Starfarers

Starfarers

by Poul Anderson

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Overview

Courageous space explorers embark on a mission to make contact with alien races light years away, while the Earth they leave behind ages twelve hundred centuries

It’s the most exciting discovery since humankind first began watching the skies: SETI scientists detect starship “trails” in a galaxy many light years from Earth, and at long last the dream of human-to-alien contact is attainable. But the courageous crew of starfarers assembled to take on the monumental endeavor must sacrifice the only lives they’ve ever known and the people they love; the Earth will have aged many thousands of years when—and if—they are finally able to return. Still, their hunger for knowledge of the universe and the extraterrestrial races that inhabit it is too great to deny, and the Envoy rockets off into the vast unknown. It’s a perilous mission that will profoundly change everyone it touches—even as the passing millennia transform the Earth in ways no one could ever have imagined.
 
Of all the science fiction extrapolators to emerge in the twentieth century, none were more visionary and few as prolific as the great Poul Anderson. Starfarers, his ingeniously imagined space exploration adventure, still stands tall among the most intelligent, enthralling, and unforgettable science fiction novels ever written.
 
This ebook includes the bonus stories “Ghetto” and “The Horn of Time the Hunter.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781504024686
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 11/24/2015
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 531
Sales rank: 257,169
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
 
In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.
Poul Anderson (1926–2001) grew up bilingual in a Danish American family. After discovering science fiction fandom and earning a physics degree at the University of Minnesota, he found writing science fiction more satisfactory. Admired for his “hard” science fiction, mysteries, historical novels, and “fantasy with rivets,” he also excelled in humor. He was the guest of honor at the 1959 World Science Fiction Convention and at many similar events, including the 1998 Contact Japan 3 and the 1999 Strannik Conference in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Besides winning the Hugo and Nebula Awards, he has received the Gandalf, Seiun, and Strannik, or “Wanderer,” Awards. A founder of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, he became a Grand Master, and was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

In 1952 he met Karen Kruse; they married in Berkeley, California, where their daughter, Astrid, was born, and they later lived in Orinda, California. Astrid and her husband, science fiction author Greg Bear, now live with their family outside Seattle.

Read an Excerpt

Starfarers


By Poul Anderson

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1998 Trigonier Trust
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-2468-6


CHAPTER 1

"Man down."

Ricardo Nansen was floating weightless, looking out a viewscreen, when the alarm shrilled and the words followed. He never tired of this sight. As the ship orbited into morning and the sun rose red from a peacock band along the edge of the planet, blue-and-white marbled beauty drove night backward across the great globe. He could almost have been at Earth. But the sun was Epsilon Eridani, there was no moon, and here Sol shone only after dark, a second-magnitude star in Serpens Caput. That fact turned splendor into a miracle.

The call snatched him from it. He took off, arrowing along a corridor. Captain Gascoyne's voice rang from every intercom: "Pilot Nansen, prepare to scramble."

"On my way, sir," he replied. "Who's in trouble?"

"Airman Shaughnessy. Wrecked. And that was the only flyer currently operating."

Mike Shaughnessy! shocked through Nansen. The man was his best friend in the crew.

This shouldn't have happened. Aircraft, like spaceboats, had been tested for reliability, over and over, under the harshest available stresses, before the expedition set forth. Thus far they had come handily through everything they met. And Shaughnessy had simply been on his way back to Main Base after delivering supplies to a team of biologists on an offshore island.

At least he lived. Nearly eleven light-years from home, any human life became boundlessly precious.

Second Engineer Dufour waited at the launch bay of Nansen's craft to help him make ready. Ordinarily that wasn't needful, but urgency ruled today. While she got him dressed and otherwise outfitted, he kept his attention on the intercom screen at the site. His briefing snapped out at him, verbal, pictorial, mathematical.

Information was scant. Shaughnessy had radioed a report of sudden, total engine failure. He didn't think he could glide to a landing and was going to bail out. Minisatellite relays carried his message to the ship. When she swung above his horizon, her optics found him at the wreckage. Evidently he'd guided his motorchute to chase the crashing flyer. His communications were dead, though, even the transceiver built into his backpack. He seemed unhurt, but who could tell? Certain it was that his tanked air would shortly give out.

