Thu
Jun 4 2009 2:52pm

Faster Than Light at any speed

When I read Nova I noted how unusually fast the faster-than-light was. The ship goes from Alkane to the Dim Dark Sister in five hours, and from the Pleiades to Earth in three days. These are cars-in-the-US velocities, the whole inhabited galaxy is about as far apart emotionally as New York and San Francisco. And they land directly on the planets too, and can be used on the planet to whizz around to the other hemisphere.

Normally in science fiction, faster than light has a speed that has nothing to do with Einstein and everything to do with self-referentiality and the way other science fiction has done it—faster than light ships go at the speed of sailing ships, taking months to go between stars. They are wormholes or Jump or something letting them go faster than light, but it takes months of the crew’s real time. And when they get there, they can’t land on planets, any more than sailing ships can (outside of Dunsany) sail on land, they need space stations to be their ports, and they need dedicated career sailors and officers.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the Napoleonic Wars in space, as Honor Harrington does, and the Misdhipman’s Hope books, and perhaps Dread Empire’s Fall too. And if that’s what you’re doing, it’s reasonable that your ships work that way. But there are a lot of books where there isn’t an explicit analogy, where the ships aren’t even Naval vessels but commercial shipping. Cherryh’s Union/Alliance and Chanur, Bujold’s Vorkosigan books, Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War books and her Aunts in Space series, Larry Niven’s Known Space, George R.R, Martin’s Dying of the Light universe. That’s a lot of really different kinds of books that have this kind of “standard” FTL.

I don’t know where it comes from. Was there some ur-novel that did it at this speed and everyone copied it? If so, what? Was it Citizen of the Galaxy? Or was it from the influential role-playing game Traveler, or even the influence of Star Trek?

And what’s the appeal? Is it that it gives you lots of time in space, in a contained environment where adventures can happen, coming to planets as ports at usefully specified intervals? Because I can see how it’s plot-useful, but there isn’t any natural law saying that this is how FRL will work.

There are a few books with notably slow FTL. Ken MacLeod’s Cosmonaut Keep series, and David Zindell’s Neverness series, but it’s very unusual. Any more? Or for that matter, any more really fast FTLs?

And then there’s the ever brilliant Vernor Vinge who always thinks about what he’s doing, with a whole range of speeds of faster than light in A Fire Upon the Deep, and “nearly as fast as light, plus coldsleep” in A Deepness in the Sky.

I think at this point, if you’re writing anything with FTL, it would be worth considering other models than the sailing ship. Delany did long car trip distances. We could also consider commercial planes, getting us around North America in a few hours, and across the world in half a day. And there are always trains, either long distance or commuter rail—and how about freighters as long haul trucks? I don’t mean copy them slavishly, just take the internalised emotional truth of the way they work and try it on a larger scale. Never mind leaving Earth and putting in at Madeira’s Star for water in a month’s time, how about leaving Earth and spending seven hours in cramped seats eating awful food and ending up in Andromeda. It doesn’t mean people would do it all the time, how often do you cross the Atlantic, after all, and anyway, a universe where people did it all the time would be an interestingly different universe. Best of all, how about something that isn’t an Earth model, something that will make me look up from the book and say “Wow, wow, you’ll never believe the way they did faster than light in this one!”

42 comments
ctopherrun
1. ctopherrun
The 'Gravity Well Rule' always sort of bothered me. granted, off the top of my head, I can only think of Known Space and the Nights Dawn trilogy by Peter Hamilton off the top of my head, but it feels pervasive, anyway. If you get too close to a gravity well, around a planet or star, FTL doesn't work. So ships have to spend months to get to the edge of a solar system in order to travel instantly. It seemed like a method to avoid all hell breaking loose in the authors world; if instant travel is possible anywhere, then people will be FTLing across the house to get a beer.
On the other hand, Larry Niven had transport booths. Simmons allowed instant travel just by having the right really, really expensive machinery. So it still feels like an unnecessary contrivance.
Although I like it when Karl Shroeder reversed the distance rule in 'Permenence'.
William Frank
2. scifantasy
LeGuin did something fairly interesting in Rocannon's World and its descendants, as I recall....

