(For the uninitiated, the Hugo Awards are a set of awards given annually for the best science fiction or fantasy works and achievements of the previous year. The awards are named after Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the pioneering science fiction magazine Amazing Stories. They’ve been given out annually since 1955.)
This is a story about a lasting friendship among three friends, about an enduring love, about awful parents, about some great science, and about the night the stars and moon disappeared.
Tyler Dupree is twelve years old and lives with his widowed mother in a guest house of the wealthy Lawtons. His father and E.D. Lawton were once in business together until the death of Tyler’s father in a car accident. As a way to help out the family of his partner, E.D. offers her a job as their housekeeper and free housing in the nearby guest house.
Tyler’s best friends are Lawton’s 14 year old twins, Jason and Diane. Jason is brilliant, and being groomed to take over his father telecommunications empire some day. Tyler harbors a secret crush on Diane, but it is unlikely to come to anything, since they are not the same economic and social status of the Lawtons.
One night, while out camping in the nearby woods, and star gazing, the three are astounded to see the stars disappear, as well as the moon. Telecommunication satellites fall out of the sky. After a great deal of investigation, it seems that the earth has been surrounded, enshrouded, with a kind of membrane which hides the stars and moon and other cosmic bodies, but which permits the sun to still shine through, allaying the most immediate fears of the populace.
After even more research, it is revealed that beyond the membrane, or the ‘spin’ as it is being called, time moves much faster than on earth. In fact, what is happening is that time has slowed down immeasurably on earth, while cosmic time continues apace. Eventually the rate is calculated, with approximately 3.7 years passing outside the membrane for every second inside. While life initially goes on largely as before, scientists determine that the greatly increased flow of time outside the membrane will mean that the sun’s evolution to its red giant phase will render the Earth’s region of the solar system uninhabitable within a few decades.
Perihelion , ED’s company, comes up with the idea to terraform Mars by releasing bacteria and plant seeds to change the habitat into one that is survivable by humans. Because of time dilation this process, which will occur over millions of years, will be finished in a few months of subjective Earth time. When the terraforming is complete, Perihelion and its counterparts in other nations launch manned colonization missions to Mars. While months pass on Earth these colonists will have hundreds of thousands of years to build a Martian civilization and possibly discover more about the Spin and the alien Hypotheticals responsible for it. A mere two years after the terraforming process begins, they receive satellite images confirming the existence of sophisticated human civilizations on Mars. Soon afterwards Mars is enclosed in its own Spin membrane.
What a cool idea. Two time clocks so to speak.
Meanwhile, Tyler becomes a doctor, Jason takes over most of the day to day operations of Perihelion, and Diane gets religion, a new religion based on the idea that the end is near. She marries Simon, a fundamentalist of that religion, and disappears into the arms of the cult-like group.
Scientists come up with the idea to seed throughout the outer solar system self-replicating probes to spread out and observe the solar system. They then move out into the wider galaxy. This process takes millions of years, but for those on Earth only a few years pass due to the time differential across the spin. The goal of the probes was to seek out and investigate other worlds enclosed by spin membranes. Eventually the probes encounter several “optically black” worlds in other solar systems. They also encounter other, alien, probes in interstellar space. Jason Lawton concludes that these probes were seeded throughout the galaxy billions of years ago by parties unknown. Left to their own devices they have developed into an unusual ecosystem, with some developing sentience.
Oh, there’s lots more. The civilization which evolved on Mars developed genome manipulating and have found a way to increase longevity. And then there are the Arches. Yeah, these arches arise and are portals to different worlds. It sounds really hookey which I put it that way, but it really goes well with the entire storyline. I mean, let’s face it. If you can suspend disbelief enough to go with a membrane surrounding the earth, portals aren’t such a huge stretch.
It is a big interwoven story, what is called a ‘page turner’. Yep. It certainly is. It covers about 40 earth years, and is one of those books you keep reading even though your vision is blurring from fatigue because you want to know what happens next!
And what happens to the sun? Does it go nova on us? Stay tuned.
[In the interests of full disclosure, some of the plot description has been lifted in its entirely from Wiki. I am the laziest critter this side of the solar system. Why reinvent the wheel?]