April 2, 2020

Review: A World Out of Time by Larry Niven.

A Hard Sci-Fi Classic!

This week, we want to take you forward in time via an often overlooked science fiction classic. In the modern era of cyber-punk and sword and sorcery that masquerades as Sci-Fi, author Larry Niven gives us tales that are still rooted in hard science. I like to think of writers of this ilk as counter-revolutionaries, or authors that meld todayís science with the sensibilities of a Clarke or an Asimov. Ringworld put him on the map, and other tales such as The Mote in Godís Eye or Footfall are like manna from heaven for those of us who like our science fiction with a splash of Saganís Cosmos. Seriously, itís a modern day crime that none of his novels have been adapted to the big screen, although some abortive attempts have been made to get Ringworld to film.

One of my favorite Niven novels, however, rarely gets a mention. A World Out of Time came out in 1976 (slightly before Star Wars) and is a Rip Van Winkle tale of a similar vein as A.A. Attanasioís Solis. These tales, although few and far between, always seem to grab me; itís interesting to see a bizarre and sometimes frightening future from the eyes of someone from our own time. No mere Buck Rodgers in the 25th Century here; I know of no other novel that has a similar scope except perhaps Robert Silverbergís Son of Man. Like Solis, A World Out of Timeís chief protagonist Jerome Brach Corbell was frozen with hopes that his cancer could be cured in the far future. The future that his consciousness is resurrected into however is that of a terrifying totalitarian state. Corbell is pressed into service aboard a Bussard Ramjet interstellar spacecraft, which he hijacks on a time-bending journey towards the core of our galaxy.

Letís just say (sans spoilers) that Corbellís ploy works to free himself from that oppressive future time, but sends him into an even more bizarre future of solar system terra-forming and world manipulation. The message of books like A World Out of Time and Solis is both captivating and mind expanding; that the future may be stranger than we can know. And like in many of Nivenís novels, terra-forming, Bussard Ramjets, and time dilation are all real ideas. I particularly liked how difficult it was for Corbell to pick out our solar system upon return to our spiral arm in the far future, as the familiar pattern of local stars had changed drasticallyÖpure Niven!

Do put A World Out Of Time on your summer classic sci-fi reading list. What would it mean to live through a large swath of future history, and would we want to even if we could comprehend it? Parallels have even been drawn by critics between A World Out Of Time and 2001: A Space Odyssey, with its themes of mute loneness in the cosmosÖ but I think Nivenís work takes this a step further with a motif of disconnectedness across time as well as space. Like his other pivotal works The Integral Trees and the Ringworld series, Niven puts the Science in Fiction!

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