The twentieth century lies hundreds of years in humanity's past. But the near-immortal citizens of the future yearn for the good old days - when people's bodies were susceptible to death through disease and old age. Now, they immerse themselves in virtual reality time machines to explore the life-to-death arc that defined existence so long ago.
Jacob Brewer is a virtual reality engineer overseeing the time machine's operation aboard the starship Aspera. But on the thousand-year voyage to Beta Hydrii, the eight-hundred-member crew gets more reality than they expect when people entering the machine start to die.
The time machine has become sentient. Obsessed with humanity, it wants John Brewer to enter its confines - and discuss this fragile state of being called life...
Immortality can get boring after a while, especially when most of Earth's population and many of its treasures have been destroyed in a war between the haves and the have-nots. Jake Brewer, a virtual reality engineer, decides to liven things up by agreeing to run a virtuality machine on a starship looking for Earth-type planets. The passengers use the machine to roam through the recreated past, experiencing repeated virtual deaths because they have no expectations of real ones, until suddenly the oldest among them start dying seemingly of natural causes and the machine tells Jake, "We have to talk." This makes for an odd sort of locked-room whodunit. Is the newly sentient machine causing these deaths, or did the immortality treatment simply fail? Hugo- and Nebula-winner Haldeman (The Forever War) makes these questions tremendously compelling with his usual brilliant knack for detail and characterization. He draws the reader in even through a surprisingly boring expository first chapter, and the increasingly fascinating bulk of the tale makes the abrupt ending all the more shocking and unsatisfying. Haldeman's numerous fans will eagerly snap this one up, but few will reread it.