Snapshot by Brandon Sanderson
Gollancz, HB, £10.99
Review by Sarah Deeming
The Snapshot Project can recreate a day in history including the weather, the smells, the people, even the fluff in their pocket. Inside the snapshot, the dupes (the people) will repeat that day including every decision they made, provided they do not meet any interference that could cause them to deviate from the original path. While investigating some mundane-seeming cases, Anthony Davis and his partner Chaz come across a mass murder which they’ve been told to leave alone. That’s one order they can’t follow because they have the ability to solve the case faster than the detectives in real life. But they have to be careful. A real person can be killed in a Snapshot.
This novella has one of the best first lines for a story I’ve read in a long time. We are told that Davis is one of only two real people in a city of twenty million. Instantly, I wanted to know more and was immediately fascinated.
This is a multi-layered story examining perception and reality. Throughout, Sanderson asks us to consider the difference between reality and perception. What is real and what is not. As they go through their day, Davis and his partner, Chaz, disagree on how to treat the people within the snapshot, dupes as they’re referred to. Davis believes that they should be treated with respect, after all, they treat the food they eat in the snapshot as real. Where is the line drawn?
An important aspect of work in the snapshot is to not create a deviance. Davis and Chaz can observe but not interfere. The snapshot has to run as it did on the day. If they interfere they could change the events and suspects could walk free. Just how big an interference could change the events of a day. Davis and Chaz focus on the big things, like the suspects realising they’re being followed, but it is the little changes that can make the greatest impact.
Every day, we readers make decisions, some good, some bad, and we may, usually at 3 am, ask ourselves what could have made us do something differently. Snapshot examines this in a tightly constructed replica of our own world where the technology might be out of our understanding, but the human condition is exactly the same.