Faster-Than-Light Travel

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from FTL)
Jump to: navigation, search

"There was a young woman named Bright
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way,

And returned on the previous night."
Geri Taran

Faster-Than-Light Travel is a staple of Space Opera that allows an "out" to the unfortunate fact that space is honking big, making it impossible (within physics as we understand it now) to get anywhere remotely interesting within the average lifetime of a civilization. This has been an issue for writers since The Fifties or so; before then you could get away with having your aliens come from Neptune without totally losing the audience.

Today, it is widely understood that in order for the protagonists to be able to plausibly visit a new Planet of Hats every week, they need to travel through space at speeds faster than that of light itself. The problem is that as far as present-day science is concerned, going faster than—or even just as fast as—the speed of light is, for all human intents and purposes, impossible. See Analysis for more of this. Of course, writers may wave away the issues surrounding FTL travel by invoking incredible advances in future technology, or they may simply not worry about the complications too much at all.

In either case, explaining how people may travel from Earth to the edge of the Galaxy in less than an hour will generally involve equipping a Cool Starship with some kind of "exotic" propulsion system, which, approximately, holds the normal laws of physics in abatement. This is the Faster Than Light Drive. The exact mechanism varies, but more detailed works may explain how the system avoids the lightspeed limitation. There are three broad favorites:

  • "Warp" drives: Ship waves hands very very fast and can thus go faster.
    • Technobabble: These work by bending the laws of physics in a limited bubble around the ship, where the space is warped in some strange way so the Einstein limit doesn't apply. Distinguished by the ship still traveling in normal space just like a conventional drive, with all the hazards that may entail. Only to an outside observer it would appear the ship is moving impossibly fast. Most notably used in Star Trek where the warp drive actually compresses space in front of the ship while stretching it out behind it.
  • "Jump" drives: Ship disappears and reappears elsewhere.
    • Technobabble; exploiting the curvature of spacetime in some way to instantly move a ship from one location to another. Functionally, a ship using one does not travel faster than light; instead, they alter the distance that has to be traveled, generally to about zero. Sometimes called "fold drives" (from the analogy of folding a piece of paper to make two distant points adjacent). As the range is rarely unlimited the ship typically moves in a series of "jumps", needing some time to recharge or recalibrate its engine between jumps, but the jump itself is generally instant making this technically the fastest method. Oddly enough this rarely uses Teleportation Tropes excepting perhaps Tele Frag as those are personal tropes. See also Our Wormholes Are Different for a variant.
  • Hyperdrives: Ship leaves local space and goes into another dimension where it can go faster. Usually called "X"space with X usually being "Hyper" or whatever the drive is called (so a Zerodrive take you to Zerospace etc...).
    • Technobabble; Since the ship can't travel faster than light, it enters Another Dimension instead. Maybe the laws of physics are different so you can go faster than light there. Or perhaps hyperspace has weird topography so that by traveling for a day there you can reenter the real universe thousands of light-years from where you started. Because travel still takes time it may take a trip in hyperspace can take exactly as long as it needs to but is still not instant. Has decent odds of being a scary place with its own hazards to manage. Most notable example can be found in Star Wars, though the picture above is actually only of entering hyperspace.

The most generic term for an FTL drive is probably "hyperdrive", though many books and series come up with their own name. It should be noted though that the terms used in any particular story may not match with the general descriptions above. In Star Trek the warp drive is of course just the warp drive, but in Warhammer 40,000 the "Warp" is the poster-child for Hyperspace Is a Scary Place. Different stories' FTL drives should be distinguished by their effects not simply their description.

From a Troper's perspective, the story-telling implications of the method of travel used are usually more important than the Techno Babble behind it. With Jump or Hyperdrives for example it provides a very easy (but often dramatic) escape option from antagonists because its generally hard for anyone to track someone that just disappears. Often, the exact mechanism is only important insofar as it supports various kinds of Phlebotinum Breakdown. In some series, the mechanism is simply ignored; we just assume that it works and that we shouldn't worry about relativity. If it's directly referenced, it may include some form of Unobtainium to circumvent Einstein's laws. For works on the harder end of sci-fi, the science behind it may be more important.

When FTL travel can only be used from one location to certain predetermined other locations, either due to needing artificial gates of some sort or some unexplained universal rule, you have Hyperspace Lanes.

A fairly common variant is that most starships don't have FTL themselves but instead fly through an external Portal Network. The FTL method here will generally fit into one of the above categories, but doesn't require a ship itself to have any Applied Phlebotinum onboard. It's reasonably common for this to be the leftovers of an ancient galaxy-spanning civilization; this is usually achieved by sprinkling points from which one can portal-drive throughout The Verse.

Exotic FTL drives also give us an "out" against inertia: Since the laws of physics are being held in abeyance, we can safely assume that if the drive breaks, the laws of physics reassert themselves, so it is impossible to "coast" at superluminal velocities (see Space Friction). Thus, we can effectively ensure that Space Is an Ocean.

It is generally assumed that FTL travel is for travel between star systems and furthermore, it is the only viable means of travel between stars. Conversely, subluminal, conventional travel is for use within a star system: FTL too close to anything that has gravity tends to be ruled out as dangerous (No Warping Zones often provide justifications). The need to reach a safe distance to use FTL is the stuff of countless space chase scenes, most commonly escaping a planet's gravity well.

Faster-Than-Light Travel is a necessary break from physics if you want to have a Space Opera. A more extreme version, found in Space Operas and other places, is Casual Interstellar Travel. A setting without Faster Than Light Travel involving a trip between planets, usually in a single star system, is an Interplanetary Voyage.

Similarly, Faster-Than-Light Travel is usually a technology that cannot operate without the presence of plot-relevant individuals, as it's hard to tell entertaining stories about unmanned probes—all Real Life space exploration is done thus, and holds interest for relatively few people.

A related trope is the Subspace Ansible, which allows ships to send messages at superluminal speeds without having to send their engines along with them; this trope will usually be found alongside Faster-Than-Light Travel, though there are exceptions (for example, Andromeda, Honor Harrington, and the Vorkosigan Saga have FTL travel but no ansibles, and Ender's Game has ansibles but no FTL travel—though the series that inspired it, Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle, did have FTL travel in addition to ansibles, it was just that humans couldn't survive it.).

In FTL settings, an Everything Sensor will usually operate operate in some FTL manner to allow the ship to detect plot-related events happening light-minutes or light-years away in real time. Distress Calls are a function of the aforementioned ansible, but when the ship can casually detect "enemy" ships from light-years away, just as casually mosey on over and ask what they're doing in their territory, yet must enter a given star system to study it for plot-related reasons, a great deal of hand-waving is in order.

Both these tropes have many of the same difficulties with known physics as Faster-Than-Light Travel itself.

Even though going faster than light is already extreme in itself, some actually take it Up to Eleven with Ludicrous Speed, where traveling at such speeds results in usually unpleasant side effects.

For the record, c, the speed of light in a vacuum, is 299,792,458 meters per second. This works out to 670,616,629.38 mph or 1,079,252,848.80 km/h. It's not just a good idea, it's the law!

Examples of Faster-Than-Light Travel include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Cowboy Bebop had the portal variety called Gates, which were apparently dangerous because something called the "Gate Incident" made the moon explode. They created subspace of some fashion where things went faster and ships could get stuck in if they didn't leave in time. Like a lot of things in Bebop, it was never fully explained.
  • In Outlaw Star, as a clever nod to science fiction's past, the "sub-ether" drive is powered by a "Munchausen reactor". This is a type of hyperdrive.
  • The whole plot of the anime short subject Hoshi no Koe (Voices from a Distant Star) stems from the fact that the first United Nations space armada (where the protagonist serves) has faster-than-light drives but NO MEANS of faster-than-light communication.
    • The dub very slightly implies that it's some kind of time dilation instead, because they failed to translate the newspapers, prominently displayed on the table, where headlines, basically, explain it all. (And, indeed, one newspaper's side-column contains the particularly mean-spirited revelation that FTL communication was actually invented shortly after the armada jumped out of range.)
  • Macross uses its spaceship's jump drive as a major plot point.
    • Also, Macross/Robotech demonstrates that if you had an FTL drive and could safely use it within a star system, you probably would, because even interplanetary distances can be inconveniently large. The SDF-1 travels from Earth to Pluto's orbit in minutes, but needs two years to get back to Earth using a gravity-assist technique through normal space. This is quite plausible, the outer Solar System is big.
    • FTL travel in the series itself seems to be a combination of Jump and Hyperdrive types. Space folding is done by going into "superdimension space."
  • Seikai no Monshou (Crest of the Stars) and its sequels use "plane space", a two-dimensional hyperspace in which the spaceships must be inside an artificially-generated 3-dimensional rolling space-time bubble to exist normally. The spin and tilt of the bubble determine its speed and direction. The planar universe is accessed via gates (saudec) that, when they are closed, can be moved and appear to be indefinitely energy-releasing particles (uanon) which were used to propel human spaceships before their other capacities were discovered.
  • In Space Runaway Ideon, the Solo Ship and Buff Clan ships had the DS (Dimension Space) Drive as a way of performing faster-than-light travel. However, it functioned more in the likeness of wormhole travel (in which one uses or creates a tunnel through space-time that creates a normally physically impossible "portal" between two points in space) than hyperspace.
  • The Yamato in Star Blazers is outfitted with a Wave Motion Engine (also powers their Super Cool Giant Laser Beam) but abusing it could screw them over (meaning they can only use it for limited amounts of time in short intervals). Warping is a mind-blowing experience for the uninitiated, and may lead to either hallucinations or oddly specific existence failures (Yuki's clothing briefly disappears during the first warp; this never happens to any of the male characters; and of course it doesn't happen at all in the American version).
  • Starship Operators has a warp/jump drive. It operates like jump drive/wormhole, and normally cannot be used in area with high gravity.
  • Used by default by the eponymous mecha in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It's ten million light years tall but moves and fights normally on a human timescale, so every part of it moves much, much faster than light every time it so much as budges. The method used is pure Hot-Blooded badass.
    • The Super Galaxy Dai-Gurren also has something akin to a hyperspace drive. Its guidance and power requirements are taken care of by the main character's flaming awesomeness (read: Hot-Blooded badass).
  • In the Tenchi Muyo! OVAverse when fighting Z, Tenchi travels from Earth to Saturn within a fraction of a second. This is Justified Trope in that he is the being that made the three Goddesses that made the universe.
  • Generally not present in Gundam due to the franchise's more "realistic" take on science fiction, but the idea has popped up a few times: The Turn a Gundam and the 00 Raiser are capable of instantaneous teleportation, generally over short, tactical distances. the 00 Raiser's successor, the 00 Qan[T], was then designed to use this for full-scale faster than light travel.
  • In Legend of Galactic Heroes, faster-than-light travel is achieved via "warp drives", which actually function more like "jump" drives in the trope description.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • In Warren Ellis' Orbiter, the shuttle's FTL drive is heavily implied to be Alcubierre drive (the name's not stated, but the picture of the warp field and the name Alcubierre was mentioned, and the theoretical explanation fits Alcubierre drive, except that starting and stopping is far easier).
  • DC Comics uses this every so often. A notable example is how Kyle Rayner has traversed the entire universe in a span of a few months, as well as traveling back and forth between Oa and Earth multiple times. Other Lanterns have done the same, but not nearly as much as Kyle has.
    • The Zeta Beam is primarily Adam Strange's method of FTL travel.
    • And then there's the Boom Tube Gauntlet, that apparently allows instantaneous travel to planets as far away as Apokolips.
  • The Flash has done this more than once.
  • The 1980's British science fiction comic Starblazer had a wide variety of star drives in its stories, including warp drives and warp gates, traveling through hyperspace with hyperdrives, using natural wormholes, Worm Hole Drive (creating artificial wormholes) and Omega Drive (artificially created black holes).

