What FTL Method Are You Using?

There are so many ways writers have come up with to make Faster Than Light travel possible. So, here’s the question for all of you who are writing science fiction this year:

How are you enabling your characters to travel among the stars Faster Than Light? Are there any consequences or limitations you’ve created to make it more difficult or dangerous? Or do you just need to get characters from point A to point B and the details are unimportant to the overall story?

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Well, I think I’l be writing some sci-fi this year, but I’m still not totally sure about my 2019 project. Regardless, I’ve written sci-fi in the past, and I think the FTL method you use should depend on your story. Rather than ask how the characters will travel faster than light, ask what FTL method will best fit your plot?

I’m an example person, so I’ll provide a few. Are spaceship battles an important part of your sci-fi plot? If they are, then something like jump points or fixed wormholes for FTL might work best because it limits pilots from just jumping out of battles they don’t want to fight. On the other hand, if the focus is more on the action that will happen on each planet/world, something like Star Trek warp speed that you can enter from anywhere as long as your ship is equipped might be better.

You could also split the difference and use Star Wars-style hyperspace where it takes time to calculate the coordinates and you have to have the right vector to jump out so your characters can jump from almost anywhere to almost anywhere, but it still provides some restrictions during space battles. That’s what I’ll be using.

Anyway, that’s just my two cents.

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In my sci-fi series, the FTL drives can’t be activated unless the ship is far enough from a gravity well. So, only in the outer reaches of the planetary systems, and it needs to be going fast enough too, with the entry and exit times calculated, so it’s not something you do in an emergency. A ship always heads out from the sun/star when leaving a system, and exits FTL heading straight for its target star at the same percentage of light speed as when entering FTL.

My take on it is that it’s gravity based, like the other engines on the ship. On activation, a bubble envelops the ship, forcing the universe to see it as a single particle. The perceived loss of mass is what propels it past the speed of light. Inside the bubble time keeps passing, but ship time and outside time doesn’t always agree when emerging from FTL, but discrepancies have been lowered to within a couple of weeks.

ETA: I still haven’t decided if I should continue my sci-fi series for NaNo, or if I should go with one of the others.

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It depends on what type of sci-fi I’m writing. If I’m going with a harder sci-fi premise I’d probably fall back on wormholes and a realistic calculation of how long various trips would take.

My 2019 project is a lot softer though and involves fantasy elements. They get around by means of gates in fixed locations that essentially fold space from point A to point B. Travel over folded space still takes time but it’s more like hours or days rather than years and decades. It also comes with some major drawbacks. Ships going through folded space have to disable virtual windows or cover physical ones in order to avoid bringing hitch hikers through because it gets a little weird in there.

There’s also a limit to how often a ship and its crew can use the gates. The general rule of thumb is that you should only do it twice every 72 standard hours. Any more often than that and ships risk damage, while the people inside can experience anything from hallucinations to something similar to radiation sickness.

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The one I’ll be working on for November uses something between warp and hyperspace; ships tend to only interfere with each other within stellar systems (which ships have to exit the warp/hyperspace before they reach the planetary limit, but can still travel at STL but fast speeds). Things like mines and space battles take place within stellar systems.

That is mostly because plot demanded: A) a form of FTL that was much slower a millennium ago, but improved over time (and for one group, with the meeting of and subsequent trading with other races); B) a slower than FTL advance into the inner stellar system (like Star Trek’s “impulse drive”), which could enable interception and explosive mining of the likely paths ships would take; C) despite the “interception and mining ability” requirement, most of the plot takes place within one of the stellar systems, on a station and the linked planet. (The interception and mining ability requirement just acts as a catalyst to the earlier-than-it-would-have-been meeting between the Terran Confederacy and one of the colonies established way the hell and beyond, as well as background details for how stellar pirates can operate.)

Also, I tend to be focused more on character-driven plots than hard SF plots. I can enjoy reading hard SF, but only if they’ve got good characters, and I’m not an engineer. I can fake it, but it’s not what I want to concentrate on in my stories.

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Alcubierre drive. I wanted something with some scientific basis (at least, I hope nobody has shown all that to be a horrible sham or something, I needed that) which could also get folks around quickly.

It also came with the fun bonus of particle buildup in front of traveling ships! So now there’s the totally made-up Alcubierre shields, which capture all that so you don’t obliterate planets when you make a pit stop. These require decompression stops every once in a while on longer trips, which is perfect for pirate raids or accidentally running into the fun surprise Chaotic Evil infectious AI who took over a planet.

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Interesting idea!

Me being me, I immediately did a search on it. For anyone who is curious, here’s the Wikipedia article about the Alcubierre Drive as a starting point for poking around with it…

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I love Alcubierre drives. It feels so wonderfully human in its nature of loopholes in the laws of physics

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I admit I started reading and I got lost very very quickly and then tried to read the Casimir effect which made my head ache more. I’m only noseying at this as I am studiously avoiding FTL travel inside my own space hairball but I’m keeping an eye on the topic. I think I get the theory of it as something like:

Ship “stays” where it is and initiates drive
space and time fold in a ring around it
Create warp bubble
end warp bubble and space/time have moved.

And to keep this back on topic, I am basically creating very large space vessels which are severely limited in number as there are only finite resources, using different levels of “drives” levelled from 1 to 4. The drives themselves are leftovers from an ancient species (I think, I haven’t delved that deep into it).

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