A World Out of Time

A World Out of Time

infobox Book |
name = A World Out of Time
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption =
author = Larry Niven
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series = The State
genre = Science fiction novel
publisher = Ballantine Books
release_date = 1976
media_type = Print (Hardcover, Paperback)
pages = 256 pages
isbn = ISBN 0-345-33696-8
preceded_by =
followed_by = The Integral Trees

"A World Out of Time" is a science fiction novel by Larry Niven and published in 1976. It is set outside the Known Space universe of many of Niven's stories, but is otherwise fairly representative of his '70s hard sci-fi novels. It was originally serialised in "Galaxy" magazine. Part of this novel was originally published as the short story "Rammer".

Plot summary

Jerome Branch Corbell dies in 1970 from cancer and is cryogenically frozen in the faint hope of a future cure. His body is revived in 2190 by an oppressive, totalitarian global government called "The State". His personality and memories are extracted (destroying his body in the process) and transferred into the body of a mindwiped criminal. After he is awakened, he is continually evaluated by Peerssa, a "checker", who has to decide whether he is worth keeping. With the threat of mindwiping looming over his head, Corbell works hard to pass the various tests.

Peerssa decides that Corbell is a loner and born tourist. This makes him an ideal candidate to be the pilot and sole passenger of a Bussard ramjet, whose mission is to find and seed suitable planets as the first step to terraforming them. Disgusted with the State's treatment of him as an expendable commodity, Corbell hijacks the ship and takes it to the center of the galaxy. It was at this point that the original short story ended.

Peerssa tries to "talk him out of it", but this is actually only a subterfuge; an artificial intelligence program based on his personality is secretly transferred into the ship's computer by way of the conversations. Though the Peerssa AI opposes the detour, it cannot disobey Corbell's direct orders.

After a lengthy journey, possible only due to the suspended animation devices on board, Corbell returns to the solar system. Although only hundreds of years have passed on the ship, three million years have elapsed on Earth, due to relativistic time dilation. At first, he is confused and initially believes they might have come to the wrong system because it has changed considerably; the Sun has evolved into a red giant and Earth is now in orbit around Jupiter. Corbell and Peerssa eventually conclude that the solar system has been engineered into this new configuration in order to move the Earth to a habitable distance from the enlarged Sun. Corbell puts the ship into orbit around the Earth.

When Corbell lands (in a modified biological probe), he is captured by Mirelly-Lyra, like him a refugee from the past. She explains that the human species has fragmented; it is dominated by a race of immortal, permanently pre-adolescent males (the Boys), who are created by advanced medical techniques. Some time in the past, they had defeated the equally immortal (though now extinct) Girls, in the ultimate war of the sexes. The Boys have enslaved the "dikta", who are unmodified humans (though they have evolved somewhat), from whom they take boys to replenish their ranks.

A starship crewwoman, Mirelly-Lyra had initially been a captive toy of the Girls. After their downfall, she had spent her time obsessively searching in vain for the lost adult-immortality treatment, while extending her life as much as possible using her own drugs. Because they could not stop the aging process entirely, she is an old crone by the time she finds Corbell. He manages to escape from her, only to be caught by the Boys, who take him to a dikta settlement. With Gording, the dikta leader, he escapes once more.

Eventually, Corbell discovers the adult-immortality treatment, albeit by accident and only realizing it after he himself has been exposed to it. He uses it to enlist Mirelly-Lyra's help, which in turn finally gives him full control of his ship's technology (the hostile Peerssa has decided that the woman is the last survivor of the State and will only obey her). As the novel closes, he is plotting to liberate the dikta and enable them to regain control of their own destiny.

Literary significance and reception

Jerry L. Parsons in his review for the Library Journal said that "A World Out of Time" was reminiscent in parts of "" and "To Your Scattered Bodies Go". And that the novel was "a wonderfully escapist adventure, this story has a minimum of character development and description, but a maximum of excitement."cite journal|last=Parsons|first=Jerry L.|date=1976-09-01|title=A World Out of Time (Book)|journal=Library Journal|volume=Vol. 101|issue=Issue 15|pages=p1800|issn=0363-0277]

Awards and nominations

"A World Out of Time" was a nominee for the following awards:

* 1977 Locus Award in the Novel category (5th Place) [cite web|url=http://www.locusmag.com/SFAwards/Db/Locus1977.html#nvls|title=The Locus Index to SF Awards: 1977 Locus Awards|accessdate=2008-05-27]
* 1977 Ditmar Award in the international science fiction category [cite web|url=http://www.locusmag.com/SFAwards/Db/Ditmar1977.html#intf|title=The Locus Index to SF Awards: 1977 Ditmar Awards|accessdate=2008-05-27]

Connections to other Niven works

The story does not take place in Niven's Known Space, but does appear to share the same background as two of his other novels, "The Integral Trees" and "The Smoke Ring", which also feature a worldwide State, "corpsicle" personality transfers, and a computer artificial intelligence personality in charge of a ramship expedition.

Literary reference

The protagonist's name is a play on that of the author James Branch Cabell, whom Niven also references in some of his other writing.


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