To make matters worse, a hurricane raged along the seacoast west of him. To wait in orbit till the window for an approach from the east opened would squander time. Besides, weather along that flight path had its own nasty spots. This atmosphere was not Earth's. Steep axial tilt and rapid rotation increased the treacherousness. Meteorologist Hrodny was still struggling to develop adequate computer programs. Crewfolk argued about whether to recommend naming the planet Satan or Loki.

"We have a course for you that should skirt the big storm," Gascoyne said. "Do you accept it?"

"Yes, of course," Nansen answered.

"Good luck," Dufour whispered. "Bonne chance, mon bel ami." She kissed him, quickly. He cycled through the airlocks.

As he harnessed himself before the control panel, the boat told him, "All systems checked and operative. Launch at will."

Nansen grinned. "¡Ay, la sensatión del poderío absoluto!" Beneath tautness and concern, exhilaration thrilled. The mission wasn't crazily reckless, but it challenged him. He touched the go pad.

Acceleration pushed him back in his seat, gently at first, then hard. Aft, the ship receded from sight. Forward, the globe swelled until it was not ahead, it was below, the circle of it bisecting his universe.

The drive cut off. Slanting steeply downward, the boat pierced atmosphere. A thin wail grew into thunder, the view turned into fire, he lost contact with the ship. The force on him became brutal. He could have taken an easier route, but he was in a hurry.

Slowing, the boat won free of radio blackout. Vision cleared, weight grew normal. Wings captured lift. His hands ordered the airjet to start. He flew.

An ocean gleamed below. Broad patches of weed and scum mottled its azure. A darker wall rose over the rim, higher and higher, crowned with alabaster cloud.

"Damn!" he muttered. "The hurricane. It's not supposed to be dead ahead."

The ship had passed under his horizon and couldn't help. His own instruments probed. Unpredictably, incredibly fast, the tempest had veered.

"Advise returning to orbit," said the boat.

Nansen studied the map unrolling in a screen. We can't simply fly around, he agreed. The boat was too awkward in the air for such a maneuver. Normally it dipped into the stratosphere and released a proper aircraft when all exploration party wanted one. The two made rendezvous at that height when the time came to return. Someday we'll have boats that can perform as well in atmosphere as in space. But today —

"No," he decided. "We'll push straight through."

"Is that wise?" The synthetic voice remained as calm as always. Once in a while you had to remind yourself that there was no awareness behind the panel, no true mind, only a lot of sophisticated hardware and software.

"Aborting and trying again would take too long," Nansen said — needlessly, since command lay with him. "We have enough momentum to transect the fringe at this altitude, if we move with the wind." Unless we hit something unknown to pilots on Earth. Into Your hands, God — "Go!" His fingers pounced on the controls. The boat surged.

Far downward, he glimpsed monstrous waves on a sea gone white. A skirling deepened to a cannonade. The hull shuddered. Darkness and fury engulfed him. Rain hammered like bullets. The boat dropped, battled upward again, pitched and yawed. He did not now pilot it. With manifold sensors, multiple flexibilities, computer nodes throughout, and a nuclear power plant, it flew itself. His was the will that drove it onward.

They burst forth into clear day. The violence diminished. Nansen gusted a breath and sank back. His ears rang. Sweat dripped off his skin and reeked in his nostrils. Flesh ached where the forces had slammed him against his harness. But what a ride it had been!

The storm fell behind, the air quieted. He flew over a continent. Sandy wasteland, stony hills, gullies carved by rain, and talus slopes spalled by frost stretched dun toward distant mountains. Here and there, sun-flash off a lake or a river gave bleak relief. Soon the map showed he was where he wanted to be. "Land according to plan," he said. The order was scarcely necessary, except as a sound of triumph.

Don't stop to celebrate, he thought. Not yet.

The site had been chosen from space, the nearest spot that looked Safe without being close enough to endanger Shaughnessy should something go wrong. The boat slewed into vertical alignment, landing jacks extended, dust whirled up, impact thudded. The hull began to tilt. The jack on that side lengthened itself to compensate, and the boat stood stable.

