The Alexandrian

The Across Realtime universe consists of two novels and a short story. In internal chronological order, these are:

The Peace War
“The Ungoverned”
Marooned in Realtime

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 - Vernor VingeIn 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 in Realtime


Marooned in Realtime - Vernor VingeI 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 future history.

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 re-establish civilization.

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.



Vernor Vinge
Published: 1984 / 1986
Publisher: Tor
Cover PRice: $13.95
ISBN: 0-76-530883-5 / 0-76-530884-3
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