Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson * Format: Kindle * February 17, 2017
😸😸😸😸½🔵 Rated 4.5/5 happy lap cats
Snapshot is a near future neo noir novella about a pair of washed up police detectives who are kept on the force to do court-ordered investigative work inside the Snapshot Project, an on demand, perfect recreation of any recent day in a complex created by a mysterious psychic being. Each Snapshot lasts for one day, then it’s recycled back into raw matter and energy, ready to be turned into another day on demand.
Davis, our point of view character, and his impulsive, trigger happy partner Chaz, live and work in the decaying city-state of New Clipperton, formerly part of the Restored American Union. They are sent into Snapshots to observe recreated crimes and criminals and gather information that can be used in court. Nothing from the Snapshot can be brought back into the real world, other than the detective’s memory.
Any interaction between a real life person and a person from the Snapshot begins to introduce alterations in the timeline, known as Deviations, which may amount to nothing, or may change the rest of the day significantly. If there are too many Deviations, the legitimacy of the evidence the detectives have gathered is called into question.
The two detectives are routinely asked to investigate multiple crimes within the same Snapshot, since Snapshots are expensive to produce. On the day the novella takes place, they decide to kill time between assigned crimes by investigating a police call noted by bystanders in online forums, but not logged by the police themselves. At least not at Davis’ level of clearance.
What they discover is shocking, and changes the way they think about their work. From that point the twists and turns continue to surprise the characters and the reader, right up until the end of the story. A detailed postscript explains some of the author’s influences and process in writing the story, adding another layer to a multilayered tale.
Snapshot is readable and easy to follow, but it’s also complex and multifaceted. It’s an unusual novella in that way. There are snapshots within snapshots, and deviations within deviations. It’s very similar to a Philip K Dick story, especially A Scanner Darkly. Influences such as Blade Runner, The Matrix, and The Sixth Sense can also be felt. The characters struggle with questions of whether exploitation and deviance are ever okay or even necessary, the nature of truth and reality, and what it means to be alive. They are ghosts in the machine, but the machine itself is a ghost, creating more ghosts. Where does the madness end?
The writing easily evokes the gritty nature of a crumbling city that’s past its prime. Each of the two main characters, with whom we spend the bulk of our time, have distinct voices and personalities. The city is a character itself, but it’s also reflective of Davis and Chaz, who have failed and had to settle for less than they wanted from their lives. There are several standout supporting characters as well, though they are more representations than fully fleshed out characters, since this is a short novella.
Which leads to my two small criticisms. Some of the supporting characters could have been fleshed out a little further, and too much of the important action is rushed at the end. The book could have used another 10-20 pages to flesh out all of the action and reveals. Leaving some things ambiguous is fine, but I had the impression that I was supposed to understand why some things were happening in the side action that will probably take a reread or two to understand within a reasonable doubt.
After reading the Postscript, I think the author was relying a bit too heavily on readers being familiar with a certain body of work, and thought he didn’t have to spell certain things out. But you can’t depend on your reader having prior knowledge, unless you’re writing sequels or fan fiction. Even then, the best writers don’t depend on it.
But these are minor complaints. The story works great as it is. If you’re looking for a quick, escapist, scifi read that will make you think (but not too hard) this is a good choice. The narrator is relatable as one in the long line of broken, urban detectives, the concept of the Snapshots is fresh and original, and the plot has enough surprises to keep you interested until the end. It’s a fun read for fans of scifi, detective stories, dystopias, and Philip K Dick.
I discovered this novella thanks to a review on LifeofChaz.com.