Time dilation ruined my relationship!
September 18, 2005 9:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for stories that deal with human relationships between people seperated by time dilation due to space travel, where the person on Earth ages the same as you and I, but the space traveler, in comparison, ages significantly slower.

For example, in the film Hoshi no koe(released as Voices of a Distant Star in the US), one character is sent into space to fight in a war, while the other stays on Earth. Due to time dilation, the character in space ages significantly slower in comparison to her long-distance love left back home. They communicate via text messaging, but the character back on Earth has to patiently wait years and years for his love's replies, with the gap growing longer between each message. It's quite a sad and touching animated short film.

The people don't have to be lovers; they can be friends, family, colleagues, or of any other relation. But, the story should focus on the relationship between the people, as affected by time dilation.

I remember a book my friend's dad recommended to me many years ago that would fit the bill, but I can't remember the name. I'd assume there are science fiction novels that deal with this, but when looking at the sci-fi section at the local bookstore, I wouldn't know where to begin.

It doesn't have to be a book. It can be a film, song, poem, concept album, painting- I don't care! This concept is rather intriguing to me, so any recommendations, even if not exactly what I'm asking for, are encouraged!
posted by defenestration to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Heinlein's Time for the Stars.
posted by bac at 9:19 AM on September 18, 2005

Haldeman's Forever War and Forever Free
posted by SpecialK at 9:30 AM on September 18, 2005

Some of the first parts of Haldeman's The Forever War touch on this. The book as a whole isn't about that, though. But it's old and you'll be able to find a copy in your local used bookstore for a buck or two.

Most of the SF I can think of that deals with time-dilation does so from a multigenerational perspective.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:36 AM on September 18, 2005

The Ender's Game series by Orson Scott Card. Book 1, Ender's Game, while great fun, doesn't have the time dilation, but as the series progresses, so does the time. As I recall, Xenocide has a young fellow leave his planet, return shortly thereafter, about 20 years by the planet's time, to rejoin his family and friends who are now older.
posted by rabbus at 9:40 AM on September 18, 2005

The Songs of Distant Earth, by Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by Vidiot at 9:46 AM on September 18, 2005

Might be a bit silly, but the 80's movie "Flight of the Navigator" sort of deals with this.
posted by knave at 9:52 AM on September 18, 2005

A sort-of teen book, but The Starlight Crystal by Christopher Pike.
posted by Zosia Blue at 9:57 AM on September 18, 2005

There's a short story in Dan Simmons' Hyperion, 'The Consul's Tale: Remembering Siri' that partly deals with time dilation. It's the last story in the book - not really the strongest, but not bad either.
posted by adrianhon at 10:05 AM on September 18, 2005

The song '39 by Queen (from "A Night at the Opera") is about this subject.

But my love this cannot be
Oh so many years have gone
Though I'm older but a year
Your mother's eyes from your eyes cry to me
posted by CrunchyFrog at 10:15 AM on September 18, 2005

A little anime gem called Voices of a distant star.

Also, not exactly what you specify, but I can really recommend a gorgeous film that deals with relationships between people (others, selves) separated by time travel.
posted by fatllama at 10:25 AM on September 18, 2005

Doh, should have read the whole post.
posted by fatllama at 10:26 AM on September 18, 2005

There were a couple of these in the anthology Faster Than Light, ed. Jack Dann and George Zebrowski.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:32 AM on September 18, 2005

Alfred Bester's Time is the Traitor, available in this collection. It deals with the time dilation concept, although not as a result of space travel.
posted by Fourmyle at 10:40 AM on September 18, 2005

Vernor Vinge's Peace War and its sequel Marooned in Realtime deal with something similar. There's a weapon you fire at someone and it creates a bubble that perfectly preserves the state inside the bubble for a period of time, be it 1 year or 1000 years. Both books deal with lovers who get separated in time through being enbubbled.

And, they're excellent reads.
posted by agropyron at 10:56 AM on September 18, 2005

There was an episode of the original Twilight Zone series that dealt with this concept. An astronaut was to be cryogenically frozen for a decades long space journey. His girlfriend, stuck back on Earth, would be old when he returned while he would still be the same age as when he left. So she went into cryogenic sleep as well and had them unfreeze her just before her boyfriend returned to earth. But when he arrived, she discovered that he hadn't been frozen after all; he'd stayed awake and aged during the flight so that when he returned he'd be the same physical age as the girlfriend.

