Thursday, September 22, 2011

Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein

Time For The Stars (Ace SF #81125)I continue the Heinlein tour with one of my old favorites. This is the story of Tom and Pat, identical twins who are selected for special testing by the Long Range Foundation. It turns out that they are telepaths - they have been communicating with each other mostly by ESP all their lives without even realizing it - and that their services are in demand for the first group of expeditions to explore beyond our solar systems and discover habitable planets. It is believed that ESP happens simultaneously, or faster than the speed of light, and will be the only way to get timely communications between the ships and Earth on these long voyages.

One twin will stay home, while the other one boards a starship and heads out into the unknown. After some wrangling, Pat is selected to go, but injures himself in a skiing accident and Tom takes his place at the last minute.

I believe that this is the book where I first learned of the theory of relativity and of the time dilation effect that takes place at near-light velocities. This quirk of physics plays a large role in the story, as the twin who is left behind on Earth will age "normally", while the one who is traveling to the stars at high speeds will, from the earthly frame of reference, age much more slowly.

How the twins and the other telepaths deal with the pros and cons of their talents, the downsides of time dilation, and their gradual loss of rapport as they live vastly different lives makes for some interesting plot devices.

Once again, Heinlein uses a very odd twist at the end to finish off the story when he'd written his contractual page count, by having the Earth scientists develop a sort of drive that travels instantaneously between solar systems. Earth sends a ship out to "rescue" all of the surviving ships that the Long Range Foundation sent out nearly a century before, and the crews get to return home to experience the Rip Van Winkle effect of time displacement.

A good young adult novel, bereft of Heinlein's usual politicking.

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