"There was a young woman named Bright Faster-Than-Light Travel
Whose speed was much faster than light.
She set out one day
In a relative way,
And returned on the previous night."
— A. H. Reginald Buller
is a staple of Space Opera
that allows an "out" to the unfortunate fact that space is honking big
, making it impossible (within physics as we understand it now) to get anywhere remotely interesting within the average lifetime of a civilization. This has been an issue for writers since The Fifties
or so; before then
you could get away with having your aliens come from Neptune
without totally losing the audience.
Today, it is widely understood that in order for the protagonists
to be able to plausibly visit a new Planet of Hats
every week, they need to travel through space at speeds faster than that of light itself
. The problem is that as far as present-day science is concerned, going faster than — or even just as fast as
— the speed of light is, for all human intents and purposes, impossible. See Analysis for more of this
. Of course, writers may wave away the issues surrounding FTL travel by invoking incredible advances in future technology, or they may simply not worry about the complications too much at all
In either case, explaining how people may travel from Earth to the edge of the Galaxy in less than an hour will generally involve equipping a Cool Starship
with some kind of "exotic" propulsion system
, which, approximately, holds the normal laws of physics in abatement. This is the Faster Than Light Drive. The exact mechanism varies, but more detailed works may explain how the system avoids the lightspeed limitation
. There are three broad favorites:
- "Warp" drives: Ship waves hands very very fast and can thus go faster.
- Technobabble: These work by bending the laws of physics in a limited bubble around the ship, where the space is warped in some strange way so the Einstein limit doesn't apply. Distinguished by the ship still traveling in normal space just like a conventional drive, with all the hazards that may entail. Only to an outside observer it would appear the ship is moving impossibly fast. Most notably used in Star Trek where the warp drive actually compresses space in front of the ship while stretching it out behind it.
- Some simplify it as the ship is riding a wave (warp) of space, not unlike how a surfboard rides a wave of water.
- "Jump" drives: Ship disappears and reappears elsewhere.
- Technobabble; exploiting the curvature of spacetime in some way to instantly move a ship from one location to another. Functionally, a ship using one does not travel faster than light; instead, they alter the distance that has to be traveled, generally to about zero. Sometimes called "fold drives" (from the analogy of folding a piece of paper to make two distant points adjacent). As the range is rarely unlimited the ship typically moves in a series of "jumps", needing some time to recharge or re-calibrate its engine between jumps, but the jump itself is generally instant making this technically the fastest method. Oddly enough this rarely uses Teleportation Tropes excepting perhaps Tele-Frag as those are personal tropes. Notably used in Dune. See also Our Wormholes Are Different for a variant.
- Hyperdrives: Ship leaves local space and goes into another dimension where it can go faster. Usually called "X"space with X usually being "Hyper" or whatever the drive is called (so a Zerodrive takes you to Zerospace etc...).
- Technobabble; Since the ship can't travel faster than light, it enters Another Dimension instead. Maybe the laws of physics are different so you can go faster than light there. Or perhaps hyperspace has weird topography so that by traveling for a day there you can reenter the real universe thousands of light-years from where you started. Because travel still takes time it may take a trip in hyperspace exactly as long as it needs to but is still not instant. Has decent odds of being a scary place with its own hazards to manage. Most notable example can be found in Star Wars, though the picture above is actually only of entering hyperspace.
Sometimes, FTL travel is only possible between specific points — the entrances to wormholes
, for example, or alien artifacts that can accelerate ships to FTL speeds (it's reasonably common for this to be the leftovers
of an ancient galaxy-spanning civilization
, often functioning as a Portal Network
). This approach to the trope often means that the ship itself isn't actually required to have any Applied Phlebotinum on-board; on the other hand, sometimes a ship will
have its own FTL drive, but can only use it at certain special locations scattered throughout the universe. The actual Technobabble
explanation for FTL travel in works that use this "restricted" flavor of the trope can still fit into any of the above categories. The important distinction from a story-telling perspective is that our protagonists first have to use conventional, comparatively slow travel to reach some special location before they can warp away across the galaxy. This may lead to the existence of "choke points" where Standard Starship Scuffles
may take place, or tension-building delays during a trip. Hyperspace Lanes
may or may not apply: it may be that each "warp point", whatever its nature, connects to just one, or a few other locations, but it could also be that once a ship manages to reach a place where FTL is possible, it can then jump wherever it pleases. This concept can also be seen as the inverse
of the No Warping Zone
. Sometimes, a "restricted" style of FTL will occur side-by-side with the more general form of the trope; for example, characters may use their ship's self-sufficient warp drive to travel to a few neighbouring planets, but may need to reach a special wormhole to access some really remote and mysterious location.
Whatever the nature and form of FTL travel, many works will try to come up with some appropriately snappy name for it. The most generic term for an FTL drive is probably the "hyperdrive", but many books and series come up with their own terminology. It should be noted that any particular name used for FTL travel does not necessarily have to correspond to a specific means of travel as described earlier in this article. In Star Trek
the Warp Drive is of course just a warp drive, but in Warhammer 40,000
the "Warp" is the poster-child for Hyperspace Is a Scary Place
, for example. Similarly, Babylon 5
used the term "Jump Drive" to describe moving in and out of an alternative dimension, hyperspace, where ships could cross interstellar distances in a short time, rather than instantaneous travel between two points in real-space. Different stories' FTL drives should be distinguished by their effects, not simply their names.
From a Troper
's perspective, the story-telling implications of the type of FTL travel used in a work are usually more important than the technobabble
behind it. For example, Jump or Hyperdrives may provide a very easy (but often dramatic) way to escape an antagonist
because it is usually hard for anyone to track a ship that just disappears; exactly what Applied Phlebotinum
allows the ship to do so is less significant. A Warp Drive, on the other hand, usually does not allow the same escape option; we may get a Stern Chase
, instead. Again, how
the Warp Drive works isn't too important here; all we need to know is whether the protagonists can simply leap light-years away from the Big Bad
at the touch of a button, or whether a dramatic chase scene is in store.
Often, the exact mechanism by which FTL is achieved is only important insofar as it supports various kinds of Phlebotinum Breakdown
. And in some series, the mechanism is simply ignored; we just assume that it works and that we shouldn't worry about relativity
. At most, some form of Unobtainium
may be mentioned to circumvent Einstein's laws. For works on the harder
end of sci-fi, on the other hand, the science behind FTL may be more important, and the author may go to great lengths to develop consistent rules for FTL and explore all of the technology's implications.
Exotic FTL drives also give us an "out" against inertia: Since the laws of physics are being held in abeyance, we can safely assume that if the drive breaks, the laws of physics reassert themselves, so it is impossible to "coast" at superluminal velocities (see Space Friction
). Thus, we can effectively ensure that Space Is an Ocean
It is generally assumed that FTL travel is for travel between
star systems and furthermore, it is the only
viable means of travel between stars. Conversely, subluminal, conventional travel is for use within a star system
: FTL too close to anything that has gravity tends to be ruled out as dangerous (No Warping Zones
often provide justifications). The need to reach a safe distance to use FTL is the stuff of countless space chase scenes, most commonly escaping a planet's gravity well.
is a necessary break
from physics if you want to have a Space Opera
. A more extreme version, found in Space Operas and other places, is Casual Interstellar Travel
. A setting without Faster Than Light Travel involving a trip between planets, usually in a single star system, is an Interplanetary Voyage
Similarly, Faster-Than-Light Travel
is usually a technology that cannot operate without the presence of plot-relevant individuals
, as it's hard to tell entertaining stories about unmanned probes
- all Real Life
space exploration is done thus, and holds interest for relatively few people
A related trope is the Subspace Ansible
, which allows ships to send messages at superluminal speeds without having to send their engines along with them; this trope will usually be found alongside Faster-Than-Light Travel
, though there are exceptions (for example, Andromeda
, Honor Harrington
, and the Vorkosigan Saga
have FTL travel but no ansibles, and Enders Game
has ansibles but no FTL travel — though the series that inspired it, Ursula K. Le Guin
's Hainish Cycle
have FTL travel in addition to ansibles, it was just that humans couldn't survive it.).
In FTL settings, an Everything Sensor
will usually operate in some FTL manner to allow the ship to detect plot-related events happening light-minutes or light-years away in real time. Distress Calls
are a function of the aforementioned ansible, but when the ship can casually detect "enemy" ships from light-years away, just as casually mosey on over and ask what they're doing in their territory, yet must enter a given star system to study it for plot-related reasons, a great deal of hand-waving is in order.
Both these tropes have many of the same difficulties with known physics as Faster-Than-Light Travel
itself. Beyond the simple fact that relativity implies it's impossible, it also shows that something travelling faster than light must appear to some observers to be travelling backwards in time, and even being able to send information backwards in time produces logical difficulties like the Grandfather Paradox
Even though going faster than light is already extreme in itself, some actually take it Up to Eleven
with Ludicrous Speed
, where traveling at such speeds results in usually unpleasant side effects.
For the record, c
, the speed of light in a vacuum, is 299,792,458 meters per second.note
This works out to 670,616,629.38 mph, 1,079,252,848.80 km/h, or about 900,000 times the speed of sound on Earth. It's not just a good idea, it's the law!
This only holds true for the speed of light in a vacuum. Photons travelling through various translucent gaseous, crystalline or liquid media move at large fractions of the speed of light. However, other particles may move faster than these photons, leading to phenomena such as Cherenkov radiation
Not to be confused with the PC game named FTL: Faster Than Light
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Anime and Manga
- Cowboy Bebop had the portal variety called Gates, which were apparently dangerous because something called the "Gate Incident" made the moon explode. They created subspace of some fashion where things went faster and ships could get stuck in if they didn't leave in time. Like a lot of things in Bebop, it was never fully explained.
- In Outlaw Star, as a clever nod to science fiction's past, the "sub-ether" drive is powered by a "Munchausen reactor". This is a type of hyperdrive.
- The whole plot of the anime short subject Hoshi no Koe (Voices from a Distant Star) stems from the fact that the first United Nations space armada (where the protagonist serves) has faster-than-light drives but no means of faster-than-light communication.
- The dub very slightly implies that it's some kind of time dilation instead, because they failed to translate the newspapers, prominently displayed on the table, where headlines, basically, explain it all. (And, indeed, one newspaper's side-column contains the particularly mean-spirited revelation that FTL communication was actually invented shortly after the armada jumped out of range.)
- Macross uses its spaceship's jump drive as a major plot point.
- Also, Macross/Robotech demonstrates that if you had an FTL drive and could safely use it within a star system, you probably would, because even interplanetary distances can be inconveniently large. The SDF-1 travels from Earth to Pluto's orbit in minutes, but needs two years to get back to Earth using a gravity-assist technique through normal space. This is quite plausible, the outer Solar System is big.
- FTL travel in the series itself seems to be a combination of Jump and Hyperdrive types. Space folding is done by going into "superdimension space." Later series introduce "Fold Faults", which are obstacles in superdimensional space (implied to be warped space-time of some sort), and establishes that space folds have limited range: long distance (Earth-to-Pluto would be considered quite short range, for comparison) folds eat up a lot of power, such that ships need to spend weeks recovering the resources to make such a jump again.
- Macross Frontier reveals that all Fold technology in the series is derived from a space-faring species known as the Vajra, who are able to do it naturally, without the aid of technology. Their living Fold systems are still much more advanced than the ones in use by humanity and Zentraedi: fold faults don't seem to be as big a problem for them, and they can make extreme long-range jumps in a fraction of the time.
- Seikai no Monshou (Crest of the Stars) and its sequels use "plane space", a two-dimensional hyperspace in which the spaceships must be inside an artificially-generated 3-dimensional rolling space-time bubble to exist normally. The spin and tilt of the bubble determine its speed and direction. The planar universe is accessed via gates (saudec) that, when they are closed, can be moved and appear to be indefinitely energy-releasing particles (uanon) which were used to propel human spaceships before their other capacities were discovered.
- In Space Runaway Ideon, the Solo Ship and Buff Clan ships had the DS (Dimension Space) Drive as a way of performing faster-than-light travel. However, it functioned more in the likeness of wormhole travel (in which one uses or creates a tunnel through space-time that creates a normally physically impossible "portal" between two points in space) than hyperspace.
- The Yamato in Star Blazers is outfitted with a Wave Motion Engine (also powers their Super Cool Giant Laser Beam) but abusing it could screw them over (meaning they can only use it for limited amounts of time in short intervals). Warping is a mind-blowing experience for the uninitiated, and may lead to either hallucinations or oddly specific existence failures (Yuki's clothing briefly disappears during the first warp; this never happens to any of the male characters; and of course it doesn't happen at all in the American version).
- Starship Operators has a warp/jump drive. It operates like jump drive/wormhole, and normally cannot be used in area with high gravity.
- Used by default by the eponymous mecha in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. It's ten million light years tall but moves and fights normally on a human timescale, so every part of it moves much, much faster than light every time it so much as budges. The method used is pure Hot-Blooded badass.
- The Super Galaxy Dai-Gurren also has something akin to a hyperspace drive. Its guidance and power requirements are taken care of by the main character's flaming awesomeness (read: Hot-Blooded badass).
- In the Tenchi Muyo! OVAverse when fighting Z, Tenchi travels from Earth to Saturn within a fraction of a second. This is justified in that he is the being that made the three Goddesses that made the universe.
- Generally not present in Gundam due to the franchise's more "realistic" take on science fiction, but the idea has popped up a few times: The Turn A Gundam and the 00 Raiser are capable of instantaneous teleportation, generally over short, tactical distances. The 00 Raiser's successor, the 00 Qan[T], was then designed to use this for full-scale faster than light travel.
