Barrington J. Bayley’s Collision Course (Collision with Chronos) (1973) is based on a fascinating hard sci-fi premise, the intersection of two time waves, one from the future heading into the past, and the “present”, heading into the future. In short, there are two “presents” moving towards each other with the possibility of annihilation.
Of course, Barrington J. Bayley has to explain these complicated paradoxes and actually comes up with an interesting if somewhat hokey (but original) theory. The “now” band of time is but a side effect of the universe and not a principle. Thus, time bands crops up at varying points heading in varying directions across infinite universes. What’s so interesting about this interpretation of time and time travel is that most time travel clichés (time loops, meeting oneself in the past) are done away with. Time travel novels tend to tred the same ground in slightly different paths (and often identical paths), thus, Collision Course is a breath of fresh air despite its flaws. Any “fresh air” is welcome in an often moribund sub-genre.
Plot Summary (limited spoilers)
Henske, an archaeologist, works at an archaeological dig at an “ancient” city. However, mysterious evidence crops up that the ruins are actually, inexplicably, getting younger.
Earth, at this point in the future, is ruled with an iron fist by the Titans - blonde, blue eyed – who pursue an agenda of racial superiority over so-called deviants “sub-species.” The Titans believe that they’re exemplars of true man and the other racial groups (mostly annihilated) are the result of an alien weapon in the distant past that mutated the human gene pool.
Soon Henske, who reluctantly (but somewhat sincerely) believes these arguments, is summoned by the Titans to a secret archaeological discover, an “alien” time ship. Using the time ship Henske (and a physicist colleague) discover that a time wave (of sorts) is moving backward towards the “present.” Thus, the strange ruins ARE getting younger. However, for this future time wave and its “humanish” inhabitants, the “future” is Henske’s past.
At another point, Retort space city resides…. Divided into two sections, one occupied by a separate world of production workers, the other is filled with intellectuals, artists, etc supported by the production sphere. The two never interact except for a bizarre system where children are exchanged: production workers know that their children will live in the luxury of the other world while the utopian section know that their children will be sent to the production sphere… And, they have mastered the art of manipulating time….
The two plots eventually intertwine…
Retort city is peculiar and quite interesting and I wish that more of the plot concerned the city. I also know where Dan Simmons lifted the concept of the time tombs found in his Hyperion series of books. This is a very interesting read and one of Bayley’s better works (not up to par with Fall of Chronopolis but close). The characters are lacking as always although Henske is better than most of Bayley’s cardboard cutouts. Bayley’s novels survive entirely on concepts and imagination and he succeeds here. BUT WHERE ARE THE FEMALE CHARACTERS?– one gets the feeling that Bayley has some aversion to women since they factor in only a few pages as most. Collision Course is definitely worth reading for any sci-fi fan — especially those interested in time travel theories and the sci-fi it spawns. The time travel concept (as in Fall of Chronopolis) is so original that it avoids all (most?) time-travel clichés…
I have to admit, the ending is somewhat of a cop-out and deadens the “fresh-air”…