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General Information > Why is FTL & Interstellar so Ubiquitous in Sci-Fi?

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message 1: by Rikhard (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Even most hard science fiction tends to have a bit of magic, and the odds are better than even that that magic will be faster-than-light travel. This is curious, since of all the scientific laws we seem to have nailed down Relativity and thermodynamics are some of the most seemingly impregnable, and FTL travel basically violates both of these at once. While it's possible to argue 'maybe, some day' pretty much all actual physicists and engineers will admit that no one has any serious ideas on how to do it, just some math and guesswork that's more wishful fantasy than a real theory.

And yet it seems entirely unnecessary for most stories. Most aliens are just humans - so why not make them humans? Biomodification, cybernetics, genetic drift and cultural separation would produce human beings that are probably more different from us than most science fiction aliens, so what's the point of making them aliens?

Space? Most of the Earth is still uninhabited. Everyone on the planet could fit into Texas with nearly an acre to themselves. Every single ship from every episode and film in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Farscape and Robotech franchises would fit inside of the volume of Jupiter and still leave most of it empty - which, on the flipside, means that you could theoretically build a fleet of spaceships as big as every side of every military in all of those shows combined out of stuff that exists in the Sol system alone.

There are plenty of exotic bodies, strange environments, and unknown regions in the Solar system yet - there are even a few on Earth.

Even if you could travel FTL - heck, we'll call it instantly - you could never possibly explore anything but a tiny fraction of the bodies in the galaxy, much less the Universe. If you visited a new star every second it would take you over eight thousand years. In order to actually fill up the solar system with humans - much less the spiral arm - you'd basically have to send around giant arks that mass converted planetary bodies into human beings. Even if humans could go to any star in the galaxy they wouldn't because there'd never be enough of them!

Not to mention that if you don't invoke FTL travel and interstellar travel you don't have to start breaking the laws of causality and physics, and you don't have to invent a host of other magical technologies - like 1,000G thrusters - since the distances which formerly took days or weeks with your FTL drive can be reasonably replaced with 'mere' intrasystem travel at far more believable speeds with far more believable power sources.

While there may be a few premises that require FTL travel as far as I can tell most science fiction has it simply out of habit, like fantasy and dragons. For strange parahumans, unexplored bodies, space combat and huge empires with thousands of battleships the Solar System has more stuff than the human race is likely to go through in a thousand lifetimes.


message 2: by Outis (new)

Outis | 64 comments And yet who writes halfway plausible fiction that happens in our solar system? Right: more often than not, it's people who also write interstellar fiction without FTL. I won't rehash my previous post but I think it's quite plain that interplanetary vs. interstellar settings isn't the issue.
Same deal with aliens: alien-filled fiction often takes place in our solar system.


message 3: by Rikhard (new)

Rikhard Von Katzen (rikhardvkatzen) | 18 comments Outis wrote: "And yet who writes halfway plausible fiction that happens in our solar system? Right: more often than not, it's people who also write interstellar fiction without FTL. I won't rehash my previous po..."

I didn't catch that reply before, but I replied to it over on the thread. Short version: the most realistic 'space' sci-fi would basically be Cyberpunk but in the Year 3000. No-magic science fiction can be as 'high tech' as you please, and it still leaves human beings on Earth.


message 4: by Steven (new)

Steven Jordan (stevenlylejordan) | 3 comments FTL is the device that allows us to continue the traditional stories of distant travel, contact with strangers and manifest destiny, at an interstellar scale. It's more romance than reality; but people just like that particular romance, so it sticks around.

You can still tell perfectly good SF without it; you just have to want to.


message 5: by Suzy (last edited Nov 07, 2018 08:54PM) (new)

Suzy (suzym) | 1 comments Writing strictly within the laws of known physics (i.e. no FTL) is a lot more difficult - even getting to the nearest star would take decades. However a writer could look upon this more positively as a challenge!

Some solutions of sorts would involve hibernation for those on board a starship (assuming hibernation technology is feasible), or greatly extending lifespans (again assuming some sort of life extension technology and medicine), or using the time dilation effect if the ship is traveling at a percentage of lightspeed (starship crew appears to age slower compared to those elsewhere). The crew would need to accept that they would not see loved ones again, and that the world would be very different should they return decades or centuries later.

Mark Rosenfelder uses the life extension solution in one of his story worlds: http://www.zompist.com/incatena-why.html

Relativity and FTL Travel: http://physicsguy.com/ftl/html/FTL_pa...


message 6: by Outis (new)

Outis | 64 comments Relativistic speeds aren't impossible. As hard as you close your eyes, the books featuring aliens and so forth without FTL will still be out there.
FTL without time travel requires a secondary world with fantasy physics and all that. It's a lot of work for a small disconnect.


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