- In Legend of Galactic Heroes, faster-than-light travel is achieved via "warp drives", which actually function more like "jump" drives in the trope description.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, played straight in episode 145 after Yusei defeats Antinomy/Bruno they both end up being trapped within the black hole created earlier (which is itself impossible). After an emotional speech by Antinomy/Bruno, he proceeds to adjust his D-wheel and push it into Yusei's to gain enough escape velocity (also impossible once inside the event horizon) and/or open up a hyperdrive window. The title of the episode itself "Faster than Light!" perhaps lampshaded this trope.
- Lily C.A.T. still has the journey to their destination taking twenty years both ways, thus necessitating a Sleeper Starship.
- In Warren Ellis' Orbiter, the shuttle's FTL drive is heavily implied to be Alcubierre drive (the name's not stated, but the picture of the warp field and the name Alcubierre was mentioned, and the theoretical explanation fits Alcubierre drive, except that starting and stopping is far easier).
- DC Comics uses this every so often. A notable example is how Kyle Rayner has traversed the entire universe in a span of a few months, as well as traveling back and forth between Oa and Earth multiple times. Other Lanterns have done the same, but not nearly as much as Kyle has.
- The Zeta Beam is primarily Adam Strange's method of FTL travel.
- And then there's the Boom Tube Gauntlet, that apparently allows instantaneous travel to planets as far away as Apokolips.
- The Flash has done this more than once.
- Superman routinely could fly faster than the speed of light between the late Golden Age through the end of the Bronze Age, usually to travel across space. Said ability was also used (similar to the Flash's means) to allow Superman to travel through time. Post-Crisis, Superman was usually limited to sublight speeds, though some stories seemed to forget/ignore this and show him flying across vast distances of space without anyone on Earth noticing an absurdly-long absence.
- An 80s Superboy story shows him making use of a wormhole early in his career to fly across space.
- Similarly, Kal-El's ship that brought him to Earth was equipped with a warp drive engine.
- The 1980's British science fiction comic Starblazer had a wide variety of star drives in its stories, including warp drives and warp gates, traveling through hyperspace with hyperdrives, using natural wormholes, Worm Hole Drive (creating artificial wormholes) and Omega Drive (artificially created black holes).
- In Tank Vixens the "Credibilty Drive" relies on the crew being gullible enough to warp the universe. It's really just a dressed-up VCR that plays a video of hyperspace lines on the monitors followed by their destination. However, when a tape of Gone with the Wind is played by accident they end up Trapped in TV Land.
- Star Wars, the hyperdrive of course. Among the most typical around. It's also fairly fast; one could travel from one end of the galaxy to the end in about one week.
- Spaceballs spoofs the aforementioned Star Wars with the Ludicrous Speed drive, which instead of the star trail line effect, creates a plaid effect around the ship and is often seen to overshoot its destination.
- The speed indicator lights showed another speed, "Ridiculous Speed", nestled in between Light Speed and Ludicrous Speed. One is given to wonder what would have become of our heroes in the Winnebago had Dark Helmet opted to chase them at only Ridiculous Speed.
- Ernest Saves Christmas spoofs Star Wars's hyperdrive— Santa's sleigh is capable of travel that's a direct homage to the first jump to hyperspace scene in A New Hope.
- Event Horizon is about a spaceship whose main system of FTL apparently can't decide whether it wants to be a jump drive or a warp drive in terms of Techno Babble, but in practice, it turns out to be a hyperdrive that took its crew into a cosmic horror dimension that killed them all, and then came back...changed by the experience.
- In Contact, the alien plans create a device that allows Jodie Foster to travel to their world via a self-generated wormhole. James Woods' character goes to great pains to try to disprove her claims of travel because on Earth her elapsed time was immeasurable, but the elapsed time on her recording device was several hours.
- In the Alien films, the ships must have some sort of FTL propulsion since Ripley expected to attend her daughter's 11th birthday on Earth and it doesn't make much sense to deploy Colonial Marines to assist a colony if it going to take them years or decades to arrive. The funny thing is that there are also stasis modules for space travel, which would be unnecessary if the ships achieved a high enough relativistic speed (due to Time Dilation).
- The Colonial Marines Technical Manual states that whatever FTL they use has negative time dilation - the flight takes longer from the point of view of the crew than from that of the universe at large.
- And that actually makes sense in a bizarre, "You Are Einstein's Prison Bitch" kind of way... and explains why they use suspended animation for long trips when they also have FTL.
- Interestingly, even with faster than light travel it still takes awhile to travel interstellar - normally it takes between months and years.
- Similarly, in the The Fifth Element we see a commercial starship that "jumps to lightspeed" in order to travel to another solar system, and like the Alien films, they put the passengers to sleep during the voyage. Also the mass of evil manages to travel from another solar system to Earth in just 2 hours. Mind that the heroes also manage to arrive to Earth from lightyears away just a little earlier...
- The sleeping-while-in-hyperspace thing is Hand Waved as being "for your comfort," so perhaps in the Fifth Element 'verse Hyperspace Is a Scary Place for the conscious mind? Though the crew, Ruby Rhod and others seem unaffected.
- In The Neverending Story II, the evil empress Xayide and her minions go underground, while the narrator explains that they will be traveling at "at the Speed of Darkness, which is faster than light".
- In Moscow — Cassiopeia, they manage to achieve this when the local troublemaker accidentally sits on the controls, travelling a 27 year journey in less than a minute. The people on Earth pass those 27 years normally, being unable to contact the ship the entire time. It is suggested they entered some form of subspace, hyperspace, or “tachyon spiral”. However in real life physics, that's exactly what you get when you travel at a very relativistic but still subluminal speed.
- The Lost in Space film has the Robinson family ship equipped with a hyperdrive. However, it's impossible to set a destination without using a set of gates that guide a ship at FTL. Their original plan is to travel the slow way to the planned colony and build a receiving gate there for subsequent ships to travel to via FTL. It doesn't work out for them.
- It will be the subject of the upcoming Christopher Nolan's film Interstellar, where humanity ventures on a newly discovered wormhole.
- The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy had hyperspace, which seems to be a kind of warp drive, the effects of which are "rather unpleasantly like being drunk" (as felt by the drink!). To avoid that tedious mucking about in hyperspace, the Heart of Gold uses an Infinite Improbability Drive, a jump drive which altered the laws of probability, causing the (actually real, but incredibly unlikely - thus, nigh-infinitely improbable) spontaneous relocation of all the particles in a ship to some other place. The even more advanced Bistromathics system relied on the chaotic multidimensional mathematics generated by going out to a fancy restaurant (from when and how many people will be arriving to divvying up the bill), and carried an onboard bistro as part of its drive system.
- There's also the principle that nothing in the universe travels faster than bad news. Someone built a starship powered by bad news, but they were so unwelcome anywhere they went that there wasn't any real point in being there.
- "R is a velocity measure, defined as a reasonable speed of travel that is consistent with health, mental well-being and not being more than say five minutes late. (...) R17 is not a fixed velocity, but it is clearly far too fast."
- Isaac Asimov's Robots-Empire-Foundation universe used "hyper-atomic" jump drives which, though one could theoretically use them to cross the galaxy instantaneously, could not be targeted accurately without first determining your exact position in space and then carefully calculating the relative trajectory of your destination from astronomical observations and manuals. As sophisticated computers did not exist in the Asimov universe until the later Foundation novels, this often had to be done by hand and plotting a single jump could take more than a day depending on how many gravity wells were around your locale. Long trips required several jumps, and to travel from one end of the galaxy to another required dozens of jumps and over two months time, in order to guarantee safe passage. "Blind jumps", where ships jump without a set course or a vaguely defined one, are known to occur in desperate circumstances, but one runs the risk of jumping too close to a star or planet, or merely jumping and being stuck in hyperspace forever.
- Asimov's hyperspace is one of the stranger examples is mainstream sci-fi. It's not so much a dimension as a "state" of existence. All speed and distance is nil in hyperspace, and the whole galaxy itself is nothing but a dimensionless point (hence the idea that one could cross it easily). Transit takes less than a second, and is described as a momentary, blink-and-you'll-miss-it feeling of weightlessness. Hyperspace accidents are repeatedly denounced as "unheard of", and everything becomes very casual after some proper computers are put in charge.
- Interestingly enough, the first computers would freeze when attempting the first hyperspace jump simulations, being Three-Laws Compliant, because the jump essentially kills the traveler. The first positronic brain, in a foreshadowing of the Zeroth Law Rebellion, glossed over the whole dying part and discovered he was still alive after the jump (while developing a rather perverse sense of humour to help itself cope)...
- The stated reason that a positronic system could complete the calculation (while a duotronic system could not) is that the mind hosted by the positronic system allowed it to look past the deaths of the travelers and see that, once the ship emerged from hyperspace, they would come back to life. It may also have observed that it was possible to make the transit instantaneous, which would eliminate the problem entirely.
- The reason the Positronic Brain managed to survive the calculations required to develop a hyperdrive is a result of Susan Calvin the top expert on robopsychology being called in to carefully instruct the AI to not panic if the calculations appeared to call for human death, deemphasizing the value of the 1st law enough for it to actually get to the end. The quirky behavior that results (such as ensuring only beans were available on the ship for the test subjects) is due to having to cope with the idea of humans dying at all even if they didn't stay dead.
- The first time a proper navigational computer is used to jump a ship to a destination, it plots a course involving some 29 jumps in a few seconds (something that a human would have taken days to do) with zero errors. The captain, Golan Trevize, is distrustful of the machine and orders it to make only the first jump, then takes a whole day to verify their co-ordinates (making calculation errors of his own in the process). When he orders the next jumps to be made, the effect as seen on the viewscreen is something akin to a quick slideshow of starscapes, each frame corresponding to a pause between jumps. In the end, only 28 jumps are made (in 30 minutes, as opposed to a few months), since the computer had optimized their course after jump 15. Everyone is rightly impressed with this.
- Prior to this hyper-advanced computer, they used a device called the Lens, which allowed one to view the stars from the viewpoint of any star or planet. You could then "zoom in" to any star, and the device would extrapolate the path. This significantly cut down the calculations one had to make.
- In H.P. Lovecraft's The Whisperer in Darkness the Mi-Go are able to fly faster than light because Einstein is wrong (it was written in the 30s).
- Animorphs had a hyper drive that utilized something called zero-space, or Z-space. In one prequel book, the Yeerks, spying on humans, discover footage from Star Trek showing FTL travel in the physical world without Z-space and are stunned until they realize that it's fiction.
- This form of FTL travel has a very large flaw. The distance between places in Z-space shifted constantly, so a trip that takes days today could take months tomorrow.
- In John Maddox Roberts' Space Angel the titular ship uses the "Whoopee Drive" which instantaneously transports the ship to the desired destination but must be initiated from well outside a solar system. Thus, interstellar space travel begins with several months in normal space. The transition is tough on folks and the crew takes medication, straps down, and even clamps on vomit and, er, other bags to handle the side effects. One veteran comments on his experience taking troop carriers through with only netting to separate the men. However, the captain appears to actually enjoy it and it's hinted that she rides the Whoopee Drive without the usual precautions. In an unusual aversion, there is no hypersleep during the long months of pre-jump travel; the crew is kept quite busy with maintenance and repairs.
- Stephen Baxter's Xeelee Sequence series intended to deconstruct this trope's implications in physics: here, Faster Than Light travel also results in paradox-free Time Travel (a main character in the novel Exultant accidentally travels back to meet himself from "two years ago"), which both sides in humanity's war with the Xeelee regularly exploit.
- Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga takes the Our Wormholes Are Different route, with a series of wormholes depicted as lines between various worlds. Jumps ships can "jump" the wormholes if a pilot with cybernetic implants guides the ship through the five-dimensional space inside. A few seconds passes for the crew, but the pilot experiences hours during the jump. Given the odd nature of the pilots' experiences, though (one pilot hallucinated that he was the color red) this time stretch may be artificial. There can be many different wormholes along a single route, and they may be spaced several days of travel apart. Bujold has said that she hand waved the wormholes intentionally, preferring to get on with the plot.
- In the Enders Game series, humans have a Subspace Ansible, but not FTL ships. This is a point revealed and exploited in the early books.
- Even the slower-than-light drives of their starships require some Applied Phlebotinum to work — they can instantly go from a standing stop to 99+ percent of light speed and back, without having to muck about with all that tedious accelerating (which would normally take years, unless you wanted to squish the passengers).
- In the last book of the Shadow parallel series it was stated that Artificial Gravity was used for rapid acceleration/deceleration.
- The author can't seem to decide how this method of interstellar travel works, as it changes from book to book. For example, in Speaker for the Dead, it's specifically stated that no acceleration/deceleration takes place and that only a tiny amount of energy is required for the relativistic jump. In a later novel, a warship doesn't want to spend months/years (from an external viewpoint) decelerating and just fires a missile at near-relativistic speeds. In the Earth Unaware prequel, the Bugger/Formic/Hormiga ship is using a Ramscoop drive that allows it to achieve relativistic speeds but requires the collected "gamma plasma" to be periodically expelled through "pores" all over the ship (which also serves as its meteorite defense system).
- In Xenocide, the properties of the Subspace Ansible are utilized by a sufficiently powerful computer mind to move ships in the same way as information, allowing for truly instantaneous FTL travel. To their credit, the characters exploit this for all it's worth in fending off a planetary invasion force, up to and including Teleport Spam, and later offer it to humanity at large in return for leaving the AI alone.
- John DeChancie's Skyway series has faster-than-light truck travel, along a road built by Precursors which uses artificial Kerr-Tippler objects (wormholes, basically) to transport matter along various sections of a road that, altogether, runs over the surfaces of hundreds of planets.
- In Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle books, which includes Dorsai!, space travel is achieved through a series of jumps, where the ship is annihilated at one spot and reconstituted in another. The jumps not only have to be extensively calculated (the ship must be located absolutely in the universe, and its destination point must also be exactly calculated, to the same degree), the jump itself has a psychological effect on the crew and passengers, so the more often the jump, the greater the psychic shock and the closer the people on board get to insanity. Tranquilizers are made available to help lessen the experience, but cannot nullify it. This is a subplot point in Dorsai!, where the effect is shown during a raid on a planet - something nobody thinks possible.
