I'm looking for the name of a scifi short story.

I'm pretty sure it is in one of the 'Years Best in Science Fiction' but I have like ten of them and they are huge so I don't know which one it is in.

My memory of it is hazy but it is something like: a story that starts with two young people on a boat, and ends with them fighting against each other in space combat decades later.

The general concept behind the story is that regardless of how much you want something, or how skilled you are, there are the unchanging laws of physics at play.

If the delta V between the two ships is such, then the pilots skill won't matter; you can't break the laws of physics. The main character can see the other ship, but he knows he will never close the distance, he can only watch as it recedes, and the suggestion is that these two people started their trajectories on that boat so long ago, their delta V even then was off, so he was destined to not catch the ship, his destiny written so long ago. I think maybe they were in a race on the boat and one had the wind behind him or her. Not sure. I think they were both trainees at the time. I don't recall them being on earth...I think they were aliens or a far-flung future society.

It was mostly a meditation on the nature of conservation of momentum and the entropy and destiny taking decades to play out.

  • could be an honor harrington short story (or something else by David Webber), he loves talking about sailing in his stories and often describes his space combat in terms of delta V
    – mgh42
    Jan 14, 2020 at 0:15
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    Reminiscent of The Ethics of Madness by Niven but too many differences. isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?54194 Jan 14, 2020 at 0:54
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    @OrganicMarble I was thinking much the same thing as I began reading the question, but I agree it doesn't sound like the same one. In Niven's version, that race (or chase, rather) finally ended, after many millennia had gone past, when the pilot of the first ship got tired of just running away from his pursuer and started hoping a truce was finally possible (it wasn't).
    – Lorendiac
    Jan 14, 2020 at 1:01
  • I had read a similar question earlier and saw both suggestions for ethics and the long chase, but it is not either of those.
    – meecect
    Jan 14, 2020 at 1:16

1 Answer 1


I was thinking of 'The Tear' by Ian McDonald. It is in "The Year's best Science Fiction" 26th edition.

I had a number of details off in my question and had really forgotten the vast scope of the story. It does start with two characters sailing on a waterworld, but the story basically goes to the ends of the universe and the beginning of a new one. I haven't re-read the whole thing yet, just skimmed it to make sure it was the one I was thinking of. The story is pretty wild actually, and very surreal.


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