Between the Strokes of Night

Between the Strokes of Night (1985) is a science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. The story is divided in two vastly separated time periods: the near future of 2010, and the far future of 29,000 AD. Due to the unique technological mechanisms of the novel, the same cast of characters appears in both parts, though it is not a time travel story.

Plot summary

The story begins in the year 2010, which was 25 years in the future from the time of the novel's writing. A UN financed research lab is pursuing a strange goal: manipulate metabolism and brain function in order to eliminate the need for sleep. They are currently working on Kodiak bears and domestic cats, but hope to adapt their techniques to humans. The world situation is very dire. Global warming is in full swing. Crop failures and production shortfalls are dragging down the standard of living, with no sign of relenting. Political tensions are very high.

Meanwhile, an eccentric billionaire industrialist has privately financed the construction of many massive orbital arcologies. Via asteroid mining these space stations have become the world's single richest entity. The UN cuts funding for the zero-sleep lab and the industrialist hires their entire staff to work in his primary station.

In the middle of the scientist's rocket approach to the station, catastrophe strikes. China, whose population is suffering massive famine, launched a desperate nuclear attack against the West. The mutually assured destruction policy plays out and the new station residents watch as the world is destroyed below them. The industrialist is so distraught by the end of Earth civilization he suffers a fatal heart attack. His dying words to the chief scientist instruct her that his real motive for hiring them was to research suspended animation technology. His dream is to fit the arcologies with interstellar drives and create human colonies on extrasolar planets.

The novel then begins Part II nearly 30,000 years later. On a planet called Pentecost in the Eta Cassiopeiae system, a large human civilization of indeterminate technological level now exists. A standout feature of their culture is "Planetfest" a series of grueling endurance challenges. The top 25 finalists are given large prizes like high government positions or land holdings. This civilization is only aware of their Earth origins in a legendary sense. They have limited space travel capacity, and citizens who go to work in space come back with rumors about beings called Immortals, who apparently live forever and can travel light years in days, and have some kind of shadowy influence on their planetary government.

The story follows a Planetfest contestant, Peron, who has just found he finished in 3rd place. This year the winners are all taken to space, where further competition will send the top 10 to meet and work with the mysterious Immortals. Peron makes fast friends with the other top finalists and during their next cycle of challenges begin to uncover suspicious elements of the Immortals, Planetfest, and their entire society. During one of the off-planet trials, Peron is critically injured and another contestant (a ringer for the Immortals) makes a snap decision to bring him to the Immortals prematurely in order to save his life.

Peron awakens on a space ship in a strange dream-like state, and is introduced to the ship's Immortal crew, some of whom are scientists from the first part of the book. They consider Peron a nuisance for circumventing the normal process of being indoctrinated into Immortal society from a distance before meeting them. He is given very little information, but witnesses the Immortals teleport throughout the ship and make objects appear in their hands at will. His compatriates are all being held in suspended animation. Peron breaks away from the Immortal's monitoring and discovers the secret to their power. He gains control of the ship, awakens his friends, and holds the ship hostage until the Immortals explain what's going on.

The last 30 millennia of human history is then summarized quickly. After the nuclear holocaust the self-sufficient space arcologies (with a total population less than 1 million) began to fragment and some went off looking for new planets, as their industrialist founder had intended. The majority stayed in earth orbit, continuing to use the resources available in our home system. The travellers developed very slowly, because they had to spend all their energy on survival in deep space. Those left behind continued scientific research and tried to re-colonize Earth, but the severe nuclear winter led into 10,000 year ice age.

Their crowning scientific achievement was called Mode II Consciousness or S-Space. This was an accidental byproduct of their zero-sleep project, which revealed a way to slow human metabolism and consciousness such that they would remain fully aware, but perceive time at 1/2000th the normal rate. This explains how they live "forever" and can travel between stars in "days", because they are calculated from the subjective perspective of someone living in S-Space. The Immortals' ability to make objects appear in their hands instantly, is just a result of service robots placing the object in their hand at normal speed, which is too fast to notice from the perspective of S-Space.