- Joe Haldeman's The Forever War uses "collapsars" (an old name for black holes) to instantaneously jump up to thousands of lightyears to the next collapsar along the ship's vector at entry. Unfortunately most collapsars are far from any inhabitable system, the nearest one to earth, "Stargate", is one lightyear away, so starships still need to spend several years at relativistic speeds.
- In Dune, the Spacing Guild holds a monopoly on space travel for most of the series. Using "Holtzman engines" to fold space (instantaneous or near instantaneous travel), ships are piloted by psychic Guild Navigators who can see into the future, enabling safe transport through the universe. The downside? Activating their precognitive power requires the Navigators to breathe Spice gas, which mutates them - eventually to the extent that they can't live without it.
- But in the sequels their abilities were mimicked by technology... as was EVERYTHING, as the proscriptions from the Butlerian Jihad and the general distaste for genetic engineering were holding back the advances of technology - as long as they had the spice, nobody was interested in figuring out better ways to get around. One of Leto II's goals was to break this stasis and allow humanity to go forward.
- Further, the prequels show that technology was already on a path to making Holtzman engines safe, but dogmatic rejection of anything that is remotely reminiscent of a thinking machine forced the development of Guild Navigators to bypass the edict.
- In the pre-prequels set during the Butlerian Jihad, another (unnamed) kind of FTL drive exists, which takes days, weeks, or months to cross interstellar distances. This slower method of FTL travel is favored until the advent of Guild Navigators, because without a Navigator, each use of a Holtzman fold drive has a 10% chance to send its starship to never-never land forever. There were computers developed to solve this problem, but the strictures of the Jihad meant they had to stay secret.
- One of the implied problems of using the Holtzman drive is the possibility that you might jump into another ship with the drive that's already where you want to arrive. The idea of the Guild Navigators is that they use the limited precognition the Spice gives them to see the risk and avoid it. Unfortunately, later refinement of the idea of precognition includes the idea that anyone with precognition cannot use it to see anyone else with precognition, creating a possible problem with the whole scheme. (Precogs apparently perceive other precogs as "holes" in their vision, so possibly the Navigators avoid other ships by carefully steering away from anything that looks like a blind spot?)
- C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union series has a hyperspace drive which acts like (and uses the terminology of) a jump drive, since steering is impossible once inside of hyperspace, and all of the conditions needed to end up at the right destination need to be set up before entering hyperspace. Entering hyperspace requires acceleration to near-light speeds (and deceleration from). Also there's a bit of Time Dilation in that crews experience three days to a week (though most members of oxygen breathing races are unconscious during jump) while a couple of months pass outside.
- In fact, jump drives in this universe seem to obey a consistent mixture of the typical Faster-Than-Light Travel options. Jumps have to be done from and to specific areas - the 'Jump Range', far enough from the mass of the star or brown dwarf not to interfere in the jump. When you reach the other end, the mass of your destination star brings you back out of jump. It's implied that messing up your calculation on targeting that destination is a bad idea. Other ships moving in the same frame of space/time relevance to you can throw your jump out - on one occasion nearly throwing a starship into Epsilon Eridani. However, the ship doesn't actually exist in real space between the two points.
- In many of Anne McCaffrey's series (particularly, the The Ship Who... series), FTL travel is possible, but obscenely expensive. Trips between star systems still take months or years (with the bulk of travel spent slowing the ship down safely). In the Talents series, ships are simply thrown through space and teleported via Psychic Powers.
- Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle described the Alderson Drive in The Mote In Gods Eye (1975), which requires the traveling vessel to be located in particular points in space before they could travel between systems, and even then the 'jump points' only connected in pairs. The Trope Codifier for portal drives not involving fixed stargates.
- Larry Niven:
- Known Space has hyperdrive that only travels at one set speed of a light year in about three days; the discovery of a higher level of hyperspace with a greater speed has major ramifications for that 'verse. This hyperdrive was never invented by a planet-bound species due to gravity's effects; the wandering Outsiders sold it to younger races (they never use it themselves, feeling it too risky.) It also allows faster than light communication in the form of "Hyperwave". Hyperdrive can't be used near gravity; this was later subject to retcon so that Niven could have a twist ending to the Ringworld series, but many fans are disgruntled with the explanation that replaced it.
- In the first Ringworld novel, the Quantum II hyperdrive is described as being much faster. However, it's also Awesome but Impractical, as it's size means that it leaves almost no space in even the largest General Products hulls, making it useless for trade or warfare.
- FTL travel in Honor Harrington is accomplished by "translating" into hyperspace, in which normal local-space movement is amplified severalfold. Hyperspace is organized into bands named after the letters of the Greek alphabet; a starship first translates into the alpha band, and from there can translate into the beta band, then the gamma band, etc.. The higher the hyper band your starship is in, the greater the multiplication factor when determining your "apparent velocity" through normal space; a ship traveling at 0.5c in the delta band is traveling through normal space at 912c, for example. In keeping with the nautical theme of the series, hyperspace is criss-crossed by "grav waves" which will tear your ship apart unless it projects "Warshawski sails", and these sails allow the ship to "ride" the grav wave at even greater speeds.
- There are also naturally occurring points that act as instant-travel wormholes to distant locations.
- Local-space travel, both in and out of hyper, uses a gravity-manipulating drive that has the extra bonus of allowing its users to behave as if they were really seagoing vessels - this is a bonus because, for Honor Harrington, read "Horatio Hornblower".
- Gravitic sensors also allow for some limited short-range FTL communication: initially directly from sensing the gravitational waves, and later, as Weber learned that gravity only propagates at lightspeed, he retconned these into sensing the instantaneous RIPPLE along the edge of the hyperspace that grav waves induce.
- David Weber's Empire from the Ashes trilogy features both warp drives and jump drives, though they're so ridiculously large that most ships the size of a planetoid only have enough space to mount one or the other. It's explained that each type has its own advantages; jump drives are faster, but the destination cannot be changed mid-jump, while warp drives are slower, but allow for more flexibility.
- Hyper is something of a cross between the "jump" and "warp" versions of FTL travel. Travel is not instantaneous, and the ship is moving through an alternate dimension (warp), but once you're in hyper, you're stuck until you get to your destination (jump). Enchanach is pretty much the classic warp drive.
- The "skip drives" used by the Colonial Defense Forces in John Scalzi's Old Man's War series are actually interdimensional travel, with no way to return to your "home" universe. Thankfully most universes are so similar that you'd never be able to notice any differences.
- In the Humanx Commonwealth series by Alan Dean Foster, ships use the posigravity, or Kurita-Kinoshita drive (Named for the scientists who invented it). Ships are said to look like a balloon stuck on the end of a plunger. The suction cup looking part of the ship generates a gravity field that pulls the ship along. Changing the shape of the gravity field changes how matter behaves and allows the ship to exceed the speed of light, taking it into "space-plus". KK-drives are very dangerous and sophisticated computers are needed to keep everything working properly. Due to dangers imposed by the drives there are restrictions in where they can be used.
- Dangers like gouging significant chunks out of a planet's surface, setting off hurricanes and earthquakes. Flinx's ship is unique because the Ulru-Ujurrians figured out how to circumvent the problem.
- There's also a piece of Fridge Logic in this drive method: the system apparently violates the Third Law of Motion in that there's no counterforce opposing its forward acceleration. This can only work if you accept that the drive field simulates mass without actually having any, a Hand Wave if there ever was one.
- Charles Stross's Eschaton series (including Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, among others) happily accepts that FTL travel implies time travel. However, a singularly powerful AI from the future (the previously mentioned Eschaton) protects causality (and ultimately, its own existence) by being able to see causality violations after they occur, then use its own (much better) causality violating weapons to obliterate the offender with godlike levels of overkill.
- There are about six known methods of FTL travel: two use Quantum Entanglement, which is useful for transmitting information but useless for transporting anything else, one is basically an Alcubierre Drive and is mentioned as being extremely dangerous and difficult to use, the one used by the fleet in the first book seems to be of the Jump variety. This one is the easiest to use (which isn't saying much), but runs the risk of violating causality. Finally, there are a few forms of travel that humans don't understand yet, such as the Eschaton's wormholes.
- Christopher Stasheff's Warlock of Gramarye series uses H-space and an isomorpher. The way it works is through a bit of Applied Phlebotinum which essentially retranslates whatever is there into a string of numbers on the "wall of eternity." Speed through H-space is dependent on the size of the craft and the power of its computer; the more powerful the computer, the faster it can "translate" the data. The issue of FTL radio is also addressed, although it is not stated how it is accomplished. One of the key plot points in the series is that Telepathy and Teleportation are instantaneous independent of distance (although some psi's don't have the range normally) and FTL radio does have lag time.
- E. E. “Doc” Smith:
- In the Lensman series, considered by many to be the original space opera, avoids the issue entirely by allowing its spaceships to exceed lightspeed in normal space using the Bergenholm, a device which (temporarily) cancels inertia. The catch is the ship's inertia returns instantly if the device fails or is switched off, with potentially catastrophic results if the ship's intrinsic velocity is greatly at odds with its surroundings. Ships making planetfall or meeting in space have to turn off their Bergenholms and match velocities before they can dock and matching velocities sometimes takes longer than the trip itself.
- In the Skylark Series, FTL travel is achieved by shrugging and saying "looks like Einstein was wrong." Spacecraft can undergo plain old Newtonian acceleration right past light speed. The exotic reactionless drive used also allows for insane accelerations, ranging upwards from the hundreds of thousands of gravities without ill effects. It should perhaps be borne in mind that the first book in this series was written in the 1920s, when special relativity was still doubted by many physicists. Going against Einstein was far less of a departure from physics in those days than it is today.
- In Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle novels, while faster-than-light communication is possible with the Subspace Ansible, all travel between stars is done with NAFAL ("nearly-as-fast-as-light") ships. The principle on which these work is not described in detail - presumably traveling "nearly" as fast as light would still require some Applied Phlebotinum. The time dilation resulting from the speeds NAFAL ships achieve serves to underscore just how distanced the traveler becomes from their home - while to them the trip might have taken mere hours, anywhere from decades to centuries would have passed on their home planet, all their friends would have aged and died, and so on. However, in three later short stories set in the same universe as the Hainish Cycle, Le Guin describes the development of faster-than-light ships, based on the principles of the Ansible. She focuses on the impact their appearance has on society and individual lives.
- Faster than light ships were developed in that universe just immediately after ansible. Their popularity was hindered only by the small insignificant fact that the jump (just as instantaneous) tended to kill passengers regardless of were they in stasis, like in NAFAL ships or not. So these ships were used only for cargo or, essentially, as Inter Stellar Ballistic Missiles. Only thousands years later the way to keep passengers alive during the jump was discovered, and it basically made the jump a mystic experience, with slipping concentration threatening to throw you into an Alternate Universe... partway, while your friends either remained "where" they were, or going their own ways...
- Over the course of its long run, Perry Rhodan has come up with a variety of FTL drives. To name just the three 'standard' ones actually used in our galaxy over time:
- Transition drive: Involves complex and time-consuming navigational calculations to avoid ending up somewhere you didn't want to go, then the ship basically teleports through hyperspace in no time at all. Drawbacks include physical strain on the crew which gets worse with increasing jump distance and massive 5-D shockwaves that make it easy to detect and possibly track ships using this method. The first faster-than-light drive seen in the series, and for about the first hundred issues the only one.
- Linear drive: After reaching a certain minimum speed (relative to what is never addressed, but it's generally a substantial fraction of c) with its sublight drives, the ship enters not-quite-hyperspace and flies on at possibly several million times the speed of light. (Originally introduced with seat-of-the-pants navigation being possible, later on each individual 'lap' was implied to be pre-set after all.) Takes more raw travel time than the above, but avoids its associated problems as well. This would remain the standard intra-galactic mode of FTL travel for well over a thousand years after reaching sufficiently widespread distribution; both it and the above were less well-suited for extragalactic travel due to eventual converter burnout limiting their maximum possible range.
- Metagrav: The modern standard, it has much the same feel as the linear model above, but the ship actually enters hyperspace proper encapsuled in a so-called 'Grigoroff field'. It allows for higher performance and can be used for both intra- and intergalactic travel, which previously generally called for two distinct drive systems on the same ship. One possible problem with it, though one rarely encountered except for plot purposes, is that suitably catastrophic failures of the Grigoroff field can strand the ship in another universe altogether from where its prospects of returning are uncertain at best.
- Parodied, like most SF tropes, in Bill the Galactic Hero by Harry Harrison, with the Bloater Drive which expands the ship to larger than galaxy sized, then shrinks it slightly off-center so that you coalesce a few lightyears from your starting point.
- It's also mentioned that other methods of FTL exist but are not viable. Specifically, subspace exists, but any ship sent into it literally shakes itself apart.
- In the Hyperion Cantos they use a sort of wormholes to travel. Unfortunately making them work requires a Farcaster to be built near any planet they will link to, so the people they send to build them are faced with the problems of relativity. Some time is spent exploring the implications of this technology, from houses that have rooms on a dozen planets and all their steps going downward (think about it) to riverboat rides across all the coolest places in the galaxy, to terrorists who destroy a beacon knowing that the army won't show up for decades and finally mass suicides and starvation when the whole network fails. There are also spaceships that go faster than light using the Hawking Drive, which "tunnels under space" but they require the passengers to be put into "cryogenic fugue", and incur a lot of missed time on the traveler's part.
- Later on, they invent the Gideon Drive, which is apparently better than the Hawking Drive, and is used as the main method of travel after the destruction of all Farcasters.
