The Stone Soup Novelist

I have a great idea for a novel. You know what would make it even better?…

The Light-Speed Barrier: It’s Hip

One of the first things that I decided when I sat down to write my own science fiction novel was that faster-than-light travel would be impossible. The book I’m writing isn’t “hard” science fiction, more planetary adventure, but the tropes used to get around the light speed barrier just seemed like magic wands to me, and I didn’t want to use them.

I became interested in having my characters traveling across the galaxy at near-light speed, and seeing civilizations rise and fall while they stayed more or less the same age (due to the time dilation effect). That gave rise to the notion of a galactic Government so vast that its bureaucrats take centuries to fly from one assignment to the next.

After a little thought and googling, however, I realized that even at ludicrous rates of acceleration – 5G, 10G – the subjective time for a trip across a significant portion of the galaxy could still take more than a human lifetime. More on this topic over at the World page.

So (here’s the funny part) I decided I would introduce some kind of suspended animation that allows the characters to “sleep” through the long journey in their starship. That is, of course, likely just as impossible as faster-than-light travel, for a whole host of reasons. It did not bother me one jot. I’m sure this says something about my psychology and nothing about science, but I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. Here’s an article on the trend toward obeying the light-speed barrier in SF.

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4 responses to “The Light-Speed Barrier: It’s Hip

  1. KingShamus May 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm

    Thanks for the linkage. Glad you liked my post.

    • dbfurches May 29, 2012 at 10:29 pm

      You’re very welcome! Stop by any time.

  2. Cat Phillips May 31, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    Hello! I love the idea of “cold sleep” that is used in various forms throughout the SF I’ve read (I haven’t had a chance to read the info on the link you posted yet, so bear with me if I’m being redundant). Other animals have perfected the metabolism slowing trick to great effect, so it seems to me it’s only a matter of time for humans… At least it seems to be more likely than faster-than-light-speed space travel. That’s just my opinion, though.

    That’s just an aside, anyways. My question is regarding your plan for the human occupants of these near-light-speed travels. Will the ships be completely independent of human pilots? If so, might this pose some interesting problems for those on board? An auto-pilot malfunction could be disastrous!

    If not, if a human crew is necessary, what will it look like? If a trip takes a few hundred Earth years, will the crew have decade-long shifts ahead of them during which they age normally? Would there be enough people on board that they could have shorter shifts? Is everyone on board trained to some degree in case of emergency?

    I love it, no matter what. I totally agree that instantaneous space travel is a kind of SF trope that is used and abused. The magic wand analogy is great. This is a different way of approaching space travel, and creates some interesting potential for side-narrative.

    • dbfurches May 31, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      Good questions all! My tentative plan has been to have the ships be auto-piloted by some type of exotic artificial intelligence. But you raise a good point about the risks involved in that. A group of pioneers escaping a bad situation at home might risk it, but Government officials would be very cautious with their own safety. That notion leads me to the idea of a 2-tier society on the Government ships: call them Officials who sleep the whole trip, and Employees who sleep in shifts, and age some fraction of the trip, maybe living out their whole lives in a single trip.

By posting this comment, you are granting me permission to use the words and ideas expressed below in my novel. You will not sue me when it becomes a bestseller. This is totally legally binding.

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