Film[edit | hide]

  • Star Wars, of course. Hyperdrive was developed by the Rakata 50,000 years before the movies took place. There are many in-universe theories as to how it works, but there was never any clear answer. So it pretty much uses "Jump", "Warp", and "Portal" at the same time. It's also fairly fast; one could travel from one end of the galaxy to the end in about one week.
  • Spaceballs spoofs the aforementioned Star Wars with the Ludicrous Speed drive, which instead of the star trail line effect, creates a plaid effect around the ship and is often seen to overshoot its destination.
    • The speed indicator lights showed another speed, "Ridiculous Speed", nestled in between Light Speed and Ludicrous Speed. One is given to wonder what would have become of our heroes in the Winnebago had Dark Helmet opted to chase them at only Ridiculous Speed.
  • Ernest Saves Christmas spoofs Star Wars's hyperdrive—Santa's sleigh is capable of travel that's a direct homage to the first jump to hyperspace scene in A New Hope.
  • Event Horizon is about a spaceship whose main system of FTL apparently can't decide whether it wants to be a jump drive or a warp drive in terms of Techno Babble, but in practice, it turns out to be a hyperdrive that took its crew into a Cosmic Horror dimension that killed them all, and then came back...changed by the experience.
  • In Contact, the alien plans create a device that allows Jodie Foster to travel to their world via a self-generated wormhole. James Woods' character goes to great pains to try to disprove her claims of travel because on Earth her elapsed time was immeasurable, but the elapsed time on her recording device was several hours.
  • In the Alien films, the ships must have some sort of FTL propulsion since Ripley expected to attend her daughter's 11th birthday on Earth and it doesn't make much sense to deploy Colonial Marines to assist a colony if it going to take them years or decades to arrive. The funny thing is that there are also stasis modules for space travel, which would be unnecessary if the ships achieved a high enough relativistic speed (due to Time Dilation).
    • The Colonial Marines Technical Manual states that whatever FTL they use has negative time dilation - the flight takes longer from the point of view of the crew than from that of the universe at large.
  • Similarly, in the The Fifth Element we see a commercial starship that "jumps to lightspeed" in order to travel to another solar system, and like the Alien films, they put the passengers to sleep during the voyage. Also the Cosmic Horror manages to travel from another solar system to Earth in just 2 hours. Mind that the heroes also manage to arrive to Earth from lightyears away just a little earlier...