Also, Alan Moore's Halo Jones deals with a high gravity planet where time flows at a slower rate. Halo goes there to fight in a war; she's on the planet for a day and when she returns, a month has passed.

Oh, and there's the Stephen King short story "The Jaunt," fond in the collection Skeleton Crew. In the story, set in the future, teleportation is accomplished by sending people through some sort of space/time warp. if they're conscious, they come out just fine on the other end. But if they're awake, they experience the passage of an almost infinite amount of time. The only "relationship" dealt with in this story, though, is of the parent-child variety.
posted by Clay201 at 11:14 AM on September 18, 2005

It's not about time dilation due to space travel, but The Time Traveler's Wife is a well-received recent novel that might be quite along the lines of what you're looking for:
The Time Traveler's Wife is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry finds himself periodically displaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity from his life, past and future.
posted by rafter at 11:19 AM on September 18, 2005

The Story Elliptical Orbit, in the manga/gekiga 2001 Nights by Yukinobu Hoshino (specifically the volume sold by Cadence as Journey Beyond Tomorrow) touches on this subject. And there are a number of other stories in the three volume set that have tinges of the same flavor.
posted by selfnoise at 11:45 AM on September 18, 2005

Timemaster, by Robert L. Forward. Forward's characters and writing are a little, well, trite, but his science is rock-solid. Timemaster involves wormholes turned into doorways between planets, that are essentially trips through the rectum of a friendly creature made of negative matter. Taking the wormhole a few times and a high-g spacecraft a few times, the title character manages to visit the same place and time at three different ages. And, um, his wife is there too.
posted by ulotrichous at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2005

I'm hesitant to name it, because it's a serious spoiler, but it's one of the stories in my favorite collection of scifi shorts: Blue Champagne by John Varley. It is also in the new Varley Reader which has most of the best stories from Blue Champagne but is unfortunately missing the excellent title story, also prequal to Tango Charlie and Foxtrot Romeo.


The story is The Pusher
posted by Manjusri at 12:28 PM on September 18, 2005

Oh, and I forgot the best part... the friendly creature's turds can be used to build a reactionless space drive. Good stuff.
posted by ulotrichous at 12:33 PM on September 18, 2005

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned The Sirens Of Titan or Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut yet.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 12:35 PM on September 18, 2005

Hmm, I'm surprised no one has explored this, without bringing space-travel or other sci-fi elements into the picture. It can be done.
posted by Gyan at 12:37 PM on September 18, 2005

For kids/teens, Singularity by William Sleator. No space travel involved, but same principle.
posted by keatsandyeats at 12:43 PM on September 18, 2005

Wasn't the big twist in Planet of the Apes predicated on this very phenomenon?
posted by cosmicbandito at 1:02 PM on September 18, 2005

Excellent recommendations thus far! I'd like to add an addendum to my inquiry... Part of the reason I enjoyed Hoshi no koe(Voices of a Distant Star) so much is because there was a line of communication between the separated people. I see that some of the books suggested do have a line of communication(like telepathy in Time for the Stars) but I was wondering if any of the others also have some sort of communication, through text, video, audio, telepathy, etc, between the separated.

Even if they don't, keep the suggestions coming!
posted by defenestration at 1:03 PM on September 18, 2005

Definitely look into Haldeman's books. The concept you're asking about also has a central role in Manifold: Time by Stephen Baxter. (This is the first and best of a series that also includes Manifold: Space and Manifold: Origin.)
posted by whatzit at 1:09 PM on September 18, 2005

And how did I miss your above comment?? The Manifold series has communication through video or text, I can't remember which.
posted by whatzit at 1:10 PM on September 18, 2005

Part of the reason I enjoyed Hoshi no koe(Voices of a Distant Star) so much is because there was a line of communication between the separated people.

Yeah, you should definitely check out The Sirens Of Titan.
posted by coach_mcguirk at 1:35 PM on September 18, 2005 [1 favorite]

Return from the stars, by Stanislaw Lem. One of my favorite books ever.

