The Light of Other Days follows a soulless tech billionaire (sort of an older, more crotchety Bill Gates), a soulful muckraking journalist, and the billionaire's two (separated since birth) sons. It's 2035, and all four hold ringside seats at the birth of a new paradigm-destroying technology, a system of "WormCams," harnessing the power of wormholes to see absolutely anyone or anything, anywhere, at any distance (even light years away). As if that weren't enough, the sons eventually figure out how to exploit a time-dilation effect, allowing them to use the holes to peer back in time.
For Baxter's part, the Light of Other Days develops another aspect of Manifold's notion that humanity might have to master the flow of time itself to avert a comparatively mundane disaster (yet another yawn-inducing big rock threatening to hit the earth); Clarke, just as he did with Trigger's anti-gun ray, speculates on how a revolutionary technology can change the world forever. --Paul Hughes
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
About the Author
In 1945 he published the technical paper "Extra-terrestrial Relays", which in essence invented the principle of worldwide communication via geosynchronous satellite.
His well-known novels include Childhood's End; Against the Fall of Knight; 2001:A Space Odyssey; Rendezvous with Rama; Imperial Earth; The Fountains of Paradise; 2010: Odyssey Two; 2061: Odyssey Three, and 3001. In 1968, he collaborated with director Stanley Kubrick on the screenplay for the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was derived from his story "The Sentinel."
He has lived in Colombo, Sri Lanka since 1956. He was awarded the CBE in 1989 and knighted in 1998.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
THE CASIMIR ENGINE
A little after dawn, Vitaly Keldysh climbed stiffly into his car, engaged the SmartDrive, and let the car sweep him away from the run-down hotel.
The streets of Leninsk were empty, the road surface cracked, many windows boarded up. He remembered how this place had been at its peak, in the 1970s perhaps: a bustling science city with a population of tens of thousands, with schools, cinemas, a swimming pool, a sports stadium, cafés, restaurants and hotels, even its own TV station.
Still, as he passed the main gateway to the north of the city, there was the old blue sign with its white pointing arrow: to baikonur, still proclaiming that ancient deceptive name. And still, here at the empty heart of Asia, Russian engineers built spaceships and fired them into the sky.
But, he reflected sadly, not for much longer.
The sun rose at last, and banished the stars: all but one, he saw, the brightest of all. It moved with a leisurely but unnatural speed across the southern sky. It was the ruin of the International Space Station: never completed, abandoned in 2010 after the crash of an aging Space Shuttle. But still the Station drifted around the Earth, an unwelcome guest at a party long over.
The landscape beyond the city was barren. He passed a camel standing patiently at the side of the road, a wizened woman beside it dressed in rags. It was a scene he might have encountered any time in the last thousand years, he thought, as if all the great changes, political and technical and social, that had swept across this land had been for nothing. Which was, perhaps, the reality.
But in the gathering sunlight of this spring dawn, the steppe was green and littered with bright yellow flowers. He wound down his window and tried to detect the meadow fragrance he remembered so well; but his nose, ruined by a lifetime of tobacco, let him down. He felt a stab of sadness, as he always did at this time of year. The grass and flowers would soon be gone: the steppe spring was brief, as tragically brief as life itself.
He reached the range.
It was a place of steel towers pointing to the sky, of enormous concrete mounds. The cosmodrome—far vaster than its western competitors—covered thousands of square kilometers of this empty land. Much of it was abandoned now, of course, and the great gantries were rusting slowly in the dry air, or else had been pulled down for scrap—with or without the consent of the authorities.
But this morning there was much activity around one pad. He could see technicians in their protective suits and orange hats scurrying around the great gantry, like faithful at the feet of some immense god.
A voice floated across the steppe from a speaker tower. Gotovnosty dyesyat minut. Ten minutes and counting.
The walk from the car to the viewing stand, short as it was, tired him greatly. He tried to ignore the hammering of his recalcitrant heart, the prickling of sweat over his neck and brow, his gasping breathlessness, the stiff pain that plagued his arm and neck.
As he took his place those already here greeted him. There were the corpulent, complacent men and women who, in this new Russia, moved seamlessly between legitimate authority and murky underworld; and there were young technicians, like all of the new generations rat-faced with the hunger that had plagued his country since the fall of the Soviet Union.
He accepted their greetings, but was happy to sink into isolated anonymity. The men and women of this hard future cared nothing for him and his memories of a better past.
And nor did they care much for what was about to happen here. All their gossip was of events far away: of Hiram Patterson and his wormholes, his promise to make the Earth itself as transparent as glass.
It was very obvious to Vitaly that he was the oldest person here. The last survivor of the old days, perhaps. That thought gave him a certain sour pleasure.
