EP078: The Shoulders of Giants

By Robert J. Sawyer.
Read by Stephen Eley.

The Pioneer Spirit was a colonization ship; it wasn’t intended as a diplomatic vessel. When it had left Earth, it had seemed important to get at least some humans off the mother world. Two small-scale nuclear wars‚ÄîNuke I and Nuke II, as the media had dubbed them‚Äîhad already been fought, one in southern Asia, the other in South America. It appeared to be only a matter of time before Nuke III, and that one might be the big one.

SETI had detected nothing from Tau Ceti, at least not by 2051. But Earth itself had only been broadcasting for a century and a half at that point; Tau Ceti might have had a thriving civilization then that hadn’t yet started using radio. But now it was twelve hundred years later. Who knew how advanced the Tau Cetians might be?

Rated PG. Contains minor profanity, and very tame references to populating new worlds. Hey, someone’s got to.

Comments (55)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. SFEley says:

    Technical Note: Because of an early mistake I made in including some links, anyone whose podcatcher caught it immediately — I think there may be a couple dozen of you — may have downloaded the wrong Escape Pod episode. I apologize.

    If you clear out the episode and grab it again, it should have the right one this time. With some podcatchers, you may actually need to delete your Escape Pod subscription and resubscribe. (I promise we’ll still be here.) I’m sorry again about the confusion.

  2. S.T.U.N. Runner says:

    Now, that was a great story, with a wonderfully hopeful ending.

    Makes me want to dust off that sci-fi tabletop RPG that I used to run.

    This was the best Steve Eley reading so far… Steve, your reading voice has come a long way!

    Can’t wait for next week!

  3. I had a feeling that would happen.

    Most likely they get to Andromeda and find . . . Starbucks and mini malls again.

  4. slic says:

    Woohoo! I loved this story, just as S.T.U.N. Runner, makes me want to find my old Yazirian character and play Star Frontiers again.

    I agree with Steve’s intro, we need more like this. I’ve been in a good mood all day after hearing this story.

  5. The concept was strong, and the characterization good, so much so that I didn’t mind seeing the “twist” (it really wasnt intended to be this big reveal or anything anyway) a mile away. I liked the optimism as well; I was refreshed after listening, and even though I’m slogging through NaNoWriMo, I wanted to get to work on a story to answer Steve’s call. That’s the sign of a good story in my book.

  6. Gabriel says:

    I have to throw in my two cents. This was a great story, I would love to learn more about what happens to them.

  7. Texas George says:

    Hi Steve! Loved the story this week, but mostly wanted to comment on the outro. I have enjoyed every story you’ve put onto the ‘Pod, especially the ones written by you. I don’t think it would be fair to your audience to exclude your writing, and would encourage others to look through the archive and listen to more of your excellent work. Well narrated and thoughtful stories, all. Missed the “flame wars”, and glad for it, but you sounded a bit disheartened, so I’ll be making a donation today…. Keep the good stuff coming, man!
    -Texas George

  8. Dale says:

    The other day I was talking to a friend of mine and the subject of space travel came up (yeah, we’re nerds). I was just saying to him, “You know, what would happen if you went into cryogenic sleep while your ship took hundreds of years to arrive at its destination, only to find that super-luminal travel had been invented and that humans were already on the planet you intended to colonize while you were sleeping?”

    We thought it would make a great idea for a story. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones… 😀

  9. Drew says:

    This was a fantastic story, and I am not particularly a Sci Fi person, certainly not a space sci fi person for the most part. I’m really more of a Pseudopod person. That said, again, great story, very nice to see a hopeful message in there. My mind was racing throughout as to where the story would go, and I was happily surprised.

