www.orbitbooks.net: In the last blog I wrote, as promised a little while ago, I offered a detailed mathematical explanation of the principles of faster than light space travel, and added an appendix containing blueprints for an FTL vessel that can be built out of computer components, and a 3D map of the hyperburrows of space, including directions to the planet where sexy aliens can be found in abundance. (You see! I really am a man of my word!)
The impossibility of FTL travel is, of course, a perennial bugbear for science fiction writers. As all SF fans know, the theory of special relativity does not rule out the possibility of faster than light travel; it merely renders it impossible to travel AT the speed of light. For at this very fast speed, one’s mass will be infinite (i.e. even greater, so the equations prove, than my mass and the dimensions of my arse on Boxing Day) and this makes travel of any kind difficult.
But who, some readers might exclaim, gives a damn? After all, science fiction is full of all sorts of preposterous nonsense – why balk at this particular bit of preposterous nonsense? Why not just have spaceships travelling ‘very fast’ and getting to their destination ‘very quickly’? Our hero might board a plane in New York and be in Alpha Centauri in half an hour, assuming that the pilot uses a ‘lot of acceleration’. Is that really so outrageous and unforgivable?
Well yes it is. If you want to write science fiction featuring spaceships – ‘hard’ SF – then this is the law that can’t be ignored. You can cheat, lie, bend the rules, but you can’t just pretend that FTL travel isn’t prohibited by special relativity.
Because to ignore it is to flout the principle that science fiction must be about the unlikely but possible.
Luckily, the rule is easily bent. Tachyons, for instance, are postulated particles that travel faster than light. So give your spaceship a ‘tachyon drive’ and you’re quids in. The fact that your hero – who presumably exists in a ‘tachyon-like’ state – is incorporeal and non-existent is a small price to pay.
Even better – give your ship a ‘warp drive’. Or, as in Battlestar Galactica, allow your ship to ‘jump’. Because there is a vast amount of scientific theory based on the concepts of ‘hyperspace’, and ‘wormholes’, which allow trans-dimensional travel through outer space So, rather than walking down the stairs to the floor below, you drill a hole in the floor and fall through.
The two most familiar ways of travelling through hyperspace (familiar to the SF fan, I mean – I take it for granted that no ‘normal’ person will be reading this blog) are the Alcubierre Drive and the traversable wormhole.
The Alcubierre Drive was invented in 1994 by a Mexican scientist called, um, Alcubierre. And it’s a way of stretching and contracting space-time around the flying spaceship. The spaceship doesn’t travel faster than light, but space itself gets shrunk, so the journey time is reduced.
Interesting, but hate time traveling, it never turns out as you expect 😉 What do you think of this?