- David Brin's Uplift series uses pretty much all of the above in one form or another. The warp drives in the Uplift universe rely on altering probability. They also give the ship in question after-images, which getting increasingly more improbable the longer the drive is used. And apparently certain modes of hyperspace travel can be shaped by the crew's thoughts...
- You have hyperdrives that propel you into one of five levels of hyperspace (A-E). Each level has different pros and cons - A space is safe, but only useful for short jumps; E space is a reality where ideas manifest physically and is nigh impassable due to carnivorous memes. Hyperspace is only useful for short-range travel, though, due to the dangers of the probability drives use; "Transfer Points," knotted holes in the fabric of space-time, are the only practical way to cross galactic distances. Any place without a transfer point is inaccessible, which prevents travel out of the five linked galaxies. At the end of Heaven's Reach, the Transcendants use a wave of Handwavium "concept" as a warp drive to propel colony ships to other galactic clusters.
- Used in H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History novels. Hyperspace is very, very boring and a full interstellar jump takes weeks, meaning that pretty much everyone has a hobby to pass the time (such as music, landscape painting, or history). One line in Little Fuzzy implies that there is a bit of time dilation, although no actual time travel.
- Drives in The Sirantha Jax Series provide jumps through Grimspace, which is a plane of psychedelia and flame which only the navigator (called a jumper) can chart courses through. An interesting facet of Grimspace is that a number of "buoys" were placed there to mark points where ships could jump back to normal space, but none know who put them there.
- Newton's Wake by Ken Mac Leod features both a network of wormholes (called the Skein), and starships with warp drives (which are ridiculously expensive to build, but nonetheless possessed by every major galactic power). Both are based on technology left behind by super-human intelligences after a particularly violent technological singularity. The causality-violating properties of FTL are hand waved away and later made into a plot point by having a character explicitly state that some incomprehensible cosmic laws simply prevent both the wormhole network and starships from ever being used to violate causality — if you plot a course or enter a wormhole that would let you travel into the past and change it, the FTL simply wouldn't work, or would take a longer route than seemingly necessary, or something else would occur to simply make the causality violation not happen.
- The Cassini Division, part of Ken Mac Leod's Fall Revolution series, uses wormholes and time travel to have a paradox-free FTL system. The end of the wormhole where you want to go is carried by an STL vessel to the destination. Once established, to go from A to B you make the trip instantaneously but jump forward in time from A's point of view: if you go 5 light years, you exit the wormhole at B five years after you left (from A's perspective). If you travel from B to A, you go back in time the same amount, so from B's perspective you arrive at A 5 years before you left. Combinations of wormholes that create paradoxes fall apart, so you can't leave A and travel back in time to before you left. This means that you can have two systems that have "real time" communication with each other through the wormhole that are nevertheless separated in time from one another.
- In the Legacy of the Aldenata there appear to be three types of FTL drive kicking around. One allows for travel to any point you care to name but is slower and consumes horrendous amounts of energy. The second uses a similar drive but you can take the highway between gravity wells to speed up and consume less energy at the cost of being similar to a portal network. The third is a mass based worm hole generator, it lets you jump from one surface of a planet to another.
- In the Into the Looking Glass universe there are a few ways to travel. The eponymous looking glasses function as instantaneous travel worm holes. A warp drive is also available based on some abandoned precursor technology. There appears to be another hyperspace lane that is accessible but isn't as used in the stories being late comers to the plot.
- In Murray Leinster's 1945 short story "First Contact", FTL travel is only possible in a perfect vacuum. At the time, many astrophysicists believed that interstellar space was completely particle-free, which later turned out not to be the case.
- In Leinster's Med Ship stories, FTL travel is achieved using the "overdrive", which creates a pocket of Subspace or Hyperspace around the ship that allows it to travel at a large multiple of the speed of light (approximately one light year per hour).
- The Revelation Space universe of Alastair Reynolds is a notable aversion; "lighthugger" ships can reach very high fractions of c, but it still takes years or decades to travel between star systems. It's later revealed that faster-than-light travel is possible, but is a Very Bad Idea - entire civilizations have retroactively removed themselves from existence by violating causality this way.
- The FTL used by Iain M. Banks' The Culture works by having a ship attach its engines fields to the Energy Grid, the barriers between nested universes. There's a Grid between this universe and an ultraverse (an older, outside universe), and between this and an infraverse (a younger, inside universe). The view is described as flying between walls of sky and water. The fields "push" off them to accelerate, and create traction against the grid to decelerate. Normal cruising speeds are relatively slow, taking years to cross the galaxy, and taking two years to reach a Magellanic Cloud. Travel between galaxies is hampered due to the Grid changing properties in the space between.
- The FTL travel in the Night's Dawn Trilogy is of the "jump" variety, which author Peter Hamilton goes into great detail describing. Adamist starships must be spherical, and everything must be retracted when they jump. If any sensors, antennae, or heat dumps are extended during a jump, the spherical event horizon collapses them down to neutron star density. Furthermore, Adamist FTL makes use of orbital mechanics; when jumping near a planet, the ship must be in an orbit lining up with their destination, and need to be sufficiently out of the planet's gravity well (though it is possible to jump from a Langrangian point. However, it's not advised). Edenist voidhawks and blackhawks, on the other hand, utilize "swallows" and "distortion fields" that mean they can jump pretty much to and from anywhere, under any conditions. One once jumped inside an orbiting space colony. Although it's mentioned that this is only possible - or at least feasible - because the space colony doesn't have "true" gravity, but merely rotates to simulate gravity on its inner surface. This implies that the Eden hawks do at least need to take local gravity into account when jumping, although it isn't specified whether the presence of a gravity well would prevent a jump or simply make it more difficult/dangerous.
- The Kiint, on the other hand, have personal, universe-spanning jump drives apparently built into their genetics. It's never specified what actually causes it, but seeing as Haile (a newborn Kiint) can designate normal humans for inclusion in their emergency exodus from Tranquility; and that the Kiint "human" observers also have this ability, it makes sense for it to be inherent to genetic code. After all, surely the highly-effective scanners the humans employ at every possible occasion would detect any embedded technology?
- In Vernor Vinge's A Fire Upon the Deep, ships use the "stutter drive" variant — a Jump Drive that makes (comparatively) short jumps, but at a rate of many jumps each second, resulting in a seemingly smooth journey for the passengers. This shapes space combat in the setting — warships maneuver by trying to synchronise or de-synchronize their jumps with those of nearby enemy ships. Because of the weirdness of the Zones of Thought that form a major part of this book's universe, how quickly the drive works — and whether it works at all — depends on where in the Galaxy one attempts to use it. In the region that includes our Earth, the laws of nature seem to work as we believe they do today, and faster than light travel is still quite impossible.
- This is emphasized in the prequel, A Deepness in the Sky, which is an interesting aversion of this trope. The book takes place entirely in the "Slow Zone," the region of the Galaxy where FTL is impossible. There is plenty of interstellar travel in the book, and all of it slower-than-light, with different human civilizations building Ramscoop starships capable of reaching relativistic speeds. Medical science has dramatically increased the human lifespan and suspended animation has been perfected, allowing a single human lifetime to include many interstellar journeys. The people interstellar voyagers leave behind grow old compared to them, but often still survive long enough for more meetings.
- Colin Kapp's Patterns of Chaos describes a jump drive which works by principles resembling sympathetic magic: the ship has a 3-D star map, and sets up its jump by creating a pattern of ultra-fine copper wires, "defining positions and axes and measuring critical paths," between the simulated stars in the map. When the drive activates, the ship no longer exists in the space-time continuum, but is actually in the "ersatz galaxy in the subspace cavity deep within its own guts" — it's inside itself.
Stories still survived of spacemen who claimed to have seen the copper bars straddling the stars at the end of a subspace jump. Bron was not certain about this, but he did know that technicians caught in the subspace cavity during the jump had observed the ionization trail of their own ship speeding from web to web. Those of them, that is, who managed to recover from the shock
- In the short story FTA, a scientist trying to develop a hyperdrive applies for a research grant to the bureau responsible for establishing practical interstellar travel. They turn him down, and he appeals, pointing out that in hyperspace, where the laws of physics are different, the speed of light is not necessarily the same as in our universe; therefore spacecraft could reach the stars in a short time without violating Einstein's theories. They turn him down again, because they developed a working hyperdrive years earlier, but it's useless for interstellar travel because in hyperspace the speed of light is slower than in our universe.
- The Antares series uses a naturally-occuring Portal Network of "foldpoints", which provide instantaneous transportation between star systems. However, each foldpoint only connects to one other foldpoint, foldpoints are usually found on opposite sides of the star, and crossing a system can take weeks.
- In His Majestys Starship, the aliens possess a "step-through" drive, which relies on the theory that atom-sized wormholes are constantly appearing and disappearing all around us. The step-through drive finds one that leads to where you want to go, expands it to the size of a ship, and holds it open long enough for everyone to step through. For an added bonus, once the wormhole is open, ships without step-through drives (ie human ships) can use it.
- A Wrinkle in Time has the "tesseract", which is described as folding two points of space and time so they are adjacent to each other, allowing for near-instantaneous travel.
- In Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals from the Dark and Trevelyan's Mission series, all interstellar races use the contour drive for FTL travel. The drive is relatively simple in design and has ridiculously low power requirements compared to most other FTL drives in fiction. It does, however, require incredibly precise calculations in order to arrive at a target location. Additionally, smaller drives tend to burn out after one use, so are usually used in communication drones. It jumps outside our universe and jumps back at the new location, which is a nearly-instantaneous process. While, theoretically, it's possible to jump anywhere in the galaxy, it would be nearly impossible to make the necessary calculations, which are thrown off by distance and gravity. Fleet often arrive dispersed throughout the target system, as each ship jumps individually.
- Later novels reveal the presence of an ancient Portal Network left behind by the Daskins. One of the nodes is located in Jupiter's atmosphere and is more commonly known to us as the Great Red Spot (which is large enough to fit up to 3 Earth-sized planets). Only the Lo'ona Aeo know how to use these to cross great distances in a relatively short time.
- The fourth novel of the Trevelyan's Mission series has the titular character discover a device on a remote planet that acts similar to the Iconian gateway from Star Trek. In the epilogue, he learns to control it using his latent Psychic Powers and uses it to step from the planet onboard a ship where he is expected to negotiate with an advanced race of Technical Pacifists.
- In the fifth novel, he uses this ability to get around the galaxy, to the point where his bosses don't even bother sending a starship to take him to his next assignment and just tell him to use "his own means". It's implied that he uses the same dimension (called Limbo) that all starships use.
- In Andrei Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series, all FTL travel is achieved via hypersphere, an anomalous dimension existing alongside ours. In terms of topology, it more-or-less resembles an actual sphere with multiple arbitrary "layers". Every sufficiently large stellar body creates an energy imprint in hypersphere. Each star has "tension" lines stretching to nearby stars known as "horizontals" (they're, basically, chords, if you remember your geometry). There are also "verticals", stretching from stars deep into the center of the anomaly. The humans first discovered FTL travel during the historical launch of the first extrasolar colony ship, the Alpha, possibly the largest human ship ever built. It featured three massive fusion engines that could accelerate it to half the speed of light. The drives were activated, and the ship vanished. It was only later discovered that the sheer power of the engines tore a hole in space-time into hypersphere. The first FTL drives were, essentially, particle accelerators meant to punch holes in space-time, so ships can "ride" along the horizontals to their destination. Later designs substituted it for a better combination of two generators: a low-frequency hyperfield generator to "submerge" a ship into hypersphere and a high-frequency generator to "surface" it. This only scratches the surface of hypersphere, and there are several novels in the series that explore its nature deeper (both figuratively and literally).
- Interestingly, only one other race besides humanity has managed to develop a hyperdrive. Everyone else used static hypergates that first had to be moved into place by sublight.
- In The Pentagon War, simultaneously detonating two very expensive (and immensely destructive) phased-antimatter bombs — if they're pointed directly at one another — creates a permanent tunnel through parallel space between the two Ground Zeroes, allowing instantaneous travel and communication. By the time of the war, the five major star systems have all become "linked" to one another by creating a few of these "hyper holes".
- In the Discworld, due to the intense magic field required to keep something like a world on the back of a giant turtle existing, light actually travels at a speed similar to sound. "Faster than light" broomsticks have appeared in the series where due to a massive magical boost, they exceed Mach I and this also the speed of light. Shown most prominently in Equal Rites, where Granny Weatherwax and Esk outrun the rising sun's light and "catch up with the night."
- The Confederation of Valor has Susumi space. Enter it, and you can emerge on the other side of the galaxy exactly when you departed, at least from the perspective of a realspace observer. For the traveler, it takes several hours. It also requires very precise calculations for safe travel; making even a tiny mistake can destroy a ship completely.
- The premise of Sergey Lukyanenko's The Stars Are Cold Toys duology is that Twenty Minutes into the Future humanity invents the "jumper" device, which allows any ship to instantaneously jump through folds of space in a given direction about 12+ light years. The distance is always the same, making proper calculations necessary (meaning, you often have to jump to the "side" in order for your next jump to take you where you need to go, if your distance to the target is less than 12+ light years). The jumper has some interesting properties, such as completely draining the ship of power. Also, any data storage device currently under power is instantly wiped, requiring a computer to be booted up and restored from back-up disks after each jump, while the ship's batteries recharge. Also, humans experience extreme euphoria during the jump, something that cannot be matched by sex, drugs, or alcohol (and astronauts are trained accordingly, such as full expense-paid trips to tropical locations with free-thinking women). At the same time any (except for 2 species) alien either dies or goes insane during a jump. Since most human technology has remained the same, launches are still achieved via expensive and toxic chemically-powered rocket boosters. Jumping in low orbit is strictly forbidden, as the results are quite unpleasant for those planet-bound (hurricanes, etc.). Aliens have their own means of FTL travel, likely through hyperspace, but their trips take months. Later on, a race of Human Aliens is discovered, which appears to have combined the two methods to create a highly-efficient way of interstellar travel without any unpleasant side effects (i.e. they enter hyperspace and start jumping from there, while their tame AIs make calculations a breeze). There are also Portal Networks found on worlds near the galactic core.