    And Steve, you need to work on your female computer voice. Otherwise, good reading:)

  10. Wolf says:

    This story was excellent.
    What is funny is as I was hearing the first part of this story, the part about it taking 1200 years to get there.
    I kept thinking about Moore’s Law and how far the human race would have advanced by then.
    Then I wondered what it would be like if the humans had advanced their technology enough to have beaten them to the planet and “Terra Formed” it years in advance of the original ship reaching the planet.
    I even entertained the idea of writing a story about that very idea, when Mr. Saywer not only beat me to the punch, but surpassed my idea in every way.
    Truly great stuff.

  11. sphen603 says:

    Great story!

    I just wish that it was a novel!

  12. sphen603, you might have hit on why space sci-fi short stories are so rare; large stories of this kind tend to lend themselves to novel-length (or endless-ology length) stories. It’s like the mode of telling space stories has shifted from short stories to novels. After you strip space from the short story market, you’re left with mostly fantasy and near-future sci-fi.

  13. Adolfo says:

    First of all, I wanted to say I think it’s great you placed a request for great space stories on the intro.

    I got into sci-fi because of the space-based stuff so I’m glad to see the posibility of more of that on this podcast.

    That being said, Great Story.

    Sort of the First half of Joe Haldeman’s “Ferever Free” but with a positive feel and a happy ending.

    Many great ideas were lightly touched upon in this piece. Which at times can be one of the best qualities about short fiction.

    Nothing ground breaking about the story.

    Just a nice space-based piece of escapist literature about people escaping Earth and then escaping again.

    Keep up the good work Steve.

  14. JClark says:

    I had the same thought that Matthew Johnston had, that I wanted to get to work on a story to answer your call, but I’m in the middle of NaNoWriMo too.

    I liked this story quite a bit, though it’s not a new idea to me. There was actually an episode of Babylon 5 that used almost the exact concept as its jumping off point. In any case, it was a well written and thoughtful story.

  15. Matt says:

    This was a great, upbeat story with good timing and delivery. It was also great to hear a Cordwainer Smith name drop…to this day, the Smith story about D’Joan the half-dog savior is the saddest, most poignant thing I’ve ever read, and I read it when I was 12 or something.

    About the outro..give ’em hell, Steve! I for one really enjoy the episodes much more when less well-known people do them. I actually wish Escape Pod would not use big-name people as much…I think some of the best stories I’ve listened to ( the Muymal ones, the twisted super heroes ones) were by people I had never heard of before then, who had the least conventional/utilitarian ideas of fantasy in my opinion.
    Enough talking from me. You have nothing to defend yourself from on the decision to buy your story. It was refreshing and unusual stuff.

  16. Jeff S says:

    Loved the story Steve. It was great. Thanks to listening to all our feedback.

    …I just couldn’t believe the characters couldn’t see that they got beat traveling 1,200 years…why wouldn’t they get beat traveling 2,000,000 years? Still. My favorite in a while.

  17. noyb says:

    Writers keep making the mistake of assuming that grand technical changes can happen without fundamentally altering society and the human beings in it. It’s the old “mini-skirted secretary on the space station” problem. A society 1000 years in the future is going to be at least as alien to us as ours would be to Lief Ericsson. Given the accelerating rate of change, probably much more.

    It it possible to write an optimistic story without sounding terribly naive?

  18. WNYRPG says:

    I wish we could carry these discussions over to the forums.

    Steve, deputize a few of us to go in there and de-spam them!

    Let the forums live again, Steve I beg of you!

    Don’t let them stay dead!

  19. Brian says:

    Another excellent and amusing story. A few comments:

    First off, a second episode might be really humorous as the colonists run into what they think are aliens within the Andromeda galaxy. But these “aliens” actually turn out to be highly evolved humans. Late again, but now the colonists are really really out of date.

    Secondly, I noted that the onboard computer had informed the main characters that there was incandescent lighting on the dark side of the new planet. Wouldn’t we (humans) be long done with incandescent lighting 1200 years from now. Actually as an environmental scientist I’m hoping that we’re done with incandescent lighting sometime in the next 12 years. I probably don’t understand lighting terminology well enough to be commenting on it, so somebody correct me if I’m wrong. But if I’m right, then I’m just doing what many sci-fi fans enjoy doing…picking out the flaws within a story. And don’t get me wrong…I enjoyed the story emensely.

