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Old January 24 2010, 02:30 AM   #1
Brandonv
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Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

I have thinking been about all the various methods ships use to get around the universe's speed limit, and I was wondering what everyone's favorite is? After giving it some thought, I think the FTL methods can be put into four categories.

Field drive:

The ship uses an engine that creates some kind of field that enables the ship to go FTL. Examples of this would be Star Trek's warp drive and the mass effect fields in Mass Effect.

Instantaneous drive:

The ship can instantly travel from point A to B. Examples of this would be the FTL jumps in the new Battlestar Galactica, and space folding in Dune. Also, the Alderson drive in The Mote in God's Eye.

Another Dimension:

The ship enters another dimension where the distance between A and B is shorter than in normal space. Hyperspace from Babylon 5 and Star Wars falls into this category.

Fixed Points:

Spacecraft can not travel FTL by their own means, and must use some kind of gateway. Examples of this are Wormholes, Jumpgates (Babylon 5), and the mass relays from Mass Effect. The previously mentioned Alderson drive would also fit into this category, because it can only be used at specific points in space. Edit: B5 Jumpgates and mass relays should probably be in their own subcategory, since ships in those universes can go FTL without them.

Also, I am sure there are some who prefer hard science fiction novels with no FTL at all. In this case, ships have to use the relativistic effects of time dilation and length contraction to shorten the trip, or else slowly crawl through space using cryosleep or generation ships. This can make for very interesting story telling.


I think that any of the above methods work as long as they have some kind of limitations and rules to make them a good plot device. For example, I didn't like that ships in BSG could jump into the atmosphere of a planet, or right next to a planet for that matter. I think this created a plot hole, because how are you supposed to defend a planet when the enemy can bypass every defense and drop nukes right on top of you? I think there should have been a rule that jump drives don't work inside gravity wells. For military science fiction, I like the idea of using fixed points such as wormholes, because it creates choke points and strategically important areas.

Last edited by Brandonv; January 24 2010 at 01:22 PM.
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Old January 24 2010, 03:25 AM   #2
kipron
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

Cool analysis! Though I have to take issue with one point:

Brandonv wrote: View Post
I think that any of the above methods work as long as they have some kind of limitations and rules to make them a good plot device. For example, I didn't like that ships in BSG could jump into the atmosphere of a planet, or right next to a planet for that matter.
There were two reasons given for this. One was that capital ships are too simply massive to sustain ultra low orbits. The ONE time we saw a capital ship jump into an atmosphere, it felt like a huge event and it became instantly obvious why no sane person would ever do it.

The other reason is that FTL is, ironically, *not* a science. So you were just as likely to end up inside the planet.

I think 'Instantaneous FTL' is the most fun method btw, simply because it grants the writers the most license to drop characters into unexpected places. Farscape also used this to great effect, iirc.
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Old January 24 2010, 03:34 AM   #3
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

I've always liked Slipstreeam as seen in Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda.

Here's how Robert Hewitt Wolfe described it:

In most space-based science fiction shows, travelling between solar systems is accomplished simply by going very, very, fast. Hyperspeed, warp speed, superzoomorama speed. Not only is this if blatantly impossible, it's been done.

So let's find another way.

While humans were still playing with fun new inventions like the wheel, the Vedra made a startling discovery. The Slipstream. The Slipstream is an extension of our reality, an additional dimension that's integrally intertwined with our own. According to an application of quantum physics called string theory, everything in our Universe is connected to everything else. And the Slipstream is a place where those connections are visible.

In the Slipstream, small and weak connections (those linking small and weak concentrations of matter, such as the link between you and your jelly donut) look like strings, gauzy bits of cotton candy fluff. But large and complex and strong connections, like those between huge concentrations of matter, say planets or suns, form gigantic, pulsing ropes, writhing monstrous tendrils with the diameter of a skyscraper and the length of the universe.

The Vedra also discovered something even more exciting. If you enter the Slipstream, you can harness the energy of these cords… and ride them from one star system to another, like the Universe's largest and most unbelievably convenient rollercoaster.

The only problem is that the strings are in constant motion, crossing and recrossing each other in a hundred different places. So to get from one star to another, the pilot of a ship in Slipstream has to constantly choose between divergent paths in the stream. And the right path changes from moment to moment. Faced with such randomness, all a pilot can really do when it's time to choose it guess.