Unmanned ships could go FTL, and basically be anywhere instantly; there were FTL communications, so society stayed in contact. But manned ships were stuck with NAFAL, Nearly As Fast As Light, ships with all of the relativistic problems that created. I don't recall specifically about the "landing" issue though.

I'm not sure that the Vorkosigan series fits your analogy, though. IIRC, wormhole transitions are instantaneous.

And I guess Star Wars is the "cars in the US" model, though larger ships were of the "don't land, send shuttles" line.
Adam Miller
3. AdamM
Two thoughts came to mind re: different possibilities.

I enjoyed Peter Hamilton's ideas in the Pandora's Star duology re: wormholes and trains. Kind of sad to see them go in the followup series.

Also, on a different tack, there's the flight in "The Fifth Element." Doesn't seem very long, and they've got a sleep inducer as well, so that's a different take on it.
Dan Sparks
4. RedHanded
I haven't read a ton of science fiction, kind of a newbie since I've mostly read fantasy,but I can see the problem you have. I don't know if you can contain it under..why don't they think of more ideas for FTL travel but why don't people think of more original ideas in general?

If i can compare oranges to apples (they are both still fruit), look at movies, they are running out of new, fresh ideas and so are doing remake after remake after remake of tried and true stories but with better CG. Not to say these are all bad, because I'm pretty pumped to see the GI Joe movie (in which I hope they tell me that knowing is half the battle)but at the same time, where are all the new ideas? We can do different perspectives of the same concept, but it's still the same concept. (Think of all the different takes on vampires, same general idea but different views on them).

I think after a certain point an idea is saturated with different methods to portray them that it's even harder to come up with a new idea and as time goes on it will become even more difficult. I think there probably comes a breaking point when people decide something has been played out enough ways that they either move on or just try to make an eclectic version of something previously done(like your example with the FTL). I'd love to see some new ideas out there!

A new FTL method.....how about something that uses electomagnetic energy to repel itself to another point by bouncing off gravity wells(planets, suns, black holes)? hmm..hell I don't know, I just pulled that out of my lower back.
JS Bangs
5. jaspax
OSC in the Ender series and LeGuin in the Ekumen novels both use NAFAL travel, in which the traveler experiences days or weeks while relativistic time-dilation makes decades go by outside.

Peter Hamilton did interstellar trains in Pandora's Star, as mentioned by AdamM @ 3. I like these, though they feel more like subway lines than the continental railroad: get on the #3 line at the local station, get off seven stops later at the other end of the galaxy.

Instantaneous travel is used by Dan Simmons in Hyperion via ubiquitous doorways. It's broken at the end of Fall of Hyperion, though, then re-introduced using different techniques at the end of Rise of Endymion. The original doorway version of this is probably my favorite FTL travel technique.

And of course there's the jaunting in The Stars My Destination, which is both instantaneous and non-technological.

For an interesting twist, I like what Asimov has in the Foundation series, where the speed of FTL is scaled more to moving around the Roman Empire. As long as the roads are good, you can get from one end of the Empire to the other in a few weeks or months at the most. But once things break down, travel across the Empire becomes dangerous and difficult, and opposite ends of the galaxy are effectively cut off from each other.

But the point of bringing up all these counter-examples is that I don't think the "speed of FTL" is really that constant. And where we do see similarities, I wager that it's because of story needs: if you want to set a story in space, you need to have a system where people spend a significant amount of time in space, but still get to planets occasionally.
Adam Miller
6. AdamM
Thinking along more, there's also the ubiquitous nature of t-gates and a-gates in Charles Stross' Glasshouse.
René Walling
7. cybernetic_nomad
There's always the way FTL travel times are perceived in the Dumarest saga, you can travel one of three ways (in the same ship!)