Nansen unharnessed and squirmed his way downward, aft, to the vehicle bay. He could have walked the rest of the distance, but Shaughnessy might need carrying. For a few minutes he was busy donning his equipment. He already wore the gloves, boots, and hooded coverall that protected him from ultraviolet. He slipped on his backpack, with its air tank and other gear, snugged goggles and breathmask over his face, opened the inner lock valve, and pushed the little groundrover through. The chamber expanded to accommodate them, barely. The valve closed, Nansen's fingers directed the outer valve to move aside. A certain amount of interior air was lost in the local atmosphere. He gave the rover a shove to send it trundling down the ramp that had deployed. On the ground, he climbed to the control seat and drove.

Strange, he thought, as often before, how half-familiar the scene was. The Solar System, where he had trained, held more foreignness than this, from red-brown Martian deserts under pale-red skies to the grandeur of Saturn's rings. Here he weighed about the same as on Earth, the horizon was about as far off, a sun that looked much like Sol stood in a blue heaven, the breeze was just comfortably warm, sand gritted under wheels and dust eddied lazily over their tracks. But the oxygen-poor air would choke him, and everywhere around stretched barrenness.

The thought was equally old in him: Well, why should we ever have expected more? Life on Earth took three billion years to venture from the seas to the land. Our giant Moon, a cosmic freak, may well have hastened that by the tides it raised. Give this life here a few more geological ages. Yes, of course it was disappointing not to find woods and flowers and big, fine animals. But we knew the odds were against it. Meanwhile, what a dragon's hoard of scientific treasure we're winning.

Steering by inertial compass, he topped a ridge and saw the fallen aircraft. Although it had dug itself half a meter into gravel, the composite body showed small damage. Impact had doubtless smashed most things inside. Nansen's gaze strained. Shaughnessy —

Yes, there, tiny across a kilometer but on his feet! Nansen's heart sprang. The rover rumbled downhill.

Shaughnessy staggered to meet him. Nansen stopped and dismounted. They fell into one another's arms.

"Are you all right?" Nansen gasped.

"Barely, barely. It's foul my air has gotten. Let me hook up." Shaughnessy plugged into the large tank on the vehicle.

Weight penalty or no, Nansen thought, backpack units ought to include recyclers, the same as on spacesuits. Yet who could have foreseen? Every interstellar expedition was a leap into mystery. Oh, yes, you could send robots ahead, as had been done at first, but then you'd wait too long for less news than humans would bring.

"Ah-h-h!" Shaughnessy sighed. "Like the breeze off a clover meadow. Or so it feels by our modest standards hereabouts. My father thanks you, my mother thanks you, my sister thanks you, my brother thanks you, and I thank you."

The crew seldom spoke of kinfolk. When they returned home, the crossing would take a few days of their time — and a quarter century would have passed on Earth. You didn't want to dwell on what time might have done meanwhile. Nansen forgave the tactlessness. He was too glad that his friend lived.

Anxiety: "Are you well otherwise, Mike?"

"I am. I did take a tumble on landing, which split my transceiver apart. We need a design more robust. Otherwise just bruises, not like my poor flyer. I'm afraid my fellow airmen will have fewer missions in future, Rico, for I'll be claiming my share of them."

"They'll get enough other work to keep them out of mischief. So will you." The groundside teams were turning up more surprises than they could handle. All extra help would be jubilantly welcomed. "Have you any idea what caused this?"

"I have a guess, after prowling and poking. I recorded it, in case I didn't survive, but indeed I'd rather speak it in person over a mug of beer."

"I can supply the person. The beer will have to wait." A tingle went along Nansen's spine. "What was it?"

"To my eye, the airscoop has corroded. You may recall, earlier I deposited chemosamplers at the Devil's Playground hot springs. Sure, the material of the flyer is supposed to be inert, but that's a hellish environment. My guess is that microscopic life is invading the land, and some kind of germ somehow catalyzed a reaction, maybe with the fullerene component. Let the scientists find out. The biochemistry here is so crazily different from ours."

"¿Qué es?" Nansen exclaimed. Alarm stabbed him. "Do you mean ... our ship —"

Shaughnessy laughed, rather shakily, and clapped him on the back. "Not to worry, I do believe. Otherwise the whole gang of us would be dead. Those bugs must be confined to that area. Anyhow, exposure to space would doubtless kill them. We've lost an aircraft, but we may be about to make a great discovery."