So, here's what happens when a pilot reaches an intersection. Before the pilot chooses, according to the physicist Erwin Shrödinger (you can skip this part if you want, we'll meet up in a few sentences), both paths are simultaneously right and wrong. In other words, they both manifest the potentiality of being correct and incorrect. It's only when the pilot chooses a specific direction that this potentiality collapses and one path becomes right, and the other wrong. But the cool thing about being an observer in a quantum reality like the Slipstream is that THE ACT OF MAKING A DECISION ALTERS REALITY. So when you guess that a certain path is right, in Slipstream space, 99.9% of the time, you guess correctly.

In other words (start back here if you skipped that last part), human pilots in Slipstream have to guess where they're going, but because of the nature of Slipstream space, they're mostly always right.

Unfortunately, Artificial Intelligences don't guess the way we do. They don't follow their guts. They don't hope they've made the right decision. They really do just pick randomly. In Slipstream, this is not a good thing. It means they're only right 50% of the time. Thus, computers can't pilot ships through Slipstream. Even the Andromeda, a sentient ship, can't pull it off. She requires an organic pilot, or she can never travel between the stars.

Okay, nice theory, but what does it look like? Good question. What we see when the Andromeda travels through Slipstream is this: The Andromeda reaches a point in normal space where the Slipstream is accessible (as far from gravitational sources like suns as possible). Then she shifts, distorts, and suddenly… she's someplace else, riding along a bunch of gigantic glowing ropes like an out-of-control roller coaster on a rail. When the ropes twist and wind, the Andromeda rotates and spins on her axis. When she reaches an intersection, she whips off at wild angles along new tracks, whizzing along to her destination. Finally, thanks to a series of monumentally lucky guesses by her pilot, the Andromeda arrives at her destination and shifts back into normal space. It's like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on fast forward.

One interesting thing about moving through the Slipstream is that travel time has almost nothing to do with the distance between stars. If you're lucky and the Stream unfolds just right, you could get from here to the next galaxy in minutes. But if you're not lucky, and things get hairy, the same trip could take weeks or even months. About the only rule is that the more frequently a certain path is traveled, the easier and more predictable the journey becomes.

Most of the time.

Unless it's not.
At the very least, the explanation is entertaining.
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Old January 24 2010, 03:58 AM   #4
Brandonv
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

kipron wrote: View Post
Cool analysis! Though I have to take issue with one point:

Brandonv wrote: View Post
I think that any of the above methods work as long as they have some kind of limitations and rules to make them a good plot device. For example, I didn't like that ships in BSG could jump into the atmosphere of a planet, or right next to a planet for that matter.
There were two reasons given for this. One was that capital ships are too simply massive to sustain ultra low orbits. The ONE time we saw a capital ship jump into an atmosphere, it felt like a huge event and it became instantly obvious why no sane person would ever do it.
After reading your post I realised that if BSG FTL didn't work inside gravity wells, we never would have gotten the Adama Maneuver, one of my favorite moments in the series. Taking that into consideration, I think I can overlook the whole jumping into atmospheres thing.
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Old January 24 2010, 03:59 AM   #5
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

kipron wrote: View Post
Cool analysis! Though I have to take issue with one point:

Brandonv wrote: View Post
I think that any of the above methods work as long as they have some kind of limitations and rules to make them a good plot device. For example, I didn't like that ships in BSG could jump into the atmosphere of a planet, or right next to a planet for that matter.
There were two reasons given for this. One was that capital ships are too simply massive to sustain ultra low orbits. The ONE time we saw a capital ship jump into an atmosphere, it felt like a huge event and it became instantly obvious why no sane person would ever do it.

The other reason is that FTL is, ironically, *not* a science. So you were just as likely to end up inside the planet.

I think 'Instantaneous FTL' is the most fun method btw, simply because it grants the writers the most license to drop characters into unexpected places. Farscape also used this to great effect, iirc.
I think the point is that if a jump into a gravity well is possible, it makes no sense that the humans even have a fleet. It would be useless. The Cylons could build a million Predator-drone type ships with nothing but a jump drive and a nuclear payload and just jump them into the atmosphere over every Colonial planet. Poof. Humanity is gone, and the fleet can't do anything about it.

Instantaneous jump drives make just about every bit of military doctrine developed since Homeric times useless. In effect, they make all fixed points undefendable, so the only possible survival strategy is to distribute your forces and population as widely as possible and hide them. The day after a jump drive is developed by your enemy, your species has to abandon any planets it's on and hide in as many small, hidden habitats as possible, or be exterminated.

