Monday, 5 August 2013

The Bitter Bread II

In Poul Anderson's "The Bitter Bread," a spaceship crew, before traveling faster than light on the "super-drive," match their relativistic intrinsic velocity to that of their destination because that initial velocity is retained after leaving the super-drive. When the spaceship Uriel accelerates uncontrollably in the gravitational fields of two massive stars, it gains a near-light intrinsic velocity and therefore will never be able to decelerate enough to re-enter the Solar System. Thus, its all male crew is condemned to flying through space for the rest of their natural lives.

Another ship can synchronize with Uriel on super-drive and its crew can even cross over to visit Uriel but must not bring back with them any matter from the doomed ship because that matter will retain its faster intrinsic velocity on leaving super-drive. Anderson has gone to elaborate lengths to devise a technical problem with harrowing consequences for his characters. A married man on Uriel cannot return home but his wife can join him. However, she must practice an elaborate deception to perform this simple and, with the benefit of hindsight, obvious act because the prevailing mores are such that a woman joining an all-male crew is regarded as morally unacceptable.

"The Elders," referred to in other works by Anderson, are also mentioned here: a hypothetically more advanced race possibly existing in the galactic center where the stars are old and close together. The text mentions alternative theories of the center, that it is filled with lethal radiation or that its space is clear and habitable. I think that the current theory is of radiation surrounding a massive black hole at the center of every galaxy.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Hi, Paul!

I thought your explanation of the kind of FTL drive used in "The Bitter Bread" very clear. It made it much more understandable for me both the FTL drive used and why the crew of "Uriel" was unable to return home. I reread "Bitter" at least once just to try understanding better the technical problem Anderson devised for this story.