The Across Realtime universe consists of
two novels and a short story. In internal chronological order,
- The Peace War
There have been two different omnibuses printed under the
title Across Realtime. The first contains both novels and
the short story. The second contains only the two novels.
More recently, Tor has re-released The
Peace War and Marooned in Realtime as separate
volumes, while collecting “The Ungoverned” in The
Collected Stories of Vernor Vinge.
I have already dealt briefly with “The
Ungoverned” in my reaction to
Vernor Vinge’s short fiction. This reaction will deal with
both The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime.
THE PEACE WAR
In reading The Peace War I knew I
was reading a flawed work, but I had some difficulty in putting
my finger on exactly what the problem was.
Part of it is the character dramas don’t
seem to be quite brought to life. It’s hard to describe the
effect, but it’s almost as if they’re presented in an
expository fashion. The characters don’t seem to so much live
their thoughts and emotions as think about their thoughts
and emotions. (This is a problem shared with Vinge’s earlier
novel, The Witling,
where the problem was far more pronounced.)
Part of it is a certain clumsiness in the
plotting. Again, you can see where the pieces are supposed to
hook up… but sometimes they don’t quite make the connection,
and at others they’re obviously being forced, leaving a
jig-saw puzzle with ragged edges.
The premise of The Peace War is
fairly straight-forward: Late in the 20th century, a
lone genius working at a military contractor creates the
“bobble” – a silvery, perfectly reflective bubble which
seals off its contents completely from the outside world. Rather
than share this technology with the world, the military
contractor instead triggers World War III and then uses their
revolutionary technology to end the war and take over the
remnants of the world that’s left behind.
The bulk of the novel takes place several
decades later: The military contractor has become the Peace
Authority and rules over a broken, suppressed planet. The lone
genius, completely disenchanted with the way his work was
manipulated, had disappeared into the Californian wilderness.
Rebellion is fomenting. And there may be more to the bobbles
than meets the eye…
One of the things I love about Vinge is his
ability to create plausible villains: It would have been easy to
write the Peace Authority as a two-dimensional villain; an
organization full of malevolent, cackling tyrants. But Vinge
crafts a reality more compelling than that: the founders of the
Peace Authority honestly believed that the arms race could only
lead to mankind’s destruction. They also believed that
technological progress inevitably fed into that arms race. So
they took their new technology and used it to take control. And
then used their control to suppress technological innovation.
Nor does Vinge allow the Peace Authority to
become monolithic: The individuals in both its leadership and
its membership are varied in their outlooks, their motivations,
and their goals.
The other major strength of The Peace
War is, once again, Vinge’s willingness and ability to
rigorously and thoroughly extrapolate speculative technology.
The basic properties of his bobbles are simple and
straight-forward. But Vinge isn’t satisfied with just rubbing
a piece of fur against a rod of amber and getting an electric
spark. He takes that spark and works out power plants and
electric lights, and hints at the possibilities of even more
esoteric and unexpected applications.
This type of speculative thinking is
exactly what gives rise to the incredibly fascinating milieu of Marooned
MAROONED IN REALTIME
I tend to cut to the chase on stuff like
this, so let me do it again:
Marooned in Realtime is a
melancholic masterpiece. I think the only reason it’s not
given more attention is because of its connection to the other,
notably inferior works which make up the Across Realtime
To imagine the setting, fast forward a
hundred million years: At some point in the 22nd
century, mankind disappeared from the face of the planet. Only a
few lingering survivors remain: Those who were trapped
timelessly inside of bobbles while the rest of the human race
disappeared. Clueless and lost in time, these straggling
remnants now attempt to gather their remaining technology and
numbers across countless eons in a final desperate effort to
Then there’s murder.
It’s a vicious, ugly, and nearly
unimaginable killing. Marooned in Realtime is driven by
its mystery – a mystery thoroughly alien; a murder completely
impossible in the modern world.
But there’s more to Marooned in
Realtime than a murder mystery. What captures your
imagination and seizes your mind’s eye is the sheer, daring scope
of Vinge’s vision: This is a tale which expands to fill a
million years. It’s a story of post-apocalypse and
colonization and super-tech and Singularity. It’s about a
humanity stretched to the limits of the human condition. It is a
work of melancholy and it is a work of hope. And Vinge plays
masterfully upon it all.
It’s difficult for me to really quantify
the masterful achievement I consider Marooned in Realtime
to be. There’s no convenient hook on which to hang a statement
of, “This is a great book because of X.” It’s rather an
emotional depth and a grandeur of vision.
I strongly recommend this book.
THE PEACE WAR: B
MAROONED IN REALTIME: A+