Reveiw Barrington J Bayley's Collision Course
Bailey follows a fairly unique approach to time travel stories. The vast majority deal with an alterable timeline that must either be changed or preserved to save the viewpoint character's way of life, the universe, etc; or with a multiverse where myriads of ways unfold and what ever decision a character might make, other versions of that character are deciding to do the same thing or its opposite. One example of the former is Poul Anderson's Time Patrol stories. There are many examples in Star Trek with its time loops and Predestination Paradoxes and Chiefs O'Brien avering their hatred for Temporal Mechanics. Larry Niven's All the Myriad Ways is an example of the latter. Catch that Zeppelin by Fritz Lieber and Joe Haldeman's Manifest Destiny offer alternate time lines within a multiverse. Another approach, my personal favorite, is that you can't change the past. This the premise of By the Time We got to Gaugamela by R Garcia y Robertson. You can go back, but whatever is about to happen has already happened. To paraphrase, all the history books agree that Alexander the Great is going to be alive tomorrow, but no such assurances are available for the time travailer in question. Bailey takes a totally different tack from any of these, one ""so original that it avoids all (most?) time-travel clichés".
According to The Newsletter of the Council for the Literature of the Fantastic, Bailey followed the ideas of J. W. Dunne set forth in An Experiment with Time. Time travels as a wave or a torrent through six dimensional space in a local region of what we perceive as three dimensional space, creating and carrying life and consciousness with it as side effects. The future is dead and decayed, the past dead-- a collection of insensate automatons. You can build a machine to carry a bit of time with you ahead of or behind the time wave, but it won't do you any good. Times finger, having writ, moves on and you cannot change a word, act or dead. The trouble comes when two different time streams are headed along the same planet in opposite directions, like a pair of locomotives rushing along a track on a collision course set to arrive at a fatal destination. Life-consciousness-intelligence, it cannot be over emphasized, are byproducts of the time stream/wave/torrent.
And so it is in Collision Course that two time streams associated with Earth will crash together in about 200 years, with serious effects noticeable in about 100 years. Collisions of this nature must occur with some frequency as the International Space Society Retort City, located many light years from Earth and populated by the descendants of Chinese emigrees, has recently had a near miss with an entity whose time stream is situated obliquely to that of Retort City. The inhabitants of Earth are just beginning to understand time travel. The inhabitants of Retort City can literally run rings around the Earthers, and the Oblique Entity has nearly godlike (not Godlike as it points out) powers. The abilities of Retort City's scientists and the Oblique Entity, combined with obliqueness of their paths, allowed them to avert total disaster. Even so, things got pretty bad. The Oblique Entity and a researcher on Retort City have been watching events on Earth unfold with detached insouciance and mild concern. Time travellers from Retort City rescue stranded time travellers from Earth and offer to help.
Matters are not so straight forward at this point as one might hope. ISS Retort City was established 5000 years before the setting of the story, which is many thousands of years ahead of our own time. The races of man on Earth bare little physical resemblance to the people of our times (the "Chinks" of Retort City are a legendary race on Earth). The dominant race on Earth, led by the Titanium Legions (think SS), follows an Earth Mother religion. They believe with all the fervor that religious conviction can bring that they, True Man, are Earth's true sons and all the other races are defiling deviants whom they must expunge. There are archaeological ruins of alien design scattered about they believe support these beliefs.
The Titans see these ruins as proof of Alien Interventionalists who diabolically caused the rise of the Deviant races to destroy True Man. Never mind that there had been nuclear wars in the past with radioactive fallout to increase background radiation levels and thereby raise the mutation rate and never mind that the new races arose isolated from one another for a long time. Natural selection and niche filling divergence don't fit their self image or self interests. Or their self serving propaganda. Genocide is something the Titans have been quite successful at with only a few remnants of the other races remaining on reservations. The Titans have roving "experts" that can tell at a glance if someone is "racially impure". There is of course opposition and an underground which is losing faster each day. When the Titans learn of the ISS, with its wondrous technology and mighty industrial capacity, the natural recourse is to mount an invasion.
Retort City is designed as a double retort with the retorts set end to end. Lower Retort/Production Retort is devoted to industry and production. The mastery of time is so complete that different sections of a ping pong table can have different time streams moving at separate rates. Production lines can be run through time loops so that an artefact that was months in the making can be available hours after being ordered. The two halves are offset by about 34 years, so direct travel between the two halves is futile. Manufactured goods travel along a time gradient to the other half of the city and always arrive just in time. So great is Production Retort's efficiencies that it has greater industrial capacity than all of earth. The workers there are wholly devoted to their work. Their absorption with work is so great that off duty conversation often centers on how and where work is going. To them any other way of life would be a waste. "Technology was, after all, their life."(pg 54)
Life within Upper Retort/Leisure Retort is more luxurious, more devoted to subtle esthetics, and "was probably the most refined culture the galaxy had to offer". (pg 57) It's inhabitants are wholly absorbed in advancing the arts and sciences, so absorbed that they tend to objectify people and ignore any human factor not connected with the research that holds their attention. (So self absorbed that the sounds of fighting with the Titanium Legions is less a survival threat than an annoying distraction.) Little physical labor is performed directly, there being machines to handle that sort of thing. The apparent social disparity between the two halves of Retort City is solved by their mastery of time. Envy is avoided by the Exchange of Generations.One sends one's children by way of a temporal differential tunnel to the opposite half of Retort City and receives one's grandchildren in return.Robert Gibson hits the nail firmly when he says the equanimity of the arrangement eliminates jealousy between Retort City's two halves. The Leisure Retort's inhabitants are not so self absorbed as to not offer to help the inhabitants of Earth deal with the impending collision.
