LAUNCHING SOON. Any last thoughts?
(formerly "Hyperspace Leapfrog")
The brave explorers or colonists set out in their spaceship to spread humankind to the stars. You can't travel faster than light, so they're going to spend most of the trip as Human Popsicles
, or it's a generation ship and it'll be their descendants who step out at the other end of the trip. Either way, they're saying goodbye forever to everyone and everything they know. Decades and centuries pass, and eventually they arrive at their destination --
-- and there's people there waiting for them. Turns out, faster-than-light travel is
possible, and it got sorted out while they were in transit. Now the same trip that took them centuries can be done and be back in time for Christmas
. And that planet you were all set to colonise? Done already, and actually we're not sure there's any room for you...
Expect the brave pioneers to be upset about this.
Can be related to Humans Advance Swiftly
- This was the origin of Vance Astro in Guardians of the Galaxy. He was cryogenically frozen and sent on the first manned space mission to another star. When he arrived, he discovered that Earth had invented faster-than-light travel and had colonised the world he was heading for. He was hailed as a hero but found he had arrived in a world where he no longer had a place.
- In "Founding Fathers" by Stephen Dedman, the first FTL ship shows up after the colony's been established for a few years, but it's still a shock and an upset to the colonists, who had actually embraced leaving everything-and-everyone behind because it meant they'd be left alone to do things the way things ought to be done.
- "On the Road to Tarsus" by Sean Williams is a variation involving long-range Teleportation: the first generation where the signal travelled at light speed and the later FTL Radio refinement that made interstellar travel practically instantaneous.
- In Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein, the protagonist is on a NAFAL ship that spends most of the book exploring the nearby stars; at the end of the book when everything is falling apart, they get rescued by an FTL ship that's been developed on Earth in the interim.
- In Mostly Harmless, we're told that one of the things making Galactic history so confusing is the armies that were sent out in sleepships to fight wars with distant civilisations, only to awaken, discover that diplomats travelling FTL arrived before them and hammered out a peace treaty, and damn well fighting their wars anyway.
- Happened to several groups of colonists in the backstory of the Honor Harrington series of books. On at least one occasion, lead to a planet being home to two distinctly different cultures with separate governments.
- Charles Sheffield's Summertide starts with ships carrying Human Popsicles. They are programmed to wake the people if they reach the destination, if a problem arises the computer cannot solve -- or if they receive a transmission that FTL has been invented.
- In the final book of Harry Turtledove's World War series, Homeward Bound, a human-built sleeper ship is sent as an embassy to the homeworld of the reptilian Race. The trip takes about 30 years to accomplish. The ambassadors are only at the Race's homeworld for a month when the human-built FTL-ship shows up.
- Played with in Larry Niven's short story "Flatlander". The Outsiders (a race of Starfish Aliens who are the ultimate Higher-Tech Species in Known Space) sell the location, trajectory, and velocity of a lost colony ship to the humans, who later use their FTL technology to rescue the crew and colonists on that ship, all of whom were in stasis.
- A.E. van Vogt's "Far Centaurus" is about a group of people who are trying to be the first to reach Alpha Centauri, but along the way somebody up and goes and discovers FTL travel.
- Babylon 5, "The Long Dark": In the 22nd century, the exploration ship Copernicus set out with a frozen crew and a navigation computer set to track down radio signals suggestive of intelligent life. A hundred years later, it arrives at the source of one such set of signals -- Babylon 5. Turns out, the Centauri found Earth and gave humans jump gate technology just a few years after the Copernicus set out.
- The season 1 finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation, "The Neutral Zone", is in part about a recovered ship sent from Earth in the pre-warp era, with cryogenically frozen passengers.
- In the Andromeda episode "The Lone And Level Sands", the crew encounters a 1,700 year old exploration vessel. Its mission was scheduled to last 3,000 years.
- "Space is Dark" by Bill Roper is the story of a crew who awake from centuries in suspended animation, ready to seek out habitable planets, to find that humanity has spread across the galaxy using a hyperdrive invented shortly after they left Earth. They don't take it well.
- The Forsaken in Vega Strike are the whole faction formed from the settlers who arrived to their destination only to find already developed places where no one needed them. Forsaken are understandably bitter about all this and ended up as one big pirate haven.
- The manual for Elite says you can encounter ancient generation ships still flying to their destinations in your Casual Interstellar Travels. You can't, but if they were in the game, that would be this trope.
Possible supertrope: "Science Steps Over You", where a scientist spends his life studying something, almost
figuring it out, only to be upstaged when a new discovery makes his life's work pointless (either he was wrong, or solving the problem is now trivial).
- In "Blindness" by John W. Campbell, Malcolm Mackay devotes his whole life to developing a source of cheap and safe power for the world, losing his health, several fingers, and his eyesight along the way, and eventually succeeds -- just after somebody else has developed an even cheaper and safer power source. Adding insult to injury, it's derived from a technique Mackay himself invented along the way to his own solution but failed to see the wider potential of.
- In the Time Wars series, one of the supporting characters is a scientist who devoted his life to inventing a working teleportation device, going so far as to seclude himself on an uninhabited planet to avoid distractions. Eventually, he developed a teleporter that more-or-less worked, with several unfortunate side-effects, and zapped back to Earth to announce his discovery -- and found that in the mean time somebody had invented a method of time travel that was effectively a teleporter that could teleport people in time and space, which could do everything he'd ever wanted his own teleporter to do, without the side-effects.