Low Passage: you are frozen and risk 10% chance of never waking up travel is perceptually almost "instantaneous", and you body ends up depleted of it's resources (think long distance bus travel where you get to sleep, but are never really rested and at the end of the trip you're just exhausted)

High Passage: you take a drug (quicktime -- this was before Apple) that makes time appear to go by really quickly so the whole trip takes a few hours or days. You also move real slow and need to eat highly nutritious and high calorie food, but the trip is pleasant and you spend the time having fun. Kind of like a ship cruise or a fancy train trip (à la romanticized Orient Express)

Middle passsage: you're not frozen, but you don't get quicktime either. So the trip takes weeks or months and you get to be part of the crew for the ship. I'd imaging it's like a combination being crew on an airline, everyone else gets where they're going fairly quickly, but you just keep on working.
René Walling
8. cybernetic_nomad
Edited to remove the double post
Garett Harnish
9. garett
Kay Kenyon's debut novel "Seeds of Time" had a very unique method of FTL travel: Time Travel. Since moving through time doesn't compensate for movement in space (the Earth, the Sun, and the Galaxy are all in motion), different solar systems would have occupied the same point, just at different times. It was different anyway.
ctopherrun
10. cmpalmer
Traveler (the RPG) borrowed the Low/High/Middle passage thing from E.C. Tubb almost verbatim. In Traveler's case, the FTL "jump" drive system was borrowed from many different SF origins, but was defined to be easy to game using hex maps of star systems where each hex was one parsec and ships could have a jump drive that could jump between 1 and 6 parsecs (depending on size and cost). Each jump took about a week and had to originate and end ten planetary diameters away from any decent sized object (the "out of the gravity well" part). It worked pretty well in that news and information couldn't travel faster than Jump 6 (6 parsecs per week) and if your ship was being chased, you had to fly for a while to get to point where you could jump.

It would be interesting as Jo said to try to find the earliest version of each of the FTL drives and create a "family tree" of them.
ctopherrun
11. Dan Blum
In John M. Ford's Princes of the Air travel is about the same speed as in Nova. There are two groups of planets; travel from planet to planet within a group takes just a few hours, and travel between the groups takes 100 hours of flight time (the exact number of days depends on how many shifts of pilots you have).

It is necessary in the book's (somewhat quirky) FTL system to get a certain distance away from massive bodies, but that appears to be included in these times.
ctopherrun
12. C12VT
I think there are a number of narrative reasons why authors pick certain schemes of FTL more often than others.

Say you want your characters to travel from one planet to another. If travel is instantaneous, the trip just doesn't seem like a big deal. Sometimes this works, but a lot of the time the author needs the trip to feel like a big deal - if the trip takes a few weeks or months, you know it isn't trivial. It also gives the planets (or space stations, or whatever) more separation from each other so that they seem more distinct and individual in the reader's mind.

If travel takes years or more, that can put a lot of constraints on the author. If the author wants their characters to be able to visit multiple places, to travel between planets regularly, or to come home at the end of the action either travel has to be fairly quick or the characters have to be very long-lived.
james loyd
13. gaijin
I would highly recommend Warp Speed by Travis S. Taylor. "Doc Travis" is (literally) a rocket scientist with more degrees than I'm comfortable thinking about. The man knows propulsion and space travel. The FTL travel used in Warp Speed and its sequel The Quantum Connection is based on the Alcubierre drive theory and is VERY fast. The pacing of the book is nearly as fast, as are the ideas for implementation of new technologies once they are discovered.
Alexander Gieg
14. alexgieg
In the Perry Rhodan book series, at least the 10 or 20 ones I read before it was canceled here in Brazil, I remember there were two technologies in use.

The first one was used for intra-galactic travel, with two point in space being "wormholed" through a fifth-dimension. As I remember, it was very fast. A few days and you were almost anywhere in the galaxy.

The second one, introduced near volume 250, was similar, but on a bigger scale: through a sixth-dimension (it was called "dimesexta", "dimehexa", or something like that). It allowed for very fast extra-galactic travel, think Andromeda in a few days, something important when you're battling an enemy "ship" that's actually composed of thousands of star systems surrounded by a many-MANY-light-years-wide energy wall FTL-voyaging through the universe, incorporating any new start system that is in its path to its mass of slave-systems, and disarming any potential resistance by causing almost all non-genetically-enhanced sentient beings in the galaxy it happens to be crossing to simultaneously experience their IQs being lowered by 100 points or more. Yeah, Perry Rhodan is all about doing things on epic levels.

