Thursday, February 7, 2019

A different take on interstellar travel

The concept of interplanetary travel is a very important aspect of any space opera, where popping around from planet to planet is an integral part of the action. Think Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly and the like.And, of course, my SF books.

Several years ago I wrote an article explaining my notion of interplanetary travel, which involved taking advantage of dimensions beyond our height, width, and depth geometry. This is an excerpt from that article.

"Take a piece of A4 paper. Let’s label two diagonally opposite corners as A and B. Starting from B, we can reach A by going straight up one side then along the top to A. Hang on, you say, wouldn’t you just go across the diagonal, thereby reducing the distance and time taken? Sure you would. Now curl the paper over into a cylinder. All you have to do to get from B to A is move along a straight line. The length of the line will depend on how you make the roll (short edges together or long edges together).

Now take point A in one hand and point B in the other and bring them together so they meet. Getting from B to A in this instance is like walking from one room into another."

Recently I've been reading Holly Lisle's books set in her Settled Space universe. She has taken this idea of foldable space to a whole new level. In space it's possible to travel vast distances by using origami points. In one section of Hunting the Corrigan's Blood the MC, Cadence Drake, watches an old vid of Isas Yamamoto explaining how his hyperspace drive works.

“Akiko wanted a crane,” Yamamoto said, smiling down at his little girl. 
“And I was folding it for her—like so.” 
He handed the finished crane to his daughter and took a sheet of paper from the little carved table beside him. He lifted it up and made a crease in the paper, and then another. While he folded it, he talked. 
“It occurred to me that the nature of origami, that is, the art of folding paper, was very much like the problem humanity faced in reaching the stars. Origami is folding two-dimensional paper into three-dimensional objects. Space travel through hyperspace is the folding of a three-dimensional universe into four spatial dimensions to shorten the distances between points.”   
He held up the partially finished crane. It didn’t look like much yet. “You see—I am taking something that was in essence two-dimensional, and I am changing it into something three-dimensional.”

To me, this is a delightful combination of the concept of worm holes through space with the folding of space through multiple dimensions. The paths are fixed, straight lines from one origami point to another.

But there's more to it than that.

Later in the same section, Yamamoto says,

"Life is not a thing of three dimensions. It is not limited by up and across and back. Life encompasses space, and time, and it goes beyond that. It touches infinity. You sit watching me right now, and in another probability, another child who is also you sits watching another me. In another probability, another child who is also you sits where you are sitting, but that child isn’t listening the way you are. 

In an infinite number of probabilities, an infinite number of children who are also you do an infinite number of things, and none of them can see or hear each other. So how can all of these yous do similar things? You are linked together through hyperspace. The infinite number of three-dimensional yous are all part of a single meta-you, whose home is hyperspace.”

And that is significant because when a person goes through an origami point, they encounter all those other yous. Here's the first instance we come across of Cadence's ship going through an origami point.

"Space, still and silent and serene, filled with stars that promise everything. Everything. Think of the perfection of space, the glorious swirl of a nebula splashed against the velvet dark—
I am Cadence Drake, captain and owner of the Hope’s Reward. 
I am strong. I know who I am. 
I know what I believe.

I was no longer alone. In my chair, in my head, I could feel the rest of myself, the multidimensional self that takes its mundane shapes as an infinite number of Cadence Drakes in an infinite number of universes connected by the fact that we are one. Infinite. Of a magnitude with the heavens. And we are more than infinite mirrored and fragmented parts; we are also a single whole. An Entity. We touch, we mirror, we remain Me through that portion of our self, or perhaps I should say Self, that has its home in hyperspace. A part of me can look infinity in the eye and not flinch. A part of me is enormous and magnificent and beyond the pain and the suffering and the despair of my infinite mirrored fragmented mortal three-dimensional lives; is so beyond my limitations and weaknesses and frailties that it regards the infinite parts of me with some tenderness but also with mild, superior amusement.  I am small, puny, insignificant. Mortal. Human. A creature of limited flesh and limited intellect, for a burning expanse of non-time forced to see myself not only as I am, but as I could be in all my infinite capacity, knowing that when the moment ends my sudden wisdom, my godhood, will be stripped from me and I will be thrown naked and shivering and frightened and mortal back into the domain of death.

And the infinite frightened fragments of my greater Self clamor in my head. I am a doctor, on my way to a new world, armed with hope and knowledge, but now fear, too, for I have never taken this shortcut through the stars. I am a dancer; and I am a thief; and a renegade and a lover and a mother and I am old and young and I have a thousand faces and a thousand names a million names a billion names and I know them all all all all and every detail of every life that goes with them and they are nothing nothing nothing because these fragments of my true self are nothing these tiny mortal scraps are meaningless are nothing but I am Cadence Drake I am Cadence Drake I am Cadence Drake— “
—I am Cadence Drake—”

This pull of the multi-verse happens every single time a person goes through an origami point. Which is why most people are placed in a form of suspended animation for the few moments it takes to go through. Ship's captains, however, have to be awake, aware and in control.

It's such a powerful image. Lisle uses this downside of space travel as an arc in her stories, not so much for the crossing itself but what goes through Cadence's head as she traverses the point. All the regrets, all the possibilities, all the 'if onlys'.

For most authors, real space disappears in hyperspace. We all remember the stream of stars in the Millenium Falcon's front screen. Other people imagine it as grey and formless. My shift space is a bit more colourful than most. I imagine it as a kaleidoscope, rather like those we played with as kids.

But this mental twist to inter-stellar travel is a new one to me. 

From a writing craft perspective, I also admired the way Lisle avoided an info-dump and explained what happens at origami poits as a narrative that is part of the story. We also learn a little about Cadence's history through this device. It's woth taking notes.

For readers, it's a space opera thriller and I loved it. You'll find my review of Hunting the Corrigan's Blood here.

Quotes from Lisle, Holly. Hunting the Corrigan's Blood (A Cadence Drake Novel Book 1) . Holly Lisle. Kindle Edition.

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