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy had hyperspace, which seems to be a kind of warp drive, the effects of which are "rather unpleasantly like being drunk" (as felt by the drink!). To avoid that tedious mucking about in hyperspace, the Heart of Gold uses an Infinite Improbability Drive, a jump drive which altered the laws of probability, causing the (actually real, but incredibly unlikely - thus, nigh-infinitely improbable) spontaneous relocation of all the particles in a ship to some other place. An even more advanced system relied on the chaotic multidimensional mathematics generated by the attempt at divvying up the bill at a restaurant, and carried an onboard bistro as part of its drive system.
    • The Improbability Drive isn't quite as ludicrous as it sounds. If you actually COULD manipulate probabilities in the implied manner, you could make macroscopic objects make a position jump of arbitrary size (since there is a small but non-zero probability that all the particles that make it up really ARE over there where you want them to be after all). Whether this kind of macroscopic quantum-tunneling can make an object reappear at a distant locale faster than a beam of light could get there is a question modern physicists are still wrestling with, although experiments with quantum entamglement seem to imply that it cannot.
    • There's also the principle that nothing in the universe travels faster than bad news. Someone built a starship powered by bad news, but they were so unwelcome anywhere they went that there wasn't any real point in being there.
    • "R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental wellbeing and not being more than say five minutes late. (...) R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast."
  • Isaac Asimov's Robots-Empire-Foundation universe used "hyper-atomic" jump drives which, though one could theoretically use them to cross the galaxy instantaneously, could not be targeted accurately without first determining your exact position in space and then carefully calculating the relative trajectory of your destination from astronomical observations and manuals. As sophisticated computers did not exist in the Asimov universe until the later Foundation novels, this often had to be done by hand and plotting a single jump could take more than a day depending on how many gravity wells were around your locale. Long trips required several jumps, and to travel from one end of the galaxy to another required dozens of jumps and over two months time, in order to guarantee safe passage. "Blind jumps", where ships jump without a set course or a vaguely defined one, are known to occur in desperate circumstances, but one runs the risk of jumping too close to a star or planet, or merely jumping and being stuck in hyperspace forever.
    • It should be noted that Asimov's hyperspace is one of the stranger examples is mainstream sci-fi. It's not so much a dimension as a "state" of existence. All speed and distance is nil in hyperspace, and the whole galaxy itself is nothing but a dimensionless point (hence the idea that one could cross it easily). Transit takes less than a second, and is described as a momentary, blink-and-you'll-miss-it feeling of weightlessness. Hyperspace accidents are repeatedly denounced as "unheard of", and everything becomes very casual after some proper computers are put in charge.
    • Interestingly enough, the first computers would freeze when attempting the first hyperspace jump simulations, being "Three Laws"-Compliant, because the jump essentially kills the traveler. The first positronic brain, in a foreshadowing of the Zeroth Law Rebellion, glossed over the whole dying part and discovered he was still alive after the jump (while developing a rather perverse sense of humour to help itself cope)...
      • The stated reason that a positronic system could complete the calculation (while a duotronic system could not) is that the mind hosted by the positronic system allowed it to look past the deaths of the travelers and see that, once the ship emerged from hyperspace, they would come back to life. It may also have observed that it was possible to make the transit instantaneous, which would eliminate the problem entirely.
    • The first time a proper navigational computer is used to jump a ship to a destination, it plots a course involving some 29 jumps in a few seconds (something that a human would have taken days to do) with zero errors. The captain, Golan Trevize, is distrustful of the machine and orders it to make only the first jump, then takes a whole day to verify their co-ordinates (making calculation errors of his own in the process). When he orders the next jumps to be made, the effect as seen on the viewscreen is something akin to a quick slideshow of starscapes, each frame corresponding to a pause between jumps. In the end, only 28 jumps are made (in 30 minutes, as opposed to a few months), since the computer had optimized their course after jump 15. Everyone is rightly impressed with this.
  • Animorphs had a hyper drive that utilized something called zero-space, or Z-space. In one prequel book, the Yeerks, spying on humans, discover footage from Star Trek showing FTL travel in the physical world without Z-space and are stunned until they realize that it's fiction.
    • This form of FTL travel has a very large flaw. The distance between places in Z-space shifted constantly, so a trip that takes days today could take months tomorrow.
  • Stephen Baxter's Xeelee series deconstructs this trope's implications in physics: here, Faster Than Light travel also results in paradox-free Time Travel (a main character in the novel Exultant accidentally travels back to meet himself from "two years ago"), which both sides in humanity's war with the Xeelee regularly exploit.
    • As did Robert A. Heinlein some years earlier in Time Enough for Love.
    • Sadly, though, this is dealt with in a very inconsistent manner by the author. In Exultant, for example, he concocts one big bowl of handwavium whenever he needs the protagonists to defeat FTL foreknowledge (and he does it again when his previous solution was impossible to use in a given situation). Neither solution is plausible. He also does not take the concept of FTL time travel to its full extent—for example, one major plot point is the economic strain in a society locked in 3,000 years of continuing war, when time travel xerox would be a perfect valid method for waging a war practically for free.[1] Turns out that a universe with Casual Time Travel is very difficult to write stories for.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga takes the Our Wormholes Are Different route, with a series of wormholes depicted as lines between various worlds. Jumps ships can "jump" the wormholes if a pilot with cybernetic implants guides the ship through the five-dimensional space inside. A few seconds passes for the crew, but the pilot experiences hours during the jump. Given the odd nature of the pilots' experiences, though (one pilot hallucinated that he was the color red) this time stretch may be artificial. There can be many different wormholes along a single route, and they may be spaced several days of travel apart. Bujold has said that she hand waved the wormholes intentionally, preferring to get on with the plot.
  • In the Ender's Game series, humans have a Subspace Ansible, but not FTL ships. This is a point revealed and exploited in the early books.
    • Even the slower-than-light drives of their starships require some Applied Phlebotinum to work—they can instantly go from a standing stop to 99+ percent of light speed and back, without having to muck about with all that tedious accelerating (which would normally take years, unless you wanted to squish the passengers).
      • In the last book of the Shadow parallel series it was stated that Artificial Gravity was used for rapid acceleration/deceleration.
    • In the later books, the properties of the Subspace Ansible are utilized by a sufficiently powerful computer mind to move ships in the same way as information, allowing for truly instantaneous FTL travel. To their credit, the characters exploit this for all it's worth in fending off a planetary invasion force, up to and including Teleport Spam, and later offer it to humanity at large in return for leaving the AI alone.
  • John DeChancie's Skyway series has faster-than-light truck travel, along a road built by Precursors which uses artificial Kerr-Tippler objects (wormholes, basically) to transport matter along various sections of a road that, altogether, runs over the surfaces of hundreds of planets.
  • In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle books, which includes Dorsai!, space travel is achieved through a series of jumps, where the ship is annihilated at one spot and reconstituted in another. The jumps not only have to be extensively calculated (the ship must be located absolutely in the universe, and its destination point must also be exactly calculated, to the same degree), the jump itself has a psychological effect on the crew and passengers, so the more often the jump, the greater the psychic shock and the closer the people onboard get to insanity. Tranquilizers are made available to help lessen the experience, but cannot nullify it. This is a subplot point in Dorsai!, where the effect is shown during a raid on a planet - something nobody thinks possible.
  • Joe Haldeman's The Forever War averts this trope with 'collapsars' which allow interstellar travel without breaking the light speed barrier. The ships utilize collapsars to accelerate to huge percentages of light speed, where time dilation noticeably kicks in such that that occupants experience only a split second of travel time whereas the trip still takes many years as everyone else sees it.
    • Collapsars did allow for faster-than-light travel. The instant your ship entered one collapsar, it instantly emerged out of another hundreds or thousands of light-years away. The reason the occupants experience such great degrees of time dilation is that collapsars are not ubiquitous through space—the nearest collapsar to Earth, called "Stargate", is a light-year away—and it can take years of near-light-speed travel to get to the closest collapsar.
  • In Dune, the Spacing Guild holds a monopoly on space travel for most of the series. Using "Holtzman engines" to fold space (type 2 instantaneous or near instantaneous travel), ships are piloted by psychic Guild Navigators who can see into the future, enabling safe transport through the universe. The downside? Activating their precognitive power requires the Navigators to breathe Spice gas, which mutates them - eventually to the extent that they can't live without it.
    • But in the sequels their abilities were mimicked by technology... as was EVERYTHING, as the proscriptions from the Butlerian Jihad and the general distaste for genetic engineering were holding back the advances of technology - as long as they had the spice, nobody was interested in figuring out better ways to get around. One of Leto II's goals was to break this stasis and allow humanity to go forward.
    • Further, the prequels show that technology was already on a path to making Holtzman engines safe, but dogmatic rejection of anything that is remotely reminiscent of a thinking machine forced the development of Guild Navigators to bypass the edict.
    • In the pre-prequels set during the Butlerian Jihad, another (unnamed) kind of FTL drive exists, which takes days, weeks, or months to cross interstellar distances. This slower method of FTL travel is favored until the advent of Guild Navigators, because without a Navigator, each use of a Holtzman fold drive has a 10% chance to send its starship to never-never land forever.
    • One of the implied problems of using the Holtman drive is the possibility that you might jump into another ship with the drive that's already where you want to arrive. The idea of the Guild Navigators is that they use the limited precognition the Spice gives them to see the risk and avoid it. Unfortunately, later refinement of the idea of precognition includes the idea that anyone with precognition cannot use it to see anyone else with precognition, creating a possible problem with the whole scheme.
  • C. J. Cherryh's Alliance Union series has a Hyperspace drive which acts like (and uses the terminology of) a jump drive, since steering is impossible once inside of hyperspace, and all of the conditions needed to end up at the right destination need to be set up before entering hyperspace. Entering hyperspace requires acceleration to near-light speeds (and deceleration from). Also there's a bit of Time Dilation in that crews experience three days to a week (though most members of oxygen breathing races are unconscious during jump) while a couple of months pass outside.
  • In many of Anne McCaffrey's series (particularly, the The Ship Who...... series), FTL travel is possible, but obscenely expensive. Trips between star systems still take months or years (with the bulk of travel spent slowing the ship down safely). In the Talents series, ships are simply thrown through space and teleported via Psychic Powers.
  • Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle described the Alderson Drive in The Mote in God's Eye (1975), which requires the traveling vessel to be located in particular points in space before they could travel between systems, and even then the 'jump points' only connected in pairs. The Trope Codifier for portal drives not involving fixed stargates.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space has hyperdrive that only travels at one set speed of a light year in about three days; the discovery of a higher level of hyperspace with a greater speed has major ramifications for that 'verse. This hyperdrive was never invented by a planet-bound species; the wandering Outsiders sold it to younger races (they never use it themselves, feeling it too risky.) Can't be used near gravity; this was later subject to Retcon so that Niven could have a twist ending to the Ringworld series, but many fans are disgruntled with the explanation that replaced it.
  • FTL travel in Honor Harrington is accomplished by "translating" into hyperspace, in which normal local-space movement is amplified severalfold. Hyperspace is organized into bands named after the letters of the Greek alphabet; a starship first translates into the alpha band, and from there can translate into the beta band, then the gamma band, etc.. The higher the hyper band your starship is in, the greater the multiplication factor when determining your "apparent velocity" through normal space; a ship traveling at 0.5c in the delta band is traveling through normal space at 912c, for example. In keeping with the nautical theme of the series, hyperspace is criss-crossed by "grav waves" which will tear your ship apart unless it projects "Warshawski sails", and these sails allow the ship to "ride" the grav wave at even greater speeds.
    • There are also naturally occurring points that act as instant-travel wormholes to distant locations.
    • Local-space travel, both in and out of hyper, uses a gravity-manipulating drive that has the extra bonus of allowing its users to behave as if they were really seagoing vessels - this is a bonus because, for Honor Harrington, read "Horatio Hornblower".
    • Gravitic sensors also allow for some limited short-range FTL communication: initially directly from sensing the gravitational waves, and later, as Weber learned that gravity only propagates at lightspeed, he retconned these into sensing the instantaneous RIPPLE along the edge of the hyperspace that grav waves induce.
  • The BattleTech universe features JumpShips capable of somehow creating and magnifying a 'rip' in the fabric of space-time and thereby jumping distances up to thirty light years in an instant...but which are otherwise generally (there are exceptions) only equipped with station-keeping drives that allow them to hold their position at the jump point while recharging, a process that generally takes a week or more. (Occasionally an enterprising military leader will arrange for faster travel by setting up a 'command circuit' with passengers and cargo transferring to a new and fully charged JumpShip immediately upon arrival, possibly several times in succession.)
  • David Weber's Empire From the Ashes trilogy features both warp drives and jump drives, though they're so ridiculously large that most ships the size of a planetoid only have enough space to mount one or the other. It's explained that each type has its own advantages; jump drives are faster, but the destination cannot be changed mid-jump, while warp drives are slower, but allow for more flexibility.
    • Hyper is something of a cross between the "jump" and "warp" versions of FTL travel. Travel is not instantaneous, and the ship is moving through an alternate dimension (warp), but once you're in hyper, you're stuck until you get to your destination (jump). Enchanach is pretty much the classic warp drive.
  • The "skip drives" used by the Colonial Defense Forces in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series are actually interdimensional travel, with no way to return to your "home" universe. Thankfully most universes are so similar that you'd never be able to notice any differences.
  • In the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster, ships use the posigravity, or Kurita-Kinoshita drive (Named for the scientists who invented it). Ships are said to look like a balloon stuck on the end of a plunger. The suction cup looking part of the ship generates a gravity field that pulls the ship along. Changing the shape of the gravity field changes how matter behaves and allows the ship to exceed the speed of light, taking it into ?space-plus?. KK-drives are very dangerous and sophisticated computers are needed to keep everything working properly. Due to dangers imposed by the drives there are restrictions in where they can be used.
    • Dangers like gouging significant chunks out of a planet's surface, setting off hurricanes, earthquakes, you name it - No Endor Holocaust dramatically inverted. Flinx's ship is unique because the Ulru-Ujurrians figured out how to circumvent the problem.
    • There's also a piece of Fridge Logic in this drive method: the system apparently violates the Third Law of Motion in that there's no counterforce opposing its forward acceleration. This can only work if you accept that the drive field simulates mass without actually having any, a Hand Wave if there ever was one.
  • Charles Stross's Eschaton series (including Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, among others) happily accepts that FTL travel implies time travel. However, a singularly powerful AI from the future (the previously mentioned Eschaton) protects causality (and ultimately, its own existence) by being able to see causality violations after they occur, then use its own (much better) causality violating weapons to obliterate the offender with godlike levels of overkill.
  • Christopher Stasheff's The Warlock In Spite Of Himself series uses H-space and an isomorpher. The way it works is through a bit of Applied Phlebotinum which essentially retranslates whatever is there into a string of numbers on the "wall of eternity." Speed through H-space is dependent on the size of the craft and the power of its computer; the more powerful the computer, the faster it can "translate" the data. The issue of FTL radio is also addressed, although it is not stated how it is accomplished. One of the key plot points in the series is that Telepathy and Teleportation are instantaneous independent of distance (although some psi's don't have the range normally) and FTL radio does have lag time.
  • E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series, considered by many to be the original space opera, avoids the issue entirely by allowing its spaceships to exceed lightspeed in normal space using the Bergenholm, a device which (temporarily) cancels inertia. The catch is the ship's inertia returns instantly if the device fails or is switched off, with potentially catastrophic results if the ship's intrinsic velocity is greatly at odds with its surroundings. Ships making planetfall or meeting in space have to turn off their Bergenholms and match velocities before they can dock and matching velocities sometimes takes longer than the trip itself.
  • In E. E. "Doc" Smith's Skylark Series, FTL travel is achieved by shrugging and saying "looks like Einstein was wrong." Spacecraft can undergo plain old Newtonian acceleration right past light speed. The exotic reactionless drive used also allows for insane accelerations, ranging upwards from the hundreds of thousands of gravities without ill effects.
    • It should perhaps be borne in mind that the first book in this series was written in the 1920s, when special relativity was still doubted by many physicists. Going against Einstein was far less of a departure from physics in those days than it is today.
  • Thoroughly averted by Ursula K. Le Guin in her Hainish Cycle novels. While faster-than-light communication is possible with the Subspace Ansible, all travel between stars is done with NAFAL ("nearly-as-fast-as-light") ships. The principle on which these work is not described in detail - presumably traveling "nearly" as fast as light would still require some Applied Phlebotinum. The time dilation resulting from the speeds NAFAL ships achieve serves to underscore just how distanced the traveler becomes from their home - while to them the trip might have taken mere hours, anywhere from decades to centuries would have passed on their home planet, all their friends would have aged and died, and so on. However, in three later short stories set in the same universe as the Hainish Cycle, Le Guin describes the development of faster-than-light ships, based on the principles of the Ansible. She focuses on the impact their appearance has on society and individual lives.
      • Faster than light ships were developed in that universe just immediately after ansible. Their popularity was hindered only by the small insignificant fact that the jump (just as instantaneous) tended to kill passengers regardless of were they in stasis, like in NAFAL ships or not. So these ships were used only for cargo or, essentially, as Inter Stellar Ballistic Missiles. Only thousands years later the way to keep passengers alive during the jump was discovered, and it basically made the jump a mystic experience, with slipping concentration threatening to throw you into an Alternate Universe... partway, while your friends either remained "where" they were, or going their own ways...
  • Over the course of its long run, Perry Rhodan has come up with a variety of FTL drives. To name just the three 'standard' ones actually used in our galaxy over time:
    • Transition drive: Involves complex and time-consuming navigational calculations to avoid ending up somewhere you didn't want to go, then the ship basically teleports through hyperspace in no time at all. Drawbacks include physical strain on the crew which gets worse with increasing jump distance and massive 5-D shockwaves that make it easy to detect and possibly track ships using this method. The first faster-than-light drive seen in the series, and for about the first hundred issues the only one.
    • Linear drive: After reaching a certain minimum speed (relative to what is never addressed, but it's generally a substantial fraction of c) with its sublight drives, the ship enters not-quite-hyperspace and flies on at possibly several million times the speed of light. (Originally introduced with seat-of-the-pants navigation being possible, later on each individual 'lap' was implied to be pre-set after all.) Takes more raw travel time than the above, but avoids its associated problems as well. This would remain the standard intra-galactic mode of FTL travel for well over a thousand years after reaching sufficiently widespread distribution; both it and the above were less well-suited for extragalactic travel due to eventual converter burnout limiting their maximum possible range.
    • Metagrav: The modern standard, it has much the same feel as the linear model above, but the ship actually enters hyperspace proper encapsuled in a so-called 'Grigoroff field'. It allows for higher performance and can be used for both intra- and intergalactic travel, which previously generally called for two distinct drive systems on the same ship. One possible problem with it, though one rarely encountered except for plot purposes, is that suitably catastrophic failures of the Grigoroff field can strand the ship in another universe altogether from where its prospects of returning are uncertain at best.
  • Parodied, like most SF tropes, in Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, with the Bloater Drive which expands the ship to larger than galaxy sized, then shrinks it slightly off-center so that you coalesce a few lightyears from your starting point.
  • In Hyperion they use a sort of wormholes to travel. Unfortunately making them work requires a sort of beacon to be built near any planet they will link to, so the people they send to build them are faced with the problems of relativity. Some time is spent exploring the implications of this technology, from houses that have rooms on a dozen planets and all their steps going downward (think about it) to riverboat rides across all the coolest places in the galaxy, to terrorists who destroy a beacon knowing that the army won't show up for decades and finally mass suicides and starvation when the whole network fails. There are also spaceships that go faster than light, but they require the passengers to be put into "cryogenic fugue", and incur a lot of missed time on the traveler's part.
  • David Brin's Uplift series uses pretty much all of the above in one form or another. The warp drives in the Uplift universe rely on altering probability. They also give the ship in question after-images, which get increasingly more improbable the longer the drive is used. And apparently certain modes of hyperspace travel can be shaped by the crew's thoughts...
  • Used in H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History novels. Hyperspace is very, very boring and a full interstellar jump takes weeks, meaning that pretty much everyone has a hobby to pass the time (such as music, landscape painting, or history). One line in Little Fuzzy implies that there is a bit of time dilation, although no actual time travel.
    • Andre Norton's Solar Queen series uses the same notion of crewmembers having hobbies. Some of those hobbies come in very useful in-story.
  • Drives in The Sirantha Jax Series provide jumps through Grimspace, which is a plane of psychedelia and flame which only the navigator (called a jumper) can chart courses through. An interesting facet of Grimspace is that a number of "buoys" were placed there to mark points where ships could jump back to normal space, but none know who put them there.
  • Newton's Wake by Ken MacLeod features both a network of wormholes (called the Skein), and starships with warp drives (which are ridiculously expensive to build, but nonetheless possessed by every major galactic power). Both are based on technology left behind by super-human intelligences after a particularly violent technological singularity. The causality-violating properties of FTL are hand waved away and later made into a plot point by having a character explicitly state that some incomprehensible cosmic laws simply prevent both the wormhole network and starships from ever being used to violate causality—if you plot a course or enter a wormhole that would let you travel into the past and change it, the FTL simply wouldn't work, or would take a longer route than seemingly necessary, or something else would occur to simply make the causality violation not happen.
  • In the Posleen War Series there appear to be three types of FTL drive kicking around. One allows for travel to any point you care to name but is slower and consumes horrendous amounts of energy. The second uses a similar drive but you can take the highway between gravity wells to speed up and consume less energy at the cost of being similar to a portal network. The third is a mass based worm hole generator, it lets you jump from one surface of a planet to another.
  • In the Into the Looking Glass there are a few ways to travel. The eponymous looking glasses function as instantaneous travel worm holes. A warp drive is also available based on some abandoned precurse technology. There appears to be another hyperspace lane that is accessible but isn't as used in the stories being late comers to the plot.
  • In Murray Leinster's 1945 short story "First Contact", FTL travel is only possible in a perfect vacuum. At the time, many astrophysicists believed that interstellar space was completely particle-free, which later turned out not to be the case.
  • The Revelation Space universe of Alastair Reynolds is a notable aversion; "lighthugger" ships can reach very high fractions of c, but it still takes years or decades to travel between star systems. It's later revealed that faster-than-light travel is possible, but is a Very Bad Idea - entire civilizations have removed themselves from existence by violating causality this way.
  • The FTL used by Iain M. Banks' Culture works by having a ship attach its engines fields to the Energy Grid, the barriers between nested universes. There's a Grid between this universe and an ultraverse (an older, outside universe), and between this and an infraverse (a younger, inside universe). The view is described as flying between walls of sky and water. The fields "push" off them to accelerate, and create traction against the grid to decelerate. Normal cruising speeds are relatively slow, taking years to cross the galaxy, and taking two years to reach a Magellanic Cloud. Travel between galaxies is hampered due to the Grid changing properties in the space between.
  • The FTL travel in the Nights Dawn Trilogy is of the "jump" variety, which author Peter Hamilton goes into great detail describing. Adamist starships must be spherical, and everything must be retracted when they jump. If any sensors, antennae, or heat dumps are extended during a jump, the spherical event horizon collapses them down to neutron star density. Furthermore, Adamist FTL makes use of orbital mechanics; when jumping near a planet, the ship must be in an orbit lining up with their destination, and need to be sufficiently out of the planet's gravity well (though it is possible to jump from a Langrangian point. However, it's not advised). Edenist voidhawks and blackhawks, on the other hand, utilize "swallows" and "distortion fields" that mean they can jump pretty much to and from anywhere, under any conditions. One once jumped inside an orbiting space colony. Although it's mentioned that this is only possible - or at least feasible - because the space colony doesn't have "true" gravity, but merely rotates to simulate gravity on its inner surface. This implies that the Eden hawks do at least need to take local gravity into account when jumping, although it isn't specified whether the presence of a gravity well would prevent a jump or simply make it more difficult/dangerous.
    • The Kiint, on the other hand, have personal, universe-spanning jump drives apparently built into their genetics. It's never specified what actually causes it, but seeing as Haile (a newborn Kiint) can designate normal humans for inclusion in their emergency exodus from Tranquility; and that the Kiint "human" observers also have this ability, it makes sense for it to be inherent to genetic code. After all, surely the highly-effective scanners the humans employ at every possible occasion would detect any embedded technology?
  • In Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, ships use the "stutter drive" variant—a Jump Drive that makes (comparatively) short jumps, but at a rate of many jumps each second, resulting in a seemingly smooth journey for the passengers. This shapes space combat in the setting—warships maneuver by trying to synchronise or de-synchronize their jumps with those of nearby enemy ships. Because of the weirdness of the Zones of Thought that form a major part of this book's universe, how quickly the drive works—and whether it works at all—depends on where in the Galaxy one attempts to use it. In the region that includes our Earth, the laws of nature seem to work as we believe they do today, and faster than light travel is still quite impossible.
    • This is emphasized in the prequel, A Deepness in The Sky, which is an interesting aversion of this trope. The book takes place entirely in the "Slow Zone," the region of the Galaxy where FTL is impossible. There is plenty of interstellar travel in the book, and all of it slower-than-light, with different human civilizations building "ramscoop" starships capable of reaching relativistic speeds. Medical science has dramatically increased the human lifespan and suspended animation has been perfected, allowing a single human lifetime to include many interstellar journeys. The people interstellar voyagers leave behind grow old compared to them, but often still survive long enough for more meetings.
  • Colin Kapp's Patterns of Chaos describes a jump drive which works by principles resembling sympathetic magic: the ship has a 3-D star map, and sets up its jump by creating a pattern of ultra-fine copper wires, "defining positions and axes and measuring critical paths," between the simulated stars in the map. When the drive activates, the ship no longer exists in the space-time continuum, but is actually in the "ersatz galaxy in the subspace cavity deep within its own guts"—it's inside itself.

