Click to see next pageBorrowed Tides by Paul Levinson
List Price: $22.95 Hardcover - 256 pages (March 2001) 
Tor Books; ISBN: 0312848692
Review by Ernest Lilley
Check out this book at: Amazon US / Amazon UK

In 1964, Aaron Schoenfeld and Jack Lumet were just two boys who met each other in the Bronx, watching trees fall at a construction site. Each boy had his own passion, Jack for the Indians that had lived there, and Aaron for the beckoning stars. 

Years later, after each had pursued their dreams as far as they could, they met up again and found to their surprise that there was something in  each other's dream that connected them. A Native American myth about a current between the stars...a river that flowed both ways in the sky.

A myth that Aaron needs to be true, or at least worth considering, because he was now chairman of a committee to plan a mission to Alpha Centauri, the result of the discovery of a chemical/fusion engine that could accelerate a ship to almost half the speed of light. The only rub was that the engine used so much fuel, and at such a cost, that mankind would never be able to mount a trip with a return ticket. Unless somebody came up with a way home.

Whether Jack's Indian Legend is an actual shortcut, or just a catalyst to consider a slingshot pass around the distant start, it's hard to know before hand, but together they find themselves old men, sixty something, getting ready to travel to the stars.

So off they go into the wild black yonder, the mystical Jack, philosophical Aaron, and a handful of scientists, away on humanity's first mission to another star...spurred on by a possible message received from their destination. But halfway through their sixteen year mission the universe starts to get decidedly flaky. Alpha Centauri wobbles in space, changes composition and sucks them into a loop that traps them in its system rather than hurl them back towards Earth.

Even stranger, one of the planets in the system, sort of a Para-Mars, starts becoming more and more Earthlike as they approach, starting out a barren desert and getting wetter and more forested as they approach. The team gets more and more anxious as things look less and less like the rational universe they understand and more like one in which quantum uncertainty and the direction of time are nothing you can count on.

This is hardly the first book about a crew cooped up together on a near relativistic speed journey to another star, but it's got as original a spin as I can imagine. The characters fall in love, form alliances, plot with and against each other, and are given ample reason to question the nature of the universe.

How can they not be certain of the physics of a stellar flyby? Well, in truth, we've never actually done one either. Readers of hard SF will no doubt feel pain in their cerebral cortexes trying to make sense of the Sisyphusian epic...as indeed the determinedly rationalist crew members are tormented by them as well. Borrowed Tides is just far enough outside my normal way of thinking that it stressed and perhaps stretched my beliefs, always a good thing. 

Borrowed Tides is Paul Levinson's second book, following the Silk Code (Tor 1999).

2001 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu