Time-Dilation in Science Fiction stories?

Are there any science-fiction stories (any medium) that focus on a characters personal experience of time-dilation?

I think an interesting short story could have a character volunteering for a future space-force, but due to the effects of time dilation he realises that before he leaves on his first trip out he will have to say goodbye to his family and friends knowing that he’ll never see them again in this life.

Then when he comes back he visits his home and realises that although he understood it on an intellectual level the emotional impact of everything he knew having gone away in the decades he has been gone (a couple of years in his subjective frame) is shattering.

I’d write the story myself if I had any writing talent at all!

btw one story that springs to mind is The Forever War by Joe Halderman any others? A plot summary would be nice as well.


The time aspect of relativistic travel is a major plot element in several of the novels in the Ender Universe by Orsen Scott Card.

Time For The Stars - Robert Heinlein

Plenty of others: “The Pusher” by John Varley and “Time for the Stars” by Robert Heinlein being the first two to leap to mind. “The Pusher” is probably closest to the idea you’re expressing - it’s about someone with an unusual way of dealing with the future shock.

William F. Nolan’s beautiful “One Love Have I” is an interesting take on it.

The song "'39" by Queen is all about time dilation and pretty much covers exactly what you’re talking about.

Nevermind, missed the last sentence of the OP.

Here’s a few Star Trek stories along the lines of what you’re looking for:

Star Trek: Voyager ep. “Gravity”:
Paris, Tuvok, and The Doctor are trapped on a planet in a subspace pocket. While they experience several months, only a few hours have passed in regular space. While there, they befriend a female alien who helps them survive. She falls in love with Tuvok, but is frustrated that he will no reciprocate her feelings.

Blink of an Eye:
Voyager becomes locked in the orbit of a planet where 1 day passes every 1.03 seconds. Their presence in orbit also causes earthquakes on the planet, and their civilization develops around a mythos of the sky-ship which is in the same position in their sky.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine ep. “Hard Time”:
(Not quite a time-travel/flow story. But it along the lines of the example plot you gave.)

Chief O’Brien is accused of espionage, and is given the memory of a 20-year prison sentence. Upon his release and return to DS9, O’Brien becomes paranoid and emotionally distressed, attempting suicide on at least one occasion.

In Arthur C Clarke’s Childhoods End time dilation is an important plot point for the ending of the story from a major characters point of view.

I’m surprised no one mentioned The Forever War yet, it’s a true classic (and award winner), and it’s almost entirely about this. How his culture changed so radically while he was away – and its intent, I believe, was to function as an analogue to Vietnam.

Nobody except the OP.

Tau Zero, by Poul Anderson. They watch universes rise and fall.


I read the entire OP, and somehow missed that line. :smack:

Semley’s Necklace(1964) by LeGuin is a short story that has the time-dilation effect - the titular character goes to recover the eponymous jewellery offworld, and comes back to her descendants. The story serves as the intro to Rocannon’s World, Le Guin’s first novel.

From Anime, there’s always Aim for the Top! Also known as Gunbuster.

I’m going to just stop in here to unrecommend Time for the Stars. Heinlein was far better at science than most, but he just never really understood relativity. I can gloss over that when it’s a minor plot point, like in Methuselah’s Children, but when he tries to write an entire novel centered around relativity, it’s just unbearable.

Niven touches on this in several of his stories, from what I remember. A World Out Of Time, for one – although the alienation from one’s original time in that one is not solely due to time dilation.

World out of Time, by Larry Niven.

Niven mentions time dilation, in passing, in a number of short stories in the Known Space series.

Tin Soldier, a short story by Joan Vinge. An effectively-immortal cyborg falls in love with a crewwoman from an interstellar time-dilating ship. From his perspective, she pops up at 25-year intervals. For her, it’s three.

It’s stretching a bit, but A. E. Van Vogt’s “Far Centaurus” does have the same concerns of a time dilation story (e.g., everyone home is dead when they return), though for different reasons. It’s also typical Van Vogt – illogical and resolved by a deus ex machina, but somehow very compelling.

In the Hyperion trilogy by Dan Simmons, one of the people who made the Shrike pilgrimage was involved in a story that involved time dilation.

I know what you mean about the blunders in Methuselah’s Children (and a couple of other examples in Heinlein’s works) - but in Time for the Stars, Heinlein seemed to understand time dilation at least; he was postulating stuff that violated relativity (a preferred reference frame provided by instantaneous telepathy!), but lots of people do that.