Stories still survived of spacemen who claimed to have seen the copper bars straddling the stars at the end of a subspace jump. Bron was not certain about this, but he did know that technicians caught in the subspace cavity during the jump had observed the ionization trail of their own ship speeding from web to web. Those of them, that is, who managed to recover from the shock.

  • Averted in the short story FTA in which a scientist trying to develop a hyperdrive applies for a research grant to the bureau responsible for establishing practical interstellar travel. They turn him down, and he appeals, pointing out that in hyperspace, where the laws of physics are different, the speed of light is not necessarily the same as in our universe; therefore spacecraft could reach the stars in a short time without violating Einstein's theories. They turn him down again, because they developed a working hyperdrive years earlier, but it's useless for interstellar travel because in hyperspace the speed of light is slower than in our universe.
  • The Antares series uses a naturally-occuring Portal Network of "foldpoints", which provide instantaneous transportation between star systems. However, each foldpoint only connects to one other foldpoint, foldpoints are usually found on opposite sides of the star, and crossing a system can take weeks.
  • In His Majesty's Starship, the aliens possess a "step-through" drive, which relies on the theory that atom-sized wormholes are constantly appearing and disappearing all around us. The step-through drive finds one that leads to where you want to go, expands it to the size of a ship, and holds it open long enough for everyone to step through. For an added bonus, once the wormhole is open, ships without step-through drives (ie human ships) can use it.
  • A Wrinkle in Time has the "tesseract", which is described as folding two points of space and time so they are adjacent to each other, allowing for near-instantaneous travel.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals From the Dark and Trevelyan's Mission series, all interstellar races use the contour drive for FTL travel. The drive is relatively simple in design and has ridiculously low power requirements compared to most other FTL drives in fiction. It does, however, require incredibly precise calculations in order to arrive at a target location. Additionally, smaller drives tend to burn out after one use, so are usually used in communication drones. It jumps outside our universe and jumps back at the new location, which is a nearly-instantaneous process. While, theoretically, it's possible to jump anywhere in the galaxy, it would be nearly impossible to make the necessary calculations, which are thrown off by distance and gravity. Fleet often arrive dispersed throughout the target system, as each ship jumps individually.
    • Later novels reveal the presence of an ancient Portal Network left behind by the Daskins. One of the nodes is located in Jupiter's atmosphere and is more commonly known to us as the Great Red Spot (which is large enough to fit up to 3 Earth-sized planets). Only the Lo'ona Aeo know how to use these to cross great distances in a relatively short time.
    • The final novel of the Trevelyan's Mission series has the titular character discover a device on a remote planet that acts similar to the Iconian gateway from Star Trek. In the epilogue, he learns to control it using his latent Psychic Powers and uses it to step from the planet onboard a ship where he is expected to negotiate with an advanced race of Technical Pacifists.
  • In Andrei Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series, all FTL travel is achieved via hypersphere, an anomalous dimension existing alongside ours. In terms of topology, it more-or-less resembles an actual sphere with multiple arbitrary "layers". Every sufficiently large stellar body creates an energy imprint in hypersphere. Each star has "tension" lines stretching to nearby stars known as "horizontals" (they're, basically, chords, if you remember your geometry). There are also "verticals", stretching from stars deep into the center of the anomaly. The humans first discovered FTL travel during the historical launch of the first extrasolar colony ship, the Alpha, possibly the largest human ship ever built. It featured three massive fusion engines that could accelerate it to half the speed of light. The drives were activated, and the ship vanished. It was only later discovered that the sheer power of the engines tore a hole in space-time into hypersphere. The first FTL drives were, essentially, particle accelerators meant to punch holes in space-time, so ships can "ride" along the horizontals to their destination. Later designs substituted it for a more better combination of two generators: a low-frequency hyperfield generator to "submerge" a ship into hypersphere and a high-frequency generator to "surface" it. This only scratches the surface of hypersphere, and there are several novels in the series that explore its nature deeper (both figuratively and literally).
    • Interestingly, only one other race besides humanity has managed to develop a hyperdrive. Everyone else used static hypergates that first had to be moved into place by sublight.
  • In The Pentagon War, simultaneously detonating two very expensive (and immensely destructive) phased-antimatter bombs—if they're pointed directly at one another—creates a permanent tunnel through parallel space between the two Ground Zeroes, allowing instantaneous travel and communication. By the time of the war, the five major star systems have all become "linked" to one another by creating a few of these "hyper holes".
  • Subverted masterfully in the Discworld. Due to the intense magic field required to keep something like a world on the back of a giant turtle existing, light actually travels at a speed similar to sound on the Disc meaning that "Faster than light" broomsticks have appeared in the series where due to a massive magical boost, they exceed Mach I and this also the speed of light. Shown most prominently in Equal Rites, where Granny Weatherwax and Esk outrun the rising sun's light and "catch up with the night."