Interestingly enough, I remember the characters describing how they could see glowing bubbles outside the windows when in sixth-dimension travel, and someone explaining those were other universes, that "ours" was the nearest bubble and the voyage happened by getting out at one one point, circling it, and entering again at another (a galaxy away), but that it didn't allow you to go into other universes due to them having different physical laws.

The series is probably at volume 500 or so in Europe now (Germany?). I wonder whether they already have "dimesepta" (to travel between distant galactic clusters), "dimeocta" (to actually manage to enter those other universes), or who knows what. Fast is never fast enough, eh?
David Levine
15. davidlevine
I once read an essay, in a fanzine I think, called "The Science Fiction Archipelago." The thesis of this essay is that starships act like sailing ships and planets act like islands because SF is a descendant of the sea adventure stories of the 1800s. It struck me as a great thesis, and it explains a lot, and I've been trying for years to find the essay and re-read it. (A Google search on the title finds only me, looking for the essay. I suspect I may have misremembered the title, or maybe I was the only one who found the essay so very memorable.)

One type of FTL that isn't like sailing ships is instantaneous surface-to-surface gates like the ones in Spin and Hyperion. I used this type of FTL in "Tk'Tk'Tk" because I wanted the focus of the story to be the interaction between human and aliens rather than the travel and adventure.

Cordwainer Smith used a lot of different forms of interplanetary travel, each of which had different speeds, costs, and societal effects, and I riffed on this idea (well, on Smith in general) in "The Tale of the Golden Eagle." One of my favorite scenes in Norstrilia is the one where Rod McBan is offered a choice of ways to travel from his homeworld to Earth: you can take the big box (whole body freezing), which is more expensive, or the small box (just the head), which is cheaper but runs more of a risk of being stolen in transit.
ctopherrun
16. DG Lewis
Julian May in the Rampart Worlds series had pretty "fast" FTL, if I recall correctly -- like, hours to bounce between systems.
Michael Grosberg
17. Michael_GR
There are also some cases of slower-than-sail-ship FTL, in which travel can take up to a year. You had one in Forbidden Planet, where it took one year to go sixteen light years (which in Know Space would have taken 48 days).

There was a Charles Sheffield novel called Godspeed, in which (spoilers!) there used to be a fast FTL method but overuse of it somehow collapsed the medium in which it traveled and made this method impossible to use. At the end of the book the hero finds a "Slowdrive" ship - an experimental vessel that uses some other form of FTL, slower than the first one but still an FTL.
- -
18. heresiarch
I just finished Permanence yesterday, and I'll second ctopherrun @ 1: it was a neat inversion to have steep gravity wells be a necessity for FTL. In fact, it got me thinking about exactly this issue, so it's neat to read a post on the predictability of FTL the very next day!

I feel the Age of Sail is the biggest influence on the way FTL is constructed. Ocean-going ships required crews to undergo enormous hardships, cross vast distances, and face unpredictable dangers with no support from distant homelands--drawing a parallel to spaceships is natural, and would only have been more natural for someone born in the first half of the 20th century. From there, it's inertia, and not just from the sf classics: being able to resurrect all the beloved tropes of sea travel--dashing captains! warfare! mutiny! pirates!--in space is enormously attractive.

...or basically what davidlevine said.
seth johnson
19. seth
From the Simpsons:

Moe: I got this deep fryer on loan from the US Army. It can flash fry a buffalo in 40 seconds

Homer: 40 secoonnds... but i want it nooow
Chris Meadows
20. Robotech_Master
Yeah, I think the Age of Sail thing is right. Not least because some writers explicitly set out to write "<old sailing series> in space". Weber's "Honor Harrington" series is (or at least started out as) "Horatio Hornblower in space," and Drake's "Leary, RCN" series is "Aubrey/Maturin in space". In these cases, naturally they're going to make lightspeed travel commensurate with sailing travel, because that's just the kind of story they're telling.