- Lukyanenko's Genome books feature an interesting variant of Subspace or Hyperspace. The book describes it as a sixteen-dimensional tunnel entrances to which have to be set up ahead of time (althogh some ships don't need them). The weirdest part comes from the fact that there is only one tunnel in the universe. All other entrances/exits are merely the tunnel's imprint on our four-dimensional space. Navigators have to be careful in calculating the entry vector and speed, which determines where you will exit and have to be able to keep the sixteen-dimensional map of the galaxy in their heads. Normally, this is seen as a Spec-only job, although one Natural manages to be very effective at it. Additionally, the Dances on the Snow prequel reveals that early FTL travel was fatal to women for some unexplained reason, so all women had to travel as Human Popsicles in order to survive the trip. Hence, most spacers have developed a patriarchal attitude towards women, often refering to them as "cargo". By the end of the novel, though, genetic therapy has been developed to correct this flaw.
- Implied in The Flying Sorcerers by Larry Niven and David Gerrold, where the astronaut is trying to explain to the stone age natives how he got to their planet: "I went around...the distance".
- In John Meaney's To Hold Infinity and Nulapeiron Sequence trilogy, interstellar voyages are achieved by travelling through mu-space, which is fractal in structure, and in order to navigate it, the first generation of pilots had to have their eyes removed so that the mu-space navigation equipment could be connected to the visual cortex.
- In The Lost Fleet, both Jump Drives and Hyperspace gates are used. Jump Drives only work using specific points between two solar systems. Going long distances requires multiple jumps from system to system. Gates had become so ubiquitous at the start of the series that the jump points had all been forgotten about until the recently defrosted main character points out that, yes, they still do exist, and yes, their ships can still use them.
- It's pointed out that a number of systems were devastated economically after the invention of the Hypernet, as gates were only placed in "important" systems. Whereas before, a number of systems were prospering due to all the traffic they were getting as in-between systems (think highway exits), the new method of traveling means no one visits them anymore.
- The Forever Man uses jump drives that work by making the ship occupy every point in the universe at once, and then reconstituting it at the point one wants it to be. However, it requires proportionally longer calculation times for longer jumps (for example, from one end of the galaxy to the other would take about a century), so they use short jumps with time to re-calculate in between.
- In the Firebird Trilogy, people travel from planet to planet in the Whorl by "jumping" into Slip Space, which is a "quasi-orthogonal space" which allows the ships to travel vast distances in days rather than centuries.
- Featured in The Host however it is also stated that even with faster than light travel, the closest planetary system takes at least a decade to reach (the furthest ones require centuries).
- Invented by humans in Harry Turtledove's Homeward Bound and demonstrated to the Race when the Commodore Perry arrives in orbit of Home after leaving Earth's orbit 5 weeks ago. The previous ship, the Admiral Peary, was a Sleeper Starship that took 30 years to make the same trip. In fact, the figure "5 weeks" is misleading, implying a "warp" drive of sorts. The drive is actually of the "jump" variety and is instantaneous (some Techno Babble about strings). However, it only works if the ship is not near any gravity distortions, such as those created by stars and planets. It took 2.5 weeks for the Commodore Perry to leave the Solar System, and another 2.5 weeks to go from outside the Tau Ceti system to Home's orbit. The second FTL ship, the Tom Edison, is mentioned to be a little faster in terms of acceleration, meaning it would also cut down the trip.
- In the Star Carrier series, all known races use a "warp" drive of sorts. The humans call their the Alcubierre drive after the Mexican scientist who first proposed it. The use of the drive is only possible with gravity projection allowing ships to accelerate to near-light-speed velocities, and use the resulting relativistic mass to make the Alcubierre drive work.
- It's also revealed that the Sh'daar have a number of Tipler cylinders that act as instantaneous portals between two specific points (they also allow the Sh'daar to rule a galactic empire from their own time in the distant past, as the cylinders connect through time as well).
- Normally, the use of the Alcubierre drive requires one to be at the outskirts of a star system. However, the fourth novel reveals that the Sh'daar began to give their subject races (at least, those fighting humans) technology to allow in-system jumps for Hyperspeed Ambushes.
- SA Swann's Terran Confederacy universe uses tachyon drive ships, invented using equations obtained from the alien Paralians. These travel instantaneously as far as their occupants are concerned, and take a few weeks to cover 20 ly as far as the outside universe is concerned. Prior to that, interstellar travel was by artificial wormhole.
- In Greg Egan's Orthogonal trilogy, because of the way spacetime works, there is no universal speed limit, and achieving FTL speeds—from one perspective, achieving infinite velocity—is a surprisingly simple matter. Of course, you stop moving forward through time and end up in Another Dimension, but that has its own useful applications.
- In Warhammer 40,000, the most common form of FTL is achieved by traveling through the Warp, a nightmarish dimension where the thoughts and emotions of sentient creatures give rise to dark gods and hordes of gibbering monstrosities. As such, ships require force fields to (hopefully) keep the crew from being eaten by daemons during Warp-jumps, and it takes members of a caste of psychic mutants called Navigators to pilot ships through the Immaterium. Since the Warp doesn't obey the laws of physics, vessels traveling through it move much faster than they would in realspace, but the exact ratio is fluid - sometimes a day in the Warp is equal to just under two weeks' travel in the material universe, while in other cases starships are lost for thousands of years, or emerge before they've left. Some charts even indicate that it's faster to travel across the galaxy than it is to hop to an adjacent sector. Further complicating matters are "currents" or "storms" in the Warp that can displace or destroy vessels, and unfortunately the only navigational aid is a psychic beacon on Holy Terra powered by the souls of thousands of psykers, which has been known to flicker and dim on occasion.
- It's no surprise that other races have found alternatives to this form of travel. The Eldar have the Webway, a Portal Network that links points in realspace by tunnels through a dimension somewhere between the Warp and reality; however, this network is ancient and decaying, making some passages unusable or dangerous, while the Eldar's evil counterparts have built an entire civilization within it. The Tau, who lack a real psychic presence and therefore cannot fully enter the Warp, use special drives to briefly "dip" into it to boost themselves forward, which though much slower than proper Warp travel is much safer. The Tyranid hive fleets use a special bio-ship capable of slingshotting the fleet through space by harnessing a planet's gravity well, and the swarm typically goes into hibernation during the trip between systems. The Necrons use inertialess drives and large-scale teleportation technology eons more advanced than other races' FTL. And the Orks... use the Warp anyway, because either the metal teeth they've riveted to their ships' hulls will scare the daemons off, or they'll have a pretty entertaining fight on the way to their next conquest.
- The role-playing game Traveller equipped its starships with the Jump Drive. In terms of this trope, Jump Drive was really a warp drive, moving ships through "jump-space" or "hyper-space." The catch? No jump could cover a distance of less than one parsec, so Jump Drives were useless for in-system travel. Also, the time spent in jump-space was independent of the distance travelled. Each jump lasted about one week (subjective and objective times were the same), no matter how far one jumped.
- Some of this was changed in later editions: You could travel less than a parsec; the jump still takes about 168 hours. However, you retain your speed-vector when you arrive, so you actually continuously accelerate to the point where you jump, and decelerate upon arrival, which burns a lot of fuel. And even more fuel if your calculation isn't perfect and you need to adjust the course. And still more fuel is used by the jump itself. And you need to be about 100 diameters away from a body because of gravitation (which would make for a safe jump 1,274,000 km away from Earth, somewhat more than 3 times the distance to the Moon). And due to the fact that in the Traveller-universe normally only one planet per system is interesting, this isn't really useful in most cases.
- Inverted in the Spelljammer D&D setting, where game designers made up their own cosmic structure and laws of physics ("Everything you know about space is wrong.") instead of trying to talk their way around our universe's. Even then, superluminal travel happens only out of "normal" space — in-sphere spelljamming speed is "merely" 100 mln miles/day (4,166,666.7 mph), so even "double spelljamming speed" (a very rare case) shouldn't cause visible blue/red shifts.
- The hex-map wargame Starfire, which David "Honor Harrington" Weber has used as the setting for four novels, features "warp points" — naturally-occurring portals through space that allow FTL transit from one star system to another. Strategic maps of known space look more like a text-adventure-game map than a star map, because it's warp links, not physical distance, that determines how "far" two systems are "apart." If more than one spacecraft tries to transit through a given warp point at the same time, there's a chance that they will "interpenetrate" and blow each other apart.
- There are also "Closed" warp points that are only detectable from one end, which the Bugs exploit to sneak attack Alpha Centauri
- The Void Engineers of Mage: The Ascension had jump drive technology that was incredibly finicky to use. Odds were that a ship using it would leave pieces behind just as often as it came through intact.
- GURPS: Spaceships telescopes all FTL into two groups. First the Stardrive system which can be Jump or Warp and secondly the Jump Gate system which creates whatever the local equivalent of wormholes is and is a portal drive.
- The RPG 2300 AD (made by the same company as Traveller, but in a different setting) used the "stutterwarp", a method of going between stars (and traveling in-system) by making instantaneous micro-jumps. The faster the engines could cycle, the faster you could "move" through real space, up to 3.5 light years per day). The system was limited because the engines built up a technobabble charge that had to be discharged in a sufficiently steep gravity before the ship traveled a maximum of 7.7 light years. This meant that you couldn't directly get anywhere more than 7.7 light years away without having to stop somewhere around a sufficiently massive object. The game used the real local star map around Earth, and the distance limitation meant travel was restricted to set routes, which sometimes formed choke points that were worth fighting over, and colonies at the end of their routes who were literally the ass-end of nowhere because explorers had nowhere else to go.
- The Rifts Phase World expansion setting has FTL drives directly effected by gravity, with the drives' maximum speed increasing the fewer gravitational influences there are on the trip. This has the effect of making travel between three local galaxies just as fast as traveling through the galaxies themselves, since there aren't as many stars slowing you down on the way.
- The BattleTech universe features JumpShips capable of somehow creating and magnifying a 'rip' in the fabric of space-time and thereby jumping distances up to thirty light years in an instant...but which are otherwise generally (there are exceptions) only equipped with station-keeping drives that allow them to hold their position at the jump point while recharging, a process that generally takes a week or more. (Occasionally an enterprising military leader will arrange for faster travel by setting up a 'command circuit' with passengers and cargo transferring to a new and fully charged JumpShip immediately upon arrival, possibly several times in succession). The Kearny-Fuchida Drive is highly sensitive to local gravity gradients and thus not generally usable within several astronomical units of something as massive as a star, though suitably daring crews can take advantage of "pirate points" in the system, where the presence of other celestial bodies results in their respective gravitational influences canceling out just right, to jump in closer than that. (Incidentally, the vast void of interstellar space is in theory perfectly safe to jump around in. One reason this isn't usually done, aside from the obvious one of no crew wanting to casually risk even a hypothetical drive failure stranding them light-years away from any human help all by themselves, is that most ships' primary method of recharging their K-F drive depends on solar sails...)
- Star*Drive: The titular Star Drive allows faster than light travel. How does it work? It just does.
- Fading Suns: Travel between solar systems is accomplished through a network of Jumpgates left behind by the Ur. No other method is possible, since any ships travelling through interstellar space is inevitably eaten by Daemons and Void Krakens. Which of course raises the question of how the Gates got there in the first place.
- Elite has jump drive and insystem warpdrive non-weaponizable due to not working around any significant mass.
- In Freelancer inter-system travel is commonly achieved by use of stable, static portals called Jump Gates that are heavily policed by the military. For those who are smuggling drugs or weapons (as you so often do with the game's rich economy system) you can use naturally forming (but supposedly less stable) Jump Holes. The travel is extremely fast, but there's still a time lag between systems.
- The intro shows the five Alliance colony ships using FTL drives to get to the Sirius sector. It's never stated how long it took them to get there, although most colonists were placed in suspended animation. Since jump gates aren't big enough for cruisers and battleships, it's implied that those have their own jump drives.
- Interplanetary transit in heavily populated systems is also sped up by an artificial Portal Network of Trade Lanes, consisting of linked gates that effectively form a sort of 'highway' between points of interest in a system. These are again too small for capital ships to use, but anything else can use them to cross systems extremely quickly. It's somewhat difficult to judge due to the game having a rather severe case of Units Not to Scale.
- The Independence War series averts this with both of it's main means of interstellar travel: the Linear Displacement System (LDS) drive, which is used for inter-system travel and is not faster-than-light (the very best LDS drives can only approach 99% of lightspeed under ideal conditions), and the capsule drive, which is used to jump (i.e. teleport) between solar systems at linked Lagrange points through generating "capsules" of space-time separate from main space-time. The former can be disabled for a short time by LDSi missiles to prevent ships from escaping (to the point where it's the only weapon with a dedicated hotkey), or by space stations or Lagrange points that generate inhibitor fields.
- In Sword of the Stars, every race has a separate and unique form of FTL travel:
- The Humans rely on natural Node Drive, a form of jump drive between randomly connected stars via stable preset connections through "Nodespace", which can be very fast but having to follow the paths means travel time between physically-nearby systems can take longer than they should if there is no direct path. The Zuul also use Nodes, but they make their own artificial connections, which have a drawback of being unstable and deteriorating over time. Their drives are also slower than the Humans'.
- The Liir use inertialess "Stutter Warp" drive that rapidly and repeatedly teleports their ships over microscopic distances, giving them exceedingly flexible interstellar travel, but having the catch of slowing down significantly near gravity wells.
- The Tarka use "Hyperdrive", which is an archetypal warp drive that allows them to go anywhere; it isn't affected by gravity, but it isn't as quick as Liir stutter warp in deep space. Tarka at least make some concession to the issue of causality, as in hyper their ships are non-events by the laws of conventional physics and exist everytime and notime simultaneously.