Live-Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek uses 'warp drive', which actually shunts part of a vessel's mass into subspace, then causes 'ripples' in subspace, which the vessel then 'surfs' on. The vessel itself remains stationary, and the space around the ship is shifted. See this link for more information. In Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Kirk claims that going to warp within a solar system is a risky proposition only ever attempted in emergencies. Wormholes also exist, but are extremely unstable and unpredictable.
    • It is worth noting that while this explanation is backed up by supporting materials, no explanation this technical is ever given on-screen, though a ship propelled by a drive system which is described in very similar terms (in "New Ground") is emphatically not a warp drive.
    • It has also been explained in later series that older designs of warp drives are capable of damaging subspace at higher speeds. The Intrepid Class was one of the first ship classes designed to avoid causing this problem, along with subsequent ships, although it is implied that older ships were eventually refit to mitigate this.
    • One fun fact: in the pilot episode it was referred to as 'Time Warp' suggesting that the drive had some sort of time distorting effect rather than anything to do with subspace. This was dropped by the time they made the second pilot episode.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the planet Bajor is nearby the only known stable wormhole in the galaxy. It gives a portal between the Alpha Quadrant (where all the major players in the Trek universe live) and the Gamma Quadrant some 70+ thousand light-years away. Starships sometimes transit through this wormhole using warp drive, which is like eating an FTL travel sandwich on FTL bread with a side of FTL fries. Given the small distance from one end to the other, it is also like taking a rocket ship to go down the street. There are various unstable wormholes, which shift endpoint from time to time, or may trap objects inside them.
  • Star Trek: Voyager. As they were stranded on the other side of the galaxy, Voyager sought various means of getting home faster than possible using its (already highly-efficient) warp drive, ranging from transwarp and quantum slipstream technology, to a graviton catapult which can catapult a vessel across space in the time it takes to say "catapult a vessel across space."
    • the Nickelodeon show Space Cases has a similar premise, although the journey time was estimated to be 10 times shorter. It is also implied that their home civilization has access to faster ships than the one featured.
  • Blakes Seven gave the Federation "Time distort" drives, which appear to be a kind of warped space drive. The Liberator and Scorpio both employed even more exotic propulsion systems whose principles were different and unknown. However, the show never really made a big deal of these mechanics.
  • Andromeda uses slipstreams, a kind of portal drive, which requires a human pilot—well, an organic lifeform, anyway (a computer can only navigate slipstreams accurately if it has access to a one-of-a-kind perfect and complete map of all slipstreams, or the willingness to use, less savory tactics) and is described as "not the best way to travel faster than light, just the only way".
  • Babylon 5 allowed ships to travel faster than light using "hyperspace", envisioned here as an alternate dimension in which travel is much more rapid (possibly due to distance compression). More advanced (or, at least, bigger) ships could enter and exit hyperspace at will, by using a "jump engine" (really more of a projector) to create a temporary "jump point" (portal) in their own flight path, while less advanced or powerful ones (even single-seat fighters!) could still travel faster than light by either accompanying a jump-capable ship or using a network of stationary "jump gates", which were positioned throughout the galaxy and triggered by a radio message.
    • The White Star class warships were noted as the smallest vessels equipped with their own "jump engine".
    • There was a combat tactic, known as the "Bonehead Maneuver", which involved using a jump engine to create a portal overlaid on an active jump gate portal; this would overload the jump gate's power supply, causing a catastrophic explosion. It was done once during the series, and was said to have been named during the Earth-Minbari War, about a decade prior.
  • Stargate SG-1: The gates themselves act as portals, generating wormholes between planets. Ships too large to fit through a gate usually travel through hyperspace. However Earth-made hyperdrives are the textbook examples of Tim Taylor Technology,[2] due to their use of highly unstable Naquadria.
    • Season 9 introduced supergates (really big stargate, needs a planet-mass black hole to power it) that were used to send ships from one galaxy to another quickly.
    • Stargate Atlantis had introduced the wormhole drive in the series finale. Apparently the Ancients have mounted an experimental drive system onto Atlantis that can generate a wormhole and cross intergalactic distances in seconds. The downsides are that it uses insane amounts of energy and doing even a slight miscalculation will completely vaporize the ship.
    • The starship Destiny from Stargate Universe seems to use a different method of travel that is slower/faster than normal hyperspace travel as the plot demands. The characters don't know much about it, so they just call it FTL.
  • Battlestar Galactica: The new series uses jump drives, which require complex calculations, and can leave a ship hopelessly lost if a jump is mistimed. The use of jump drives is actually critical to the plot of the whole series - since sensors are limited to light speed, it is impossible to detect a ship as it jumps, allowing any ship to instantly escape from its pursuers, or to appear and attack without warning. It also seems to work from anywhere: ships often jump mere feet from a planet's surface immediately after lifting off, or in one notable case immediately before pancaking on the ground after an orbital burn-in. The original Galactica had FTL travel in the traditional "warp" style, but never spoke about the mechanism.
    • The Powers That Be tried to explain BSG's jump drives as non-FTL technology. Something about the ships not actually traveling faster than their normal speeds, but shortening the distance between the two points. However, this pretty much defines most drives in this trope - in that they aren't really moving you beyond light speed, but just make it so that you effectively are, usually using a wormhole/hyperspace/gravitational warping effect.
    • The original 1978 Galactica 's drive systems weren't FTL in the traditional warp style. In fact, I wouldn't say they were FTL at all. The writers simply didn't understand the difference between interplanetary and interstellar distances. Once, Adama ordered the Galactica to accelerate to the speed of light, but nowhere did they claim to exceed it... Not that accelerating a ship to the speed of light is any less impossible with physics as we know it.
  • In Red Dwarf, the ship explicitly breaks the light barrier at least once, and implicitly does so many times (as they are seen travelling between star systems in very short periods of time), but no attempt is ever made to explain how this is done.
    • In fact, the ship computer explicitly explains how this isn't possible, and how it's now "brown trousers time" because of it. The episode "Future Echoes" explains exactly why it's not advised.
    • The novel goes into a bit more detail: namely, it comes about from the fact that the ship has been slowly accelerating for the past three million years.
    • Also in the second series finale Holly invented what he thought was a jump drive, but actually took them to an Alternate Universe.
  • The TARDIS from Doctor Who usually simple "appears" at one location or another in space and time (sometimes even where it's meant to). It's also been observed to fly in normal space at the speed of plot, although this isn't as cheap on the effects budget. Travel outside the Universe is also not unheard of.
    • A fact which has been Lampshaded by the Doctor himself on more than one occasion.
    • The TARDISes are literally aeons ahead of any other ship type anywhere, ever. To put this in perspective, they're alive, sentient (with personalities; the Doctor's is as mischievous as he is), and span the whole of time and space. One of them exploding amounts to the Multiverse retroactively cancelling its own existence.
  • Farscape has all three; "Hetch Drive" is dirt cheap and available to everyone, "Starburst" is available to Leviathans such as Moya, but wormholes - which act as a metadimensional Portal Network - can only be utilized with the assistance of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, which they don't give lightly for really good reasons.
    • Oddly the True Ancients warn against using wormholes in part because they can cause a relativistic paradox even though this isn't an issue with any other kind of FTL travel.
  • Varies in Power Rangers depending on the season. They use Jump travel when not using a ship (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Power Rangers Zeo, Power Rangers Turbo), and Warp travel with a ship (Power Rangers in Space, Power Rangers Lost Galaxy). Occasionally they use slower than light craft and wormholes.
  • Space: 1999 was entirely due to Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: The MOON gets blasted out of not only Earth orbit, but the Solar System due to a frickin' EXPLOSION (somehow without being blasted apart by it), and is left Travelling At the Speed of Plot, such that it hangs around in the vicinity of an interesting planet just long enough for the crew to fix whatever is wrong with it and fail to settle there, and STILL get to the next star system by next week's episode.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Warhammer 40,000, the most common form of FTL is achieved by traveling through the Warp, a nightmarish dimension where the thoughts and emotions of sentient creatures give rise to dark gods and hordes of gibbering monstrosities. As such, ships require force fields to (hopefully) keep the crew from being eaten by daemons during Warp-jumps, and it takes members of a caste of psychic mutants called Navigators to pilot ships through the Immaterium. Since the Warp doesn't obey the laws of physics, vessels traveling through it move much faster than they would in realspace, but the exact ratio is fluid - sometimes a day in the Warp is equal to just under two weeks' travel in the material universe, while in other cases starships are lost for thousands of years, or emerge before they've left. Some charts even indicate that it's faster to travel across the galaxy than it is to hop to an adjacent sector. Further complicating matters are "currents" or "storms" in the Warp that can displace or destroy vessels, and unfortunately the only navigational aid is a psychic beacon on Holy Terra powered by the souls of thousands of psykers, which has been known to flicker and dim on occasion.
    • It's no surprise that other races have found alternatives to this form of travel. The Eldar have the Webway, a Portal Network that links points in realspace by tunnels through a dimension somewhere between the Warp and reality; however, this network is ancient and decaying, making some passages unusable or dangerous, while the Eldar's evil counterparts have built an entire civilization within it. The Tau, who lack a real psychic presence and therefore cannot fully enter the Warp, use special drives to briefly "dip" into it to boost themselves forward, which though much slower than proper Warp travel is much safer. The Tyranid hive fleets use a special bio-ship capable of slingshotting the fleet through space by harnessing a planet's gravity well, and the swarm typically goes into hibernation during the trip between systems. The Necrons use inertialess drives and large-scale teleportation technology eons more advanced than other races' FTL. And the Orks... use the Warp anyway, because either the metal teeth they've riveted to their ships' hulls will scare the daemons off, or they'll have a pretty entertaining fight on the way to their next conquest.
  • The role-playing game Traveller equipped its starships with the Jump Drive. In terms of this trope, Jump Drive was really a warp drive, moving ships through "jump-space" or "hyper-space." The catch? No jump could cover a distance of less than one parsec, so Jump Drives were useless for in-system travel. Also, the time spent in jump-space was independent of the distance travelled. Each jump lasted about one week (subjective and objective times were the same), no matter how far one jumped.
    • Some of this was changed in later editions: You could travel less than a parsec; the jump still takes about 168 hours. However, you retain your speed-vector when you arrive, so you actually continuously accelerate to the point where you jump, and decelerate upon arrival, which burns a lot of fuel. And even more fuel if your calculation isn't perfect and you need to adjust the course. And still more fuel is used by the jump itself. And you need to be about 100 diameters away from a body because of gravitation (which would make for a safe jump 1,274,000 km away from Earth, somewhat more than 3 times the distance to the Moon). And due to the fact that in the Traveller-universe normally only one planet per system is interesting, this isn't really useful in most cases.
  • Inverted in the Spelljammer D&D setting, where game designers made up their own cosmic structure and laws of physics ("Everything you know about space is wrong.") instead of trying to talk their way around our universe's. Even then, superluminal travel happens only out of "normal" space—in-sphere spelljamming speed is "merely" 100 mln miles/day (4,166,666.7 mph), so even "double spelljamming speed" (a very rare case) shouldn't cause visible blue/red shifts.
  • The hex-map wargame Starfire, which David "Honor Harrington" Weber has used as the setting for four novels, features "warp points"—naturally-occurring portals through space that allow FTL transit from one star system to another. Strategic maps of known space look more like a text-adventure-game map than a star map, because it's warp links, not physical distance, that determines how "far" two systems are "apart." If more than one spacecraft tries to transit through a given warp point at the same time, there's a chance that they will "interpenetrate" and blow each other apart.
  • The Void Engineers of Mage: The Ascension had jump drive technology that was incredibly finicky to use. Odds were that a ship using it would leave pieces behind just as often as it came through intact.
  • GURPS: Spaceships telescopes all FTL into two groups. First the Stardrive system which can be Jump or Warp and secondly the Jump Gate system which creates whatever the local equivalent of wormholes is and is a portal drive.
  • The RPG 2300 AD (made by the same company as Traveller, but in a different setting) used the "stutterwarp", a method of going between stars (and traveling in-system) by making instantaneous micro-jumps. The faster the engines could cycle, the faster you could "move" through real space, up to 3.5 light years per day). The system was limited because the engines built up a technobabble charge that had to be discharged in a sufficiently steep gravity before the ship traveled a maximum of 7.7 light years. This meant that you couldn't directly get anywhere more than 7.7 light years away without having to stop somewhere around a sufficiently massive object. The game used the real local star map around Earth, and the distance limitation meant travel was restricted to set routes, which sometimes formed choke points that were worth fighting over, and colonies at the end of their routes who were literally the ass-end of nowhere because explorers had nowhere else to go.
  • The Rifts Phase World expansion setting has FTL drives directly effected by gravity, with the drives' maximum speed increasing the fewer gravitational influences there are on the trip. This has the effect of making travel between three local galaxies just as fast as traveling through the galaxies themselves, since there aren't as many stars slowing you down on the way.
  • BattleTech uses Jump-type FTL in its JumpShips and WarShips. A jump can take the ship about 30 light years instantly, but the Kearny-Fuchida Drive takes 2 weeks to (safely) charge. The device only works safely when jumping directly above or below a star - trying to jump somewhere else results in the ship vanishing from reality, being teleported to some distant point in space with no way to refuel, or disappearing from the universe for a couple centuries.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Freelancer inter-system travel is commonly achieved by use of stable, static portals called Jump Gates that are heavily policed by the military. For those who are smuggling drugs or weapons (as you so often do with the game's rich economy system) you can use naturally forming (but supposedly less stable) Jump Holes. The travel is extremely fast, but there's still a time lag between systems.
  • The Independence War series averts this with both of it's main means of interstellar travel: the Linear Displacement System (LDS) drive, which is used for inter-system travel and is not faster-than-light (the very best LDS drives can only approach 99% of lightspeed under ideal conditions), and the capsule drive, which is used to jump (i.e. teleport) between solar systems at linked Lagrange points through generating "capsules" of space-time separate from main space-time. The former can be disabled for a short time by LD Si missiles to prevent ships from escaping (to the point where it's the only weapon with a dedicated hotkey), or by space stations or Lagrange points that generate inhibitor fields.
  • In Sword of the Stars, every race has a separate and unique form of FTL travel. The Humans rely on natural Node Drive, a form of jump drive between randomly connected stars via stable preset connections through "Nodespace", which can be very fast but having to follow the paths means travel time between physically-nearby systems can take longer than they should if there is no direct path. The Zuul also use Nodes, but they make their own artificial connections, which have a drawback of being unstable and deteriorating over time. Their drives are also slower than the Humans'. The Liir use inertialess "Stutter Warp" drive that rapidly and repeatedly teleports their ships over microscopic distances, giving them exceedingly flexible interstellar travel, but having the catch of slowing down significantly near gravity wells. The Tarka use "Hyperdrive", which is an archetypal warp drive that allows them to go anywhere; it isn't affected by gravity, but it isn't as quick as Liir stutter warp in deep space. The Morrigi have "Void Cutter" drive that is some sort of amalgamation of warp drive and regular thrusters such that larger fleets are able to travel faster than small fleets or single ships; basically enforcing speed in numbers. Finally, the Hivers don't actually have true FTL at all - they have to expand using conventional sub-light engines and Bussard ramjets, but they can construct Gate Ships which form into an instant Portal Network when deployed through their empire. Tarka at least make some concession to the issue of causality, as in hyper their ships are non-events by the laws of conventional physics and exist everytime and notime simultaneously.
  • Star Control II uses a form of the warp drive: there are multiple alternate dimensions, each of which has its own unique laws of physics, through which an appropriately equipped vessel can travel. Some of these dimensions are conveniently well-suited for interstellar travel. Aside from True Space (the Einsteinian dimension we live in), there are:
    • Hyper Space, where the speed of light is much greater than the speed of light in True Space; the correspondence between Hyper Space and True Space coordinates is not a linear transformation, and the gravity wells of True Space stars generate "intrusions" (named portals) into Hyper Space. As a consequence, while in Hyper Space, looking out the window will treat you to a view of a highly compressed and red-shifted space. The physics of Hyper Space constantly bleed velocity from a moving vessel, enforcing the rule that Space Is an Ocean. Portals appear as "holes" in Hyper Space, which force your ship to translate back to True Space should you attempt to fly through. "Hyper Wave" super-luminal communications may simply be a special name for sending ordinary radio waves across Hyper Space. Among its other properties, Hyper Space is also the dimension with the coolest background music.
    • Also featured is Quasi Space, the home dimension of the Arilou, with even more exotic physics that make it a cross between a warp and a jump. In Quasi Space, the speed of light is much closer or even identical to the one in True Space. The drag force still exists, but thrusting exhausts insignificant amounts of fuel. There apparently are a number of other dimensions, some even more different and eerie. And occasionally inhabited. Opening a gateway into some of those other dimensions would be an incredibly foolish act, leading to the apparition of "reality aberrations" (the alteration of physics in an area) and of malevolent extradimension entities.
  • Mass Effect takes the concept of negative mass and runs with it. Ships are equipped with Mass Effect drives, that reduce the mass of the ship and manipulate gravity around the ship, so that the ship "falls" through space at FTL speeds. This is used for "short range" (0-20 Light year) movement - enough to scoot around a cluster of stars. However, the game takes place on a galactic scale - to travel over distances further than a few nearby stars, ships utilise "Mass Relays", gigantic, free-floating Prothean actually Reaper relics which can project kiloparsec-long negative-mass highways. Even larger distances require two even larger relays linked together.
    • A throwaway line about 12 light-years being a day's voyage suggests that ships can reach 4,000 times the speed of light easily, but that indicates that traveling from one end of the galaxy to the other would take more than 20 years. Also ships in FTL accumulate a static charge that will eventually overload the ship's systems and kill the crew unless discharged into a planet's magnetic field or a specialized facility on a space station.
    • It's implied that their may be some way to increase this non-gate FTL speed, as the Reapers can apparently go 30 light years in a day (which would be nearly 11,000 times the speed of light). However, the Codex notes that the citadel species have no idea how the hell they do it.
  • In the Wing Commander series, larger ships use "jump points" to travel between systems. Ships above corvette size can use these points pretty much at will, and the points form "tram lines" between systems. Most fighter and bomber-class ships cannot use these points; therefore justifying the use of "carriers" to move them between systems. As the games are loosely based on WWII fighters and systems, this travel system is justified. In Privateer, a Wing Commander spinoff, jump drives are available for just about all ships regardless of size - though those drives are limited by fuel storage (six jumps before you have to dock to refuel). Few fighters in the main game series can jump without a carrier to carry them; the Broadsword and Morningstar from Wing Commander II, the Excalbur from Wing Commander III (in one mission, and one mission only), the Dragon from Wing Commander IV (shown jumping multiple times; the player gets to use it twice).
    • In the Novelization of Wing Commander IV, the UBW has access to a tech that was studied but discarted by the Terran Confederation that allowed a ship to open up a jump point so that fighters on the other end could use the path, even if they themselves weren't equipped with the appropriate drive.
  • In Halo it is referred to as slipspace. It is nowhere near instaneous, and can take months to travel between systems, and with human tech it is quite inaccurate, as they wind up hundreds of kilometers away from their target. Covenant-designed craft however are much more accurate and much faster. Interestingly, there is no FTL Radio. In the Expanded Universe, cruisers fly from system to system with the information stored on them, described as being the 26th century Fictional Counterpart to the Pony Express, unless you're the Covenant, but that nifty Forerunner technology has its perks.
    • On the bright side, they're only hundreds of kilometers away. In Mass Effect unless you have a Reaper IFF, you're lucky to wind up within 30,000 kilometers (then again, they can use FTL travel to reach their final destination).
  • Anachronox had "Senders," mysterious structures built by Precursors that resembled spheres with spikes growing out of them. Upon approaching a "spike," a ship would be instantly transported to a spike on some other Sender. Since there was no way of knowing where a Sender spike would send things without actually using it, and the other Sender could be literally anywhere (including inside a sun), there were people whose job consisted of exploring unexplored spikes.
  • Descent:Free Space and Free Space 2 had a system of "jump nodes" between star systems. Inter-system jump drives are almost exclusive to larger (cruiser/corvette/destroyer/superdestroyer) ships, although you do get to pilot fighters with them once or twice. All spaceworthy vessels (including fighters) can make in-system jumps, which are used to return to base at the end of each mission. The intersystem jump nodes are mostly fixed and immutable, although at the end of Freespace it is discovered that a large explosion within subspace will collapse the link, making it impossible to travel through it again. At the end of Freespace, the only jump node in the Sol system is thusly collapsed, isolating Earth from the rest of the galaxy and giving the game a Downer Ending. In Freespace 2, an ancient device which can artificially create stabilize jump nodes is discovered; the ending cutscene implies that this technology is eventually used to restore the collapsed Sol jump node.
    • The actual, specific workings of subspace are sometimes important to the plot. For example, subspace is "n-dimensional," meaning it has infinite dimensions, and you can't actually follow a ship through an inter-system node, as you would be traveling in a different dimension and it wouldn't be visible until both ships are on the other side. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens learned how to do this tracking, however, and recovering this technology is a minor story arc in the first game, where it becomes necessary to engage a destroyer while inside subspace.
    • There's also the issue of "stability". The jump nodes used in the games are very stable and are expected to last a very long time. There are other, unstable jump nodes not on the map because they cannot be safely traversed. Oh, wait, except the Shivans, with their more advanced drives, can traverse these nodes reliably, which allows them to simply go around blockades several times throughout the story.
    • Subspace interferes with Shivan shield technology, preventing it from working at all while in subspace. Given that the Shivans are ridiculously old with technology to match, as well as an evolved sensitivity to subspace itself, the fact that they've been unable to circumvent this is rather telling.
    • Finally, the usual detail of gravity being a factor is played with; subspace travel works because of gravity, inter-system nodes go where they go because of the specific relationship of gravity between the two stars in question and subspace itself. In-system jumps, meanwhile, are only possible so long as the entry and exit points are both close enough to the same star's gravity well. It's actually the absence of gravity that causes a problem; subspace travel won't work in deep space.
  • EVE Online's system is... complex, to say the least. There are multiple methods used, and each is meant for different circumstances:
    • The first method players encounter is warp drive for intra-system travel, which is measured in AUs/second (and considering that one AU is roughly equivalent to eight light-minutes, going at one AU a second is still FTL). Issues include the fact that warp drive is fairly slow, it can be jammed by all sorts of methods (including natural phenomena in Deadspace complexes), and the fact that it can take some time to align for the warp, during which you are vulnerable.
      • Acceleration gates are used to "slingshot" ships at warp speeds inside Deadspace complexes.
      • Warp drives are stated by in-universe "science articles" to require a gravitational field to lock onto, such as a planet, moon, or an artificial beacon generated by a station.
    • Stargates are the main method of travel between systems (heavily implied to use wormholes in some way). On the plus side, they are free, they are stationary, and they are predictable. On the downside, most capital ships are too large to use them, they are stationary, and they are predictable.
      • In-universe "scientific" article states directly that they create wormholes; however, to jump to a system it must be linked to the existing stargate network; basically, somebody has to get sent in a ship there, at sub-FTL speeds to boot due to the aforementioned "Warp drives need a gravitational signature to lock onto and thus don't work in interstellar because gravitational signatures are too weak"
    • The alternatives to stargates are jump drives and jump portals. Jump drives allow large ships (usually capital ships too large for stargates) to travel to an existing beacon generated by a player, while jump portals create short-lived artificial wormholes to another point in space. Both systems have limited range, require fuel to use, take up fitting space that could be used for other modules, and the beacons required are visible on the overview and galaxy map, providing a big warning that there's a fleet and/or capital ships incoming.
    • The newest addition, naturally-occurring wormholes are the fastest and longest-range method of FTL in the game (in the backstory, one allowed travel between the Milky Way and New Eden galaxies), but they are also the most unstable and most unpredictable method in the game. In addition, they have a nasty habit of collapsing as you go through them, leaving you stranded in some unknown system unless you have a probe launcher fitted to find a new wormhole. Even then, there's a chance that the new wormhole will take you "deeper into the rabbit hole" instead of back to the New Eden cluster.
  • Descent 2 uses a prototype warp drive that allows you to jump large distances. Take a look
  • Conquest: Frontier Wars originally just has stationary wormholes to travel between systems, but then they somebody starts making artificial wormholes and things get a bit complicated.
  • Supreme Commander makes use of Quantum Gate networks, it is implied that they still must travel at sub-luminal speeds to new systems but once they deploy a quantum gate they can use it to teleport from several miles starships into orbit to the eponymous commanders to planetary surfaces.
  • Haegemonia: Legions of Iron uses naturally-occurring wormholes for interstellar travel. However, it is possible to develop wormhole probes that allow any ship to jump to the probe from any system by creating an instant wormhole.
  • The Escape Velocity games use "hyperspace jumps". It's never explained directly how they work, but for gameplay purposes it takes between 1 and 3 days to get to the next star system depending on how massive your ship is.
  • Galactic Civilizations uses a mixture of Portal and Jump types : the original, pre-game FTL travel system involved gigantic, connected gates: you enter one gate and exit through the other relatively fast. The problem was that in order to reach your intended destination, you first had to send a gate to it. In normal space, at sub-light speeds. Pain in the ass to say the least : the Drengin had to wait for 50,000 years for the gate they had sent to the Arceans to arrive before they could launch their (failed) invasion. Eventually the Arceans sent a gate right next to Earth, possibly with invasion intents as well since it was 1) only one way and 2) couldn't be shut off should we have turned it on. So we didn't. However, humanity managed to reverse-engineer the device and create a portable version of it : Hyperdrive, which "folds space in front of the ship using it", i.e. a Jump drive.
    • The "relatively fast" here means about 5 years. Granted, much faster than sublight travel, but nowhere near instantaneous.
    • Unfortunately, after humanity develops the hyperdrive, some idealistic idiot broadcasts the plans to every other race in the galaxy. So instead of humans spreading out into space virtually unopposed, they have to contend with other races (who have long ago mapped out all stars using sublight probes) also seeking to expand their empires.
  • Ships in Space Empires have no FTL travel. Instead, there's a Portal Network of naturally occurring warp points. Going further up the tech tree, however, lets you create artificial ones. You can then put a component that both opens and closes warp points into your ships, essentially equipping them with portal drives.
  • Used in Star Raiders; hyperspace is the only way to travel from one galactic sector to another.
  • Machines has faster than light travel...that is fatal to any cell based organisms. Terraforming robots when send out to new planets and sleeper ships with humans where meant to follow.
  • Vega Strike has two variants: Jump Drive for using Jump Points between star systems and SPEC-drive (Spatial Partitioned Expansion-Contraction) for fast insystem travel. As to limitations, both need to shut down shields and SPEC is gradually locked by mass and Jump Points' presence.
  • Portal and Portal 2 contain FTL travel by implication; the Handheld Portal Device can create a instantaneous spacetime link between two surfaces at arbitrary distance from one another. While the scale of events in Portal doesn't allow for this to be examined, the second game contains two minor references: first, recorded messages from the Cloudcuckoolander founder of Aperture Science discuss the possibility of encountering a violation of temporal causality while using the Portal Gun; second, the final sequence of the game involves an extremely long-range portal and employs the speed of light delay involved in its creation (but not transit) as a visual storytelling element.
  • Dead Space has this role filled by the "shockpoint" engine. In a classic application of this trope, the drive itself just a means to an end, and we don't get much explanation for how it works. Dead Space starts off mid-transit through a grey foggy energy medium, so apparently it's analogous to a Hyperdrive or Warp Drive.
  • Star Ruler has Jump Drives. They can only target stars as destinations, though you can initiate a jump from anywhere. Most interstellar travel is done the slow way, by using rocket engines to accelerate, then flip around and decelerate into the system - the Jump Drive allows you to teleport swarms of ships into an enemy system with absolutely no warning. It should be noted, though, that "slowboating" can also result in low-end FTL - a light-second is roughly 0.002AU, yet ships can accelerate past that distance/s fairly early on.
  • Ah, what fools we have been. All this time searching for a way to achieve, when Big Rigs Over the Road Racing reveals that all you need is to shift into reverse and never let off the gas peddle.
  • Ascendancy has only one method of travel: using "starlanes", although only ships equipped with starlane drives may use them. The nodes for entering starlanes are normally blue, but there are also so-called "red links" which are usually longer but take are also much slower. The rule of thumb is, the more starlane drives your ship has, the faster it moves. There is a one-shot device for sending any ship in a given starlane to its destination instantaneously, but there is nothing stopping you from building a dedicated ship with a number of these devices onboard that it uses to create an insterstellar highway of sorts and a dry-dock in the system to refit it when it runs out. This can be a bit of a Game Breaker, though.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire has "phase lanes" connecting in-system objects. Nearly all ships are equipped with phase drives, allowing rapid movement between them. Jumping to other systems is only possible close to the star and only after researching a certain technology. Interestingly, there are no set paths between stars, so a ship can travel to any star from any star in a scenario. There may also be naturally-occuring wormholes linked to other locations the system or in others. Using them also requires research. Additionally, the Vasari are an ancient race whose knowledge of phase space greatly exceeds that of the TEC or the Advent. They may build Phase Stabilizer Nodes, which form a Portal Network of sorts. Their space stations may also be equipped with modules doing this. Additionally, firing the Kostura Cannon at a planet temporarily adds it to the Portal Network. The other uses is allowing their Space Fighters to make short-range jumps within the gravity well in order to ambush a target or evade attacks. Certain ships are able to do it on their own. The best use is allowing their missiles a chance to bypass enemy shields by pulsing in and out of phase space. This is not very effective against the TEC, who have the toughest armor, but is a lifesaver against the Advent, who rely mostly on their shields for defense.
    • Some ships have abilities that temporarily block a gravity well to all incoming or outgoing traffic. All sides can build stationary inhibitors in orbit of colonies that increases the phase drive charge time for all enemy outgoing ships (except scout frigates) by a factor of 7, turning all escaping ships into sitting ducks. Starbases have a limited version of this ability, additionally damaging all escaping ships.
  • Tachyon the Fringe uses tachyon coil generators to achieve superluminal travel. There are several versions of these. The most common one is used for in-system TCG gates, allowing Space Fighters and small transport ships to move between sectors in a region. The larger (and purpler) mega-gates allow travel between regions (systems). While most gates are linked to one other gate, there are one-way gates, which are mentioned to have been used in the past to settle the Fringe. Notably, the Bora left Sol Sector using an early one-way mega-gate to settle what is now known as the Bora Region. Capital ships and large freighters and transports can't fit into a TCG gate and are, instead, equipped with hyperdrives, which function using the same principle of "riding" tachyon waves. Similar to Star Trek and Star Wars, the ships appear to rapidly accelerate before vanishing in a burst of light. It's implied, though, that capital ships still navigate by using gates as beacons. Despite the presence of carriers and battlestars, it's not uncommon for fighters to travel to the battle using gates, while the capital ships use their hyperdrives.
  • Ships in the X-Universe games can mount Jump Drives, to teleport universe. However, the Jump Drive is only capable of jumping to the Jump Gates.

Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Schlock Mercenary has both a set of "Wormgates" (portal drive) monopolized by an ancient mega-corporation and conspiracy, and the relatively new - or rather, rediscovered - "teraport drive" (jump drive/teleporter), which forces a subject through billions of tiny wormholes instead of one big one. The latter is a receiverless teleporter in a military SF setting, with all that implies.
    • Among other things, it implies a desperate research project to find a way to jam the teraport drive, preventing ships from entering or leaving a region via teraport. Fortunately for the survival of galactic civilization, though often unfortunately for the survival of the eponymous mercenaries, the project succeeded.
    • As far as communications goes, there's communications through hypernet relays - a Galaxy-Wide-Web. The signal explicitly takes less time to travel across the light-years than through the copper circuitry of the machinery, but there are still no FTL sensors. This is used for dramatic effect at least twice: once to facilitate learning about what happened in a Late to the Party situation (fifty-two minutes late, specifically, so they park a sensor fifty-two light-minutes away to get a look), once in a situation where Kevyn realizes that the enemy, whom he is parleying with (and whom is about a light-minute away), had fired missiles at him while they were negotiating.
    • The comic implies at a few points that causality holds throughout the galaxy because of all the teraporting and wormgates. Notably, when they start going to Andromeda, they're initially out of sync.
  • Originally, the starslip drive in Starslip worked as a jump drive that shifted the ship into a nearly-identical Alternate Universe where it was already at the desired location. Eventually it was discovered that one can, with sufficient slips, wind up in a substantially different timeline; this was the Starslip Crisis that gave the comic its original name.
    • After narrowly escaping the destruction of the universe, the crew of the Fuseli end up in another one where the starslip drive has just been outlawed and replaced by the stellar superlinear propulsion (STARSLIP for short)) drive, which exploits the fact that there's no shorter distance between two places than a straight line, by finding an even straighter line. This functions as a Warp Drive, rather than a Jump Drive.
  • The aliens in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob have specifically stated that they do not have FTL. The Nemesites are extremely long-lived and do have ubiquitous relativistic-speed travel. Their empire's capital orbits a brown dwarf star "near" Earth's solar system—hence, our solar system sees a lot of traffic. There are at least two inhabited worlds in our system besides Earth; Butane, an undetected world in the Kuiper Belt colonized by a prehuman Earth civilization (the dragons), and Fleen, an asteroid inhabited by Officer Zodboink's people (whether or not their race is native to Fleen has not yet been revealed).
  • MSF High: Biowarp engines provide this.
  • The Freefall universe has FTL travel, although the author admits to being uncomfortable about including it in an otherwise fairly hard series. According to the manual, "The starships in Freefall make pockets of lower space time density, increasing the rate at which they go through time." Thus, they move very fast in real time but at a normal rate in subjective time, necessitating cold sleep for the passengers and most of the crew. When live cargo and/or timeliness are not at stake, they simply accelerate a cargo vessel to a decent fraction of light speed and fling it at the target system.
  • Spacetrawler offers one of the most ridiculous Techno Babble explanations for FTL travel ever. Spaceships travel at Greased Light Speed, "which is attained when you slip between light particles and go much faster than them". Friction between light particles cancels out time dilation. Also, the Mirrhgoots are on the verge of perfecting Greased Dark Light Speed, which promises to be even faster. It works on the principle of riding the darkness inside the light particles (since light particles are about 97% darkness).

