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This may not be a golden-age story, but it was written in that style, with a primary focus on solving a scientific/technological challenge as the primary plot and limited characterization. It feels like it must be 20 years since I read it.

I recall the crew as being on the first voyage of an interstellar ship, possibly a prototype of a new FTL drive. The problem they encounter is that, trying to return home (probably Earth), they come out of drive too far from their destination (on the order of light days or months, I believe) to reach on normal-space drive but their FTL drive can't jump that short a distance.

There's something about this drive or the mechanism of controlling it that means there is effectively a lower limit on how far they can go. They can engage the drive to go 4 light years (or more), but they can't travel a short distance.

To get home the crew would need to jump away from home and then manage to jump back with better accuracy. Which is their problem - they already tried to make their most accurate jump home, but due to either unavoidable inaccuracy in their navigation system or unexpected variability in the drive (or possibly space itself) they didn't come out of drive close enough.

The crew don't have enough fuel or supplies to random walk and hope to reach home, so they need to figure out a way to either navigate more accurately or control the drive more precisely.

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  • Probably not the correct story, but sciencefictionone.com/scifi-short-stories/… has some similar themes.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Jul 14, 2021 at 14:15
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    Sounds like the first part of the "No World of Their Own" by Poul Anderson - first experimental spaceship, FTL investigations, strange jumps on the way back to Earth. Jul 14, 2021 at 14:33
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    Also a little like "Sail 25" by Jack Vance, but that was not an FTL spaceship....
    – Alith
    Jul 14, 2021 at 14:39
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    @YaroslavKornachevskyi "No World of Their Own" aka "The Long Way Home" was serialised in Astounding. It's possible the OP only read the first one? Certainly worth an answer.
    – Moriarty
    Jul 14, 2021 at 22:55
  • @Moriarty I read it in russian, and it was indeed called "The Long Way Home" =) Jul 15, 2021 at 5:47

1 Answer 1

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Sounds like the first part of the "No World of Their Own" aka "The Long Way Home" by Poul Anderson - first experimental spaceship, FTL investigations, strange jumps on the way back to Earth.

No World of Their Own

“19 July 2048, hours 1630. Emerged an estimated 0.3 light-year from Sol, error presumably due to some unforeseen complication in the engines. Attempts to correct same now being made. Position—” He swore at his forgetfulness and went back to the pilot room to take readings on the stars.

Blaustein’s long thin form jack-knifed through the air as he finished; the gaunt sharp face was smeared with oil, and the hair seemed more unkempt even than usual. “Can’t find a thing,” he reported. “We tested with everything from Wheatstone bridges to computer problems, opened the gyromatic cell—nothing looks wrong. Want we should tear down the whole beast?”

Langley considered. “No,” he said at last. “Let’s try it once more first.

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