When you think about the word, space, what comes to mind? For me, it’s the inky blackness that our planet moves through every hour and second.
(If that’s a little dramatic, bear with me.)
Space is big. Really big. So big we had to invent a word for all that empty space.
And somehow, in the middle of all that emptiness, science fiction capitalizes on stories about interstellar travel and galactic intrigue while everyone back on Earth stays more or less the same as when our heroes left. (Not possible, due to time dilation. Thanks, relativity!)
Which leads all science fiction writers to an impasse: How do you get around all that space?
Violating the Space-Time Continuum
Hyperspace. Slipspace. Foldspace. Skipspace. Subspace.
All of these are uncanny terms for, “We need to go outside the rules of known spacetime.” And it’s true. There aren’t a ton of options here, unless the story is supposed to be:
“And then they spent 30 years in space and died somewhere near Neptune.”
Doesn’t quite lead to the type of rousing space-conflict you might be hoping for in a military science fiction novel, does it? So we cheat. We punch a hole through an alternate universe, or find a way to fold dimensions on top of one another. Occasionally, we use cryosleep to pass a few years en route to our destination. It’s more than just another way to get to the action faster. Without this mechanic, our heroes don’t leave the solar system.
They literally can’t.
It’s Not About the Destination
You’d think, since science fiction often has us zipping around the stars, that the point of it all is to get somewhere. That’s not actually the case. The point is to tell a story, and there are only a finite number of stories to be told without the other elements of science fiction that rely upon hyperspace.
Take aliens, for example.
- If we want aliens in the story all possible scenarios involve them coming to Earth unless we have faster-than-light capabilities.
- Want to visit alien worlds? You’ll need hyperspace for that.
- Want a survival story that doesn’t involve a ton of hard science fiction? You’ll probably need a planet with an atmosphere. You’re not going to find that in our solar system unless terraforming is a thing. Sounds like a job for hyperspace.
- Do you want a story where you’re not on a spaceship or dealing with a spaceship the entire time? You’ve got to be somewhere in order to change the scenery. There’s a good possibility that you’re going to need hyperspace for that.
You get the idea.
The scope of science fiction narrows dramatically without a way to move quickly through the emptiness between near and far. The time scales become hard to manage, as do the logistics of it. If the story isn’t going to be about people living on a spaceship and hurtling through space, hyperspace is your golden ticket to science fiction.
Now then. Let’s punch it.