After this discovery, the leading arcology decides to track down the traveling arcologies. Their trip takes place in S-Space so they never age, gaining their Immortal moniker. Meanwhile, the normal space (N-space) travellers have endured hundreds of generations and repeated political upheavals. The Immortals discover that due to their twisted metabolisms they cannot breed. Using their vastly superior technology, they control the new planet-based colonies from behind the scenes and use the Planetfest games as a recruiting method to reinforce their numbers. Peron and company commandeer the ship and go back to their legendary roots of Earth, while in S-Space.

En route they realize that centuries have passed on their homeworld and there is no point in ever returning. The ship also encounters shadowy deep-space life forms of ambiguous intelligence, who are only visible from S-space. The Immortal crew dismisses this routine sighting as just another mystery of the galaxy. Peron arrives on Earth, finding it as nothing more than a mostly frozen nature preserve. They discuss their next move and resolve to uncover more secrets about the Immortals. While in orbit around Earth they detect that a large portion of the radio traffic throughout the Immortals' communication network seems to be coming from nowhere.

When they track down the location they find the hidden Immortal headquarters isolated in deep space. Peron's gang manages to evade security and stowaway aboard a supply ship bound for the headquarters. Upon arrival they are immediately captured by the superior security at HQ. Here they meet the other scientist characters from Part I and are congratulated for coming so far. They are invited to become equal partners in the quest to solve a new problem.

Apparently the deep space life forms they briefly saw previously, are miniature versions of giant entities situated in the gulfs of deep space between galaxies. These enormous beings are unquestionably intelligent, and the Immortal HQ is actually a research station entirely devoted to studying them. These beings communicate on extremely long wavelengths, which are so slow, even S-Space is woefully inadequate to process them. However Immortals have interpreted some signals, which seem to indicate the Deep Space Beings predict that the stars in the spiral arm will all mysteriously go dark in the next 40,000 years; an impossibly short time on the cosmological scale. Whether the Deep Space beings are actively causing this artificial transformation is unknown.

To better understand the problem, the Immortals are devising a new T-Space which is an even more radical slowing of human consciousness. Peron's group agree to help, but insist on building a new facility that will be operated only in N-space, resisting the logic that S-Space is superior method of operation. After much debate, the Immortal scientists agree to the plan. The narrative ends here, but the last few pages are from the perspective of one of Peron's friends who has volunteered as a guinea pig for T-Space. He relates the last 5 T-minutes of the universe, which is over 1000 years of normal time. He witnesses the final Big Crunch while somehow he and the deep space beings remain unaffected by the singularity.

External links

Charles Sheffield

Charles Sheffield (25 June 1935 – 2 November 2002) was an English-born mathematician, physicist and science fiction writer who served as a President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America and of the American Astronautical Society.His novel The Web Between the Worlds, featuring the construction of a space elevator, was published almost simultaneously with Arthur C. Clarke's novel on the subject, The Fountains of Paradise, a coincidence that amused them both. Excerpts from both Sheffield's The Web Between the Worlds and Clarke's The Fountains of Paradise have appeared recently in a space elevator anthology Towering Yarns.

Sheffield served as Chief Scientist of Earth Satellite Corporation, a company that processed remote sensing satellite data. The association gave rise to many technical papers and two popular non-fiction books, Earthwatch and Man on Earth, both collections of false-colour and enhanced images of Earth from space.

He won the Nebula and Hugo awards for his novelette "Georgia on My Mind" and the 1992 John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel for his novel Brother to Dragons.Sheffield was Toastmaster at BucConeer, the 1998 World Science Fiction Convention in Baltimore.

Before he died, he was writing a column for the Baen Books web site; his last column concerned the discovery of the brain tumour that led to his death.

Cold as Ice (novel)

Cold as Ice (1992) is a science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. The setting takes place in the late 21st Century with humans having colonized the Solar System, and a terrible civil war recently resolved in which 50% of humanity was wiped out. The plot follows an eclectic group of characters sorting out a mystery initiated during the early days of the war. Like most of Sheffield's books, in addition to hard scifi descriptions of a convincing future world, intricate psychologies of the major characters play a crucial role.

Cold as Ice has been through six editions and remains in print more than twenty years after initial publication.

Convergence (novel)

Convergence (1997) is a science fiction novel in the Heritage Universe series by American writer Charles Sheffield. This book is a sequel to Transcendence.

