Stanley Schmidt’s The Sins of the Fathers is the first volume in his Kyyra duology. It was first published as an Analog serial in 1973 and came out in a mass-market paperback edition in 1976.
The starship Archaeopteryx is sent out with a three-man crew to a point 130 light-years from Earth, there to use modern astronomical equipment to intercept the wave front from the S Andromeda supernova. The ship returns with unexpected results.
Things did not go well on the ship. Dr. Donald Lewiston went mad and murdered skipper Dirk Borowski before he was subdued by ship’s mate Jonel Turabian. This is a major disappointment to Henry Clark, Lieutenant Commissioner of Grants, since the expedition falls under his purview.
Things will not go well for the Earth. Turabian informs his bosses that the core of the galaxy has exploded. A lethal wavefront of deadly radiation has spent 30,000 years creeping across the 30,000 light-years between the core and Earth. That wave front is at most twenty light-years from Earth.
Earth in 2015 has three obvious options.
- Do nothing and die.
- Construct vast subterranean facilities to wait out the million-year radiation storm.
- Take advantage of the fact the Rao-Chang paratachyonic drive is stupendously fast and dispatch a fleet of colony ships to M31, the Andromeda Galaxy.
Each option has its drawbacks. Doing nothing would result in the total extinction of the human species, along with all other life on Earth. Hiding underground for a million years is a daunting prospect. Starships are very expensive so only a few million people at best could be saved.
There is, however, a fourth option nobody anticipates. Aliens approach Clark, offering their assistance to save Earth. The Kyyra proposal? Attach enormous drives to the planet and dispatch it on a hundred-year mission to the Andromeda Galaxy. This “lifeboat Earth” scheme would mean considerable disruption and many mass extinctions, but it would save the greatest number of people.
Ideally, humanity would have to consent before such a plan was put into action. To Clark’s enormous frustration, however, a bare thirty percent of those polled support the “lifeboat Earth” plan. The sticking point is the aliens’ reluctance to explain their motives. Why do the aliens care what happens to Earth?
Until that answer is provided, deadlock. With the clock ticking down, humanity appears doomed.
I mention the serialization in Analog purely to have an excuse to mention the Frank Kelly Freas art, which is better than either of the book covers this received.
I feel compelled to point out that the three options prior to the Kyyra’s arrival are not mutually exclusive. Humans could build some tunnels, other humans could make some starships, and those who prefer to die can take advantage of neither. In fact, there’s no reason people cannot opt to freeze to death … although to be fair, the worry once the aliens arrive is not “is it morally correct to accept their offer?” so much as “Is this a complicated gambit to kill the human race?” And there really isn’t a way to sit out planetary destruction if that’s what the aliens are planning.
The Kyyra do have good reasons to want to help humans. I will explain, thus spoiling a half-century old book: they caused the core explosion1. As well, settling the Andromeda Galaxy requires skills they’ve long lost but that humans still have. The Kyyra have at great cost to themselves spent 30,000 years travelling at near-light speeds2 hoping to stumble across someone like humanity3. There’s as much self-dealing in their proposal as guilt.
Only a churl would point out had the Kyyra not opted for near-light speed, they could have used the last 30,000 years to thoroughly scout the Milky Way and develop that skill set they currently do not have. For that matter, given that they build world-sized ships, they could have offered humans a lifeboat the size of the Moon (with nested deck area larger than the Earth). There is a very good reason that they did not do this, which is that Schmidt had worked out the math for moving the Earth and didn’t want it to go to waste.
To quote my editor: “Why the hell is a lieutenant commissioner of grants in charge of the fate of Earth? This seems bonkers.” Why the Kyyra prefer to deal with Clark in particular rather than someone with a better chance of swaying humanity isn’t convincingly addressed in the book. However, one of Analog’s stock plots involves The Man Who Knows Better dealing with the idiot masses and his — it was pretty always his — obstructive bosses. This plot requires the protagonist to be at least one step from the pinnacle of the bureaucratic pyramid.
When I say “ideally, humanity would have to consent,” I am of course lying. Ideally, humanity will be indecisive, which would then justify Clark taking unilateral action far out of his pay grade. The S. Andromeda mission was inspired by a John W. Campbell, Jr. comment and the novel itself is very much in the Campbell tradition. Which is to say, firmly devoted to what one might call a “leader principle,” in which the masses will be given the same firm, top-down guidance from Clark, a minor unelected UN functionary, that they would demand if only they were reasonable.
The fact that the aliens and Clark want to save as many people as possible, even Inuit and Africans (not the actual terms used in the novel) is unusual. SF has been way too fond of solutions involving pushing all non-Europeans (and most Europeans) out of the lifeboat. The book is also unusual in that it regrets the loss of other terrestrial species, who are unlikely to flourish during the great migration.
I might have speculated that this book was inspired by astronomer/kook Sir Fred Hoyle’s 1973 The Inferno (Earth faces incineration by quasar). I think the more likely inspiration was Larry Niven and his Known Space galactic core explosion, which was first introduced in 1966’s “At the Core.” Indeed, this book explains that the core went kerblewie thanks to a chain reaction of supernovas, the same explanation given by Niven. Though Schmidt does add his own twist…
It’s regrettable, therefore, that the novel is very much in the late Campbellian tradition, which is to say not especially well written and featuring a plot that does not bear close examination. The book is at least quite short. Plus, there’s a sequel!
1: Although the aliens are careful to point out no Kyyra now living caused the explosion and that the current generation is as much victimized as are the humans by earlier, regrettable, Kyyra decisions.
2: Actually, speeds slightly faster than light, which for reasons I won’t explain also involve time dilation.
3: The Kyyra aren’t as humanlike as one might initially think; they don’t engage in war, which is a practice (and a concept) that horrifies them.