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Biased and superficial Science Fiction reviews

Marooned In Realtime

Copyright 1986 by Vernor Vinge

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SOJALS rating:     
one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point one SOJALS point no SOJALS point    Very good (4/5)

I first read this in 1988 and most recently on the 14th April 2003

"Bobbling" is the technology that creates a impenetrable sphere of energy within which no time passes. Thus one may "freeze" oneself and jump an hour, a year, a hundred years or a thousand years into the future.

Various individuals and groups in the 21st and 22nd centuries "bobbled" themselves to escape into the future, whether just for adventure, or to let their investments accrue, or in fear of their lives.

What they found was that sometime during the 23rd century, humanity disappeared. No one knows whether they were destroyed, died out or just left. Everyone has their theories of course, but no-one knows.

Over the centuries that follow humans appear from their bobbles and gradually gather themselves into a group that provides mankind's last, best hope of long term survival.

These last humans skip through the millions of years of this future Earth, searching for a time and a place in which to start again, to re-establish humanity and civilisation before their diminishing resources are exhausted.

And midst all this, Wil W. Brierson, the famous detective, searches for the murderer of his friend, who was marooned in realtime, living out the years alone while the rest of humanity rested safely inside their "bobbles". His partner in this search is Della Lu, also once a police officer, but now the oldest person alive and no longer quite human.

It's an end of the world thriller and a detective story, and its also an astonishing sequel to "The Peace War".

I've read only four books by Vernor Vinge "The Peace War" and this novel, "Marooned In Realtime" some fifteen years ago, and then rather more recently "A fire Upon The Deep" and a "Deepness In The Sky". As a consequence I have this perception Vernor Vinge writes pair of books every fifteen years, outpynchoning Python as it were. What would he do all the rest of the time, just sit around the house. His wife would get so fed up. How would she keep herself from strangling him? Ah, I get it, she'd write books.

Looking into this theory more closely I see that it's completely erroneous, Vinge indeed seems to write a book every couple of years, it's just that I bought a pair of his books, "The Peace War" and this novel "Marooned In Realtime", some fifteen years ago and then more recently picked up "A fire Upon The Deep" and a "Deepness In The Sky". So that's cleared up, but what I still don't understand is how come I could forgotten that he is so very good?

This really is a superb novel, with an exhilarating plot and a profusion of detail that makes the future history of the 21st and 22nd centuries so convincing. There are the little personal touches, for example about Wil's wife Victoria and why she didn't follow him, and about his son, Billy who became a famous writer.

There's some lovely writing, look at what Tammy Robinson, whose family believes in timelike urbanization, says in regard to living in real-time:

"We've been stopped for about six weeks now. That's not long for some of our stops, but it's long enough for me to get the feeling. The animals aren't changing. I look out and the mountains just sit there."

This is living on an epic scale. nine-thousand year old humans. A very complex hacking attempt on a robot that lasted twelve-hundred long years. Wil and Della watching the space war up in the skies above then. Wil's appreciation of the exponentially increasing resources available to the later humans:

He tried to imagine the forces that must be piled up in the first few hundred klicks above him. It far exceeded the combined might of all the nations in history; it was probably greater than that of a police service up to the mid 22nd century.
For those of you that have read this book, just remember for a moment some of the characters Vinge jammed into this book: Steve Fraley, president of the Republic Of New Mexico, Kim Tiolang from '60s Cambodia, Marta and Yelén Korolev, Juan Chanson, Rohan and Dilip Dasgupta, Monica Raines, the Robinson family, Philippe Genet, Jason Mudge and Tunç Blumenthal.

Of course, the one thing not to forget from from this book, is the future view of governments. of whatever ilk, as being abhorrent and repulsive. Has Vinge got it right? Is that where we're heading? To smaller and smaller communities, each managing its private consumption of vast resources and with no system of central control?

What's it got? evil governments, intricate conspiracies, space War, big guns, mysterious women and dastardly deeds and an incredible sense of the passage of millions of years.

Loaded on the 1st June 2003.
Cover of Marooned In Realtime
Cover art by Tom Kidd

Reviews of other works with covers by Tom Kidd:
The Glory Game