Once again, nothing is easy. An evacuation of refugees is impractical on religious grounds. The Titan dominated society could never abandon Mother Earth. It is unfeasible logistically as not Retort City lacks the lift capability. Divertimg the time streams is beyond their science. They are not sufficient to the task and must ask the Oblique Entity for its help-- a sort of deus ex machina.
Aliens are described in some stories as being too alien to comprehend. Most human motivations/conflicts begin with food safety and shelter and proceed along Maslow's hierarchy to greed status fulfilment and pleasure seeking. Niven's Kzini are motivated by status and the desire to acquire estates on which to hunt and raise families. The alien empires in Star Trek seem involved in dominance games characteristic of humans. I don't recall hearing an explanation for the behavior of the aliens in Independence Day unless it was pure revulsion. Certainly hatred was evident. All understandable as human like. The Oblique Entity may be beyond human comprehension by nature. No human definition fits and description is based only on vague and fleeting perceptions. No words suffice for it to explain its nature to humans. One common trait comes through clearly-- the enjoyment of entertainment. One of the human time travelers implores its assistance in saving the Earth. How does one obtain aid from someone who finds great entertainment value in the unfolding drama of one's plight?
For that matter, how does one convince someone that their murderous hatred is misplaced and futile? The Titans and the lemur like creatures in the approaching time wave ignore the fact that consciousness/life/intelligence are but byproducts of time. Even if one group succeeds in exterminating the other, the 2 time waves will still crash together ending time and life. (It is a theme of the story that despots and tyrants and haters ignore any information that contradicts their dogma and preconceived notions.) Effort and time that would be better spent working together for mutual survival are wasted on hydrogen bombs and plague weapons. As the Oblique Entity says, the final Battle of Armageddon must be fought.
Collision Course is tightly written, fast paced story that wants to be read all the way through without a break. As one reviewer puts it, "Bayley packs more into under two hundred pages than most authors come up with in a lifetime". The characters are sketched in quickly, but you know them as well as need be to follow the plot. The unique approach to time travel and the unique solution to the class struggle make it well worth reading. The ending of the story is fitting as the major conflict is resolved to the satisfaction of all concerned, even if they don't all know it. It is not a sugar coated resolution and conclusion, but the Titans would not have had it any other way, "with their cargos of death, death, and more death." I first read the story when I was in my late teens and then reread it some 30 years later. I enjoyed it as much this time as I did the first time. It is not currently available as e-text, but there are paper copies still available.
- Selected dramatis personae:
Leard Ascar- Earth's leading time scientist
Chairman of Panhumanic League
Grandfather of Hue Su Mueng
Herrick- Amhrak scientist inventor of remote, intferometry-based remote viewing
Rond Heshke- prominent archeologist
Hue Su Mueng- disgruntled Retort City malcontent
Hueh Shao father of Hue Su Mueng
Hwen Wu- Leisure Retort prime minister and old friend of Hueh Shao
Layella- Sobrie's "racially impure" girlfriend
Leader Limnich- leader of Titanium Legions and de facto ruler of Earth
Li Kim- friend of Hue Su Mueng
Li Li San- Retort City envoys to future Earth aliens
Blare Oblomot- assistant to Rond Heske at Hathar Ruins. brother of Sobrie. member of Panhumanic League
Sobrie Oblomot- member of Panhumanic League
Shiu Kung Chien- Retort City's leading expert on time. in contact with the Oblique Entity.
Titan-Lieutenant Gann- time travel tech officer
Titan-Lieutenant Hosk- time travel tech officer
Whang Yat-Sen Retore City envoy to future Earth aliens
- Further reading about Barrington J. Bayley, Collision Course/Collision with Chronos
COLLISION WITH CHRONOS on Ovias
Astounding Worlds of Barrington J Bayley on Ovias
Review of Collision Course on Science Fiction Ruminations
Wryte Stuff-- Politics with a Difference - Science-Fictional Constitutions
Jesse's Review on Goodreads
Barrington J Bayley on Wikipedia
Barrington J Bayley # ISFDB
Barrington J. Bayley: Science-fiction writer who treated the human condition as a puzzle that must be solved
Book Review: The Fall of Chronopolis, Barrington J. Bayley (1974)
Book Review: Star Winds, Barrington J. Bayley (1978)
Book Review: Empire of Two Worlds, Barrington J. Bayley (1972)
The Zen Gun-Barrington J. Bayley (1983)
Review: Let the Galaxy Burn - Warhammer 40k Anthology
Obituary: Barrington J. Bayley
Barrington John Bayley on Fantastic Fiction
It should be noted that there seems to be some confusion at Amazon as to which Collision Course is which. Buyer caution is advised