In other cases, it goes hand in hand with setting up a problem for the characters. If they have things too easy, then the readers could lose interest.

One of the early SF series that had to do with speeds of FTL travel is E.E. "Doc" Smith's (in)famous "Skylark of Space" books. Pulpy as they are, they do at least show some thought about how fast a ship can go, and some of the issues that brings about.
Boggled Coriander
21. Coriander
In Piers Anthony's Cluster universe, slower-than-light sleeper ships are common, as are generation starships, but there's also the option to teleport objects and people instantaneously across long distances. But it's insanely expensive. A cheaper alternative exists: transport a person's mind instantly across interstellar distances, to possess a waiting body at the far side.

To the best of my recollection, Anthony never makes it clear exactly why a person can't transfer into a body of the opposite sex, even though interspecies transmission is acceptable. It does, however, facilitate the series' theme of having the hero visit a new planet populated by nonhumanoids and learning how to have sex in the local fashion.
Ursula L
22. Ursula
I suspect that part of the timing of FTL is to keep the cultures of different planets suitably different. If everyone can step out of their door in the morning and instantly travel to another planet cheaply and safely, you're going to wind up with a lot of cultural exchange, and a lot of cultural blending.

I can drive from one end of my city (Buffalo) to another in about 20 minutes. And there isn't a huge difference between the starting point and destination.

I can drive to the next city over (Buffalo to Rochester) in a bit more than an hour. There are a few minor variations in dialect (In Rochester, the numbered expressways are called by their number "Take 590 to 441" while in Buffalo, they add a "the" "Take the 290 to the 190) and in foodways (you can't get garbage plates in Buffalo, and the Buffalo butchers make hotdogs longer and skinnier than the Rochester equivalents.) But despite all this, there isn't much different.

It is only when the travel becomes time consuming (driving cross-country) or expensive (flying over oceans) that you start to get cultural differences significant enough to bring on the feel of "alien."

If you can get from your home planet to one in another solar system as cheaply and easily as I can get from Buffalo to Rochester, after a while of people doing this sort of travel there would be little more difference between the two planets than between Buffalo and Rochester.

There might be some other reason to maintain cultural differences, such as if they were settled when FTL was slower, and developed different languages, so that most people don't travel because they don't know the destination language. The time-cost of learning the language, or the money-cost of arranging for interpreters would be the thing maintaining cultural difference.
ctopherrun
23. Liddle-Oldman
I think it was Bob Shaw, and I think it was Who Goes Here?; it was a long time ago. The book was basically about a sort of low-rent Foreign Legion; the FTL transport was instantaneous. The transports were thus junky, filthy metal boxes; they march you in, and then march you out onto another planet.

All details subject to brain drain.
ctopherrun
24. OtterB
In John Barnes's Thousand Cultures books, the various planets were originally settled by generation ships, and then reopened to contact with each other by the introduction of the FTL "springer." I recall springers being used mainly for travel by individuals and small groups; they're planet-based.
ctopherrun
25. DemetriosX
The idea that SF evolved from sea stories has some merit, but there are other factors that also contributed to the idea of lengthy travel times involved in FTL. For one thing, SF is also descended from western stories and travel there is also slow. The wagon train sets out from MO and takes weeks to get anywhere; the town can't just call the cavalry for help against the invading bandits/impending Indian attack.

It should also be noted that when SF was in its infancy and first developing its modes and memes, long-distance travel was also relatively slow. It took a few days by train to go from New York to San Francisco and roughly a week to go from New York to London. There was still an inherent sense that it took time to go from one place to another.

Oh, and I can't believe that nobody has mentioned the travel concept for "The Forever War" yet. Time dilation and all.
ctopherrun
26. Spearmint
I think FTL is generally set at the "speed of plot." SF usually involves people shooting at other people, and if you want to write something with military action, the length of your FTL travel has to fall within certain dramatic limits so your reinforcements don't arrive too soon or too late. The upper bound is around Napoleonic war speeds, with travel taking at most a year, and the lower bound is probably around Star Trek speeds, with travel on the order of 1-3 days.