For the original post question, I like space sci-fi with no FTL at all: Forever War. The Sparrow.
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Old January 24 2010, 04:05 AM   #6
iguana_tonante
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

Personally, my favourite FTL system is the Instantaneous Drive as used in Asimov's works. I guess it's the one that bothers less my physicist sense. I can more easily accept a moment of random craziness in the laws of the universe than a purposeful, prolonged one. Like when you have to pull out a tooth: the faster, the better.
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Old January 24 2010, 05:01 AM   #7
Brent
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

the TARDIS

it just beats everything else, go anywhere in the universe and anywhen in the universe instantly
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Old January 24 2010, 05:10 AM   #8
Christopher
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

Brandonv wrote: View Post
I have thinking been about all the various methods ships use to get around the universe's speed limit, and I was wondering what everyone's favorite is? After giving it some thought, I think the FTL methods can be put into four categories.
Geoffrey A. Landis broke it down into three main categories with numerous subcategories:

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/roc...tml#stardrives


Fixed Points:

Spacecraft can not travel FTL by their own means, and must use some kind of gateway. Examples of this are Wormholes, Jumpgates (Babylon 5), and the mass relays from Mass Effect.
And the Hub in my story "The Hub of the Matter" in the current issue of Analog.
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Old January 24 2010, 05:18 AM   #9
Rii
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

The Alderson Drive is fixed point too, albeit the points are natural rather than constructed, associated with the stars of a particular system. Some stars have many links to other stars, some have few, and some are totally isolated. In combination with the lack of inertial dampening in the universe it makes for some great tactical possibilities.

Although Hyperspace is rather lame, I've always liked the Interdictor cruisers in the Star Wars EU which introduced some tactical possibilities to the system.
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Old January 24 2010, 05:38 AM   #10
MeanJoePhaser
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

The Bloat Drive in Bill the Galactic Hero. See, the ship expands to super enormous size, then shrinks down to where it wants to go.
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Old January 24 2010, 06:04 AM   #11
IcecreamLtDan
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

Don't forget the improbability drive either.
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Old January 24 2010, 06:14 AM   #12
Hyperspace05
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

My favorite 'FTL drive' is probably the one in "The Mote in God's Eye" and "The Gripping Hand" by Niven/Pournelle, where the topology/location of stars create certain point where one can instantly travel to a point in a nearby star-system.

This still has travel time, since you have to traverse star systems to get to transfer points on the other side, and you are forced to make multiple 'skips' to travel large distances. It also creates choke points which are tactically important. Both these effects lend themselves to the greatest dramatic possibilities, IMO.
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Old January 24 2010, 07:30 AM   #13
Unicron
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

The Protoss in StarCraft had a form of instantaneous, dimensional travel due to their advanced knowledge of space and time, though this was not necessarily a form of FTL travel and it was implied they used a form of traditional warp drive for that.

The various ships in Tachyon: The Fringe rely mainly on fixed point jumpgates, although capital ships have their own internal jump drives. They still need to coordinate with the gates before making FTL jumps. Gates are powered by a ripstar, a sort of small singularity, which is warped by a tachyon coil generator. This warp releases a wave of tachyons (which can't travel slower than the speed of light, theoretically) and the ship rides this wave to the next sector.
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Old January 24 2010, 07:43 AM   #14
Skywalker
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

Brandonv wrote: View Post
Fixed Points:

Spacecraft can not travel FTL by their own means, and must use some kind of gateway. Examples of this are Wormholes, Jumpgates (Babylon 5), and the mass relays from Mass Effect.
I just want to make a small correction on this one. Starships in Mass Effect can travel at FTL speeds without the use of mass relays. They create a mass effect field which reduces the mass of a ship to a point where faster-than-light speeds are possible. Using this method, a ship can travel about twelve light years in a day.

The mass relays coordinate to form mass-free corridors through space-time between one another, which allows them to propel a starship dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of light years (depending on the type of relay) almost instantly.

Sorry. ME2's about to come out, so all this stuff is fresh in my mind again.
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Old January 24 2010, 10:32 AM   #15
Auralis
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Re: Your favorite FTL methods in Science Fiction?

Futurama's Planetexpress ship drive
Which moves the universe around the ship.
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