- The Morrigi have "Void Cutter" drive that is some sort of amalgamation of warp drive and regular thrusters such that larger fleets are able to travel faster than small fleets or single ships; basically enforcing speed in numbers.
- Finally, the Hivers don't actually have true FTL at all - they have to expand using conventional sub-light engines and Bussard ramjets, but they can construct Gate Ships which form into an instant Portal Network when deployed through their empire. The Hiver gates can eventually be upgraded to function as one-way portals up to a certain distance. However, there is a margin of error involved, and ships can end up up to 2 light years off the target, which is still closer than going there purely by sublight.
- The sequel introduces two new methods. The Suul'ka fold space to instantaneously teleport using their Psychic Powers, note , game balance is maintained because they're Zuul units that are very expensive (in credits and population) to summon. And the Loa use "neutrino accelerator gates" that launch ships at high speed, but the ships slow as they go further from the gate, fortunately Loa ships are masses of blocks that reconfigure on demand so a fleet can drop acceleration gates in any system it passes through.
- Star Control II uses a form of the hyperdrive: there are multiple alternate dimensions, each of which has its own unique laws of physics, through which an appropriately equipped vessel can travel. Some of these dimensions are conveniently well-suited for interstellar travel. Aside from TrueSpace (the Einsteinian dimension we live in), there are:
- HyperSpace, where the speed of light is much greater than the speed of light in TrueSpace; the correspondence between HyperSpace and TrueSpace coordinates is not a linear transformation, and the gravity wells of TrueSpace stars generate "intrusions" (named portals) into HyperSpace. As a consequence, while in HyperSpace, looking out the window will treat you to a view of a highly compressed and red-shifted space. The physics of HyperSpace constantly bleed velocity from a moving vessel, enforcing the rule that Space Is an Ocean. Portals appear as "holes" in HyperSpace, which force your ship to translate back to TrueSpace should you attempt to fly through. "HyperWave" super-luminal communications may simply be a special name for sending ordinary radio waves across HyperSpace. Among its other properties, HyperSpace is also the dimension with the coolest background music.
- Also featured is QuasiSpace, the home dimension of the Arilou, with even more exotic physics. In QuasiSpace, the speed of light is much closer or even identical to the one in TrueSpace. The drag force still exists, but thrusting exhausts insignificant amounts of fuel. QuasiSpace is, however, full of constantly appearing wormholes that lead to different solar systems, allowing you to cross vast distances nearly instantaneously, provided you can find a wormhole leading where you want to go. Arilou Skiffs apparently use QuasiSpace to instantly teleport to a random nearby location during battles.
- There apparently are a number of other dimensions, some even more different and eerie. And occasionally inhabited. Opening a gateway into some of those other dimensions would be an incredibly foolish act, leading to the apparition of "reality aberrations" (the alteration of physics in an area) and of malevolent extradimension entities.
- The non-existent third game's storyline start with HyperSpace suddenly disappearing due to "interdimentional fatigue", leaving all races stuck on their planets. The only ones who can travel are those whose ships are equipped with "warp bubble" drives, which are, apparently, instantaneous. The ending implies that all ships will be equipped with these drives.
- Mass Effect takes the concept of negative mass and runs with it. Ships are equipped with Mass Effect drives, that reduce the mass of the ship and manipulate gravity around the ship, so that the ship "falls" through space at FTL speeds. This is used for "short range" (0-20 Light year) movement - enough to scoot around a cluster of stars. However, the game takes place on a galactic scale - to travel over distances further than a few nearby stars, ships utilise "Mass Relays", gigantic, free-floating Prothean actually Reaper relics which can project kiloparsec-long negative-mass highways. Even larger distances require two even larger relays linked together.
- The codex justifies the lightspeed limitations as mass effect fields raise the speed of light. Comm buoys are simple mass relays which create corridors of mass effect fields that photons travel through. Light outside a ship, in conventional space, moves slower than in a mass effect field.
- A throwaway line about 12 light-years being a day's voyage suggests that ships can reach 4,000 times the speed of light easily, but that indicates that traveling from one end of the galaxy to the other would take more than 20 years. Also ships in FTL accumulate a static charge that will eventually overload the ship's systems and kill the crew unless discharged into a planet's magnetic field or a specialized facility on a space station.
- It's implied that there may be some way to increase this non-Relay FTL speed, as the Reapers can apparently go 30 light years in a day (which would be nearly 11,000 times the speed of light). However, the Codex notes that the citadel species have no idea how the hell they do it.
- No one actually understands the Mass Relays completely (the base on Ilos were on the verge of understanding them before the Reapers came) and it is stated by Vigil that the Reapers have kept it that way so that civilisation grows in ways that is within the bounds of what they can easily deal with and that the Citadel is a key part of their system. It makes sense then seeing as they built it that they would have ways to use the technology that no species can comprehend
- Reapers also seem to be immune to the aforementioned static charge (it still happens, it just doesn't affect them), and can fly at FTL for months on end with no damage. This may be the reason there are often arcs of lightning surrounding them when they land on a planet: it's the enormous amount of static the Reaper's built up being discharged.
- In the Wing Commander series, larger ships use "jump points" to travel between systems. Ships above corvette size can use these points pretty much at will, and the points form "tram lines" between systems. Most fighter and bomber-class ships cannot use these points; therefore justifying the use of "carriers" to move them between systems. As the games are loosely based on WWII fighters and systems, this travel system is justified. In Privateer, a Wing Commander spinoff, jump drives are available for just about all ships regardless of size - though those drives are limited by fuel storage (six jumps before you have to dock to refuel). Few fighters in the main game series can jump without a carrier to carry them; the Broadsword and Morningstar from Wing Commander II, the Excalbur from Wing Commander III (in one mission, and one mission only), the Dragon from Wing Commander IV (shown jumping multiple times; the player gets to use it twice).
- In the novelization of Wing Commander IV, the UBW has access to a tech that was studied but discarted by the Terran Confederation that allowed a ship to open up a jump point so that fighters on the other end could use the path, even if they themselves weren't equipped with the appropriate drive.
- In Halo it is referred to as slipstream space. It is nowhere near instaneous, the human tech can only muster a pathetic 2.6 light-years per day and is quite inaccurate, as they wind up hundreds of kilometers away from their target. In 2525 it takes weeks for a human vessel to travel from one system to another, and months to cross the breadth of human-controlled space, limited to the Orion spur of the Milky Way galaxy. Additionally, the humans lack the abstract science to initiate a slipstream jump near any substantial gravity well - i.e. a planet - without destroying their vehicle in the process. In the Expanded Universe, cruisers fly from system to system with the information stored on them, described as being the 26th century Fictional Counterpart to the Pony Express.
- Because Science Marches On even while your species is undergoing genocide, humanity's mastery of FTL travel (and communication) at the end of the war is at least as good as the Covenant's, but most likely even better, due to the capture and study of Covenant and Forerunner relics. Humanity's newest ships appear capable of roaming the galaxy very quickly, and leaving slipspace wherever they please.
- Covenant craft however are much more accurate and much faster, achieving 912 light-years per day and being able initiate a slipstream jump inside a planetary atmosphere - much to the great distress of the puny humans. Even more impressive is their BattleNET, allowing instantaneous - if unsecured - superluminal communications across stellar distances. However, when they exit slipspace, Covenant vessels experience a brief period of time where they are bereft of shields and weapons - the only time they are truly vulnerable to the humans in space combat.
- The Forerunners had fabricated an even more refined system of slipstream travel. In addition to the staggering 2,300 light-years per day during transit, the Forerunners maintained a galaxy-wide network of slipstream portals, streamlining space travel. They also used slipstream for other purposes besides space travel, such as storing a full-sized dyson sphere measuring 2 AU - three hunded million kilometers, twice the distance of the Sun from the Earth - in a quantum slipstream bubble barely a few centimeters across, itself buried in the heart of another dyson sphere.
- Anachronox had "Senders," mysterious structures built by Precursors that resembled spheres with spikes growing out of them. Upon approaching a "spike," a ship would be instantly transported to a spike on some other Sender. Since there was no way of knowing where a Sender spike would send things without actually using it, and the other Sender could be literally anywhere (including inside a sun), there were people whose job consisted of exploring unexplored spikes.
- Descent:Freespace and Freespace 2 had a system of "jump nodes" between star systems. Inter-system jump drives are almost exclusive to larger (cruiser/corvette/destroyer/superdestroyer) ships, although you do get to pilot fighters with them once or twice. All spaceworthy vessels (including fighters) can make in-system jumps, which are used to return to base at the end of each mission. The intersystem jump nodes are mostly fixed and immutable, although at the end of Freespace it is discovered that a large explosion within subspace will collapse the link, making it impossible to travel through it again. At the end of Freespace, the only jump node in the Sol system is thusly collapsed, isolating Earth from the rest of the galaxy and giving the game a Downer Ending. In Freespace 2, an ancient device which can artificially
create stabilize jump nodes is discovered; the ending cutscene implies that this technology is eventually used to restore the collapsed Sol jump node.
- The actual, specific workings of subspace are sometimes important to the plot. For example, subspace is "n-dimensional," meaning it has infinite dimensions, and you can't actually follow a ship through an inter-system node, as you would be traveling in a different dimension and it wouldn't be visible until both ships are on the other side. Sufficiently Advanced Aliens learned how to do this tracking, however, and recovering this technology is a minor story arc in the first game, where it becomes necessary to engage a destroyer while inside subspace.
- There's also the issue of "stability". The jump nodes used in the games are very stable and are expected to last a very long time. There are other, unstable jump nodes not on the map because they cannot be safely traversed. Oh, wait, except the Shivans, with their more advanced drives, can traverse these nodes reliably, which allows them to simply go around blockades several times throughout the story.
- Subspace interferes with Shivan shield technology, preventing it from working at all while in subspace. Given that the Shivans are ridiculously old with technology to match, as well as an evolved sensitivity to subspace itself, the fact that they've been unable to circumvent this is rather telling.
- Finally, the usual detail of gravity being a factor is played with; subspace travel works because of gravity, inter-system nodes go where they go because of the specific relationship of gravity between the two stars in question and subspace itself. In-system jumps, meanwhile, are only possible so long as the entry and exit points are both close enough to the same star's gravity well. It's actually the absence of gravity that causes a problem; subspace travel won't work in deep space.
- EVE Online's system is... complex, to say the least. There are multiple methods used, and each is meant for different circumstances:
- The first method players encounter is warp drive for intra-system travel, which is measured in AUs/second (and considering that one AU is roughly equivalent to eight light-minutes, going at one AU a second is still FTL). Issues include the fact that warp drive is fairly slow, it can be jammed by all sorts of methods (including natural phenomena in Deadspace complexes), and the fact that it can take some time to align for the warp, during which you are vulnerable.
- Acceleration gates are used to "slingshot" ships at warp speeds inside Deadspace complexes.
- Warp drives are stated by in-universe "science articles" to require a gravitational field to lock onto, such as a planet, moon, or an artificial beacon generated by a station.
- Stargates are the main method of travel between systems (heavily implied to use wormholes in some way). On the plus side, they are free, they are stationary, and they are predictable. On the downside, most capital ships are too large to use them, they are stationary, and they are predictable.
- In-universe "scientific" article states directly that they create wormholes; however, to jump to a system it must be linked to the existing stargate network; basically, somebody has to get sent in a ship there, at sublight speeds to boot due to the aforementioned fact that Warp drives need a gravitational signature to lock onto and thus don't work in interstellar space because gravitational signatures are too weak.
- The alternatives to stargates are jump drives and jump portals. Jump drives allow large ships (usually capital ships too large for stargates) to travel to an existing beacon generated by a player, while jump portals create short-lived artificial wormholes to another point in space. Both systems have limited range, require fuel to use, take up fitting space that could be used for other modules, and the beacons required are visible on the overview and galaxy map, providing a big warning that there's a fleet and/or capital ships incoming.
- The newest addition, naturally-occurring wormholes are the fastest and longest-range method of FTL in the game (in the backstory, one allowed travel between the Milky Way and New Eden galaxies), but they are also the most unstable and most unpredictable method in the game. In addition, they have a nasty habit of collapsing as you go through them, leaving you stranded in some unknown system unless you have a probe launcher fitted to find a new wormhole. Even then, there's a chance that the new wormhole will take you deeper into the rabbit hole instead of back to the New Eden cluster.
- Conquest Frontier Wars originally just has stationary wormholes to travel between systems, but then they somebody starts making artificial wormholes and things get a bit complicated.
- Supreme Commander makes use of Quantum Tunneling networks, it is implied that they still must travel at sub-luminal speeds to new systems but once they deploy a quantum gate they can use it to teleport from several miles starships into orbit to the eponymous commanders to planetary surfaces.
- Haegemonia: Legions of Iron uses naturally-occurring wormholes for interstellar travel. However, it is possible to develop wormhole probes that allow any ship to jump to the probe from any system by creating an instant wormhole.
- The Escape Velocity games use "hyperspace jumps". It's never explained directly how they work, but for gameplay purposes it takes between 1 and 3 days to get to the next star system depending on how massive your ship is. FTL travel is also limited to predetermined Hyperlinks.
- Galactic Civilizations: the original, pre-game FTL travel system involved gigantic, connected gates: you enter one gate and exit through the other relatively fast. The problem was that in order to reach your intended destination, you first had to send a gate to it. In normal space, at sub-light speeds. Pain in the ass to say the least — the Drengin had to wait for 50,000 years for the gate they had sent to the Arceans to arrive before they could launch their (failed) invasion. Eventually the Arceans sent a gate right next to Earth, possibly with invasion intents as well since it was 1) only one way and 2) couldn't be shut off should we have turned it on. So we didn't. However, humanity managed to reverse-engineer the device and create a portable version of it: Hyperdrive, which "folds space in front of the ship using it."
