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Literature / Across Realtime

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A loosely-linked science fiction series by Vernor Vinge, consisting of The Peace War, The Ungoverned, and Marooned in Realtime. Across Realtime is the title of the omnibus edition containing The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime (the 1991 re-issue also contains The Ungoverned).

The major initial technology change is the invention of the Bobble, a projected sphere that completely separates the inside from the outside. This is initially believed to be permanent, which would lead to anyone trapped inside a bobble dying when their oxygen runs out. The inventors of the bobble quickly style themselves as The Peace Authority and eventually take over political power, bobbling all who oppose them in an ends-justify-the-means method of ending all war... as well as anyone might threaten their superiority.

The Peace War is set when the first generation of Bobbles begin to burst... revealing that not only are they not permanent, but that the bobbles actually freeze time inside them. The Authority's grip on power begins to fail as many of the people bobbled years ago in the "Peace War" suddenly find themselves in the future.


The Ungovernednote  is set some decades later, and involves an attempt by the Republic of New Mexico (one of many independent nations in what used to be the USA) to invade the "ungoverned" lands to its north. Bobble technology has become widespread and developed everyday uses, some of which are described or demonstrated.

Marooned in Realtime is set after The Singularity, where the majority of the human population has seemingly vanished. Only those who were in stasis (i.e. bobbled) during the event (including characters from both The Peace War and The Ungoverned) remain. Those who come out of stasis are slowly rounded up and brought to a meeting point further down the timeline. During one move a leader of the colony is stranded outside stasis, starting a murder/mystery investigation to discover who did it and why.


This series provides examples of:

  • Action Bomb: The "grenade beetles" that have evolved after human civilization disappeared. Distinctive slow-moving herbivore/scavenger insects that no local predator would dare to bother — they're too slow to keep a human from picking one up and shaking it — because none are stupid enough to bother a hand-sized bug capable of exploding like a hand grenade when annoyed enough. One cripples Marta's foot a few years into her marooning — and Wil is able to use them to drive off a pack of near-dogs stalking him and Della when they are stranded during the Peacer/NM war.
  • Apocalypse Not: World War III turned the entire planet into a Terminally Dependent Society under the Peace Authority, and the "Peace War" almost ended in the Peace sterilizing the entire planet while they hid in Bobbles. Twenty years later, there were trailer parks on the moon.
  • And I Must Scream: Marta Korolev is marooned in realtime for forty years without shelter or tools or friends until she dies of old age.
    • Yelena's choice of punishment for this crime is, incredibly, even worse; She does the same to Juan Chansen, except she left him with a medical auton. He was free to live as long as he wished. It thus takes him ten thousand years to die of madness.
  • Compound Interest Time Travel Gambit: In Marooned in Realtime, two of the characters are brothers who went into stasis as part of one of these, and woke to find that the Singularity had happened and there were no longer any banks.
  • The Conqueror: The Peace Authority made three separate attempts at conquering the world through mass murder;
    • The first was supposedly to prevent a nuclear war between the superpowers, but they themselves released pandemics which decimated the human race to justify their control of biotech.
    • At the climax of The Peace War, deciding the Tinker rebellion threatened their control, they came within seconds of sterilizing the planet with nuclear weapons.
    • At the climax of Marooned in Realtime, Peace Authority Director Christian "The Butcher of Eurafrica" Gerrault kills half of the last three hundred humans, trashes over ninety percent of the remaining technology, then holds the survivors for ransom through his monopoly of the last surviving human zygotes.
  • Crazy Survivalist: Jake Schwartz in The Ungoverned, a farmer who "went armadillo" and has spent the last three years stockpiling as much military-grade firepower as possible.
  • Deflector Shields: Bobbles can function as these.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Just as the Peace Authority came to power, the entire world was hit by numerous engineered plagues — these killed over 90% of the world's population, and remnants of them still caused life-threatening conditions during the Peace's reign. The Peace insist that they were the last gasp of pre-Peace governments, but most post-Peace individuals believe that the Peace released them as justification for their Enforced Technology Levels; control of all nuclear technology meant all technological civilization was dependent on them for electricity, but control of biotech meant that every human alive was dependent on the Peace for medical care.
  • Divided States of America: In The Ungoverned.
  • Dying Clue: Marooned in Realtime features possibly the most epic case of "murder victim writes cryptic final message" in the entire history of detective fiction. The murderer uses a uniquely science-fictional murder weapon that results in a three-decades long, lingering death of old age for the victim, so she has time to write a final message over two million words long — but the important bit is still so cryptic only one man could see it — and it's not her lover. This is because the murderer is watching her the entire time, and would have destroyed anything that looked like a clue to his identity.
  • Enforced Technology Levels: The Peace Authority prevents anyone save themselves from using nuclear power, and puts a similar amount of effort into policing biotech. Supposedly this to prevent nuclear and biological warfare, but it also creates a Terminally Dependent Society that relies on the Peace for electricity and medicine — and it's all but stated that the Peace actually started World War III specifically to destroy their competition.
  • Everyone Is a Suspect: Marooned in Realtime uses this extensively.
  • Feudal Future: The Peacers enforced one by blaming industrial civilization for nuclear warfare.
  • Hurl It into the Sun: Brought up as one way to kill a person who's Bobbled themself for protection. Even that won't break through the Bobble — but the Bobble's got to pop some time...
  • Interface with a Familiar Face: In The Peace War, Paul Naismith has given his house AI the face and voice of his old girlfriend, who was the first opponent of the Peace Authority to be Bobbled.
  • Invisible Aliens: Marooned in Realtime suggests that when species attain The Singularity, they uniformly vanish from the universe, at least from the perspective of everyone else.
  • Late-Arrival Spoiler: The true nature of the Bobbles is a big plot twist in The Peace War, but it's almost impossible to talk about the series as a whole (and especially Marooned in Realtime) without it.
  • Law Enforcement, Inc.: Marooned in Realtime suggests that by the late 21st century, governments have essentially given way to protection companies. The Ungoverned shows them in operation, and suggests that from the perspective of a protection company, a national government in war mode is just another crime gang to be dealt with the same way as any other.
  • No Doubt the Years Have Changed Me: A villainous example, at the climax of Marooned in Realtime.
  • Old Master: Paul Hoehler/Naismith in The Peace War; remarkable in that he really is old, with all the drawbacks that come with advanced age.
  • One Riot, One Ranger: When the invasion starts in The Ungoverned, local law enforcement sends a request up the line for an army to come fight it. What they get is Wil Brierson.
  • One Steve Limit: Marooned in Realtime has multiple characters named in honour of the hero of The Peace War, but it still fits this trope because they each prefer a different way of abbreviating it from each other and from the original.
  • Orion Drive: In Marooned in Realtime, Della's ship has one; bobble technology makes this method of travel safe.
  • Post Cyber Punk: The Peace War
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Averted in Marooned in Realtime, where the realistic lack of this is a plot point.
  • La Résistance: The Tinkers in The Peace War.
  • Roboteching: In The Peace War, the Tinkers have come up with smart bullets that can be fired from a machine pistol. Lock in your targets, blind-fire one burst in their general direction — and twenty Technology Gestapo hit the ground minus their heads!
  • Shrouded in Myth: Wil Brierson gets a bit of this in Marooned in Realtime regarding his detective abilities. Early in his career he shut down Humanity's last major government for war crimes, and after he was forcibly bobbled his son dealt with his loss by writing a series of acclaimed detective novels starring a version of him that captured his assailant before he could bobble him. As a result, all of humanity thinks of him as a Real Life Sherlock Holmes. Luckily, he is pretty damned good, managing to save Humanity from its last surviving dictator as a side note to finding humanity's last murderer.
  • The Singularity: Popularized in Marooned in Realtime.
  • Slept Through the Apocalypse: All the characters in Marooned in Realtime.
  • The Slow Path: What the title of Marooned in Realtime refers to.
  • Smart People Play Chess: The genius hero of The Peace War plays chess in competition.
  • Sphere of Destruction: The effect of using a Bobble as a weapon.
  • Summation Gathering: At the climax of Marooned in Realtime, complete with Conversational Troping. Notably, Wil denounces it as an act of desperation;
    Someday he would have to read Billy's novels. Had the boy really ended each by a confrontation with a roomful of suspects? In his real life, this was only the third time he had ever seen such a thing. Normally, you identified the criminal, then arrested him. A denouement with a roomful -in this case, an auditoriumful- of suspects meant that you lacked either the knowledge or the power to accomplish an arrest. Any competent criminal realized this, too; the situation was failure in the making.
  • Superweapon Surprise: Kansans in The Ungoverned use Bobble devices on remote-operated rockets to destabilize tornadoes before they form, and a one-tonne rocket turns out to also make a decent guided missile...
  • Time Is Dangerous:
    • The bubbles of stopped time turn out to be dangerous in various ways, such as a war ship that manages to stop time while it is exploding, so when it exits the bubble it explodes. It could happen to any bubble, as they did not know which bubble contained what.
    • In Marooned in Realtime, one person is trapped outside the bubble, so she ages to death while waiting for them to return after making a sign at where the camera is pointing. (The bubble pops and appears in a millisecond each year for them to see what is going on.)
  • Time Stands Still: Bobble tech stops time inside the bubble, in least till it pops. Nobody can tell what is inside, and if it is dangerous or safe (like a bobble containing a ship that was exploding when it bobbled itself).
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Lawrence Livermore Labs invented the Bobble in 1997. They started World War III almost immediately. Fifty years later, it's a Feudal Future.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: The Peacers of The Peace War have created a world without armed conflict — at the cost of most of the world's population, all strong governments (save themselves), and industrialized civilization.
    • Their response to losing to the Tinkers is especially grotesque; "Operation Renaissance" — mine the San Fernando Valley with nuclear weapons, bobble up their facilities and a number of civilians for breeding stock, then blow everything to hell. Della Lu, who up to that point was a dedicated tech cop and remorseless killer, balks at this, and simply knocks the trigger for the mines out of her boss' hand and bobbles without firing the nukes.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: Marooned in Realtime has people in the far future with the medical technology to eliminate all disease and aging — but what if you outlive the civilisation?
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Hamilton Avery in The Peace War.
    • In Marooned in Realtime, Della (initially).

Alternative Title(s): The Peace War, Marooned In Realtime, The Ungoverned


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