Lem's hero is a man who returns from exploring distant stars, only to find the world changed beyond recognition.
posted by atchafalaya at 1:45 PM on September 18, 2005

I'm reading Delany's Dhalgren right now, and I don't know if you'd call it time dilation, but characters in the book experience time differently, i.e. two characters will meet up, leave, meet up again, and one has experienced one day and the other has lived through five days. It's very creepy and mysterious and I don't think the phenomenon is ever explained.
posted by speicus at 1:49 PM on September 18, 2005

Er, I might as well mention that I found it relevant because even though it doesn't involve space travel or even time travel in a strict sense, it does very much explore the kind of separation and communication issues you mentioned. Two characters struggle to maintain a relationship even though they both experience time differently and each thinks the other is sort of crazy.
posted by speicus at 1:54 PM on September 18, 2005

The anime Aim for the Top! Gunbuster dealt with a lot of the exact same time dilation issues as Distant Star.
posted by bobo123 at 3:12 PM on September 18, 2005

There is a star trek episode....from Voyager

Blink of an Eye
The crew discover a planet that is rotating VERY rapidly and find out that a time distortion is causing it and that for every second on Voyager, a day occurs on the planet the distortions are trapping the ship in orbit.

Which I think, is based on another SF novel...about a race that evolves around a white dwarf star. They go from being essentially amoebas through spacefaring during the period that a spacecraft comes to their planet.
posted by filmgeek at 3:21 PM on September 18, 2005

Not quite the same, but the movie Highlander deals with a character that does not age while those around him grow old and die. The interesting tidbit is that it starts in medieval Scotland.

There can be only one...
posted by qwip at 3:38 PM on September 18, 2005

Wasn't the big twist in Planet of the Apes predicated on this very phenomenon?

Yes. And the book is great. Well worth a read.
posted by jdroth at 4:09 PM on September 18, 2005

Cordwainer Smith's The Lady Who Sailed The Soul.
posted by SPrintF at 4:30 PM on September 18, 2005

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell has time dilation but it's not the focus of the (good) novel.
posted by 6550 at 4:37 PM on September 18, 2005

a series has it as an important element: Ken Macleod's Engines of Light books.
posted by amberglow at 4:40 PM on September 18, 2005

Iain M. Banks' The Algebraist touches on this - both light-speed travel and bionically slowing onesself down.
posted by cogat at 5:00 PM on September 18, 2005

Frederik Pohl's Gateway series also deals with this theme. Telling you how it happens will give it away, but man, they are enjoyable books.
posted by dual_action at 5:01 PM on September 18, 2005

As mentioned earlier, the later books in the Ender's Game series focus a good deal on the relativistic effects of near light speed travel. Vonnegut's Sirens of Titan and Slaughterhouse 5 both deal with aliens and time (especially Slaughterhouse 5), but if my memory serves, not in the same way the question writer means.

If we're talking about general messing with time, The Fermata by Nicholson Baker deals with a guy who stops time and undresses women.
posted by i love cheese at 5:54 PM on September 18, 2005

I highly recommend Einstein's Dreams by David Lightman.

It's a very short book based on the premise that each chapter is a dream had by Einstein while working on the theory of relativity. In each dream, time works differently than we are used to. One such chapter has a world where time is vastly different in different places. While it always appears the same to you, you might go to another town and when you return to the original everyone is dead and gone or time hasn't passed at all.

They aren't all about time dilation specifically but I think it's right up your alley.
posted by aaronh at 6:56 PM on September 18, 2005

Many of Alastair Reynolds' books (Chasm City for example) deal with this. Ships travel between systems at sub-light speeds, taking hundreds of years to reach each destination (people on board go into a form of cryogenic storage). One character has to deal with the loss of a lover after being put on the wrong ship and becoming seperated by a 300 year journey. Various characters see the same worlds but at different stages of their history, as travellers on space-ships live so much longer relative to the settlers on the planets.
posted by Edame at 8:12 PM on September 18, 2005

speicus: I envy your reading of Dhalgren for the first time. defenestration, you'd love that book. i love cheese: wow, another person read "The Fermata"?

filmgeek: the novel probably was Mission of Gravity by "Hal Clement"

Others: "Bicentennial Man" by Issac Asimov, "The Pusher" by John Varley, "Twin Paradox" by Robert Forward, "All You Zombies" by Robert Heinlein, "The House on the Strand" by Daphne du Maurier, Other Days, Other Eyes by Bob Shaw, Dayworld by Philip José Farmer
posted by ?! at 8:44 PM on September 18, 2005

Heinlein's The Door Into Summer is another one about differing passages of time affecting relationships, without relativistic time dilation.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 9:06 PM on September 18, 2005

?! and filmgeek: I suspect that novel was actually Dragon's Egg by Robert Forward.
posted by fuzzy_wuzzy at 1:04 AM on September 19, 2005

fuzzy wuzzy: I believe you are right. I was blinded by how much I had loved Hal Clement's work when I was a teen.
posted by ?! at 11:32 AM on September 19, 2005

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