Probably read 30+ years ago. The book's plot is VERY similar to "Far Centaurus" by A. E. van Vogt. But when I saw it was a possible duplicate when asking the question, I read it and it is NOT the story I was thinking of.

The plot was virtually the same. but a couple things I remember that are different from "Far Centaurus".

  1. I think the slow ship was "discovered" in route to there destination, by an FTL ship that was regularly travelling the same route. And was "brought" the rest of the way by the FTL ship (or another ship designed to transport it) or the crew were brought and the slow ship left behind.

  2. Society/humanity had advance beyond the slow ship crew so much that the crew would not fit in with the "future" population. Their liaison presents several examples to show that they are just to primitive to fit in. The one I specifically remember was:

He points out a balcony window (or maybe from an upper level of a walkway) to the crowd walking on the sidewalk below. [It seems to me the sidewalk was very wide, maybe instead of a sidewalk it was the lower floor of a shopping mall type passageway. 20-30 feet wide] He directs their attention to a large gap, or bubble in the crowded walkway where no one was walking. (taking up like 1/2 or 2/3rds of the width of the walkway, obviously it would be inconveniencing everyone by having to walk around the space.

He tells them it is a [ Courtesy Circle(?) ] and that, at sometime in the past few minutes or so, someone (1st person) was having trouble moving through the crowd. (Maybe carrying bulky packages, or dealing with small children, etc.) Someone else (2nd person) walking the opposite direction, as a courtesy, moved to the right to allow the 1st person more room to get through the crowd. Then someone walking behind the 1st person, saw the courtesy of the 2nd person, and they also moved to their right, now creating a small space in the crowd. Then someone behind the 2nd person sees the 3rd person and they also move to the right, making a bigger space.

This happens over and over as more people seeing people coming from the opposite direction, displaying acts of courtesy, and they reciprocate, eventually creating large bubbles in the walkway which people are walking around.

One of the slow ship crew says something like, but how could the people walking now know about what happened 20 minutes ago. why don't they just fill in the gap now, so they don't have to crowd against the wall.

And the Liaison says something like: Of course they don't know the cause of the circle, but they are all honoring and showing courtesy for the initial action that caused it to form. That these "Circles" can last hours, and sometimes even days, before they shrink and eventually disappear. And he says that's the point, it's just one example of many ways in which society has advanced beyond you and you will never fit in.

I do not think the conclusion to the story was the same as "Far Centaurus" (time travel back to their own time) I have vague recollections of them being asked to do some "mission" for the future people. (travel somewhere to help with a problem the future people were no longer able to deal with. Like maybe an alien encounter, or starting a new colony)

  • 3
    Clarke's Childhood's End has something like what you were talking about - an empty spot on a busy sidewalk that everyone avoided to honor an small act of kindness that had happened there hours before.
    – MikeC
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 7:09
  • There is an old animation with a similar theme, not sure if it was adapted from the book. It was more like an education program discussing science and interesting themes. I'm trying to do some research now and find the name+episode, I can distinctly remember the older ship being passed by by increasingly improved ships, and then the older ship arriving to an already colonized world
    – nine9
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 9:08
  • @MikeC although there is interplanetary travel, Childhood's End is more about an Alien invasion so not sure it fits. Thanks for the suggestion though...I might take that one up next.
    – Sam
    Commented Feb 25, 2019 at 15:05
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    I remember very clearly the incident you describe, and that it showed that the aliens were ethically advanced instead of merely technologically advanced. I had thought that it was when the guy in Childhood's End went to visit the Overlord's planet, but I just checked, and I was mistaken. It was a similar journey though: a representative of not-yet-ready humanity having the alien federation's higher level of ethics explained to him by an alien on the alien's planet. But a different novel. Sorry for leading you astray.
    – MikeC
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 7:16
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    @NJohnny Have you checked all the literature entries for TV Tropes' Lightspeed Leapfrog? Lists 20 or so books that use the basic idea.
    – eshier
    Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 20:10

1 Answer 1


I'm going to guess ''Time for the Stars'' by Heinlein. In this story the and is "torch ship" meets many problems until it is almost incapacitated. It is then picked up by an FTL ship. They return to Earth, but they no longer understand society. I have not read it though, so I cannot say if it includes the scene you describe.

  • 1
    The described Courtesy Circle scene is not in Time for the Stars. Commented Feb 26, 2019 at 21:31
  • No Time for the Stars is the story with ships using Twins to maintain communications back to Earth by Telepathy. It is not the book I am trying to find.
    – NJohnny
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 7:08

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