|Getting from here to there ain't easy.|
Space . . . the final frontier. Yes, and therein lies the problem.
Space is big. Almost infinitely big. So huge and empty and forbidding we mewling little humans can scarcely wrap our tiny brains around the concept of it. Carl Sagan’s famous “billions upon billions of stars” comment? Gross understatement! Try “billions upon billions” of galaxies! (And, thank you Neil DeGrasse Tyson for reminding us of our piddling place in the cosmos!)
It’s almost enough to make a science fiction romance writer give up in despair. How the heck do we get around an area so vast, even if we confine our perambulations to our home galaxy? We can set our stories in the future, when new technologies have presumably been invented, but how do we get around that pesky Einsteinian rule that nothing goes faster than the speed of light—and even at the speed of light it takes way too long to get anywhere?
Let me say right up front that I’m no scientist. I had to use a study group to get through astronomy in college. I just love the ideas of science. Once you start in with the math and the formulae and the explanations, you lose me. On the one hand, that’s a handicap. I’ll never write hard SF like Vernor Vinge, dense stuff that could actually start an argument in a physicists’ convention.
On the other hand, I’ll never lose sleep over whether warp drive is a stupid idea or not. I think it’s brilliant to propose using freely available energy (the harnessed interaction between matter and antimatter) to warp space around a vehicle to propel you on a wave through the galaxy like a needle through bunched fabric. Evidently millions of others think like me, including a few outlying physicists, who are trying to work the numbers to make it happen. That’s the beauty of unfettered imagination.
Most SF/SFR writers use some form of hyperdrive or hyperspace to get through the galaxy, meaning the space travelers use wormholes to get around, eliminating huge distances between Point A and Point B. There are two broad versions of this: either the spaceship is able to create a wormhole of its own anywhere it wants, to go anywhere it wants, or the ship travels by slower, more conventional power (ion drive or some such) to wormholes already extant throughout the known galaxy (known as gates or nodes or jumps or some variant).
Hyperspace and jumping through it can have its own unique dangers. Author Ann Aguirre uses the mode of travel to great advantage, for example, in her Grimspace books, centering on the effects time in that space can have on the pilots who navigate it. Navigating hyperspace can not only require special training, as in Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five Series, but also the use of addicting drugs, as in Frank Herbert’s Dune. Or the jump can be just another way to get from here to there, barely mentioned and little explained, as is the case with most SFR. Similarly, the jump can take no objective time, or a fair amount of it, depending on the author (and the needs of the story).
In my Interstellar Rescue series, good guys and bad both use an existing network of wormholes (“jump nodes”) to get around. Ion drive is used to travel between nodes. The nodes were first mapped by an alien species, the Tularians, victims long ago of others who used the system they discovered to invade and destroy them. Earth is in the unlucky position of proximity to a jump node that leads to and from the heart of a slave-trading empire eager for workers.
To those in the ships using the nodes, travel appears to be instantaneous, but time does pass within the jump, enough that time itself can be manipulated with intricate adjustment of the matrix that regulates engine speed within the jump. This manipulation is how the good guys return rescued slaves to Earth at the time they were taken, leaving them with no memory of their abduction. Unless, of course, something goes wrong, as it does with my heroine in Unchained Memory.
REAL scientists are ROTFLTAO right now, because, of course, nothing can go through a wormhole and come out the other side as anything but a package condensed to the size of a neutron. Sorry, Mr. and Ms. Scientist, but we don’t care. Hyperspace and hyperdrive, jump nodes and all the rest work because at least we can wrap our minds around the idea and easily dismiss the big elephant in the middle of the room. It is what we call a convention, something agreed upon by SF writers and readers alike, a leap of faith we all take when we climb on board the starship that is a science fiction/SFR story. Just like we all agree to be open to the possibility that other dimensions exist and other planets harbor intelligent, space-faring life and one day we’ll make it to the stars. Or that true love lasts forever.
After all, who knows? Choose to believe it, and some day it just might be true.