The Speed of Information
The lightspeed barrier may have been broken, thanks to the Bergenholm field, but the single greatest obstacle to any sort of coordinated, interstellar association is still communications. Without the Bergenholm, the lightspeed barrier remains a solid wall, and despite attempts and creating “Bergenholm tunnels,” no one has yet managed to move radiation faster than the speed of light.
There have been successful experiments with quantum entanglement communicators, but they are expensive, extremely limited—there are only two terminals possible, so communication must happen between two relatively fixed points—and extremely slow. Manipulating the linked particles in such a way to send a clear message is extremely difficult. The only viable method of communication using quantum entanglement is therefore to use relatively simple codes. Continue reading
Star Flight Is A Problem Space Opera Has To Address
Earlier on this blog, I wrote about how Space Opera needs a sense of scale. Space opera is about being Big, with a Capital “B.” This goes back to the very origins of the genre. As I’ve said before, E.E. “Doc” Smith’s Lensman series eventually had entire planets being used as weapons. Edmund Hamilton’s Interstellar Patrol series also included stars, nebulae, and planets as weapons. (In fact, even Poul Anderson used the “weaponized planet,” in Ensign Flandry.) “Big” was never a problem. And “big” requires some form of star flight.
As more authors have tried to write “Hard SF Space Opera,” a challenge has arisen. Yes, space is big. Too big to get far with current understandings of physics.
The Lightspeed Barrier
Space is so huge, and the speed of light (being the theoretical absolute speed limit) so relatively sluggish (though calling 300,000 kilometers per second “sluggish” is a bit off), that getting anywhere even with theoretical tech that’s still way beyond our capabilities would take centuries. That’s a problem when you’re trying to tell an adventure story. If your cast, either aboard the ship or at the destination, will be centuries dead by the time the ship gets there, it makes it hard to tell a rip-roaring story.
Not impossible, mind you. Alistair Reynolds managed it with the Revelation Space series. His lighthuggers were gigantic starships, limited to just under the speed of light. He had to plot separate plot threads, moving forward and back decades, finally coming together at the culmination of each book. And he did a good job of it. It’s just complicated.
It’s also limited to a relatively small area of the galaxy, because of those same constraints. So what do you do if you want to let your space opera sprawl? What if you want the entire galaxy to be your playground, like in Star Wars? Continue reading
Space Opera Needs To Be Big
This is a basic truism. (And one that Star Wars really started to fail at with the prequels.) You have an entire galaxy to play in. There is no reason to keep things small. George Lucas started going off the rails when his vast, sweeping space opera became about one small family and the same handful of planets.
The problem is more widespread than just Star Wars. It’s enough of a problem in science fiction that there’s an entire TV Tropes page about it. (Warning: time sink) Some of the more recent space opera franchise films have been really, really bad about it. Continue reading