Divergence (novel)

Divergence (1991) is a science fiction novel by American writer Charles Sheffield, part of his Heritage Universe series. The book, the sequel to Summertide, takes place millennia in the future when most of the Orion Arm of the galaxy has been colonized by humans and other races. Among the various star systems of this arm of the galaxy, a number of million-year-old artifacts have been discovered, remnants of a mysterious race called the Builders.

The characters of this book start just a few days after the previous book left off to go in search of a newly discovered artifact. This book introduces a few new characters that become important throughout the rest of the series. The characters work together to discover a new theory about the origins and current condition of the Builders. During this process, they discover that an old menace to the universe, thought to be extinct, has been unleashed upon the Orion Arm of the Milky Way once again.

The novel includes excerpts from the Lang Universal Artifact Catalog (Fourth Edition), and from the Universal Species Catalog (Subclass:Sapients).

The sequel to Divergence is Transcendence.

Godspeed (Sheffield novel)

Godspeed is a 1993 novel by American author Charles Sheffield.

On the isolated planet of Erin, young Jay Hara has grown up on dreams of space and legends of the fabled Godspeed drive, which once allowed humans to travel at translight speeds. After meeting Paddy Enderton, a seedy old spacer, Jay is drawn into a chase which carries him off the planet, into the asteroid belt and its tiny worldlets, and finally to the remnants of an ancient space station where the Godspeed drive may still exist. Along the way, Jay is at once awed and terrified of the piratical spacers who crew the ship, particularly the smooth-talking, ruthless captain, Daniel Shaker. Struggling to reconcile his admiration for Shaker with the man's evident viciousness, Jay eventually comes into his own as a spacer and an adult.

Hard science fiction

Hard science fiction is a category of science fiction characterized by an emphasis on scientific accuracy. The term was first used in print in 1957 by P. Schuyler Miller in a review of John W. Campbell's Islands of Space in the November issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The complementary term soft science fiction, formed by analogy to hard science fiction, first appeared in the late 1970s. The term is formed by analogy to the popular distinction between the "hard" (natural) and "soft" (social) sciences. Science fiction critic Gary Westfahl argues that neither term is part of a rigorous taxonomy; instead they are approximate ways of characterizing stories that reviewers and commentators have found useful.Stories revolving around scientific and technical consistency were written as early as the 1870s with the publication of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870 and Around the World in Eighty Days in 1873, among other stories. The attention to detail in Verne's work became an inspiration for many future scientists and explorers, although Verne himself denied writing as a scientist or seriously predicting machines and technology of the future.

Higher Education (novel)

Higher Education is a 1996 science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield and Jerry Pournelle. The book is part of the Jupiter series and was published through Tor Books.

Interstellar travel in fiction

Interstellar travel is a common feature of fiction such as science fiction and fantasy.

My Brother's Keeper (Sheffield novel)

My Brother's Keeper is a 1982 science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield, published as a paperback original by Ace Books in 1982. It was reissued by Baen Books in 2000.

The story takes place in approximately 2000 from the perspective of the early 80s. The hero of the story is a professional concert pianist, who has a twin brother who does mysterious work for the US State Department. The brothers are in a helicopter crash and in order for one of them to survive, doctors use experimental neurosurgery to combine parts of their remaining brains. When the patient awakens, the pianist brother is in control of the body, but has access to his brother's memories and realizes he must complete the spy's last mission for him.

Nimrod Hunt

Nimrod Hunt is a science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. The story takes place hundreds of years in the future, with humanity having extensively colonized surrounding space, including beyond the solar system. Humans have encountered three extraterrestrial races, which although all bizarrely different in physiology and psychology coexist peacefully. In order to defend from unknown threats beyond known space, a security company creates highly advanced robotic soldiers to patrol the border. These go haywire and become the single greatest threat. A series of four-member teams, with a representative from each species, is dispatched to deal with the problem. The action of the story follows one such team.

The novel was revised as The Mind Pool with a different ending. In the preface to The Mind Pool, the author describes how he was unhappy with the original.

Resurgence (novel)

Resurgence (2002) is a science fiction novel by American writer Charles Sheffield, the finale of the Heritage Universe and the last book he published. Following the previous book in the series, Convergence, there are no more Builder artifacts left in the part of the galaxy explored by the four clades of the Orion Arm. However, an envoy from the neighboring Sagittarius Arm shows a short route to that arm and the ship's dead passengers carry an ominous message: a force even stronger than the Builders is consuming whole star systems in the neighboring arm.

