Posts Tagged ‘physics’

Fun Scifi Tropes: Faster-than-Light Travel

Oh, squiders. I love Faster-than-Light (FTL) travel. I love it a lot. It opens up the universe for exploration, gives us the chance to meet new species every week and touch down on a new planet.

Of course, it also breaks the laws of physics, which has made it a bit of a black sheep in science fiction circles recently. Relativistically, nothing can go faster than the speed of light, and then there’s time dilation and other things you technically need to worry about.

And there’s some really excellent science fiction out there that deals with interstellar travel in a way that’s scientifically plausible (The Forever War comes to mind, which made the engineer in me positively giddy). But I don’t mind it when we invent made up things to hand wave it away either for the sake of story.

TVTropes breaks FTL travel into three main categories:

These categories seem fairly sufficient to me–they cover everything from Star Trek to Star Wars to Stargate (although that is people moving and not a spaceship, but ehhhh, I’ll allow it). The portal/wormhole version of this trope seems to be most popular right now, which can either fall into jump drives or hyperdrives depending on what happens once you go through the portal. That’s probably because no one understands wormholes well enough to know how they work (or if they even exist) which allows better leverage for writers playing around with cool things.

I will admit to be rather partial to the warp drive version of this trope, probably because I was raised on nothing but books and Star Trek. Yes, I have two engineering degrees. Yes, I have taken more physics courses than most people can name. And, actually, I am better at quantum physics than some more mundane versions (::shakes fist:: Right hand rule!). But I love it undyingly anyway. How can you not?

Well, I mean, I suppose you can take it too far. I’ve certainly read books where I’ve shaken my head at the FTL mechanism. But I think the issue there tends to be that they’re trying to take themselves too seriously, focusing too much on technology which isn’t realistic or working.

Another way writers get around FTL travel (and its physics-breakage) is by shrinking space (i.e., making everything closer together than it really is). If everything is closer together, then it (obviously) takes less time to get places. This has its own problems of course (such as the fact that the universe is expanding) but hey, you do what works for the story.

How do you feel about FTL travel, squiders? Do you mind some types more than others? Do you avoid it? Do you love it? What’s your favorite FTL mechanism/series?

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In Defense of Science Fiction: Time Travel

For the next two weeks, I’m going to look at typical aspects of science fiction that seem to have fallen out of favor for whatever reason. First up: time travel.

Why has this fallen into disrepute? Well, according to modern science, the amount of energy necessary to go back in time is infinite. And, of course, you can’t draw infinite energy because you’ll destroy the universe (personally, I think there’s a story there anyway). So, say the naysayers, time travel is out.

It’s impossible.

Now, if we want to get really science-y, we can talk about spacetime and how you can move forward in both time and space since they’re essentially the same thing, and blah blah blah.

My point is this: sure, maybe modern science says no. But here’s the thing – science, especially physics, changes all the time. Sure, back a hundred years ago when it was a less-developed field and we hadn’t figured out how to split atoms or that the universe was expanding, it was easy to justify time travel. Why couldn’t you go forward or backwards in time? There was nothing that said we couldn’t!

But even now, I don’t think you can rule it out. The universe is too fluid, our understanding constantly changing. There’s tons of fun theories right now that could be used to explain time travel. Sure, maybe the ol’ warp around the sun to go faster than the speed of light theory is bunk, but with a little twisting, the sky (the universe?) is the limit.

Besides, I don’t think you can knock it if you haven’t tried it.

And science fiction is about possibilities. What if this? What if that? To look at a classic aspect and write it off just because modern mentality says it ain’t so – that’s anti-scifi. A hundred years ago, no one thought we could make it to the moon either.