Travel that takes hundreds of years makes it virtually impossible for your protagonists to respond to events occurring on other planets- at that point you may as well just write a generation ship story, rather than a FTL planet-hopping story. (This is why le Guin's manned ships are NAFAL- she didn't want to write about a central military authority, so she created a universe in which it was physically impossible to have one.) The only way to make slow transit work in a military setting is for everyone to play interstellar doom ping-pong with their enemies and launch fleets of ships out blindly to other planets, hoping they'll conquer something. Ender's Game did this, but it's generally a less satisfying narrative structure.

Travel that happens in hours, on the other hand, reduces the sense of epic scale that a lot of authors go for, and worse, it makes it hard to maintain dramatic tension. If Evil Emperor Zorblat can bring his entire fleet to a planet in a few hours, how have the heroes managed to evade him? The heroic battles of the Resistance would be reduced to a police chase. Conversely, if Good President Zargle can bring the entire Federation/Alliance/Union/Whatever fleet to a planet in a few hours, how are the heroes going to bravely fight off the enemy until they arrive? In a situation with transit this rapid, the more powerful army is going to win every battle, which means no one will bother to attack them at all. And that's no fun.

The other advantage of the "days-to-months" FTL timetable is that the information the ships set out with is interestingly obsolete on arrival, but not totally meaningless as it would be in the "decades" timetable. A clever author can do fun things with this.

People do use instantaneous means of transport- teleporters and Stargates and so on- but they generally work because it's the people who teleport and not the ships, so you still can't move a whole armada somewhere instantaneously.
Bruce Cohen
27. SpeakerToManagers
I think the first explicit railroad FTL system was in "Mighty Good Road" by Melissa Scott (title sort of gives away that it's about railroads). Scott builds her worlds with care, and the details of her inter-world transport systems only become visible when they matter to the story.

Sometime in the mid-80's I read a story that used an FTL technique based on 19th century equivalent land travel. It postulated a sort of hyperspace what appeared as an airless surface, on which something like pressurized-cabin stagecoaches pulled by large vacuum-resistant draft animals travelled. Various points on the surface connect to points on different planets, so a few days travel in a coach gets you from one system to another. The plot revolved around a couple of passengers going out to the edge of the coach system where there was a large ship, wrecked on a plain in the vacuum, that had come from far away in the hyperspace.

If anyone remembers this book, please let me know what the title and author where; I just can't remember, and I'd love to read it again, and find out if it was part of a series.
ctopherrun
28. Black -
@4 RedHanded

It is fairly off-topic, but I think that the idea that movies are "running out of new fresh ideas" is a myth. Sure we are drowning in a sea of reboots, remakes, and appropriations from other media, but (with the exception of the new use of the term "reboot"), that has always been the case with movies. Film history is full of franchises, remakes and borrowing from other mediums. The first narrative film was The Great Train Robbery (1903). It was based on real events and set up a number of Western cliches. Some other examples that spring to mind: The Thin Man (1934), based on a Dashiell Hammett novel and turned into a series; The Awful Truth (1937), a screwball comedy adapted from a play, previously filmed in 1925 and 1929, and then filmed again in 1953 as Let's Do it Again (1953);My Favorite Wife(1940), same leads as The Awful Truth and very similar plot. based off a Tennyson poem and remade as Move Over Darling (1963); Dr. No (1962), based on a novel, led to one of the longest running franchises ever; Never Say Never Again (1983), the ultimate in rehashing, the remake of Thunderball (1965), which came from a book and is part of that little aforementioned franchise... I could go on, but I think the point is made (and yes, I like old movies).

Sure there are new ideas, as well as old ideas repackaged convincingly as new ideas, and even old ideas unconvincingly repackaged, but still well done. These days, Pixar seems to be a wellspring of fairly fresh (or convincingly repainted) ideas. Terry Gillium is pretty good at it as well.

