In its use of time dilation to separate its hero from the culture that produced him, Return from the Stars is a disguised time-travel story very much in the tradition of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine: An Invention (1895).
The central character, Hal Bregg, has been away from Earth on a journey to Arcturus for a mere 127 years, hardly an instant in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of years crossed by Wells’s time traveler, but Bregg experiences at least as acute a social disorientation. As a result of the relativistic time shifts associated with travel near the speed of light, Bregg has aged only ten years, but during his absence human civilization has undergone a transformation to passivity parallel to that which produced Wells’s race of Eloi. A process called Betrization has shorn humanity of its aggressions and, while rendering human beings incapable of intentionally killing or injuring one another, has also removed the urge for discovery that sent Bregg and his companions to the stars. The very technological progress that produced the star drive has tamed the human spirit and has also produced breakthroughs in robotics and parastatics, the latter a term indicating gravitation control that has provided humanity with an enslaving prosperity and protection from every potential bump and bruise.
Having refused more than token help from Adapt, the government agency intended to provide aid for returning space travelers, Bregg finds it nearly impossible to trace his way out of the spaceport where he has landed from Luna base. The vocabulary of the new world confuses him, and he finds the transportation system baffling. Once he discovers a bar, he makes the first of several human contacts that move him toward readjustment. With Nais, he learns for the first time of Betrization and becomes aware of the fear his nontransformation causes among his docile fellow humans. When Nais learns that Bregg has not undergone Betrization...
(The entire section is 805 words.)