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Marooned in Realtime is a 1986 murder mystery and time-travel science fiction novel by Vernor Vinge, about a small, time-displaced group of people who may be the only "survivors" of technological singularity or alien invasion. It is the sequel to The Peace War (1984) and "The Ungoverned" (1985). Both novels and the novella were collected in Across Realtime.

Marooned in Realtime won the Prometheus Award in 1987 and was also nominated for the Hugo Award for Best Novel that same year.

Plot summary Edit

In the story, a device exists which can create a "bobble", a spherical stasis field in which time stands still, allowing one-way time travel into the future. These frictionless, perfectly reflective spheres are also used as weapons, as shields against other weapons, for storage, for space travel (combined with nuclear pulse propulsion), and other purposes.

People whose bobbles open up after a certain date in the 23rd century find the Earth completely devoid of human life. All living humans have disappeared, with only ambiguous archaeological clues for the reasons, and only those who were inside bobbles during the event survive into the future. The "low-techs" — those who were bobbled soon after the original invention of bobbles — have roughly late-20th-century technology. The "high-techs" — those who were bobbled later in time (in the period of accelerating technological progress leading up to the singularity) — have vastly superior technology, including cybernetic enhancements, faster and thought-controlled bobblers, personal automaton extensions of self, space ships, medical technology to allow immortality, and individual arsenals comparable to entire countries of the 20th century. Indeed, those who were bobbled at slightly different times leading up to the singularity, have vastly different technology levels.

The protagonist is Wil Brierson, a detective who also was the protagonist of the preceding novella "The Ungoverned". Some time after the events in "The Ungoverned", Brierson was forcibly bobbled 10,000 years into the future to prevent his testimony in a case, effectively murdering him. As a punishment, the law enforcement of his time period bobbled criminals for a slightly longer amount of time than their victims, with a message explaining the crime and allowing future law enforcement to provide more specific punishment (or revenge), after the true fate of the victim can be determined. However, in this unpopulated world, every human is valuable, and the high-techs give the criminals new false identities to protect them and welcome them into their small society.

The group of several hundred people seeks to gather up all the humans left in order to gain enough genetic diversity to create a new civilization and their own singularity. They travel into the future so that they can recruit colonies of people, ending approximately 50 million years ahead in order to gather one of the largest groups trapped inside one of the earliest but longest-lived bobbles.

Before one of their very long transits, the computers of one of the high-tech project leaders, Marta Korolev, are hacked, and she is excluded from the automated bobbling. Left stranded in normal time, with her bobbling capability blocked, she dies alone after a natural lifespan on a deserted Earth. When the "murder" is discovered, the low-tech Brierson is hired by the surviving project leader, Yelén Korolev (who is also Marta's widow) to find the killer, who has to be one of the high techs.

Della Lu, a high tech who was an agent of the Peace Authority during The Peace War, agrees to assist Brierson with the technical aspects of the case. In the millions of years since the singularity, Della had spent 9,000 years alone in real time, exploring the galaxy. She discovered that intelligent life is profoundly rare, and there were parallel vanishings in the few civilizations she found, but no definitive proof of the cause. The singularity is implied to be an explanation for the Fermi Paradox. To complicate matters, as a high tech, Della Lu is also a suspect, and the vast amount of time she has spent alone in deep space and in real time leaves questions about whether she is still human. Furthermore, Yelén Korolev herself is a suspect.

The novel thus deals with the investigation of two parallel locked room mysteries: the murder of Marta Korelev, and the "locked planet" mystery of the disappearance of the human race. Brierson interviews each of the high-tech suspects, seeking evidence of any motive for murder while discussing their views on how the human race vanished. While some suggest that an alien invasion, ecological collapse, or other disaster was the culprit, by the end it is strongly suggested that this event was a technological singularity, and that the human race had transcended to a different form of existence with the assistance of exponentially improving technology.

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