Theories of Deep Space—How far can we stretch?

Faster than light! Sign me up!

  • Light Speed
  • Warp Drive
  • Teleportation
  • Hyperspace
  • Wormholes

memory_of_earthThe great thing about speculative fiction is it has no bounds. We can travel millions of light years across the galaxy. We can jump so far in the future and out in space that Earth is nothing more than mythology (I’m thinking Foundation here and also Orson Scott Card’s Homecoming series). We can have voyages that last lifetimes, and we can have instantaneous trips that jump us from one part of the galaxy to another.

With speculative fiction, reality is only bound by our minds.

So how far are we, the reader, willing to stretch our minds? How much are we willing to believe? As far as I know, light travel is not possible for anything except…well…light (yes, fellow scientists, please correct me here if I’ve got the facts wrong).

If we’ve met life on another planet, we’ve let our minds

If we’ve settled another planet besides Earth, we’ve let our minds stretch.

What makes the stretch believable? What elements does the author need to line up to make the theory possible?

In the Foundation books, the main thing that made me believe was how much time had passed. Earth was only a whisper in the dark. No one even believed it existed. That’s how long ago people had lived there. And with that much passage of time, technology was bound to have advanced.

What other books can you think of that have faster-than-light travel, and what made them work? What made them not work? And how can we, as authors, make our stories reach that level where readers want the let their minds stretch to encompass our rules?


PJ Hoover wonders which would be better: hyperspace travel or teleportation. She’d be willing to try both.

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18 responses to “Theories of Deep Space—How far can we stretch?

  1. Outlander, By Diana Gabaldon (I Know, I know, heavy duty romance) But the author is a master and the time travel not only works but leaves the MC in a major debacle. It presents such a believable state to the reader it makes you question if you we’re the MC, would you come back? Would you die trying?

  2. Parker Peevyhouse

    Slow travel through the stars can also be interesting–the idea of a “generation ship” really caught my interest when I read about it in Orson Scott Card’s How To Write SF&F. The thought is that since it take so long to travel through space, by the time a ship reached its destination it would be manned by the great grandchildren of those who boarded the ship. I actually used this for a manuscript I’m working on.

    But as for super fast travel–I say, as long as you throw in talk of wormholes, I’m with you :)

    • We can travel the wormholes together, Parker!
      I still need to read Orson Scott Card’s book. Seriously. I cannot believe I haven’t yet.

    • I agree! I’m partial to generation ship stories :)

      (PS: Teleportation is better than lightspeed)

      • I knew you would agree, Beth :)
        And yay for teleportation!

      • I also immediately thought of Orson Scott Card when I read this post. I love the way he handles the passage of time in the Ender books (for example, Ender remains a teenager while his brother back on earth becomes a grown man). It creates such interesting character dynamics and really makes time-travel seem real because it’s not glamorous.

      • I agree, Anna. Orson Scott Card was a genius in this respect (and in all others, too). It was such a unique approach I thought.

  3. Hmmm.. Haven’t read much sci-fi lately. BUT, in the old Tom Swift Jr books of the late 1950′s, the boyish inventor comes up with an idea for space travel that I thought was pretty neat.

    He invents a machine that repels things. Specific things, like compounds and isotopes and elements. By adjusting the mix of what you’re repelling, you can repel yourself right off the ground.

    Tom Swift Jr uses the repeletron to power his spaceship. Basically, he sets it to repel different planetary bodies- earth, moon, other spaceships, and by doing so, moves himself through space. There’s no worry about fuel, like in other long-range rocket trips, and the spaceship itself is a box, not a cylinder.

    In one book, he actually lands on a passing small planetoid and creates an underground research lab so that a group of scientists can travel on the planetoid as it goes around the sun.

    Neither of these are very likely, I grant you. But I found them unique and believable within the story.

    • Wow, Miriam. That is some advanced theory. I’m willing to bet there are research dollars today going towards trying to invent such a thing. Fiction writers are essential to science (but that is a different post).

  4. I’m particularly fond of the subtle knife used in the Phillip Pullman “His Dark Materials” trilogy. To be able to slice through space and time and then just pinch the door closed behind you would be awesome. Of course, you have to worry about the shadows…

    • Jo, I think The Subtle Knife is brilliant in this respect. This caveat was the set up for all the emotions I had while reading. It was such a “consequences” thing. Like what are the consequences of magic.

  5. Hmmm. Intriguing questions. I’m thinking I need to read more of these kind of books. I did read Outlander though and it was awesome! The time travel aspect was very well done.

  6. Gef

    My first memories of sci-fi come from episodes of Star Trek. And to think of how derided the concept of “warp travel” is among the most ravenous sci-fi fans, I consider myself pretty broadminded when it comes to enjoying sci-fi literature and film. Though, I wasn’t a fan of Asimov’s “The Gods Themselves”–my only sampling so far of his novels.

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