The team gets together one last time in an attempt to find the envoy's home planet. They work to discover if the Builders touched the Sag arm in a way similar to the local arm. They attempt to see if the source of this mysterious enemy can be found so that future generations may study it and find a way to stop it before it reaches the local arm in the millennia ahead.


Summertide (1990) is a science fiction novel by American writer Charles Sheffield, the first of his series of Heritage Universe. The story takes place millennia in the future, with humans having extensively colonized our spiral arm of the Milky Way and having encountered a number of intelligent alien races. Littered throughout the galaxy are hundreds of massive abandoned engineering projects built by a mysterious race, referred to as The Builders, extinct for three million years. An eclectic group of scientists and opportunists are descending upon one such artifact at a time when its surrounding environment is extremely dangerous to study an unusual phenomenon.

The novel includes excerpts from the Lang Universal Artifact Catalog (Fourth Edition), describing several Builder artifacts.

Divergence is the next book in the series.

The Billion Dollar Boy

The Billion Dollar Boy is a 1997 science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. The story takes place centuries in the future where asteroid mining is a major industry. Earth's population is 14 billion, most live in poverty. The protagonist is Shelby Cheever, a spoiled, exceedingly rich teenager, who lords his wealth over everyone around him, while taking pride in being completely unproductive. In a drunken vacation mishap, Shelby accidentally ends up in a remote mining colony with no easy return, due to entering a FTL translation node without setting the coordinates. There he is forced to work hard to survive, and interact with his new shipmates as equals. Through both routine labor, and many misadventures, Shelby endures much positive character building.

This book is a future retelling of Kipling's Captains Courageous. Same plot: spoiled rich kid gets high [drunk] and falls off an ocean liner [spaceship] into the ocean [a wormhole node]. He is picked up by a fishing boat [space mining ship] and forced to work for/with them for several months until the hold is full. There is even the mysterious Pennsylvania Pratt [Scrimshander Limes] who has forgotten his identity after a personal tragedy and remembers it temporarily while saving shipwreck [sabotage] victims.

The book is a relatively light adventure tale, by Sheffield standards, and serves mainly as a platform for the author's views on child rearing, while giving some hard science fiction theories about far future technology and economics.

The Cyborg from Earth

The Cyborg from Earth is a 1998 science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. It is the fourth in a series of unrelated stories, published by Tor Books in their Jupiter line.

The Diamond Drill

"The Diamond Drill" is a science fiction novelette by Charles Sheffield. It was first published in Analog Science Fiction and Fact in April 2002, and subsequently republished in Year's Best SF 8 in June 2003.

The Ganymede Club

The Ganymede Club is a science fiction novel by American writer Charles Sheffield, published in 1995. A mystery and a thriller, the story unravels in the same universe that Sheffield imagined in Cold as Ice. Shortly after humanity begins colonisation of the solar system, a trade war sets off vicious civil war that kills billions. The book received favorable reviews from Library Journal and Kirkus Reviews, as well as in the science-fiction press. It was ranked #14 in SF novels in the 1996 Locus awards. The novel has been translated into Italian and was published as Memoria impossibile in 1998 in the magazine Urania. In 2009 Bastei Lübbe published a German language edition in Germany.

The Web Between the Worlds

The Web Between the Worlds is the first science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. It was published as a hardback original by Sidgwick & Jackson Ltd in 1980. The paperback edition was originally published by Ace Books in 1981, and was reissued by Baen Books. This novel and the simultaneously published novel The Fountains of Paradise, by Arthur C. Clarke, are the first popularization of the space elevator.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow (novel)

Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a 1997 science fiction novel by Charles Sheffield. The book starts in approximately the year 2020 and follows the extremely protracted adventures of Drake Merlin, in his obsessive quest to save his wife from a terminal brain disease, over the course of eons. Similar premises are presented in the 2006 film The Fountain, as well as the Isaac Asimov story "The Last Question".

Transcendence (Sheffield novel)

Transcendence (1992) is a science fiction novel by American writer Charles Sheffield, part of his Heritage Universe series. This book is the sequel to Divergence and Summertide.

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