[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
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Typical Passage


by Robert J. Sawyer

Copyright © 1996 by Robert J. Sawyer
All Rights Reserved.

When giving readings at bookstores, I often don't read the opening of a novel; rather, I look for a typical passage that embodies the flavor and theme of the book. I find that in a book superstore, where the acoustics are usually quite lousy, a six- or seven-minute reading is ideal. This is the passage I often read from Starplex.

       There was silence on Starplex's bridge for a time, broken only by the gentle hiss from the air-circulating equipment and the occasional soft beep from a control panel. Each person contemplated the small fuzzy blot of light that one day would give rise to all of them, contemplated the fact that they were farther out in space than anyone had ever been before, contemplated the vastly empty darkness all around them.

       Six billion light-years.

       Keith remembered reading about Borman, Lovell, and Anders, the Apollo 8 astronauts who had circled the moon over Christmas of 1968, reading passages from Genesis back to the people on Earth. They had been the first human beings to get far enough from the homeworld so that they could cup it in an outstretched hand. Maybe more than any other single event, that view, that perspective, that image, had marked childhood's end for humanity — the realization that all their world was one tiny ball floating against the night.

       And now, thought Keith, maybe — just maybe — this image was the one that marked the beginning of middle age: a still frame that would become the frontispiece of volume two of humanity's biography. It wasn't just Earth that was tiny, insignificant, and fragile. Keith lifted his hand and reached out toward the hologram, cupping the island of stars in his fingers. He sat silently for a long moment, then lowered his hand, and allowed his eyes to wander over the overwhelming dark emptiness that spread out in all directions. His gaze happened to pass over Jag — who was doing exactly what Keith had done a moment ago, using one of his hands to cup the Milky Way.

       "Excuse me, Keith," said Lianne, the first words spoken by anyone on the bridge for several minutes. Her voice was soft, subdued, the way one would talk in a cathedral. "The electrical system is repaired. We can launch that probe anytime you like."

       Keith nodded slowly. "Thank you," he said, his voice wistful. He looked once more at the young Milky Way floating in the darkness, and then said softly, "Rhombus, let's have a look at what's going on back home."

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