Sunday, 15 September 2013

The Long Way Home

When we read about fictitious interstellar exploration, we want to know what the explorers find out there but two other important questions are how long are they away and what has happened back home in their absence?

After ten years, Dan Dare returns to find the Solar System ruled by the Mekon;

after a relativistic round trip to galactic center, Larry Niven's Corbell returns to a barely recognizable Solar System, with what might be Earth in orbit around what might be Jupiter;

in Poul Anderson's After Doomsday, astronauts return to a sterilized Earth;

in Anderson's The Long Way Home (St Albans, Herts, 1975), which I am just starting to reread, astronauts returning after thousands of years must cope with a changed sociopolitical system.

In both of the Anderson novels, an alien passenger accompanies the returning astronauts. When we start to read The Long Way Home, it might turn out to be an end of the world scenario because after:

"The spaceship flashed out of superdrive..." (p. 5),

the first question to be asked is:

"'Where's the sun?'" (ibid.)

- but this is because the malfunctioning ship has re-entered normal space a third of a light-year, instead of just one AU, away. The astronauts do not yet suspect how much time has elapsed. Their response to this has to be a major part of the novel.

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