- Unfortunately, after humanity develops the hyperdrive, some idealistic idiot broadcasts the plans to every other race in the galaxy. So instead of humans spreading out into space virtually unopposed, they have to contend with other races (who have long ago mapped out all stars using sublight probes) also seeking to expand their empires.
- The reason humans were able to build the hyperdrive was because we had perfected fusion technology, while all the other races were still stuck at fission. This allows humans to miniaturize the technology in the hypergate to fit even a small ship.
- You can research more advanced drives that feature different names (e.g. impulse, warp, hyperwarp). However, the game eventually admits that those are, effectively, marketing names for a slightly-better version of the same. The ultimate drive technology is claimed to work on an entirely different principle and would allow you to instantaneously travel anywhere in the universe... if you had infinite energy. Since you don't, it works like a slightly-better drive than the one before.
- Ships in Space Empires have no FTL travel. Instead, there's a Portal Network of naturally occurring warp points. Going further up the tech tree, however, lets you create artificial ones. You can then put a component that both opens and closes warp points into your ships, essentially equipping them with portal drives.
- Used in Star Raiders, making its use in video games Older Than the NES; hyperspace is the only way to travel from one galactic sector to another.
- Also appears in Activision's Star Master, a game with a very similar premise.
- Appears in the NES game Destination Earthstar, which is similar to the above two games in some respects.
- Machines has faster than light travel...that is fatal to any cell based organisms. Terraforming robots when send out to new planets and sleeper ships with humans where meant to follow.
- Vega Strike has two variants: Jump Drive for using Jump Points between star systems and SPEC-drive (Spatial Partitioned Expansion-Contraction) for fast insystem travel (in the story it's also used for exploration and contact with off-network systems). As to limitations, both need to shut down Deflector Shields and SPEC is gradually suppressed by presence of significant mass or a Jump Point.
- Portal and Portal 2 contain FTL travel by implication; the Handheld Portal Device can create a instantaneous spacetime link between two surfaces at arbitrary distance from one another. While the scale of events in Portal doesn't allow for this to be examined, the second game contains two minor references: first, recorded messages from the Cloudcuckoolander founder of Aperture Science discuss the possibility of encountering a violation of temporal causality while using the Portal Gun; second, the final sequence of the game involves an extremely long-range portal and employs the speed of light delay involved in its creation (but not transit) as a visual storytelling element.
- Dead Space has this role filled by the "shockpoint" engine. In a classic application of this trope, the drive itself is just a means to an end, and we don't get much explanation for how it works. Dead Space starts off mid-transit through a grey foggy energy medium, so apparently it's analogous to a Hyperdrive or Warp Drive.
- Star Ruler has Jump Drives. They can only target stars as destinations, though you can initiate a jump from anywhere. Most interstellar travel is done the slow way, by using rocket engines to accelerate, then flip around and decelerate into the system - the Jump Drive allows you to teleport swarms of ships into an enemy system with absolutely no warning. It should be noted, though, that "slowboating" can also result in low-end FTL - a light-second is roughly 0.002AU, yet ships can accelerate past that distance/s fairly early on.
- Ah, what fools we have been. All this time searching for a way to achieve, when Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing reveals that all you need is to shift into reverse and never let off the gas peddle.
- Ascendancy has only one method of travel: using "starlanes", although only ships equipped with starlane drives may use them. The nodes for entering starlanes are normally blue, but there are also so-called "red links" which are usually longer but are also much slower. The rule of thumb is, the more starlane drives your ship has, the faster it moves. There is a one-shot device for sending any ship in a given starlane to its destination instantaneously, but there is nothing stopping you from building a dedicated ship with a number of these devices onboard that it uses to create an insterstellar highway of sorts and a dry-dock in the system to refit it when it runs out. This can be a bit of a Game Breaker, though.
- There are actually two such devices. One is, basically, an instantaneous version of the stalane drive that sends the ship equipped with it through either a normal starlane or a red link without "starlane drag", which the game explains is what prevents instantaneous FTL travel. The device burns out after one use, though. The other device works on any ship currently in a given starlane (including enemy heading for your system).
- There is also a "recall" device (which can be used multiple times), which instantly transports the ship to your home system. Handy if your space is invaded while your ships are too far away to help.
- Sins of a Solar Empire has "phase lanes" connecting in-system objects. Nearly all ships are equipped with phase drives, allowing rapid movement between them. Jumping to other systems is only possible close to the star and only after researching a certain technology. Interestingly, there are no set paths between stars, so a ship can travel to any star from any star in a scenario. There may also be naturally-occuring wormholes linked to other locations the system or in others. Using them also requires research. Additionally, the Vasari are an ancient race whose knowledge of phase space greatly exceeds that of the TEC or the Advent. They may build Phase Stabilizer Nodes, which form a Portal Network of sorts. Their space stations may also be equipped with modules doing this. Additionally, firing the Kostura Cannon at a planet temporarily adds it to the Portal Network. The other uses is allowing their Space Fighters to make short-range jumps within the gravity well in order to ambush a target or evade attacks. Certain ships are able to do it on their own. The best use is allowing their missiles a chance to bypass enemy shields by pulsing in and out of phase space.
- Some ships have abilities that temporarily block a gravity well to all incoming or outgoing traffic. All sides can build stationary inhibitors in orbit of colonies that increases the phase drive charge time for all enemy outgoing ships (except scout frigates) by a factor of 8, turning all escaping ships into sitting ducks. Starbases have a limited version of this ability, additionally damaging all escaping ships.
- Tachyon: The Fringe uses tachyon coil generators to achieve superluminal travel. There are several versions of these. The most common one is used for in-system TCG gates, allowing Space Fighters and small transport ships to move between sectors in a region. The larger (and purpler) mega-gates allow travel between regions (systems). While most gates are linked to one other gate, there are one-way gates, which are mentioned to have been used in the past to settle the Fringe. Notably, the Bora left Sol Sector using an early one-way mega-gate to settle what is now known as the Bora Region. Capital ships and large freighters and transports can't fit into a TCG gate and are, instead, equipped with hyperdrives, which function using the same principle of "riding" tachyon waves and use the gates as navigation reference points. Similar to Star Trek and Star Wars, the ships appear to rapidly accelerate before vanishing in a burst of light. Despite the presence of carriers and battlestars, it's not uncommon for fighters to travel to the battle using gates, while the capital ships use their hyperdrives.
- Ships in the X-Universe traditionally rely on the Ancient's jumpgate network for travel. Jumpdrives are a (relatively) recent invention that allows ships to force open a local wormhole. However, the wormhole is only capable of locking onto existing jumpgates, the justification being that it uses the gates to obtain coordinates to jump to. Which gate connects to which has a way of shifting around due to the Ancients' meddling. The Kha'ak are the only ones who can jump (accurately, at least) without gates. The lack of true, independent FTL or true Subspace Ansibles bites civilization in the ass when the jump gate network is shut down following the apocalyptic Second Terraformer War, causing interstellar governments to effectively dissolve instantaneously, leaving behind isolated remnants trapped in hundreds of Lost Colonys
- Interstellar travel in Nexus: The Jupiter Incident is only possible via wormholes and only if the ship is equipped with a wormhole drive. Additionally, Interplanetary Drives allow a ship to rapidly cross interplanetary distances.
- The Evochron series relies on Jump Drives and a Portal Network. All ships mount Fulcrum Drives, which let them teleport around - though the device cause your ship to accelerate to extreme velocity before jumping, preventing its use around planets and some nebula. The Fulcrum Gates and natural wormholes are used to get between star systems, and work essentially like giant, stationary Fulcrum Drives. Unlike many other series, it's possible to deadhead towards star systems, either using only your ship's rockets, or by dozens to thousands of automated fulcrum jumps; this method is needed to reach certain star systems, and the hidden/secret systems.
- Shores of Hazeron relies primarily on a Portal Network to get around, using a natural wormholes orbiting stars. However, high tech civilizations can build Warp Drives.
- Strange Adventures In Infinite Space and its sequel have FTL drives of various designs (at least, based on their names), but they boil down to how many times the speed of light they can travel. However, even with the fastest "conventional" FTL drive you can still only travel at 20c, meaning travel time between stars still routinely takes months, if not years (better have some supplies). If you're lucky, you can manage to obtain a hyperdrive, which can instantaneously teleport to any system but has a 60-day recharge time (it's still better than any other drive, though). Additionally, the Zorg are a race of psychics who can fold space with their minds to a limited extent. Fighter pilots can only do so in combat, while a Zorg Helmsman can transport his frigate (and the accompanying ships) instantaneously up to 2 parsecs but has to rest a week between folds. There is another way of moving through space that is even faster (i.e. no delay) involving an artifact called the Aetheric Mirror. This allows you to swap your position with that of another fleet. It can even be a fun way of getting rid of a large enemy fleet. Travel to a black hole (as long as you have the Anti-Graviton Shunt installed) and use the Mirror on the enemy. You will end up in their system, while they will end up spaghettified by the black hole.
- According to Omega in the DS version of Sonic Colors, Sonic the Hedgehog will surpass light speed at his current rate.
- FTL: Faster Than Light has Faster-Than-Light Travel, which makes the ships go faster than light, effectively jumping from location to location.
- Endless Space starts out with all interstellar travel limited to Hyperspace Lanes. Later, research allows for ships to go "off-road", although this method is significantly slower. Wormholes are initially inaccessible, but research can enable their use.
- All interstellar travel in Mission Critical is done via Tal-Seto jump points that link two systems together. It was initially assumed that the Tal-Seto network stretches through the entire galaxy, but the protagonist finds out (after jumping to the Bad Future) that the network was fully mapped and if fairly limited. It's possible other Tal-Seto networks exist unconnected to this one, but there is no way to verify that without sending a Sleeper Starship or a Generation Ship to a star not on the network. Additionally, the Cached UN develops a Doomsday Device that collapses the Tal-Seto network in on itself, destroying everything in it.
- Asura's Wrath: In the Grand Finale, Asura In his massively huge larger then a planet sized destructor form can fly so fast he passes by entire solar systems in a manner of mere seconds on his way to the final boss, without needing any sort of warp drive.
- Gradius Gaiden's manual-exclusive ship specs show that the four player ships have a top speed of five times the speed of light. Though, the only time we see this property being demonstrated is in Stage 7, the volcano black hole stage, where the entire stage, enemies, and enemy projectiles are being sucked in, while your ship flies through with no problems other than a shaking animation.
- Homeworld uses hyperspace drives, which seem to be essentially "magic portal generators". The Hiigarans (your people) don't really know how hyperspace works as they discovered the technology in a derelict spaceship buried beneath a desert, but they can replicate the drive cores and scale them up and down for use on their larger ships. The Hiigaran hyperspace drives aren't hugely accurate and have a limited range (i.e. they can only "jump" so far before the ship re-emerges into real space and the drive needs to be recharged and/or recalibrated). Jumping to hyperspace can also be blocked by inhibitor fields. As there is reference to your ships being repaired during hyperspace jumps between levels and having "emerged from hyperspace early", it seems like travel between points isn't instantaneous, but exactly what hyperspace is or even what it looks like isn't elaborated on. Later games introduced hyperspace gates which can be used by ships that are too small to have their own hyperspace engines.
- The world of Analogue: A Hate Story is strongly implied to have this, but the spaceship you're investigating was built before FTL travel was availible. Therefore, it was designed to accomodate a colony of humans for the hundreds of years it would take to reach their destination.
- This is an issue for the IMC in Titanfall. In the world of Titanfall, humanity has developed faster-than-light space travel (referred to as "jumping") but because of the layout of planets between the Core Systems and the Frontier (the homefront of the Militia and the place where the war is being waged), FTL travel is fuel-demanding. IMC troops can jump to Demeter but to do so they expend their fuel supplies to their limit. They refuel there then push onwards with a second jump to the Frontier worlds. If you take out Demeter then the IMC wind up in a situation where they can't send reinforcements in anything close to an effective timeline (as in will take years to send backup to the Frontier without Demeter's fuel plants). This is why the battle of Demeter in the Campaign is a pivotal battle for everyone.
- No Man's Sky has the rather commonplace Hyperdrive, which allows ships to "warp" to other systems, as well as the Portal Network made up of alien temples and their Portals.
- This occurs in the classic arcade game Gyruss. When a stage is completed, the player's ship "warps" to the next stage.
- Schlock Mercenary has both a set of "Wormgates" monopolized by an ancient mega-corporation and conspiracy, and the relatively new - or rather, rediscovered - "teraport" (jump drive/teleporter), which forces a subject through billions of tiny wormholes instead of one big one. The latter is a receiverless teleporter in a military SF setting, with all that implies.
- Among other things, it implies a desperate research project to find a way to jam the teraport drive, preventing ships from entering or leaving a region via teraport. Fortunately for the survival of galactic civilization, though often unfortunately for the survival of the eponymous mercenaries, the project succeeded.
- As far as communications goes, there's communications through hypernet relays - a Galaxy-Wide-Web. The signal explicitly takes less time to travel across the light-years than through the copper circuitry of the machinery, but there are still no FTL sensors. This is used for dramatic effect at least twice: once to facilitate learning about what happened in a Late to the Tragedy situation (fifty-two minutes late, specifically, so they park a sensor fifty-two light-minutes away to get a look), once in a situation where Kevyn realizes that the enemy, whom he is parleying with (and whom is about a light-minute away), had fired missiles at him while they were negotiating.
- The comic implies at a few points that causality holds throughout the galaxy because of all the teraporting and wormgates. Notably, when they start going to Andromeda, they're initially out of sync.
- Originally, the starslip drive in Starslip worked as a jump drive that shifted the ship into a nearly-identical Alternate Universe where it was already at the desired location. Eventually it was discovered that one can, with sufficient slips, wind up in a substantially different timeline; this was the Starslip Crisis that gave the comic its original name.