    And lastly a comment to Steve. I went to Dreaming Mind Bindery and ordered both a journal and a sketch pad for my fiancee for the holidays. Steve, you were right, they turned out beautifully. Thanks for the suggestion.

  20. Robert Ewing says:

    Was it just me, or did anyone else think they’d seen a story with this setup before?

    Actually, I thought that I’d seen this concept often enough that I felt the entire story was a bit of a cliche.

    The story was well delivered (and well read, thanks again Steve), and I quite enjoyed it. The little details were well painted, and overall I enjoyed it a lot. I just felt like I’d heard this concept a few times before.

    (It makes sense, of course. If anything like Moore’s law ever applies to space propulsion technology it will almost certainly happen one day).

    I was wondering if we were going to get a tag at the end of the story with them finding the same thing happening again in Andromeda (as a few other commenters have noted), but was really glad it didn’t happen. It seems to me that far too much exploration SF has a downbeat tone (Eon/Eternity by Greg Bear, the Xelee sequence by Stephen Baxter, even Pandora’s Star from Peter F. Hamilton). There are far too many mysterious, powerful and dangerous aliens around, it seems.

    Which takes me back to Steve’s comments about the lack of optimisic space SF – it’s certainly something I’ve noticed, and I wonder if there’s really that much in written SF outside of Space Opera (which I personally love). And perhaps that reflects a bit of a change in the way that the space program is seen today, and the lack of progress since the 1960s in manned space missions.

    Or, to be more controversial, perhaps the lack of optimistic, forward looking SF is behind the lack of excitement in the space program. Would anyone reading a lot of today’s space SF, say ‘Old Man’s War’ from this year’s Hugo nominees, really want to go out there, or would they say it’s safer to stay at home?

    (I’ve just made it through 36 episodes of Escape Pod to catch up to date, so this is the first time I’ve actually been current enough to comment on a story…)

  21. Chris says:

    I enjoyed the story as a whole, and was happy to hear a space story on EP. Since Star Wars is what got me going in Sci-Fi (the original 3) I’m always happy to come across some well thought out concepts that are futuristic in nature. Having said that, I had a hard time listening to the pilots complaining about people beating them to the new planet. It seems to me that it would be hard for intelligent people who where chosen for this mission not to have come across the idea that technology progressed, while snoozing for 1200 years, to the point where they might get out distanced and beaten to their destination. I realize that this aspect was placed in the story to fuel the “give us a new ship” finish, but I would think that with the amount of technological progression that had happened, theoretically, between Orville and Wilber to the time they were launching a space mission with cryo-sleep, to the time that would pass while they were traveling, seems a bit unrealistic to me. It‚Äôs the same sort of nit pick problem I have with time travel stories, what seems obvious to the viewer, reader, or listener doesn‚Äôt always make for a good story and so reality is warped. Anyway it was a good story and I look forward to hearing more.

    I’d also like to comment on the thoughts about you presenting your own stories as well as other podcasters’ work. You take the time to present a well thought out concept, screen god knows how many stories, and produce a quality FREE product for the Sci-Fi/podcasting community, so why shouldn’t you be able to promote your own work in the process? I am glad that your ethics extend to the point that you aren’t glory hunting for your own work and that you make a conscious effort to remove as much bias as possible when presenting your efforts. As for the Sigler and Lafferty submissions that were presented, I see nothing wrong with promoting other podcasters who are active in this blooming community and who are promoting other quality FREE products for our enjoyment. They work hard at what they do and presenting their hard work with the other high caliber writers you present here is nothing more than a show of respect and appreciation for a job well done. Besides if you want to build a thriving community, people have to help each other out and that’s cool with me.

  22. mike el says:

    this for me is a “what would i do” story and i loved it!! go big or go home!!

  23. Loz says:

    On Chris’ first comment, I guess they were going in to space pretty convinced that the planet was going to blow up behind them and that they would be the last of humanity, so there was an undercurrent of bitterness at realising they’d sold their culture short.

    I really enjoyed this story, though I do have some issues with Steve’s performance, mainly the voice he did for the women. Ignoring the minor fact that three women spoke in exactly the same way, there is also the issue of it’s- well, I’m not sure what the technical term is, it’s pitch perhaps?- Thinking back I don’t think I’ve met any women who sound like that, but it does seem to be the way guys often sound like when they are doing ‘women’s voices’.

    I now have an image of Steve alongside the Pepperpots from Monty Python’s Flying Circus “No, we can’t tell the difference between Escape Pod and this dead crab!”

  24. Alex Holden says:

    Wasn’t there an old Alfred Bester story along these lines but taking the concept a few steps further on? Pioneering astronaut sets out for another star in the fastest ship of his day to find it’s already been colonised when he gets there, persuades them to let him have the fastest ship they’ve got, sets out on an even greater journey to find humans already at the destination again. Rinse, repeat. I think there was a twist ending but it’s slipped my mind now…

  25. Leszek says:

    GREAT story this week. It got me thinking – what is humanity waiting for before it begins another era of exploration? I did some resaearch on the possibility of Moon colonization and it seems like we’d be quite okay there, as long as we recycle water, air and carbon and stop fussing about wanting to come back to 1g some day. One question is – why go to the Moon anyway? Well, it’s as valid a question as “why not?”.

  26. Earl Newton says:

    The story is superficially similar to a story by Robert L. Forward called “Dragon’s Egg”, where humankind passes a neutron star and discovers primitive life living there: on the star itself. But due to several factors, the life cycle for the creatures is only a minute fraction of ours. By the time the human ship comes close enough to examine, the alien creatures have already lived hundreds of generations, and have advanced beyond our technology.

  27. Earl Newton says:

    (And it’s a good one, too. They both are.)


  28. Joe Blaylock says:

    Hi, long time listener, first-time commenter.

    I enjoy the space opera, too, and was happy to hear a nice coldslepp-ship story. I think it’s a good piece, and particularly enjoyed Steve’s reading.

  29. Ah, thanks I needed that. 😉

  30. beardiebloke says:

    I loved it! It reminded me of the first scifi stories that I ever read. They were Isaac Asimov’s which had a similar feel – lots of ‘what ifs’ and space ships.

  31. justJ0e says:

    Really enjoyed the dose of “space travel” SciFi!

    I hope there are more to follow.

  32. Alasdair says:

    Hi Steve:)

    One of the best stories I’ve heard in a long while. Like a lot of listeners, I really responded to the hopeful element of it, and loved the very human reaction to the twist.
    On the one hand, I’d love to hear about what happens to them when they reach Andromeda. On the other, if ever a story finished at the right place, this is it:)
    A great story read well. Loved it to pieces:)

  33. Q says:

    Sorry Steve but this one didn’t do it for me. Like others have said this concept of leap frogging technology has been around. Like others have said your female voices need work. I wouldn’t complain about them except that they take away from the story as it’s being read.
    On a more positive note: the story was well written, the descriptions of the planet and spacecraft were vivid and it was hard sci-fi… my favorite.
    Last but not least… fix the forums PLEEEEEEEEEEEASE. Spam has turned them into a swirling cesspool of creeps spewing ads and looking for romance.

  34. Earl Newton says:

    Actually I’m going to put a vote in favor of the female voices. I was a fan of audiobooks long before I discovered podcasts, and I haven’t seen any gender-shifting voicework here that was any better/worse than anything turned out on the professional market. I’ve always found a slight pitching up/down in the register to be enough to sell the idea of a separate gender.

