I remember reading this short story sometime in the 1980's. The story could be older though - perhaps as far back as the 1950's. It had an Asimov/Clarke feel to it, but I can't remember who wrote it.

In the story, there is a civilisation that survives by living in towns/small cities. They can act, move around - but periodically a dome will appear. Not sure if the people activate it, or whether it is automatic, but the people know when its about to happen.

When the dome is active, everything inside the dome is frozen - time is literally at a standstill. The domes are usually switched on for dozens of years at a time. I think this was to protect the inhabitants from something.

One person gets trapped outside the dome. Much of the story takes place hundreds of years later, when her journals are discovered, and tell of her travels across the planet. She was alone the whole time, but discovered much.

That's about all I can remember.

  • @Otis - based on the comments below, and that question, they do appear to be the same series. That question didn't come up for me when I searched - likely differences in terminology, and me thinking of a specific story.
    – Tim
    Nov 11, 2016 at 0:21
  • see also scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/213695/… for a question about another novella in this collection
    – Otis
    Jun 9, 2019 at 18:36

2 Answers 2


An episode like this is one of the main plot points of Vernor Vinge's 1986 novel Marooned in Realtime which takes place in the same universe as The Peace war and "The Ungoverned", though rather a lot later than either. It also shares one character from each of the earlier works.

The book was originally serialized in Analog and also appeared in the omnibus collection Across Realtime.

The novel is basically a murder mystery in which the stranding of the lone human is the means by which the murder was committed. While by no means as old as you suggest the style of the book does put me a bit in mind of an earlier era of science fiction writing.

Things you might recall if this is the right story:

  • The story takes place about on Earth, but about 50,000,000 years after the present day and both the victim of the plot and the investigating officer find themselves in severe physical danger from the unfamiliar fauna (exploding scavenger beetles and pack-hunting dogoids).
  • The story takes place (long) after a technological singularity in which most of humanity disappeared from the Earth. The characters of the story represent the last survivors on the human race embodied and present in human form. Whether there are other survivors is not known.
  • The use of the word "bobble" for the time-freezing force fields.
  • The characters divide into a few who have access to technology from shortly before the singularity (high techs) and many who do not (low tech). Many of the low techs were criminally embobbled in their original era and arrived with no survival tools of their own. Others were the criminals who sentence was to be bobbled forward to shortly after the emergence of their victim. A sub-plot revolves around the measures used to keep victims from attacking perpetrators.
  • The victim of the murder—afraid of ubiquitous, but unobtrusive high-tech surveillance—befriended some barely subs-sapient humanoids and used them to help get her message out.
  • The perpetrator of the plot was sentenced to live out his (high-tech supported) lifespan alone while the rest of the colony bobbled forward.

The book was nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula and won the Prometheus.

  • Looked it up, and read some excerpts - certainly this seems to be the story I was thinking about. The name Marta as the murdered character definitely rings a bell.
    – Tim
    Nov 11, 2016 at 0:23

I'm pretty sure this is Vernor Vinge's Marooned in Realtime, not a short story but actually a novel, however it was serialized in Analog magazine in May-August of 1986, and so if you only read one of those issues you might have mistaken it for a shorter work.

The central technology involves "bobbles", spheres in which time doesn't pass for any period of time. It's completely impenetrable in that time. Once the technology was developed and widely understood (the tale of which is another novel, The Peace War), people began using it for various reasons, some just to explore the future, some to escape danger, some to criminally send somebody out of the way without killing them, etc. Many people used it for long distance jumps to the future... except, at sometime in the 23rd century, anyone who emerged from a bobble found Earth abandoned, except for other bobbles. Since the survivors weren't enough to restart humanity, people began jumping in tandem, collecting people from later time bobbles when their time to emerge came up. At one point, one of the leaders of this colony was "murdered" by being left outside of a scheduled jump, and her journals are part of the evidence that the detective looks through.

  • I have been thinking of searching for a book which sounds very similar to this, but wasn't sure how/where to start my search (here, obviously, I now know). Do either of these start with the pilot of a military jet witnessing a nuclear world war? A very moving scene, as I remember it (bites tongue to prevent mentioning current political events ;-) Btw, anyone who liked that one might also like Brian Stableford's The Walking Shadow
    – Mawg
    Nov 10, 2016 at 8:33
  • 2
    @Mawg The Peace War opens from the point of view of a mission specialist on a military, suborbital intelligence flight witnessing an attack (with bobbles, not nuclear weapons). You could have read the omnibus Across Realtime which contains both books. Nov 10, 2016 at 17:22

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