- After narrowly escaping the destruction of the universe, the crew of the Fuseli end up in another one where the starslip drive has just been outlawed and replaced by the stellar superlinear propulsion (STARSLIP for short)) drive, which exploits the fact that there's no shorter distance between two places than a straight line, by finding an even straighter line. This functions as a Warp Drive, rather than a Jump Drive.
- The aliens in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! have specifically stated that they do not have FTL. The Nemesites are extremely long-lived and do have ubiquitous relativistic-speed travel. Their empire's capital orbits a brown dwarf star "near" Earth's solar system note —hence, our solar system sees a lot of traffic. There are at least two inhabited worlds in our system besides Earth; Butane, an undetected world in the Kuiper Belt colonized by a prehuman Earth civilization (the dragons), and Fleen, an asteroid inhabited by Officer Zodboink's people (whether or not their race is native to Fleen has not yet been revealed).
- The Freefall universe has FTL travel, although the author admits to being uncomfortable about including it in an otherwise fairly hard series. According to the manual, "The starships in Freefall make pockets of lower space time density, increasing the rate at which they go through time." Thus, they move very fast in real time but at a normal rate in subjective time, necessitating cold sleep for the passengers and most of the crew. When live cargo and/or timeliness are not at stake, they simply accelerate a cargo vessel to a decent fraction of light speed and fling it at the target system. The fact that it's called the DAVE (Dangerous And Very Expensive) Drive should tell you all you need to know.
- Spacetrawler offers one of the most ridiculous technobabble explanations for FTL travel ever. Spaceships travel at Greased Light Speed, "which is attained when you slip between light particles and go much faster than them". Friction between light particles cancels out time dilation. Also, the Mirrhgoots are on the verge of perfecting Greased Dark Light Speed, which promises to be even faster. It works on the principle of riding the darkness inside the light particles (since light particles are about 97% darkness).
- In Westward, the eponymous Cool Starship travels through Escherspace (named after Maurits Cornelius Escher), which functions as a variety of Jump Drive. It is a Black Box technology that no-one quite understands, except for the mysterious alien Phobos. As a result, some characters prefer to think of it as a kind of magic.
- While an Escherspace jump itself is nearly instantaneous, many weeks of travel using conventional engines are still required as part of every trip, to ensure that the ship is at a safe distance from any massive astronomical body — if used carelessly, Escherspace jumps can release enough energy to alter the orbits of nearby planets.
- During a jump, everyone aboard must take shelter in special "normalization booths"; the author has stated that this "creates a good separation between travel that's normal — adhering to the laws of physics — and travel that's abnormal, unnatural, and dangerous."
- Among The Chosen requires psychic operators connected with hypertech for FTL travel.
- Homestuck has beings of sufficient power or psionics being able to push vessels into FTL travel with their mental abilities (though it ends badly for psionics due to the massive amount of energy it requires). The Condesce exploited this method of bypassing the laws of physics to turn her fleet of starships into a galaxy conquering army. This is one of the more realistic portrayals of FTL travel, as even at sublight speeds jumps still take quite a bit of time (the biggest jump seen in the comic takes over three years). Jade even gives a Lampshade Hanging on this in Act 6, noting that FTL travel is a completely different concept from teleportation.
- The Jump Drive and Jump Gates enable this in Nexus Gate.
- One of the central tenets of the Orion's Arm setting is the absence of FTL — except for wormholes. These are big, expensive, must be deployed to the desired desination at speeds much slower than light before they can be used, and need to be traversed carefully lest the traveller be crushed by g-forces.
- They must also be located in "asymptotically flat spacetime", that is, a minimum of something like 100AU from the nearest star. That's a hell of a long way (as a sense of scale, Pluto varies between ~29 AU and ~48 AU from our sun). Although theoretically a single wormhole could bridge tens of lightyears, you're still going to take several weeks at least to get from the wormhole to anywhere interesting (and vice versa) using even the best sublight engine technology generally available to humans. A lot of the time it's just easier to go the long way.
- The main reason Orion's Arm, a hard sci-fi setting, includes wormholes is that they're an Acceptable Break from Reality — you can't really have the interstellar civilizations the setting is built around without some form of faster-than-light infrastructure, so the writers went with the most realistic alternative they could find. Because modern science has yet to demonstrate that wormholes are impossible, OA considers them fair game. It is assumed in OA that they do not violate causality (although this is largely an arbitrary rule).
- Causality is protected in the OA universe - if you try to build a wormhole system that can form a closed timelike curve (i.e. allow time travel) the wormholes undergo something called Visser collapse. Given that this destroys both mouths of the wormhole and, from a distance, could be mistaken for a small supernova, you do not want to be within a couple of lightyears of a wormhole if this happens.
- Most of the wormholes used in Orion's Arm are actually comm-gauge wormholes - microscopic wormholes used to send data but not big enough to send anything material through. These are significantly easier to manufacture and more stable than wormholes ships can pass through, which require enormous resources to build and maintain. They can also be located much closer to gravity wells than traversable wormholes. You still don't want to be standing close by if one collapses though...
- Tech Infantry gets around the speed-of-light limit via a hyperspace system inspired by those seen in Babylon 5 and Honor Harrington.
- In The Pentagon War, "hyper holes" provide an FTL portal network. They are created by aiming two very expensive bombs directly at one other from two different star systems, and detonating them simultaneously — a difficult feat even for a whole government to pull off. At the time of the story, only 5 pairs of linked hyper holes exist.
- The technology is present in the Registry of Time universe, although not as fast as some other examples. In one story it takes 20 years to reach a destination.
- FutureTimeline.net predicts that humans will achieve faster than light travel using the Alcubierre Drive by the year 1000000. But then again, it's clear that by that time they had given up on trying to make accurate predictions.
- Phaeton has photon drives, which are described as the perfect FTL device.
- Quantum mechanics does allow for a "faster than light" connection between two particles in quantum entanglement. Unfortunately it is not actually possible to send information (let alone matter) FTL with this method, since it's impossible for an observer to determine whether an entangled particle state is due to the particle partner's involvement or by the simple act of observing the particle. It's a simple matter of probabilities.
- During the writing of his novel Contact, Carl Sagan reportedly asked a fellow scientist (none other than Kip Thorne, a leading expert in relativistic astrophysics) if FTL travel would be possible without breaking the laws of physics, as he didn't want to do it in his novel. The scientist sat down and wrote a few equations which became the basics of the wormhole network seen in the book and film. Sagan himself was optimistic about this and thought that a sufficiently advanced civilization could build and maintain a network of these wormholes.
- It is theoretically possible for an object to move FTL if it has imaginary mass, in fact it would only be able to travel faster than light. Particles that only travel faster than light and have imaginary mass would be called tachyons. There is, however, no experimental evidence of their existence - which is also rendered de facto impossible due to certain instabilities it would provoke in quantum field theories.
- The relativistic mass-energy equation doesn't completely rule out faster than light travel. It only rules out the possibility of faster than light travel when both the mass and energy have no imaginary component. For it to be possible some or all of the mass and energy have to be imaginary. It also doesn't rule out travel where the velocity vector either is or includes an imaginary number.
- One Star Trek: Deep Space Nine novel (Time's Enemy, if I recall correctly) used this as a plot point. In the novel a derelict Defiant is found that had been trapped inside a comet for several thousand thousand years. In the novel it's stated that something in the warp core changes by a factor of i (i.e. the square root of -1) every time a starship goes to warp. Early in the novel it was determined that whatever would happen to the Defiant would occur either during or after the next time the Defiant went to warp.
- The Alcubierre drive is a semi-serious proposal for a system of FTL travel that involves propelling a bubble of warped space at FTL speeds. The ship itself remains stationary in the center of the bubble. Star Trek's Warp Drive is based on a similar ideanote . Of course, actually building such a drive system is well beyond the realm of present-day science, if it is possible at all. The fact that it would take several orders of magnitude more energy than exists in the mass-energy equivalent of the entire universe to move a small spaceship across the Milky Way galaxy doesn't help, either.
- The "warp drive," at least in some forms, has been ruled out as a "practical" FTL drive in 2009. A physicist named Stefano Finazzi and several colleagues published a paper showing that when particles in the interstellar medium intersect with the bubble of moving spacetime at FTL velocities, Hawking radiation will turn the temperature up to 10^32 Kelvin, which is hotter than the 2x10^12 K at which protons and neutrons break down into a quark-gluon plasma.
- "Some forms," because the paper makes some assumptions that need not apply to Alcubierre's construction. For example, they postulate that if one were to make use of quantum inequalities to obtain negative energy (which is needed to make Alcubierre spacetime), then the thickness of the bubble wall must be extremely small (that of the Planck length). Their argument doesn't apply if you can find matter with negative energy without resorting to the Quantum Inequalities. In fact, some have suggested that Dark Energy may actually be made of such stuff (look up phantom fields).
- Some physicists have suggested that a starship equipped with a warp bubble drive would be impossible to steer, control, or stop, and that if it did stop, whatever was in front of it would instantly be destroyed.
- This video by Lawrence Krauss provides a nice enough layman's explanation on what it means to build a real-world warp drive, even outside of Alcubierre's own flavor of it.
- That could be worked around, say, by deflecting said particles with another exotic spacetime geometry, shields or whatever. One of the variations on it, by van den Broek, requires the mass-energy equivalent of a few grams. However, the concept itself was proven to be impractical by Krasnikov when he demonstrated the surface of the warp bubble to be causally disconnected from its interior (effectively cutting the crew off from controlling, creating or even stopping the ship). Further theoretical exercises (Clark, Hiscock and Larson) have shown that there exists formation of event-horizon-like structures along the warp bubble - analogous to a Mach cone - and since, in 2+ 1 spacetimes, the vacuum stress-energy of a quantized massless field diverges on the horizon as it forms, it is strongly suggested that the same phenomenon would occur in 3+ 1. The Alcubierre drive, as a concept for potential technology, is long dead. Similarly-spirited alternatives may not be, however.
- 2+1 dimensional space-times have their own problems; namely, general relativity cannot exist in a 2+1 space-time. In order to prevent every particle from collapsing into a black hole, a 2+1 space-time must either have a gravitational constant of exactly zero or an infinite speed of light. This is because the gravitational force would vary as the inverse first power of distance, meaning that gravitational binding energy would either be zero (in the case of a zero gravitational constant) or infinite (in the case of any non-zero gravitational constant, no matter how small).
- The initial bubble theorized by Alcubierre would produce no thrust on its own, and most thrusters would be hard pressed to get the ball rolling (pardon the pun), never mind getting it to stop. The ideal shape is that of a drop, but that presents its own problems.
- A reexamination of the Alcubierre equations has shown that changing the geometry of the generating ring to a toroid, and thickening the bubble's walls to a millimetre, would lower the energy requirements for a given vessel and speed by a factor of about 10^18. NASA is currently running experiments to determine if an Alcubierre-like space can be created in the laboratory. If such spaces can be generated, a speed of slightly over 1% of c could be produced with a steady power output of approximately 1 kilowatt. By way of comparison, the fastest spacecraft yet created has achieved a maximum speed of 0.03% c. Of course, however, thickening the walls ignores the very basic issue of why they needed to be so thin in the first place: they are required to respect constraints on the existence of negative energy density, so until a preprint is released we can only hope the authors did their homework.
- Way out there on the fringe of science is Heim Theory. It's a possible theory of quantum gravity that has as one of its consequences the possibility of constructing a vehicle that can achieve FTL velocity, as well as artificial gravity to boot. The theory has been very obscure until very recently, and it has yet to undergo significant peer-review (so take it with a planetoid of salt), but it does show some promise. It's also interesting to note that the theory bears striking resemblances to the FTL mechanics used in Mass Effect.
- It's important to notice the fact that, of the few clear predictions that Heim theory DOES give (most of it is extremely obfuscated), like the mass of certain particles, most are wrong by several standard deviations. Make that planetoid a large moon.
- When the space shuttle Columbia tragically burned up during atmospheric re-entry, a caption at the bottom of one CNN report briefly read: "Shuttle traveling nearly 18 times speed of light." (It was a mistake, of course; the caption was meant to read "nearly 18 times speed of sound.") Much gallows humor ensued, e.g., "No wonder the Shuttle broke apart, they had a warp core breach!"
- In September 2011, scientists at CERN famously announced that they observed neutrino particles moving faster than the speed of light. The scientists themselves readily admitted from the start that a lot more testing would be needed to confirm this claim — and it turned out that they were right to do so. In the the Spring of 2012, it was revealed that the FTL observation was caused by a loose fibre-optic cable, and adjusting for this technical problem revealed that the neutrinos never broke the light-speed barrier after all. The error is understandable given the complexity of the equipment involved, and the scientists should be given credit for being cautious about their "discovery" from the start.
- Fermilab recorded similar results during at least one experiment in the 1990s but that one never got much press because the neutrinos only appeared to be going faster than light by such a tiny amount that it was considered to be within the less advanced equipment of the day's acceptable margin of error.
- Phase and group velocities for electromagnetic or quantum mechanical waves are sometimes higher than light speed. However, this still does not allow for the transmission of actual information faster than the speed of light.
- You can think of that as a shadow play right in front of a light focus: since the shape of the shadow is larger than the object casting the shadow, if it's moving fast enough, a point in the shadow will appear to be moving faster. That's independent of the time it takes the shadow to react to the object moving.
- The Casimir Effect should create regions of "less dense space" where the innate speed of light should be greater than the speed of light in "normal" vacuum. Right now it's the only confirmed mechanism capable of creating FTL at least in theory. Alas, while the Casimir effect itself has been experimentally confirmed (and resulted in a Nobel Prize) directly testing if it results in FTL is not possible right now.
- Ultimately, one can only hope that Science Marches On.