  35. Steve, I think I hit a technical snag with this story. I didn’t realize it was out until I checked your site. My iTunes podcast subscription didn’t automatically pick up the tale.

    Was there something wrong with the feed last night and this morning?

  36. Martha Holloway says:

    OK, good story and I loved the optimism, but, geeze! those cryopods were 1200 years old by the time they got to Tau Ceti and the Sororans no longer used that technology. So, there are no technology/hardware refreshes to be had. I would not have put them back on a ship bound for the Andromeda galaxy AND taken on an extra colonist, reducing the number of fail-over pods by 25%. Over the millennia those pods *will* eventually fail. Sheesh, can you imagine explaining your decision to any surviving pioneers once you finally get to an inhabitable planet somewhere across the intergalactic void (always assuming you do eventually get there)? What if some or all of the other 48 original pioneers would have preferred to stay on Soror after all? As for fitting into a culture that is 1200 years more technologically advanced, well, primitive peoples have been assimilating here on Earth for a long time. Yes, there would be integration problems but they would certainly be no riskier than haring off in a ship based on technology you are unfamiliar with to a destination you can not reach in the lifetime of your species to date. What were they thinking?

    And Steve, your female voices do not all sound alike. However, I would have to agree that the computer voice was not the best female voice you have ever done. Keep working on it! And thank you for ALL the stories. I have enjoyed every one of them.

  37. Spork says:

    Comment deleted. Strike three. Sigh.

    Spork is henceforth banned for a failure to learn.

  38. Tim says:

    Liked the story but it reminded of a story I think was called Earth Day (I think, read it a long time ago) about a colony ship that was never able to find a real home. Turns out every planet they went too Earth had all ready been there and they didn’t want to tell the other colonist for reasons I can’t remember. Still, good story.
    I do have a question though, are we going to see more orginal stories for EscapePod soon? So far it seems you’ve been posting more and more stories that had been published before and, while I’ve enjoyed them all, I don’ think EscapePod, or any other fictional Podcast, is going to ever be taken seriously until it starts producing its own orginal work.

  39. One of the submission guidelines, as I recall, said they preferred previously published stories. But I agree with Tim in that EP has probably grown up enough to take the step in accepting brand new fiction; if Kevin J Anderson and that Turtledove fellow [;)] submit here already, it’s probably being taken seriously enough, at least by authors, to be considered a first market for sci-fi.

  40. Disregard my comments about technical issues — it was definitely on my side 🙂

    I was very pleased to see an actual space-related tale on Escape Pod. I do think the ratio of “space” stories is too low on this podcast, and I’d love to see more.

    The best thing I can say about this tale is the underlying theme: that some of us are driven to forge ahead, and those that have this drive will refuse to give up this pursuit. Everything in the story reflects this theme.

    There are ultimately two types of people in life: those that look for safety, comfort, and predictability and those that seek inherent risk for a chance to take part in something greater than the sum of their own present accomplishments. The colonists won’t argue when they arrive on some system in Andromeda, but they’d be furious if they’d been awakened on a safe, placated world.

  41. George says:

    I’m a Robert Sawyer fan, so I was excited at the prospect of one of his stories.

    I found myself wanting to fast forward through the beginning of the story, especially during the long expository passage about the discovery of Soror. Then again a few minutes later, when it was explained to us why the crew couldn’t look out the windows without turning off the fusion thrusters. This seems irrelevant to the story and probably should’ve been pruned.

    By the way, (Partial delete — Please, folks, let’s let the public commentary about Spork die off. If we’re going to be fair about this, I can’t allow anyone insulting him either.)

  42. Brewhaha says:

    Of all the stories I’ve heard on EP this one certainly had the most “classic” feel to it. I really liked that. No complaints at all except for one very nit-picky question – aren’t the seasons of earth (or other earth-type planets) are more related to the tilt of the planet than the shape of the orbit?

    Keep up the good work.

