Read a book in 80s, futuristic sci fi. Protagonist drives a retrofitted old car from planet to planet through 'portals'. The portals have huge spinning cylinders on either side that kill if the driver isn't lined up properly. Can't remember much else.....anyone have a clue as to what book this is?

  • THAT IS IT! Thank you so much, didn't realize it was a trilogy.....ordering now. – Renard Dec 4 '16 at 3:32

This is the Skyway trilogy by John DeChancie, which is also the (unaccepted) answer to the old questions "Trilogy Involving Time Travel and 'Bugs' that Patrol Futuristic Highways" and "Looking for a book called Redline Fever". The three titles are Starrigger (1983), Red Limit Freeway (1984), and Paradox Alley (1987). The main character, Jake McGraw, drives a futuristic big truck, but at one point he has to steal a modified 1957 Chevy to make a getaway.

Here is a description of a portal (Starrigger, chapter 1):

I could see the tollbooths now—"Kerr-Tipler objects" is what they're formally called, though there are many names for them—titanic dark cylinders thrust up against the sky like an array of impossibly huge grain silos lying along the road, some almost five kilometers high.

"Six kilometers and closing," Sam said. "On track."

"Check." Signs were coming up. I signaled for English.





The map—a big oblong of blue-painted metal sticking out of the sand—looked new and obtrusive, as did the roadsigns, so obviously not an artifact of the ancient race that built the Skyway. The Roadbuilders didn't believe in signs . . . or maps. We rolled on toward the aperture. I looked over to check if our passenger had strapped herself in correctly. She had. A veteran of the road. Sam kept reading out our speed as I kept the rig trimmed for entry. Another series of signs came up.




"Right in the slot," Sam said. "Everything's green for entry."

"Check." The flashing red commit markers shot past and we were in the middle of a gravitational tug-of-war between the spinning cylinders of collapsed matter which created the E–R bridge. They heaved past, towering black monoliths spaced at various intervals alongside the road, their bases hovering a few centimeters off the crushed earth, all different sizes, invisibly spinning at unimaginable speeds. The trick was to keep your velocity constant so that the cylinders could balance out the conflicting tidal stresses they generated. If you slowed or speeded up, you were in danger of getting a head bounced off the roof or a port. Worse, you could overturn, or lose control and go off the road altogether. In either case, there'd be nothing left of you to send back to the folks but some squashed nucleons and a puff of degenerate electron gas, and it's hard to find the right size box for those.

At the end of the line of cylinders there was a patch of fuzzy blackness. We dove into it.

And got through. The desert was gone and we were flying over road that cut through dense green jungle under a low and leaden sky. We had a 500-kilometer stretch until we hit Mach City, where I had planned to stop for a sleeper. Sam took over and I settled back.

Here is the part where Jake steals the Chevy (Starrigger, chapter 9):

There it was. The antique automobile, parked on the street in front of the store. The motor was running.

It had a key! Not an electronic signaller/beacon/radio like Sam's key, but a key, for God's sake, a piece of metal that fit into a mechanical lock. I marveled at the interior, the metal grillwork of the dash, the blue fur of the seats, the pink shaggy carpeting of the floor, the pair of fuzzy dice hanging from the rearview mirror . . . and the wheel, the steering wheel. Sweet Mother, a wheel with a shiny knob stuck to it. What was this? A gear shift, angling out from the salient bump on the floor that bisected the interior, a big old gearshift tipped with a bulbous handle with an H engraved on it. Like this:

[gearshift diagram]

Gears? Steering wheel? Manually operated windows that appeared to be made of glass? This was no Skyway-worthy vehicle. Wait a minute. Oh, here they were, under the dash, the readouts. Not the funny oil pressure and water-temperature gauges, the real ones hidden away: plasma temp, current delta, everything. This was a fusion-powered roadster. A mock-up, not the real thing. But still, what the hell was this? A clutch! Just like in the books. It couldn't be, but I saw no other way of operating the thing.

Here is the Wikipedia plot summary:

The Skyway series differs from the Castle series significantly; where the Castle series is humorous fantasy, the Skyway series is action-adventure science fiction. The Skyway series traces the adventures of Jake McGraw, who drives a futuristic cargo truck on the Skyway. The Skyway itself is a mysterious road, built by an unknown race of aliens, which runs across various planets from one portal to another. Driving through a portal (a "tollbooth") instantaneously transports you onto a different planet, many light years away. Humans found the Skyway on Pluto and began expanding along it, encountering various alien races along the way. However no one has a map, or knows where the Skyway begins or ends, and because each portal is one-way, only explored sections with a known return path (discovered by trial and error) are considered safe to travel.

At the beginning of the first book Jake finds himself in trouble because a number of parties, both human and alien, are convinced that he has found a map. Some are willing to kill to get it. Jake knows that he does not have a map, but no one believes him. At this point Jake is accompanied only by his father, Sam, who is actually dead but has been "converted" into an artificial intelligence unit that is built into the truck. The truck itself is a large tractor trailer unit, powered by nuclear fusion and capable of operating in a vacuum. The truck's cab can hold 8 or more people and has built-in bunks for sleeping. At the beginning of the first book Jake stops to pick up a hitchhiker (the beautiful and mysterious Darla), which is the beginning of a trend: over the course of the trilogy more and more people are riding with Jake while more and more people are also pursuing him. By the end of the trilogy Jake and his companions have reached the end of the Skyway, met with the beings that created it, and returned months earlier than when they left, bringing the trilogy to a conclusion.

  • Tipler cylinders really are time machines. Sadly, to work they need to be infinitely long so we won't be building one any time soon. – John Rennie Nov 28 '16 at 10:41
  • 1
    @JohnRennie The page you linked to says "if its length were infinite or with the existence of negative energy." Whatever that means. Anyway it's a good story. There wouldn't be much SF to read if we were limited to stuff that makes scientific sense, now would there? – user14111 Nov 28 '16 at 10:57

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