When Gollancz offered me the chance to review the latest Brandon Sanderson, chances of me turning it down were at 0%. I love his fantasy books, and I love how prolific he is so you’re never waiting too long for the next one… Snapshot is way more sci-fi than fantasy, but it has his trademark awesome world-building and gorgeous plotting, even in only 130 pages!
Book: Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson
Read before: No
Ownership: Hardback copy provided by publisher for fair review.
A warning: DO NOT READ THE AUTHOR’S NOTE FIRST. DO NOT GO ANYWHERE NEAR THE BACK OF THE BOOK BEFORE YOU HAVE FINISHED IT. If you are like me, and like to flick to the back to see which page the story ends on, and how much bumpf there is at the back (previews, authors’ notes, adverts), be warned that Sanderson discusses spoilers very openly in the Author’s Note at the back and YOU WILL BE SPOILED.
Snapshot revolves around a fascinating piece of police technology. Entire days can be recreated within a ‘snapshot’, which replicates every single thing about a given place at a given time perfectly. This allows detectives to go back in time, effectively, and watch out for evidence about crimes while they are committed. It’s a really clever idea – if you know that a criminal ran off in one direction, but you lost him, just create a snapshot, set a detective to follow him, and then maybe you can find his hideout and track him down in real time! That in and of itself is a really great idea, but how Sanderson uses it to tell his story takes it to the next level.
We follow two detectives, Chaz and Davis, as they attempt to solve a very boring case – but they accidentally stumble into a crime scene that has nothing to do with theirs. Weirdly, they’re ordered not to investigate, so they obviously begin to believe that there’s something going on… I really can’t explain any more about the plot without spoiling it, because although this novella is less than 150 pages long, there are so many twists and turns packed in that anything I say could spoil it for you! I was turning pages so quickly I gave myself a paper-cut. Suffice to say, this is not your standard episode of a detective show.
The characterisation was also spot on. What I particularly liked seeing was people’s reactions to being told that they were not real, that they were just a Snapshot version and would vanish from existence when the simulation was turned off. Even passers-by, completely unimportant to the story, reacted to this information totally differently. Sanderson’s people are all so realistic, even when they don’t need to be. I also thought it was interesting that one of the detectives found it cruel to tell people this, and did it only when necessary, while the other was more blasé about it, feeling that they weren’t real anyway so didn’t see why he should care about the impact on them. It’s an interesting study in empathy and philosophy, but it’s just presented quietly and left for you to interpret.
I do think that the length was perfect for the story – any shorter and some crucial layers would have been missed out, but any longer, and some of the impetus and tension would have been lost. However, I have to point out that the physical edition of this is £10.99. That’s a price that would make me balk for a 450 page book, let alone a novella. The Kindle edition is currently £2.49, which seems fairer! I don’t know if it had a particularly high production cost, being a very short hardback, or what, but just be aware that it costs a fair whack to add to your shelves.
On the whole, though, this was an absolute masterclass in twists. The noir, slightly sci-fi setting works perfectly with Sanderson’s tweezer-precise world-building, and even though this is way outside my usual genres, I loved it. I highly, highly recommend reading it, especially if you’re a writer, because there’s so much to learn about story-telling. Five out of five cats!