Thursday, February 12, 2009

David Brin's "The Crystal Spheres" (short story, first contact, free): An answer to Fermi's Paradox

This story is high on imagination & low on logic. Didn't really work for me, but it's a Hugo winner.

Story has a lot of irrelevant invented compound words that may irritate or appear exotic, depending on taste. I got irritated.

Story summary.

If the universe is teeming with intelligent life, why haven't we met aliens? Brin's answer is close to intelligent design of the universe, but leaves the possibility open of a remote physical explanation.

You see - each solar system is enclosed in a kind of physical container - a crystal sphere. I guess that would make the container may be a light year in radius & centered at the star. This is some sort of invisible barrier with special properties.

Crossing the sphere requires breaking it. And it cannot be broken from outside, but can be from inside provided the impact is powerful enough. Like if a local world develops life, that life gets intelligent, & sets out to stars - their first ship will eventually get destroyed by hitting this invisible barrier, but will also break the barrier for later ships! Ditto for signals - local signals can get out, but external signals cannot get in till the barrier is broken. It's a kind of cocoon protecting any local life of each star from outside interference till locals are ready.

An anomaly I couldn't resolve: a ship hits the sphere from inside & breaks it. The sensible thing will be some sort of local break in the sphere - not the whole sphere shattered! Means subsequent ships from inside should find it extremely tough to locate the break; odds of anyone from outside locating the break ought to be near zero!

There is more in the story.
  1. Comets etc are but Shards of the broken sphere, or absorbed material from external attempts to enter the sphere!
  2. When we reach a broken sphere & investigate its solar system, what we find is signs of abandoned civilization - their world is ours for the taking. You see - the intelligent aliens looking for other intelligent life eventually get so desperate they abandon their own worlds to "sleep at the edge of their timestretched black hole", waiting for other aliens to come join them later!

Fact sheet.

First published: Analog, January 1984.
Rating: B.
Download full text. [via Best Science Fiction Stories]
Winner of 1985 Hugo Award in short story category.
Related: Stories of David Brin.