“The Comet had attained an average velocity of perhaps 175,000 miles per second, and the voyage that seemed to me six months had taken a thousand years. A thousand years! The words went ringing through my brain. Kelvar had been dead for a thousand years. I was alone in a world uninhabited for centuries.”
The Background:It’s 1931, and Einsteinian science hasn’t fully saturated into everybody’s consciousness. Also, most of the science fiction of that time was martial (though not yet Cold War-style ‘aliens are communists, destroy them all’), about how people would react to aliens or how aliens would react to us, or shamelessly centered on really bad science. This story by Robert H. Wilson, however, tried to incorporate relativity in a way that made sense at the time but is kind of cheesy now.
Time dilation is a problem, but it’s certainly not a surprise for us in the twenty-first century. It was a surprise in the 1930’s, though, and that makes the story a good bridge to understanding science if you lived before WWII but not a story for the ages.
The Premise:There are two best friends and a girl – and we all know where this is going to go. Third-wheel Garth dares Dunal, the friend who got the girl, to test out his speed-of-light-barrier-breaking space ship with him. Dunal agrees and they fly away from their terraformed moon, leaving the girl behind. This is a sinister trap, however, as Garth sets the ship down on a planet in the guise of exploring and then suddenly challenges Dunal to a duel. Things don’t go as expected: aliens appear and are demonstrably displeased by their shenanigans. This leads to a surprising not-quite ending, which in turn leads to the ending everyone expects when there’s someone traveling faster than light and they leave someone they love to wait for them.
Who Should Read This Story?Anyone who has 15 or 20 minutes should read this story. For all of its scientific gaffs and clichés, it’s entertaining. And the aliens are kind of a nice touch. But, really, this story is most enjoyable to someone curious about the evolution of science fiction and looking at how it’s changed alongside scientific discoveries. This story is also good for anyone planning to travel faster than the speed of light any time soon. It will remind them about a really valuable tip: don’t leave the people you like behind – they won’t be there when you get back, and it’s not because they’ve moved on.
Final Verdict:The story is fun in a dark kind of way. It’s not spectacularly wonderful, but it doesn’t have to be. The book is a short story removed from the era when it would have had the most impact. It provides a quick look at how much science has changed while still showing how people’s interest in space hasn’t changed that much. Out Around Rigel is also free – and really short – so you can’t go wrong with it. The audio is available here, along with quite a few other short stories, and the text is available at Project Gutenberg.
How did you like the book -- or did this review even make you interested? If you have any opinions, suggestions, or reflections yourself, feel free to comment below! (Or you could keep us going on StumbleUpon)
Rachel is the co-founder of How To Survive Alien Invasion Novels, and spends her time writing, studying, and reading what would probably be considered far too many books. Connect with her and Rusty on Twitter and Facebook, and click here to read more of her articles about alien theories and how to survive alien invasion novels.