To tie this back to the conversation at hand, yes, there are some genre conventions for FTL. I don't think that these are because authors are out of ideas, there are just so many scales that one can work at. The authors that are more thoughtful think about the consequences of the technique they chose. Some are better at it than others (image the differences if "Murder on the Orient Express" had taken place on Japan's bullet train...). I think the comments have provided a number of good examples of different models.
Liza .
29. aedifica
SpeakerToManagers @ 27: Are you on LJ? If so, you could try asking in the whatwasthatbook community and/or the whatwasthatone community. Good luck!
ctopherrun
30. Nentuaby
Speaking as an amateur Science Fiction writer, I can say that I made the decision to have FTL work on the "standard" timescale of multiple weeks/a few months between worlds for pretty specific reasons.

Getting the story out of our small, rapidly homologising world is a big reason I write interstellar stuff at all; if it were still a major journey from New York to London I might well write realistic fiction. So I tuned FTL so each star system isolated enough to really be a different world. They're on their own for time-sensitive crises and insulated enough that culture remains distinctive, without 24/7 media wash from their neighbors.

In turn, I didn't make it any slower so they'd still be tied together more loosely. I want them distinct and self-reliant, but still communicating, cooperating, and competing on a meaningful level. So the lines still have to be it fast enough that they are relevant to each other, not just "we know they're out there but it's hardly worth the effort" a la Italy and China after Polo.

The "standard" timescale seems to provide just about that balance, which is probably why it's standard.
ctopherrun
31. James David Nicoll
Sometime in the mid-80's I read a story that used an FTL technique based on 19th century equivalent land travel.

I remember three things about this book: It was published by Del Rey, it was a stand alone and I talked about it in the last year or so, which might be enough for me to track the title down.

...

It is The Shadow of the Ship by Robert Wilfred Franson. It came up in the context of my Old Tea Leaf series, which looked at the Campbell Award as a predictor of genre success (Since the discussion involved no stats, it was pretty much useless).
ctopherrun
32. James Davis Nicoll
Ah, stupid software "corrected" my middle name in the previous post and I didn't notice in time. Bah.

Geoffrey A. Landis put together a comprehensive list of FTL drives, which can be found on Project Rho's Atomic Rocket site:

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3v.html#stardrives
Bruce Cohen
33. SpeakerToManagers
@31:
Thanks very much, that's the book.

So now we have FTL analogs of land and sea. And come to think of it, there's an analog of tunneling through land as well. In Alan Dean Foster's "Flinx" series, there's an advanced race who tunnels through hyperspace just as if they were excavating a subway system, and then can walk through to their destination. This useful ability has gotten the hero out of several instances of durance vile.
Vicki Rosenzweig
34. vicki
I think one reason for the "no FTL in a gravity well" thing is that it provides an excuse for why people/cultures don't discover FTL sooner, along with a handwavium of "Einstein was right about the speed of light, but only locally, where he was doing his work." (It can also help "explain" things like colonies on really marginal-for-humans places like Mars or Ganymede, as having been set up by rocket before people found the fast way around.)

In the Le Guin scheme (and I think the Card, which borrows heavily from her on this point), all physical travel is NAFAL (or slower: the ore freighters between Urras and Anarres take a few days for the trip). The ansible is information-only, so you can send instructions to your agent a dozen light-years away, but either a new agent or hardware would take a dozen years to reach her. One story she wrote after most (if not all, I'm working from memory) of the Ekumen stuff, and set later than them, has people working on actual instantaneous transport, but it's set in the little while when the first human crew is testing the new ship (after machine-only tests). That's "The Shobies' Story," and it gets into interesting metafictional stuff and doesn't address what happens next, after the crew reports back "yes, it works, but things got weird for a little while."

Oh, and there's an odd cheat in Heinlein's _Time Enough for Love_, near the end: someone points out that their FTL drives require the pilot to explicitly decide when to reenter the timestream, and wouldn't that be effectively a time machine? Lazarus says that it feels like intentionally making a bad landing, but they then go ahead and play with it. The book ends at the subjective-time end of that time trip, so I don't know if Heinlein thought much about what time travel would do here (likely, given that he's the man who wrote "All You Zombies"), nor about the fact that this doesn't change the (relatively short) subjective time of a space trip, but would let you leave Earth at 10 a.m. and reach your destination at 10:01, even if you needed a month's supplies for the trip. And that, again, might change a lot.
Aquila G
35. Aquila1nz
Timothy Zahn's Night Train to Rigel uses a very explicitly train like set up for alien built and maintained interplantetary travel.

