I love inventing FTL drives.

2010-09-08 15:27

So, one of the recurring needs for science fiction stories is some way to travel faster than light, without which interstellar travel is impossible, and this tends to gravely undermine many awesome story ideas.

I have invented a couple of FTL drive mechanisms which I believe to be genuinely novel, in that I have never seen either used in an existing science fiction story. I hereby contribute them to the community at large in case anyone ever needs one.

The narrative necessity drive.

The narrative necessity drive depends on the fact that, in practice, what happens is usually what people expect, or what makes for a godo story. Narrative necessity drives can travel from one star to another about as fast as you expect they can. This provides a sound technical justification for many common tropes. For instance, it explains why a maverick who has trouble following orders but loves his ship and knows every bit of it from maintaining it himself can nearly always beat anyone else on a given journey. Similarly, any ship that is called a “generation ship” will, of course, take precisely long enough to have developed interesting cultural norms and diverged from the originating culture in interesting ways, usually about two generations. Large, unwieldy ships take longer to travel than sleek ones which look like they’d be aerodynamic in the unlikely event that they were ever put in an atmosphere.

Oddly, this drive is actually precisely the one used in many settings, only they always have some other cover story as an explanation for “how it works”.

The Detroit Drive

The Detroit drive runs under the discussion that, no matter where you are going, if the entity running the trip is named Delta, you will end up about two hours late due to a longer layover than you expected in Detroit. The key is that the layover seems to be at most about a day; while this is painful when you’re flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles, it’s not bad at all when you’re being flown from Alpha Centauri to Betelgeuse. Thus, Delta Space Lines is able to get you from pretty much anywhere to anywhere in about two days, with a one day layover in Detroit. Anywhere. Including other star systems. The only real limitation is that this doesn’t work unless Detroit is obviously out of the way; thus, it’s not very efficient for travel to and from Earth. (Travel to and from Earth is accomplished by taking a trip that goes from one distant star to another, and missing your connection.)

Peter Seebach