  43. (Final comment here, I promise) I want to throw in my two cents regarding George’s thoughts. If this is a habit of his in every one of his stories, I’ll have to wonder how he got so prolific if he’s “telling and not showing” so much.

  44. Martha Holloway says:

    Two points:

    You don’t have to cross vast distances to be a pioneer. You can be a pioneer in many ways: across time or culture. Louis Pasteur, Jonas Salk. Get the picture?

    Also, I am reminded of the differences amongst the South Polar expeditions of Amundsen, Shackleton and Scott.

    Amundsen, who reached the pole first, carefully prepared, planned and trained. His expedition was so flawlessly executed that his team actually *gained* weight on the way back. It was textbook for how to do it right. He studied not only Shackleton’s expeditions but Inuit techniques as well. (See? Shoulders of giants…)

    Scott planned poorly and rushed his expedition. He rejected the use of skis for the final leg to the pole, instead of using dog teams he opted for man powered sleds, and at the last moment added another man to the team headed for the pole. Yes, Scott did reach the pole, but he succumbed to the disappointment of being second and not only died of frost bite and starvation on the way back–he took the rest of his team with him. All four of them. Dead. Sure, Scott was a very romantic figure. But his is not the expedition I would choose to be on.

    Shackleton, however, actually blazed the path that Scott followed although he never made it to the South Pole himself. His plans and preparations weren’t quite good enough to get him all the way. His pioneering expedition made it to within 90-110 miles of their goal before choosing to turn back. Make no mistake, they could have made it to the pole. And it would have killed them. Shackleton chose his life and the lives of his team over dying for the privilege of being first. When taken to task for this failure, he rather famously quipped that he would rather be a live jackass than a dead lion. (BTW, this was before Scott’s ill-fated expedition.)

    Even though none of Shackleton’s Antarctic expeditions achieved their stated goals, including the disastrous Trans Antarctic expedition (*The Endurance*), he never lost a single man under his direct command. Never.

    In rescuing his last expedition from shipwreck, he, his officers and team performed spectacular feats of extreme survival, open boat sailing across the frigid, stormy South Atlantic, and, finally, scaling a hazardous mountain range, without climbing gear, that no one had ever scaled before. They performed these desperate acts not because they desired to be the first to achieve them, and certainly not out of a fit of pique that they were not first, but because their lives and the lives of the men they had had to leave behind depended on their succeeding.

    Shackleton, having reached the safety of South Georgia Island, did not rest until he succeeded in rescuing the men left behind. And that took five more expeditions.

    In my book, if you can’t be Amundsen, be Shackleton.

    Let someone else be Scott.

  45. Emma says:

    Excellent story, one of my favourites for a long time. I’d take this kind of thing over dragons, time travel etc… any day! And by the amount of responses received here, mostly good, I’d say a lot of other listeners would too.

  46. JOsh says:

    I liked the classic feel to this story. And Wow, Real Sci Fi, at last. More please.

  47. Great Story, I loved it so much that I listened through the whole thing twice on consecutive communtes into work. I loved it more each time. Really makes you have a new look on life when you consider exploration like that

  48. Chuck LeDuc says:

    Although this story was well written, the plot device (slow ship outrun by successors) has been used so many times it has become hackneyed. The message was fresh, and that I appreciate, but the slight pleasure of the message was overcome by the tired vehicle.

  49. This is what I’ve been looking for. The Pioneer’s spirit. I love westerns for this reason, and transfered that love as I grew up to SF.

    This story makes me smile and want to adventure and push the envelope.

  50. Charlie says:

    This is the first time I’ve been moved to post here–wow! I kept my wife up late into the evening recounting how I felt listening to this story. I don’t care if the ending was predictable–it made me feel great.

    Thanks for the story! I don’t care if it involves spacemen or not, I want to hear more of this!

