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”…
11 thoughts on “Book Review: Collision Course (variant title: Collision with Chronos), Barrington J. Bayley, (1973)”
Where are the female characters is a problem with a great number of 1970s and earlier Sci Fi novels. Are there any from that period that strike you as having really good female characters?
Well, even “token female” main characters would be an improvement over Bayley’s works…. van Vogt’s The Mixed Men/Mission to the Stars has a female admiral (of a space fleet) central character… Bayley’s works are particularly bad in this regard. At least other authors occasionally have female scientists etc… hmm.
Bayley often has ZERO named women in his novels — this has ONE and she factors into perhaps 5 pages of the total work. They are almost completely absent!
Interesting plot. I’ve read some Bailey in the past, but this rings no bells. It’s going on the list, a very long one, of possibles. May not get to it, but thanks for the review.
It’s probably not a must read. Although, if you do read anything by Bayley, read Fall of Chronopolis (I wrote a review a while back).
The lack of women in early sci-fi does bug me, particularly in so-called ‘hard’ sci-fi (being more manly, naturally). I was quite impressed with Heinlein’s ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ in terms of women characters.
I like character-driven narrative, so Bayley doesn’t sound entirely my cup of tea.
Really? Heinlien’s women? I always thought them extremly 2D, especially in Stranger in a Strange Land. The Chindi series by McDevitt has a great female protaganist, Hitch… but she’s one of the few I can remember in Hard SciFi…
Yeah, the female character in Stranger in a Strange Land bothered me as well… And just about all of Heinlein’s female characters….
Nope. He doesn’t like characters — tehehe
What jumped out at me first was Bayley’s commentary on the conflict between ideology and the scientific process. I also wondered which races or groups in real life matched up to the oppressed characters in the story. Some seemed obvious while others left me curious what Bayley was trying to convey.
Unfortunately, I read this so long ago…. One of my earlier reviews. But yes, I’ve found that the Bayley novels I’ve read are not always explicit in their political critiques. The most explicit was The Garments of Caean which satirizes consumerism more generally but there is some discussion of the descendants of the Soviets and the Japanese. The west becomes ultra consumeristic and the Communists become cyborgs etc. But it’s so much in the pulp idiom that I find it incredibly general.