A Day in Deep Freeze by Lisa Shapter (Aqueduct Press, 2015) – A Day in Deep Freeze by Lisa Shapter is a claustrophobic novella detailing a day in the life of a man approaching a nervous breakdown. Emran Greene spent years working in an underground lab on the production of a mysterious truth drug that has now warped his mind. Suffering alongside him were a cadre of other men and the bonds they formed between themselves developed along lines both brutal and tender. Now, free from the lab, Emran attempts to start a new life, a normal life with a wife, a job, and hope for the future. Only the drug has irreversibly changed him, and Emran knows the life he’s leading “above” is a lie, a lie the ghost of his past lover won’t let him escape.
There’s a touch of Philip K. Dick in Shapter’s book. The same concerns with paranoia and psychosis are present. The one key difference being that Shapter revels in the long drawn out moments, the slow build towards a climax that remains off-screen, looming and yet to materialize. In this story Emran’s success at keeping his life normal is worse than failure, for even as we read there’s the hope that Emran will fail to persevere and have to face the truth about what he’s done, who he is, and how he lives. As Emran struggles through his day, trying to live a “normal” life, while also keeping true to the relationships he made in the factory below, we witness an individual put under psychological stresses that threaten to destroy him.
If anything the one flaw in this book is that it’s “a day” in deep freeze and not “the day”. As Emran skates along a knife’s edge of catastrophe, both internal and external, there’s the expectation that all this is leading to a breakdown, that the weight of all he has seen and done will cause a shift, likely tragic, in how he lives. But that catastrophe never materializes and the reader ends the sory with the impression that not enough has changed, and tomorrow Emran will begin his self-torture all over again, skirting the same edge, only now the stakes will be that much higher. It’s a frustrating outcome, but one that rings thematically true to the story and characters, so can’t be viewed as too great a fault.
Aqueduct Press is a small press dedicated to publishing challenging, feminist science fiction. But don’t let that scare you away! Its authors include Rick Bowes, Christopher Barzak, Sarah Tolmie, Jennifer Marie Brissett, as well as a host of others, and their books are always thought-provoking and take risks that more conventional publishers wouldn’t dare to pursue. For this reason alone, such small presses should be championed, as they’re more likely to explore the edges of genre than bank on the conventional and the acceptable. While certainly not every book we read needs to push the edges of our expectations, it’s good to know such books exist, waiting for when we are ready for them.