For today’s blog entry, I cheated and got someone else to write it. 🙂 This post is by science fiction author Paul B. Spence, whose novel The Remnant will be out later this spring.
J is for jump drives.
People have so many misconceptions about what these are in fiction. One that I hear the most is that a jump drive somehow violates the laws of physics, specifically those of ‘Saint Einstein.’ The truth is, jump drives do anything but violate physics.
Let me explain. Jump drives come in several flavors in science fiction:
The first is the classic fold drive. This drive has been around for a while, at least since the 1950s. This involves folding space so that two points become contiguous; the ship hops from one to the other. It never travels faster than light — can be standing still in fact — and yet is transported vast distances. Robert Heinlein made great use of these in books like Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, as did Frank Herbert in Dune.
The second is the hyperspacial drive. This postulates moving the ship into a higher-dimension space (such as are required to exist by quantum physics) where the ship travels (at sub-light speeds) and reenters realspace some distance away from the point of entry. No violations here. Some great examples are C. S. Friedman’s This Alien Shore, David Brin’s Uplift War, Babylon 5, and just about any book by David Weber.
The third is the wormhole drive. This drive creates or opens an existing wormhole to allow a ship to travel along vast distances. This is usually achieved with strange matter or negative energy. No violations of physics. Collapsar jumps, such as used by Joe Haldeman in The Forever War, fall into this category, as do the drives in Star Wars (I know they say hyperspace, but it is plainly a wormhole), and hyperspacial tubeways from Doc Smith’s Lensman Series in the 1920s and 30s.
None of these drives violates any known physical laws of the universe. Some of them are less probable (wormhole drives), but none of them attempt to circumvent the lightspeed limit. All of them are actually based on known principles, such as quantum tunneling. That, by the way, is not science fiction. It is what allows you to read this blog. Your monitor uses the principles of quantum tunneling to function. Welcome to the future of space flight.