Christopher Baldwin: Hahahaha! Man, that was a fun stupid idea to write.

  • In Westward, the eponymous Cool Starship travels through Escherspace (named after Maurits Cornelius Escher), which functions as a variety of Jump Drive. It is a Black Box technology that no-one quite understands, except for the mysterious alien Phobos. As a result, some characters prefer to think of it as a kind of magic.
    • While an Escherspace jump itself is nearly instantaneous, many weeks of travel using conventional engines are still required as part of every trip, to ensure that the ship is at a safe distance from any massive astronomical body—if used carelessly, Escherspace jumps can release enough energy to alter the orbits of nearby planets.
    • During a jump, everyone aboard must take shelter in special "normalization booths"; the author has stated that this "creates a good separation between travel that's normal — adhering to the laws of physics — and travel that's abnormal, unnatural, and dangerous."

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • The Jump Drive and Jump Gates enable this in Nexus Gate.
  • One of the central tenets of the Orion's Arm setting is the absence of FTL—except for wormholes. These are big, expensive, must be deployed to the desired desination at speeds much slower than light before they can be used, and need to be traversed carefully lest the traveller be crushed by g-forces. A lot of the time it's just easier to go the long way.
    • The main reason Orion's Arm, a hard sci-fi setting, includes wormholes is that they're an Acceptable Break From Reality—you can't really have the interstellar civilizations the setting is built around without some form of faster-than-light infrastructure, so the writers went with the most realistic alternative they could find. Because modern science has yet to demonstrate that wormholes are impossible, OA considers them fair game. It is assumed in OA that they do not violate causality (although this is largely an arbitrary rule).
  • Tech Infantry gets around the speed-of-light limit via a hyperspace system inspired by those seen in Babylon 5 and Honor Harrington.
  • In The Pentagon War, "hyper holes" provide an FTL portal network. They are created by aiming two very expensive bombs directly at one other from two different star systems, and detonating them simultaneously—a difficult feat even for a whole government to pull off. At the time of the story, only 5 pairs of linked hyper holes exist.
  • The technology is present in the Registry of Time universe, although not as fast as some other examples. In one story it takes 20 years to reach a destination.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Many of the staff writers on Futurama have physics qualifications, so they felt uncomfortable allowing spaceships to travel faster than light. Instead, with one exception which was used for a physics joke, they had scientists increase the speed of light. In another episode, the ships are said to move the universe around themselves.
    • Which, according to the Theory of Relativity, is the same as moving yourself through the universe (i.e. any old motion).
  • In the Animaniacs finale "Star Warners", the Bicentennial Falcon flies past a sign that says LIGHT SPEED STRICTLY ENFORCED.
  • Starfire in Teen Titans is apparently capable of achieving faster-than-light speeds by herself, if her planet-hopping in "Transformation" is anything to go by. Of course, in the first episode aired (third in production order), she and Robin are just finishing a conversation on this subject as they enter the living room.

Starfire: ...and that is the secret to traveling faster than light!

      • Then again, this is the DC Universe, so that little tidbit isn't exactly very secret.
  • In Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, two aliens give humanity access to a FTL device called the Hyperdrive in exchange for our help in vanquishing the series' Big Bad, the Queen of the Crown.
  • In South Park, mankind accidentally discovers "warp speed" when Randy loads a piece of exotic matter stolen from the Large Hadron Collider on a toy car, which propels it outside the Earth at FTL speeds. Unfortunately by the end of the episode Earth is isolated from the rest of the universe.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Quantum mechanics does allow for a "faster than light" connection between two particles in quantum entanglement. Unfortunately it is not actually possible to send information (let alone matter) FTL with this method, since it's impossible for an observer to determine whether an entangled particle state is due to the particle partner's involvement or by the simple act of observing the particle. It's a simple matter of probabilities.
  • During the writing of his novel Contact, Carl Sagan reportedly asked a fellow scientist (none other than Kip Thorne, a leading expert in relativistic astrophysics) if FTL travel would be possible without breaking the laws of physics, as he didn't want to do it in his novel. The scientist sat down and wrote a few equations which became the basics of the wormhole network seen in the book and film. Sagan himself was optimistic about this and thought that a sufficently advanced civilization could build and maintain a network of these wormholes.
  • It is theoretically possible for an object to move FTL if it has imaginary mass, in fact it would only be able to travel faster than light. Particles that only travel faster than light and have imaginary mass would be called tachyons. There is, however, no experimental evidence of their existence - which is also rendered de facto impossible due to certain instabilities it would provoke in quantum field theories.
  • The Alcubierre drive is a semi-serious proposal for a system of FTL travel that involves propelling a bubble of warped space at FTL speeds. The ship itself remains stationary in the center of the bubble. Star Trek's Warp Drive is based on this idea. Of course, actually building such a drive system is well beyond the realm of present-day science, if it is possible at all. The fact that it would take several orders of magnitude more energy than exists in the mass-energy equivalent of the entire universe to move a small spaceship across the Milky Way galaxy doesn't help, either.
    • The "warp drive" has been definitely ruled out as a "practical" FTL drive in 2009. A physicist named Stefano Finazzi and several colleagues published a paper showing that when particles in the interstellar medium intersect with the bubble of moving spacetime at FTL velocities, Hawking radiation will turn the temperature up to 10^32 Kelvin, which is hotter than the 2x10^12 K at which protons and neutrons break down into a quark-gluon plasma.
    • This video by Lawrence Krauss provides a nice enough layman's explanation on what it means to build a real-world warp drive, even outside of Alcubierre's own flavour of it.
    • That could be worked around, say, by deflecting said particles with another exotic spacetime geometry, shields or whatever. One of the variations on it, by van den Broek, requires the mass-energy equivalent of a few grams. However, the concept itself was proven to be impractical by Krasnikov when he demonstrated the surface of the warp bubble to be causally disconnected from its interior (effectively cutting the crew off from controlling, creating or even stopping the ship). Further theoretical exercises (Clark, Hiscock and Larson) have shown that there exists formation of event-horizon-like structures along the warp bubble - analogous to a Mach cone - and since, in 2+ 1 spacetimes, the vacuum stress-energy of a quantized massless field diverges on the horizon as it forms, it is strongly suggested that the same phenomenon would occur in 3+ 1. The Alcubierre drive, as a concept for potential technology, is long dead. Similarly-spirited alternatives may not be, however.
    • Actually, both of the points made above were brought up years ago, along with another one. The initial bubble theorized by Alcubierre would produce no thrust on its own, and most thrusters would be hard pressed to get the ball rolling (pardon the pun), never mind getting it to stop. The ideal shape is that of a drop, but that presents its own problems.
  • Way out there on the fringe of science is Heim Theory. It's a possible theory of quantum gravity that has as one of its consequences the possibility of constructing a vehicle that can achieve FTL velocity, as well as artificial gravity to boot. The theory has been very obscure until very recently, and it has yet to undergo significant peer-review (so take it with a planetoid of salt), but it does show some promise. It's also interesting to note that the theory bears striking resemblances to the FTL mechanics used in Mass Effect.
    • It's important to notice the fact that, of the few clear predictions that Heim theory DOES give (most of it is extremely obfuscated), like the mass of certain particles, most are wrong by several standard deviations. Make that planetoid a large moon.
  • When the space shuttle Columbia tragically burned up during atmospheric re-entry, a caption at the bottom of one CNN report briefly read: "Shuttle traveling nearly 18 times speed of light." (It was a mistake, of course; the caption was meant to read "nearly 18 times speed of sound.") Much gallows humor ensued, e.g., "No wonder the Shuttle broke apart, they had a warp core breach!"
  • Ladies and gentlemen, in what is likely the biggest crime in the history of science, "CERN scientists 'have broken the speed of light'". As the scientists themselves readily admit, a lot more testing will be needed to confirm this claim, but suffice it to say that in the unlikely event that the discovery is independently confirmed, it will completely revolutionize physics, open up a world of future technological possibilities, and cause this page to require a moderate re-write.
    • This may or may not be the first time this has happened. Similar results were recorded at Fermilab some years before, but because the neutrinos' speed was only a small fraction higher than light it was ultimately written off as being within the less advanced equipment of the day's margin of error.
    • Critics of the results have suggested a plausible explanation which only serves to support the Theory of Relativity. The GPS satellites used to time the experiment were slightly off due to the fact that they orbit Earth pretty fast. The claim is that the CERN scientists failed to account for this difference when making their calculations, and that adding the difference shows the neutrinos were slower than light after all. However, the scientists at CERN claim that they did account for this, and insist that so far they've found no systematic error that could explain their results.
    • Turns out there was a loose cable. Nevermind, everybody! However, until there are test results after correction of this glitch we can not be sure. New tests will start in May 2012.
  • Phase and group velocities for electromagnetic or quantum mechanical waves are sometimes higher than light speed. However, this still does not allow for the transmission of actual information faster than the speed of light.
    • You can think of that as a shadow play right in front of a light focus: since the shape of the shadow is larger than the object casting the shadow, if it's moving fast enough, a point in the shadow will appear to be moving faster. That's independent of the time it takes the shadow to react to the object moving.
  • Ultimately, one can only hope that Science Marches On.
  • And finally, if you're a UFO fan, remember that aliens seem to have found a way to bypass the speed of light. If this is real, then so's FTL travel!
  1. create one super-crew, put them in one extremely expensive super-awesome battleship, wait two hours, send them back in time two hours. Now you have two ships for the price of one. Have the original ship jump back in time again, you have another one. They could then simply Zerg Rush the Xeelee, and the Xeelee of course could do the same, and no amount of FTL foreknowledge could save either.
  2. and Explosive Overclocking...