I haven't read the two sequels, which may go into how it works more.
Ken Walton
36. carandol
A decade ago, I could go by slow FTL from the Planet Lancaster (in the England Cluster) to the Planet Hildesheim in the Hanoverian Marches, in 27 hours aboard a slow, cramped spacecraft with few facilities. Since companies like EasyJump have made fast wormhole travel cheap, I now have to go by slow FTL to the Manchester Jumpgate (an hour), hang around in the spaceport for a few hours, go by jumpship to the Hanover Jumpgate (which also takes about an hour) and then take another slow FTL ship to Planet Hildesheim, which takes another two hours. The journey costs rather more than the old direct slow FTL route, which no longer flies. I *could* go by slow FTL all the way, but it would now require ship-changes in the Birmingham, London and Hanover systems. Of course, everyone knows that jump-gates are slowly eroding the fabric of the universe, but until planets actually start disappearing into the resulting black holes, no-one's going to do anything about it.

And just don't talk about hitch-hiking the galaxy; the old space-freighters aren't allowed to pick up passengers any more, and everyone else is paranoid that any aliens they pick up might be hostile. I blame Sigourney Weaver.
ctopherrun
37. Kevin Marks
There are also the pure physicists like Stephen Baxter, who allow FTL, but only if you quantum-entangle 2 gates, then transport them the slow way first. Charles Stross does something similar, though his entangled bits are too precious for transport, and are used for comms only.
Scott Raun
38. sraun
The discussion of trains, and the description of The Shadow of the Ship, reminded me of John De Chancie's Skyway books - Starrigger, Red Limit Freeway, and Paradox Alley. Highways between planets - IIRC, there were Tippler rotating cylinders on many planets, with roads running up to them. For reasons that were probably plot-driven (and vaguely explained in the third book?), none of these were ever found set up on planets where intelligent life developed - for mankind, the nearest set was on Pluto. So it's rocket to Pluto (months), and then highway speeds through the rest of the galaxy. With the proviso that two sets had to be a minimum distance apart on a planet, which made it feel like driving through the western US.
ctopherrun
39. James Davis Nicoll
And just don't talk about hitch-hiking the galaxy

This reminds me of a detail from Clifford Simak's Shakespear's Planet: once humans get out into the galaxy, they discover that many, many worlds in it were colonized by an ancient and now vanished race that left a network of portals connecting all their settled worlds. Unfortunately nobody understands how the network's address system works so people are mapping it out on foot, punching in random numbers and then keeping note of where they went. Since there are perhaps billions of nodes and very few people ever manage to get back to where they started, mapping the network is taking a while to accomplish.
Avram Grumer
40. avram
It's always seemed to me that one reason for the no-FTL-in-gravity-wells rule is to keep planetary cities from being subject to teleport-nukes and similar forms of impossible-to-defend-against massive attacks in wartime.
Joel Glover
41. apricotmarmalade
The Algebraist by Iain M. Banks introduces an interesting twist on FTL. I won't spoil it.
ctopherrun
43. Lindus
When it comes to Heinlein he has FTL travel all lined up already in his juveniles. In "Starman Jones" he has the drive that puts the ship FTL for just a moment and then appears where you aimed it (most of the time), and then as a contrast you have instantaneous travel using "gates" in "Tunnel in the Sky" where it seems like they rip the fabric of space asunder to open a connection on another planet. We also have the "ESP based" FTL drive in "Time for the Stars". All interesting concepts with the last one more outlandish than the formers.
In the end I hope FTL will happen as our current "torch" ships are far too slow to explore our own neighbourhood even. When we have 24 hours to our next habitable planet, that's when real traveling will be happening...

With hopes they have a pleasant time,
/Lindus

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