for Sanderson to get to grips with his idea and the narrative possibilities it offers. Certainly the novella tells Chaz and Davis’ full story (there are a couple of twists in their relationship which attentive readers might well be able to second-guess) but the idea of snapshot technology seems to be bristling with potential for further exploration and we’d not be averse to seeing a broader and more detailed story set in a world within a world which has the power to play God without giving much thought to the moral consequences of that power. Snapshot is worth your time, but whether you’ll feel it’s worth spending a tenner on a book you’ll read within an hour is a matter between you and your wallet.
SNAPSHOT / AUTHOR: BRANDON SANDERSON / PUBLISHER: GOLLANCZ / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW