RogerBW's Blog

Redshift Rendezvous, John E. Stith 16 March 2015

1990 SF. On a passenger liner in hyperspace, the speed of light is a mere ten metres per second. But humans are still humans.

This is a book with rivets in it; it's clearly inspired by the wish to tell a story about relativistic effects with the speed of light slowed down so far that they're readily perceptible, and the physics are carefully set up to produce that effect. By having the ship (the Redshift) in a layer of hyperspace where distances are vastly compressed, even the low speed of light allows very rapid travel, at the cost of the passengers and crew having to cope with a very strange environment. (They wear "lifebelts" to restore their internal speed of light to a more normal value and thus prevent their bodies from shutting down in confusion; it's an obvious cheat but a necessary one, and there's no futile attempt to justify it.)

Relativity isn't strange or new to me, and as far as I can see Stith gets it right (I didn't attempt to work out every detail). But this isn't quite a Golden Age "look, we have a neat idea" story; it also has characters and plot. Well, a bit. The first-person narrator is the first officer, Jason Kraft, who has a Murky Past and a drab narrative tone; it may be authentic for him but it's not always much fun to read. He's a great pilot, and fighter, and detective. Oh, and irresistible to the opposite sex. The only other character who gets much personality is Tara Pesek Cline, a passenger who is Kraft's foil for much of the excitement.

And excitement there is. At first it seems as though it's going to be an SF murder mystery: a woman who's already been suicidal seems to have achieved her goal, but Kraft is not convinced. But it's only the most minor of spoilers to say that while investigation is ongoing, events supervene, and before it's over we've dealt with hijacking, theft, torture, and a hidden peaceful religious world where All Is Not As It Seems. (The latter falls a little short in interest because, in order to explore it, we have to be out of the strange and fascinating situation of the ship.)

But we come back to the ship in the end, and if some of the climactic special effects are a bit predictable given what we've learned so far, well, they're the sorts of prediction one can feel reasonably happy about having made. Given that I'm used to coping with thinly-sketched characters, the only real flaw for a rivet fan like me is the dull narrative voice; someone who was enjoying his (or her) life a bit more might have made a more interesting guide to this highly enjoyable environment.

Recommended by Sebffvr.

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