Monday, March 31, 2008

Stephen Baxter's "Last Contact" (short story, science fiction): A description of apocalypse

Very well told - even if the plot is uninteresting. I wasn't bored.

It's probably best described as a "weird physics" story.

Full text of this story is available for download. Note: I've not read this online version.

Story summary.

"dark energy. It’s like an antigravity field that permeates the universe. Just as gravity pulls everything together, the dark energy is pulling the universe apart, taking more and more of it so far away that its light can’t reach us anymore. It started at the level of the largest structures in the universe, superclusters of galaxies. But in the end it will fold down to the smallest scales. Every bound structure will be pulled apart. Even atoms, even subatomic particles."

And this "Big Rip" has suddenly accelerated. In a few months, the universe will be no more - at least not in a form we can recognize!

Story itself is told in the form of dialogs between an old woman Maureen & her 35 year old astrophysicist daughter - living somewhere near Oxford, England - over a 7 month period. First the stars slowly vanishing, then Milky Way. Then Sun rushing away - sunlight to darkness in a few minutes. Then earth beginning to tear apart - narration ends, of course, with the death of the two woman (& everyone else on earth, of course).

Title comes from enormous number of messages humanity has received from alien supercivilizations - during the last few months of its existence. Looks like aliens knew of the phenomenon long enough back in time to ensure speed of light constrained signals will reach earth just in time (means many of these signals would have started long before there were any kinds of interesting animals on earth)!!! No one has been able to decode these messages, but Maureen has a theory - those supercivilizations are saying us goodbye. Hence last contact.

Collected in.

  1. Gardner Dozois (Ed)'s "The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection" (2008).
  2. George Mann (Ed)'s "The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction" (2007). Original publication.

Fact sheet.

First published: George Mann (Ed)'s "The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction", Solaris Books. 2007.
Rating: B
Nominated for Hugo Award 2008 in short story category.