  51. izzardfan says:

    I started listening in June 2007, but have downloaded episodes from these pages because they’re no longer on iTunes, back to August 2006. Once I catch up, I’ll go back and grab another few months worth. My point in telling you this is to put my comment in perspective in case I’ve missed something similar elsewhere.

    First, let me say that I haven’t been disappointed yet with a story I’ve heard. Some were better than others, but none were deserving of a negative review, for me at least.

    In his November comment above, Earl Newton wrote: The story is superficially similar to a story by Robert L. Forward called “Dragon’s Egg”, where humankind passes a neutron star and discovers primitive life living there: on the star itself. But due to several factors, the life cycle for the creatures is only a minute fraction of ours. By the time the human ship comes close enough to examine, the alien creatures have already lived hundreds of generations, and have advanced beyond our technology.

    There’s an episode of Star Trek: Voyager that examines this, where Voyager is in one place in the planet’s sky so long that it becomes part of the culture’s myths and legends.

    Steve’s closing quote mentioned the dinosaurs becoming extint due to a lack of a space program. Another episode of Star Trek: Voyager (“Distant Origin”) “refutes” this with the premise that saurians DID have a space program, and that they left Earth and colonized another world in a different quadrant of the galaxy.

    Thanks for all the great stories, and all the hours of aural enjoyment!

  52. […] #078: The Shoulder of Giants […]

  53. Yonderboy says:

    I really feel like I am in the minority here, but I have to voice one thing about the story that really made me uncomfortable, the self pity and hubris of the lead characters. The story sets up the reason for leaving Earth as the desire to preserve the human race. But it turns out that the real reason is the selfish desire to have a planet of their own. I could not enjoy the story since I found the main characters despicable and pedantic. When the co captains of the ship find out the planet they are aiming for is inhabited, they immediately become resentful and decide to head out into space for parts unknown. Rather than being happy that the problems they fled Earth to escape, nuclear annihilation specifically mentioned, were overcome, they can only think of themselves and how they have been robbed of being the new Adam and Eve. So they decide to drag the rest of the colonists out into space, without waking them up to inform them of the situation. So the selfish desires of the two in charge, who the others had placed their full trust in, becomes the unchosen fate of all.

    • Working my way through old Escape Pods (Delightful! Thanks Steve!) so forgive the belated comment on this story –

    The whole time I was listening to this story, I kept thinking, “I’ve already read this, and it wasn’t by Robert J. Sawyer. The story was by A.E. van Vogt.” Pulling down a van Vogt collection called “Destination: Universe!” from my shelf, I found the story again – it’s called “Far Centaurus,” and it was originally published in the January 1944 edition of “Astounding Science Fiction.” And sure enough, the premise – and to some extent the resolution – are entirely the same as Sawyer’s story.

    I have to say, this bothered me. Has Sawyer read this story before? Was this meant as an homage to van Vogt? I didn’t hear anything in his piece that was a particular tribute to van Vogt’s story, as in, “I know I’m rewriting a masterwork, and here’s my nod to it.”

    Interestingly, van Vogt’s story goes further than Sawyer’s, and tackles a lot of what listener noyb says is missing from Sawyer’s future – that a hundred generations from now human civilization will look and feel very different than our own. In the van Vogt story, future humans even SMELL different, and one man in the future has been training his whole life to handle the archaic language, affectations – and smells! – of the sleepers. The extrapolation in van Vogt’s story is a fantastic bit of futurism, IMHO, even if his end descends into a bit more melodrama and gratuitous action than does Sawyers. Even so, the resolutions are essentially the same.

    I’d be interested in hearing from others who’ve read both stories to see how they feel about it. Are the two stories too similar? Or are there really no new ideas – just, to recycle Steve’s words, “The same old words in a different order?”

    For my part, the whole time I was listening to the Sawyer story I couldn’t help but think, “Standing on the shoulders of giants indeed.”

  54. scatterbrain says:

    Goddamit! Sawyer stole my idea!

    But that was one hell of a story!