Discovery is what we came here for.

"If you're fit to travel, let's get back to the ship," Nansen proposed.

"I am, if you go easy on the boost," Shaughnessy said. "Especially with that beer waiting!"

CHAPTER 2

"Oh, you'll take the high road and I'll take the low road, And I'll be in Scotland before you; But me and my true love will never meet again On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond."


Jean Kilbirnie sang only the chorus, almost under her breath. It faded away into the silence that had fallen since she and Tim Cleland reached the height. For a while, again, all they heard was the soughing in leaves overhead.

They sat on a bluff above a river. The westering sun, Tau Ceti, cast rays down the length of the vale, and the water shone like molten gold. Trees shaded turf, which nonetheless gave off fragrances to the mild air. After three terrestrial years, the first humans ever to see this world were calling it, in their different languages, Puerto, Limani, Kiang, Harbor.

Yet little here truly recalled Earth as Earth once was. The sward grew low, dense, a mat of minutely convoluted soft nuggets. Some of the trees curved their twin trunks upward, lyre-shaped, until they broke into shoots lined with feathery foliage. Others lifted columnar in a pelt of leaves. Others suggested huge, fringed spiderwebs. Nothing stood green; everything was in tones of yellow or orange, save where a patch flared red. Nothing could properly nourish the visitors, and much would have sickened them.

It didn't matter. That two evolutions, sundered by half a score of light-years, had been this alike — that you could walk freely, breathe the air, drink the water, rejoice in the beauty — was enough.

"You surprise me," Cleland blurted.

Kilbirnie turned her head toward him. "How so?" she asked.

"Oh, I, well, if you're feeling sentimental I … I wouldn't expect you to show it. You'd be extra cocky. Maybe you'd sing one of your bawdy old ballads."

Kilbirnie smiled. Her husky voice took on more than its usual slight burr. "We Scots can wax unco sentimental. Read your Burns — or ha' you no heard o' him?" She dropped back to everyday English. "This is our free day, our last day of peace." On the morrow their group would break camp and ferry up to the spaceship. She had said she wanted to go off afoot, into the countryside. He promptly proposed coming along. She didn't refuse him, but had not spoken much as they walked. "Our last look at this fair land."

"You could have taken more time groundside," he reminded her. "I suggested it —"

"Often." She paused. "Don't mistake me, Tim. I'm not complaining. There were simply too many wonders, in three short years." Her gaze went upward, beyond white clouds and blue sky. "I had to choose. And, of course, I had my duty." She piloted one of the boats that not only bore aircraft to and fro but had carried explorers throughout the system.

"I mean, well, you could have negotiated more Harbor-side time for yourself. I wish you had. We could have …" His words trailed to a halt.

She gave him no chance to continue them. "You were aspace too on occasion."

"Very little." He was one of the three planetologists who studied this globe rather than its sisters. His excursions off it had been for the purpose of observing it from outside. "I could wish I'd gone where you did. It was fascinating."

She laughed. "Sometimes too fascinating."

A ring of rocks whirling around the mighty fourth planet; a sudden, chaotic storm of fragments headed for the moon where Lundquist and his robots were at work; she, skillfully, heedlessly, defiant of doctrine, blasting from orbit elsewhere, down to the surface to snatch him off, even as the first gravel sleet and stone hail smote. Cleland reached toward Kilbirnie. "Oh, God —"

She didn't respond to the gesture, merely shrugged. He flushed and said defensively, "Harbor hasn't been a hundred percent safe, either, you know." He'd had a close call or two.

She nodded. "Untamed. Part of its charm. I envy the future colonists."

"You've talked about ... becoming one of them. I've thought about it"

Kilbirnie sighed. "No, not for me." She glanced at him, caught his stricken look, and explained: "I've been thinking further. It'll be a long while before the first emigrant ships leave Sol for anywhere. They'll need better information than a preliminary expedition like ours could collect; and each voyage to here means a twenty-two-year round trip, plus time spent on site. And then the transports must be built, except first they must be financed, and — No, we'd grow old on Earth, waiting. Likeliest we'd die. Better to starfare."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Starfarers by Poul Anderson. Copyright © 1998 Trigonier Trust. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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