It was, in fact, almost exactly seventy years since the launch of the first Molniya—“lightning”—in 1965. It might have been seventy days, so vivid were the events in Vitaly’s mind, when the young army of scientists, rocket engineers, technicians, laborers, cooks, carpenters and masons had come to this unpromising steppe and—living in huts and tents, alternately baking and freezing, armed with little but their dedication and Korolev’s genius—had built and launched mankind’s first spaceships.
The design of the Molniya satellites had been utterly ingenious. Korolev’s great boosters were incapable of launching a satellite to geosynchronous orbit, that high radius where the station would hover above a fixed point on Earth’s surface. So Korolev launched his satellites on elliptical eight-hour trajectories. With such orbits, carefully chosen, three Molniyas could provide coverage for most of the Soviet Union. For decades the U.S.S.R. and then Russia had maintained constellations of Molniyas in their eccentric orbits, providing the great, sprawling country with essential social and economic unity.
Vitaly regarded the Molniya comsats as Korolev’s greatest achievement, outshining even the Designer’s accomplishments in launching robots and humans into space, touching Mars and Venus, even—so nearly—beating the Americans to the Moon.
But now, perhaps, the need for those marvelous birds was dying at last.
The great launch tower rolled back, and the last power umbilicals fell away, writhing slowly like fat black snakes. The slim form of the booster itself was revealed, a needle shape with the baroque fluting typical of Korolev’s antique, marvelous, utterly reliable designs. Although the sun was now high in the sky, the rocket was bathed in brilliant artificial light, wreathed in vapor breathed by the mass of cryogenic fuels in its tanks.
Tri. Dva. Odin. Zashiganiye!
* * *
As Kate Manzoni approached the OurWorld campus, she wondered if she had contrived to be a little more than fashionably just-late-enough for this spectacular event, so brightly was the Washington State sky painted by Hiram Patterson’s light show.
Small planes crisscrossed the sky, maintaining a layer of (no doubt environmentally friendly) dust on which the lasers painted virtual images of a turning Earth. Every few seconds the globe turned transparent, to reveal the familiar OurWorld corporate logo embedded in its core. It was all utterly tacky, of course, and it only served to obscure the real beauty of the tall, clear night sky.
She opaqued the car’s roof, and found afterimages drifting across her vision.
A drone hovered outside the car. It was another Earth globe, slowly spinning, and when it spoke its voice was smooth, utterly synthetic, devoid of emotion. “This way, Ms. Manzoni.”
“Just a moment.” She whispered, “Search Engine. Mirror.”
An image of herself crystallized in the middle of her field of vision, disconcertingly overlaying the spinning drone. She checked her dress front and back, turned on the programmable tattoos that adorned her shoulders, and tucked stray wisps of hair back where they should be. The self-image, synthesized from feeds from the car’s cameras and relayed to her retinal implants, was a little grainy and prone to break up into blocky pixels if she moved too quickly, but that was a limitation of her old-fashioned sense-organ implant technology she was prepared to accept. Better she suffer a little fuzziness than let some cack-handed CNS-augment surgeon open up her skull.
When she was ready she dismissed the image and clambered out of the car, as gracefully as she could manage in her ludicrously tight and impractical dress.
OurWorld’s campus turned out to be a carpet of neat grass quadrangles separating three-story office buildings, fat, top-heavy boxes of blue glass held up by skinny little beams of reinforced concrete. It was ugly and quaint, 1990s corporate chic. The bottom story of each building was an open car lot, in one of which her car had parked itself.
She joined a river of people that flowed into the campus cafeteria, drones bobbing over their heads.
The cafeteria was a showpiece, a spectacular multilevel glass cylinder built around a chunk of bona fide graffiti-laden Berlin Wall. There was, bizarrely, a stream running right through the middle of the hall, with little stone bridges spanning it. Tonight perhaps a thousand guests milled across the glassy floor, groups of them coalescing and dispersing, a cloud of conversation bubbling around them.
Heads turned toward her, some in recognition, and some—male and female alike—with frankly lustful calculation.
She picked out face after face, repeated shocks of recognition startling her. There were presidents, dictators, royalty, powers in industry and finance, and the usual scattering of celebrities from movies and music and the other arts. She didn’t spot President Juarez herself, but several of her cabinet were here. Hiram had gathered quite a crowd for his latest spectacle, she conceded.
Of course she knew she wasn’t here herself solely for her glittering journalistic talent or conversational skills, but for her own combination of beauty and the minor celebrity that had followed her exposure of the Wormwood discovery. But that was an angle she’d been happy to exploit herself ever since her big break.
Drones floated overhead, bearing canapés and drinks. She accepted a cocktail. Some of the drones carried images from one or another of Hiram’s channels. The images were mostly ignored in the excitement, even the most spectacular—here was one, for example, bearing the image of a space rocket on the point of being launched, evidently from some dusty steppe in Asia—but she couldn’t deny that the cumulative effect of all this technology was impressive, as if reinforcing Hiram’s famous boast that OurWorld’s miss...