Take Your Time

A collection including Clarke’s “Refugee”. This edition published by Corgi Books 1966. Cover art by Ralph Brillhart.

The desire to travel faster and faster may not necessarily have to be the sole focus of human endeavours so far as future space travel is concerned.  We tend to assume that speed is everything, but it might be that interplanetary voyages could be undertaken for the pleasure of the journey, and the experiences they have to offer, rather than just getting from A to B as quickly as possible. 

One only has to think of the grand ocean liners of the early twentieth century, or the tales of travellers in the past who spent many years to reach their final destination, to realise that sometimes travel itself can have its attractions.  The fact that slower journeys may have their benefits is a subject we consider in the latest edition of Odyssey, which has just been issued.

Arthur C Clarke touched briefly on this in his short story Refugee, which was included in his excellent 1958 collection The Other Side of the Sky.  The background to this tale is the development of a new form of space travel by “silent, gravity-defying ships” which are a vast improvement on the old rockets which shook the ground for miles around when taking off.  “When the Centaurus takes off, she goes up as quickly as a balloon – and as slowly, if she wants to.”  We feel that the possibility of slower flight may have its advantages, and may certainly be less stressful for all concerned.

Really leisurely space flight featured in the 1963 comedy film The Mouse on the Moon.  The tiny country of Grand Fenwick manages to be the first country to land men on the Moon (at a time when that feat had not yet been accomplished in real life) after an extremely gentle take-off due to the peculiar rocket fuel being used, and an estimate that it would take the rocket at least three weeks to reach its destination – “we’re in no hurry”.  It’s nothing that would disturb afternoon tea.

And speed may not be essential if one travels for the pleasure of travelling itself.  In Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes from 1879, Robert Louis Stevenson explained to the reader that “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go.  I travel for travel’s sake.  The great affair is to move…”  When travelling through the glories of the cosmos, especially in a vessel which has been specifically tailored to provide for one’s every need, then the journey itself may be something to be enjoyed.

It’s also worth bearing in mind that, as we’ve discussed many times before in the pages of Odyssey, other planets may not be the highly attractive places that science fiction so often leads us to believe.  They will more likely tend to be grim and unpleasant locations, largely inimical to human life, though nonetheless essential to our expansion through the cosmos.  The prospect of leaving the engineered comfort of a habitat to venture out into a hostile environment is unlikely to appeal to anyone.

So why even leave the comfort of your spaceship, where gravity and other aspects of the environment will have been arranged carefully to suit the precise needs of the human body, if you have the choice?  Perhaps observe what’s happening on a planet’s surface from a safe and comfortable distance.  But if that’s all you’re going to do, one could be forgiven for asking why one should bother to go in the first place – just let some robotic craft do the observations while you sit at home watching it all on screen.  No, the reason is because we’re back with the idea of a luxury liner, travelling to distant lands with all the possibilities of actually being there but at no stage losing the comforts of home.  And, if you’re enjoying yourself in the process, there might be no rush at all.

Maybe it is indeed the case that, as Stevenson himself said in his 1878 essay El Dorado, to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.  A thought which, depending on what might face the travellers concerned at their destination, could be particularly relevant in space.

Richard Hayes, Assistant Editor (Odyssey)

With a lifetime’s interest in science, history and human behaviour, Richard Hayes focuses his writing on how the imagination has created the world in which we live, and where it may lead us in the future.  Odyssey, the e-magazine of the British Interplanetary Society, draws on the rich treasury of science fiction to explore many fields of speculation, enabling us to glimpse what might yet be, both here on Earth and out amongst the stars.

For related Odyssey posts, please click here: Hitching a Ride Around the Solar System | Sanctuary, Sanctuary

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