Created By: PaulA on November 16, 2011 Last Edited By: zarpaulus on January 8, 2012
Troped

Lightspeed Leapfrog

Faster-than-light travel lets you get there before the people who set out before FTL was invented. When they arrive, they\\\\\\\'re going to be upset.

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Trope
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.

Examples

Comics
  • 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.

Literature
  • 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.

Live-Action TV
  • 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.

Music
  • "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.

Video Games
  • 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).

Non-FTL examples:

  • 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.


Rolling Updates
Community Feedback Replies: 38
  • November 16, 2011
    Micah
    • 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 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.
  • November 16, 2011
    TBeholder
    Overtook The Slowboat? But i'm not sure it's big enough to be tropeable unless somehow expanded -- to Science Steps Over You or something.

    • 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.
  • November 16, 2011
    surgoshan
    I'm itching to make a Science Marches On snowclone out of this, like the Science Steps Over You above ^. I'm thinking that there must be several instances 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), which would make this a subtrope.
  • November 16, 2011
    DaibhidC
    • 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.
  • November 16, 2011
    Generality
    • In Rod Albright Alien Adventures, ancient Atlanteans developed a near-light spaceship to explore the universe. In their travels, members of the crew occasionally disembarked onto various habitable planets they passed by. Eventually, the descendants of some of these colonies developed FTL and found the original ship, and brought the few remaining original crew home, thousands of years after their civilisation had died.
  • November 16, 2011
    PaulA
    A Science Steps Over You example:

    • 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.
  • November 17, 2011
    AFP
    • 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.
  • November 17, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Sounds related to Gone To The Future.
  • November 17, 2011
    elwoz
    There was a short story probably in Asimov's in the 90s that was entirely built around this trope. It's from the point of view of the two-man crew of the ship full of Human Popsicles, that periodically wakes up to check on things. It starts out uneventful, but at one stop they see what they think is an alien ship on fire behind them, and when they get to the destination they discover that that was actually the first human FTL ship, that got knocked out of hyperspace and destroyed by running into the slow ship's mass shadow. Or something like that. I don't remember exactly how the technobabble went. Anyway, guilt ensues, also culture shock.
  • November 18, 2011
    Omeganian
    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.

    Andromeda has an episode (The Lone And Level Sands), where the crew encounters a 1700 year old exploration vessel. Its mission was scheduled to last 3 000 years.
  • November 18, 2011
    aurora369
    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.
  • December 7, 2011
    TBeholder
    "Hyperspace" part is more specific than the situation, though. The important part that is there one way or another are slowboats.
  • December 7, 2011
    Chabal2
    Do examples of hyperspace travel returning the traveler to before they left count so they run into each other count?
  • December 7, 2011
    foxley
    This was the origin of Vance Astro in Marvel Comics 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.
  • December 7, 2011
    Worldmaker
    • 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 some 200 years to accompish. 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.
  • December 17, 2011
    TBeholder
    Faster Than Slowboat Travel?
  • December 17, 2011
    elwoz
    ^ I chuckled, but I don't actually like it, because you have to know it's playing on "Faster Than Light Travel" for it to make any sense.
  • December 17, 2011
    vynsane
    Subverted in the video game Homeworld, where The Mothership, the first FTL-capable vessel developed by the people of Kharak, makes its first quantum waveform jump to rendez-vous with the Khar-Selim, a support vessel that has been travelling for a decade just for that purpose.
  • December 18, 2011
    aurora369
    I think current name is okay.
  • December 18, 2011
    nman
    Just a note, but in that World War example, it only takes thirty years for the sub-light ships to go from Earth to Tau Ceti, and the FTL ships arrive about a year after they get there. And that was worst-case scenario, since the USA had been hoping to send a ship out much sooner. There's still a ship of some poor Soviet bastards that won't arrive for another twenty years.

    Oh, and since this seems to be a theme, why not mention Humans Advance Swiftly?
  • December 18, 2011
    JonnyB
    As I recall, there was another Star Trek The Next Generation episode, with a pre-warp Klingon vessel coming out of suspended animation, and Picard had Worf sit in as acting Captain to ease their transition into the 24th century.
  • December 19, 2011
    SchrodingersDuck
    Implied, although unclearly, in Space Mutiny. The film revolves around a generation ship flying to colonise a distant world. Several crew members then mutiny to force it to land at a nearby inhabited world instead, rather than spend the rest of their lives on board the craft.
  • December 20, 2011
    nman
    I gave this my hat, because it's already a month old and has plenty of examples.
  • December 23, 2011
    TBeholder
    Still the issue of a good name. "Hyperspace" as such is not necessarikly present.
  • December 24, 2011
    aurora369
    Many people use "Hyperspace" in sense of "really just any kind of faster than light travel", since it is so widespread.
  • December 26, 2011
    IuraCivium
    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.
  • December 26, 2011
    PaulA
    What aurora369 said. I admit that "hyperspace" is possibly too specific, but it's a familiar term and I think readers are capable of understanding it as standing in for FTL travel in general. I'm less confident that general readers will understand what "slowboat" means.

    Although, having typed that, would "FTL Leapfrog" work as a title?
  • December 26, 2011
    PaulA
    The TNG episode with the Klingon sleeper ship is "The Emissary"; it's not an example because the ship is not pre-warp, there was some other reason for them to have been in suspended animation for seventy years.
  • December 26, 2011
    nman
    While I think Hyperspace Leapfrog is pretty clear, since hyperspace is almost synonymous with FTL nowadays in media, I can see these guys' point. That said, instead of FTL Leapfrog, I think it would be better to go for the Added Alliterative Appeal and call it "Lightspeed Leapfrog"
  • December 27, 2011
    Kizor
    "Lightspeed Leapfrog" sounds better than "FTL Leapfrog." I could go for "Hyperspace Leapfrog" too.

    Music Space is Dark by Bill Roper.
  • December 27, 2011
    PaulA
    "Lightspeed Leapfrog". I like that.

    Kizor, can you elaborate on that example a bit? Weblinks Are Not Examples.
  • December 27, 2011
    nman
    ^ Just looking at the lyrics, it has this in it:
    "Ten years we had been on our way, when they found the hyperdrive.
    And man spread to a thousand stars while we were half-alive.
    But still they could not stop our ship to save us from our fate,
    And so we have arrived here, but nine hundred years too late."

    This is now my new favorite song.
  • January 5, 2012
    nman
  • January 7, 2012
    PaulA
    Got a title, got the hats. Anybody got any last thoughts before I launch?
  • January 7, 2012
    zarpaulus
    I changed the timescale for the World War example for you.
  • January 7, 2012
    NicklePlatedStephen
    It looks good to go from my point of view.
  • January 7, 2012
    nman
    Yeah man, looks good.
  • January 8, 2012
    aurora369
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=sor1j79iobsg7qem71puynrf