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Literature / The World at the End of Time

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The World at the End of Time is a Science Fiction novel written by Frederik Pohl in 1991.

It narrates the life of two very different protagonists: Viktor Sorricaine, a human child who is on board a starship whose crew's mission is to colonize a world that has been discovered to be habitable, and Wan-To, a plasma-based entity who lives at the heart of a star, from a not very far future to very deep in the history of the Universe.

The history of each character is almost entirely independent from each other and the two characters do not meet, so it's possible to read just one and ignore the other; however, it's recommended you read both.

The World at the End of Time provides examples of:

  • A God Am I: The narrator comments that Wan-To created two galaxies when the others began to fade away and that sees itself as the most powerful entity of the Universe.
  • Alien Sky: Newmanhome's skies through the novel. At first, its skies are quite Earth-like except for the lack of a moon and the presence of bright, red brown dwarf Nergal. When their stars begin to accelerate away, relativistic effects cause- except for those going with Newmanhome's star (which fade instead)- the ones in front of them to become blue and the ones behind to go red. In the world where Viktor and Reesa awake for the third time, said relativistic effects have caused the Universe to look like an incredibly bright star. Finally, at the end Newmanhome's skies are pitch black and starless except for the couple of stars that went with them
  • Alternative Calendar: Newmanhome's year is around half that of Earth, meaning that one year in the colonists' calendar equals to roughly six Earth months.
  • Antimatter: The human ships use it to power their ships and, along with Solar Sails, to propel them. It ends up destroying the Ark too.
  • Apocalypse How. Several:
  • And I Must Scream: Wan-To near of the end of the book, when it lives precariously in the heart of a dead star off the energy produced by proton decay and it's difficult for it to move inside its star
  • Artistic License – Space: Wan-To's home galaxy (Maffei 2) is described as located behind the center of the Milky Way (thus almost unobservable in visible light from its location). Real Maffei 2 is located in quite an opposite direction (but it's not less hard to study.)
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Wan-To and its siblings, who are attacking themselves without caring for the stars they blow up, nor about those who may live in the planets orbiting them.
  • Body Horror: Captain Bu after being attacked the Ark by Five. He ends blind, with his eyes badly burned.
  • Colony Ship: Two: the New Ark and the New Mayflower, plus a third other -the New Argosy- that never reaches Newmanhome because it outruns her.
  • Crapsack World:
    • The Earth the colonists leave behind, torn apart by war and other conflicts.
    • Newmanhome the third time Viktor and Reesa are awaken, cold as hell, populated by religious fanatics, and with the colonists living very precariously underground
    • The Universe at the end of the novel, dark, empty, and cold could count too
    • Crapsaccharine World: The human society at the end of the novel, whose central organizing principle appears to be Fanservice. Normal attire looks like the outfit Akemi Roppongi wears on her "casual" days. Men are sterilized at puberty (children are conceived and gestated artificially) to avoid any accidents resulting from all the casual sex that's going on. All manual labor is done by genetically modified apes. While technology is very advanced, not a single person native to the era appears to have more intellectual curiosity than the average turnip.note 
  • Cold Sleep, Cold Future: Happens to the protagonist. After the failed attempt to find what's happening on the planet Nebo, he and his wife are put in suspended animation to be thawed out 400 years later in a very different -and far more hostile- world than that they knew.
  • Earth That Was: Earth is this for the colonists of Newmanhome four hundred years in the future, with some saying it's in that bright starlike object known as the Universe. Of course they cannot know it's very far away in the past and that it succumbed in the star-zapping by Wan-To and its kind.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Matter Copy Number Five. Or perhaps Starfish Aliens (its aspect is not described at all). Certainly for poor [Luo-Fah], it would look like the former.
  • First Contact: Gone horribly wrong when the Ark is sent to Nebo to investigate what happens there and a landing party is sent to the planet.
  • From Bad to Worse: Wan-To when is planning to leave the dead star where it's living when its supply of decaying protons ends and move to a black hole knowing he'll have even far less energy available, even if it will last far longer
  • The Fundamentalist: The people in the future Newmanhome the third time Viktor awakes. They're divided in four sects: one (sort of) Catholic, other Protestant, other Islamic, and other that looks like Communists. What they share is their dislike of non-practical science.
  • Human Popsicle: Viktor Sorricaine and Reesa McGann four times at least the former
    • The people who commit crimes, are in excess of what the colony can support, or simply are disliked in the icy Newmanhome. Including Viktor and Reesa
  • Human Resources: In the harsh Newmanhome of 400 years into the future, some people suggest to use as fertilizer the people that is in hibernation.
  • It's Always Spring: Newmanhome, the planet the humans colonize, is implied to have little noticeable seasons because of a low axial tilt and a nearly circular orbit.
  • Meaningful Name: The two colony ships sent are named New Ark (later simply Ark) and New Mayflower (shortened to Mayflower). There's a third one, the New Argosy that never reachs its destination because it outruns her.
  • Natural End of Time: Wan-To comes from this era, so far into the future that most protons have decayed. The point is reachable by the human protagonists through extreme Time Dilation.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: The geothermal plant that gives energy to future Newhmanhome and keeps working after four hundred years as well as the two old interstellar ships that brought there the colonists. Averted in the last part of the book and for the Ark when she explodes victim of Antimatter.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Averted.
    • Near of the beginning of the book, a teaching computer is attempting to teach young Viktor what's a light-year. He, of course, cannot understand what means that number as is too big.
    • While Wan-To feats seem to fall into this category one must remember it's something almost immortal, who has almost no worries about time, can clone itself, and has at its disposition the power of entire stars.
  • Space Age Stasis: Sort of it in the human society described in the last part of the novel, that continue using four thousand years into the future chemical-powered rockets, even if the colony ships were powered by anti-matter drives. Justified in that by that time said ships do not exist, and that their users may find said technology Boring, but Practical, thus with no desires to develop something better.
  • Starfish Aliens: The plasma-based aliens who live inside stars and don't care much for "slowlife" like biological beings... the different alien species who simply are mentioned to exist before being destroyed could count too.
  • Star Killing: The game practiced by Wan-To and its kind. Not totally exact, however, since the stars "heal" later.
  • Stuff Blowing Up: Several examples:
    • Wan-To's progenitor (if it can be named so) is said to have been born in the explosion of a very massive star.
    • The stars that are hit by the waves of particles Wan-To's species launch themselves. They, however, "heal" with time.
    • The Ark thanks to an antimatter containment field failure, experimenting the power of E=mc2
    • The machines left at Nebo by Five when the humans attempt to explore them. Also, Five when its mission ends
  • The Slow Path: Wan-To moves across time this way. However at first, he perceives time at the speed of nuclear reactions, so microseconds or less for him could be very well years. Later, when energy is very scant, his perception of time decelerates a lot.
  • The Stars Are Going Out. literally at the end of the book, when the Universe is in its death throes
  • Time Abyss: The final part takes place in the very far future (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years from now), when all the stars of the Universe -except the ones ejected off the Milky Way by Five- have died and the unique energy source available to Wan-To is that provided by proton decay.
  • Time Dilation: The central premise of the novel. when the star orbited by Newmanhome and its companions in space are launched to relativistic speeds, allowing them to spend 4,000 years while in the outside universe far more time (10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years to be more exact) has passed
  • Time Travel. To the future. Wan-To using The Slow Path (see above) and both Viktor and Reesa being frozen
  • To the Future, and Beyond: Happens twice to Viktor Sorricaine, the main (human) protagonist, thanks to suspended animation and relativistic contraction of time.