Across Realtime – Vernor Vinge

Across Realtime by Vernor Vinge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In 1984, I read Vernor Vinge’s Peace War when it was serialised in Analog Magazine. Years later elements of that story still stayed with me and – since this was the age of e-books – I decided to read it again. For obscure reasons, the novel and its follow up Marooned in Realtime were not available on any platform I cared to search, including Gollancz’s own SF Gateway site (although his Zones of Thought series was readily available).

I would have given up, but it niggled at me, so I finally bit the bullet and bought a dead tree copy – the compendium Across Realtime. I’m glad I did.

Like the best science fiction, Across Realtime riffs off a simple idea: the bobbles. These are shiny spheres that are created by a bobble generator. They can be any size (depending on the power available) and they can last for any period of time, from milliseconds to millenia. Inside the bobble, time stops. Complete and perfect stasis. The exterior of the bobble is indestructible. Drop it into the sun and the contents remain intact (until or unless the bobble bursts, of course).

The fact that even the bobble creators are unaware of some of the bobbles’ more amazing properties leads to some excellent turnarounds in the first book The Peace War, but in both books, the existence of bobble technology is only a starting point. The books extrapolate on many different practical applications for the bobbles, which drive the narrative and action in unexpected directions.

The Peace War focuses on the period 5o years after bobble technology emerged and those who owned it – the Peacers – bobbled every government and military installation on the planet and declared themselves rules ‘for the good of all others’. In effect it’s a not-so-benevolent dictatorship against which the general population begins to strain, particularly the Tinkers who dabble on the fringes of what is now forbidden technology (because the Peacers are jealous of their monopoly on the creation and control of bobbles). Marooned in Realtime jumps millions of years past the end of the first book to the last remnants of humanity attempting to rebuild civilisation at the far end of time – and the practical applications of bobbles multiply with the benefits of advanced tech to create a dizzying story of survival and conflict.

Vinge’s other great strength is worldbuilding, and both novels are greatly enhanced by the fully-formed and complex worlds he has created. Written almost 50 years ago, the books stand up well as thought-provoking pieces of entertainment

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