Get on Intergalactic Route 17 and hang a left on the 1st exit to reach Earth.
So, you have Faster-Than-Light Travel, and you want to travel to Rigel, but first you have to stop through Tau Ceti, even though you don't have any business there, and stopping there makes the journey longer. Why is this? Whether due to some law of physics or some artificial regulation, you have to follow the Hyperspace Lanes.
Hyperspace Lanes allow space to have choke points and pace the story in space since you have to make stops along the way between jumps anyway. These lanes typically connect the only the closest systems to each other. Not as silly as might be expected, as the stars of a galaxy are always in motion and even the tiny pull of distant stars may bring a ship seriously off course at great distances. Having a few lanes for which the movement and gravity of nearby stars is extremely well mapped out might be a lot safer than just blazing straight through a star cluster whose gravitational effects are only reasonably well estimated.
Related to, but rarely overlaps with Portal Network, typically only if any given gate is limited in terms of potential destinations. Sub-Trope of Faster-Than-Light Travel, and the sci-fi equivalent of Stay on the Path.
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This applies to the Marvel Universe; for interstellar travel most civilizations use these, and a major one is located in- Earth's solar system. It's because of this that so many aliens have found and interfered with the Earth over millions of years.
The hyperdrive used by ships in the Vatta's War series of books allow them to travel to any nearby system they choose, but if they travel to systems marked on their charts as off limits, they run the risk of running into all sorts of hazards ranging from stellar debris to unfriendly natives. Less scrupulous starship captains occasionally use these off-limits star systems as meeting locations off the beaten path to conduct illegal business or merely to shave time off their trips.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe is a textbook hyperspace routes example. Planets, stars, and other celestial bodies project a "mass shadow" into hyperspace; if a vessel crashes into the shadow, it will be destroyed. Planets struck by vessels in hyperspace have suffered everything from millions dying to complete shattering of the planet. To decrease the likelihood of this, nearly all hyperspace travel uses already plotted routes.
Pirates, the Empire, and the Yuuzhan Vong have taken advantage of this, either moving asteroids or placing gravity well generators on routes in order to force vessels into realspace for boarding.
There are several major trade routes going from one end of the Galaxy to another; smaller but slower routes branching off them to individual systems; and little-known routes that are faster than average but have the danger of coming too close to stars or black holes to compensate. When no known routes to a location exist, travel is done by a series of mini-jumps with stops after each jump to check for potential hazards and plot accordingly.
Over time, routes can become unusable due to the natural movement of celestial bodies through space.
To make matters more interesting, a large portion of the galaxy is inaccessible to hyperdrive due to Hyperspace Disturbance and requires unconventional technology to get to. And yes, several stories point out how the fastest way to get from point A to point B lies anywhere but a direct route.
Similarly, the dense Core is all but impossible to traverse due to the large and densely clustered mass shadows.
The Lost Fleet uses this, however a more effective Portal Network is set up in important systems and the FTL pathways are almost forgotten about until the events of the series.
There are strange lights in jumpspace. However, no one has figured out how to explore this dimension (ships always travel on a fixed path between two jump points), so most sailors think they're lights of their ancestors.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has hyperspace routes as analogous to British motorways; the Vogon Constructor Fleet demolishes Earth to make way for a new hyperspace express route.
David Weber's Honor Harrington novels slightly subvert this trope by having Casual Interstellar Travel of the vanilla variety (by hyperspace) for everyone, but featuring a wormhole network that allows for instantaneous travel between its termini, thus radically cutting on a delivery times. Naturally, the heroes' homeworld has the biggest bunch of those holes. Wormholes in the Honorverse don't really form a network, though. Various wormhole termini are usually too far apart for anyone to get from one to another, without hyperdrives that also allow FTL travel. They just supply a few very convenient shortcuts between some places.
Even in the Vanilla Hyperspace, there are also Grav Waves, for lack of a better term, "wrinkles" in hyperspace, that ships can use special energy sails to ride on to cut their travel time down considerably. These waves end up becoming de facto hyperspace lanes in their own right.
The Trope Codifier for genre SF was the Alderson Drive used for interstellar travel in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1975 novel The Mote in God's Eye (sporadic earlier examples existed, but this was the really influential one). It only works at specific "Alderson Points" in a star system, each of which leads to another specific system. Activating the drive anywhere else just burns up a lot of fuel for nothing. The story is a deconstruction: the Moties only escaped discovery and overrunning the universe because the only point into or out of their system leads within a supergiant star that would destroy unshielded ships on arrival. And this was the only reason the Moties never used their own version of the FTL device; they didn't have the humans' force field technology to survive at the far end of the trip, so explorers never came back.
In C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe each star system only has a limited number of other star systems which can be reached via hyperspace. Anyone trying to go anywhere else is never seen from again, presumably trapped in hyperspace. Even trying to stop partway between two connected systems is impossible.
The History of the Galaxy books have this with Hypersphere and its "horizontal" tension lines stretching between large stellar bodies in relative vicinity. Normally, ships use these lines to guide them to their destination. Originally, ships had to "surface" into normal space at each "node" (i.e. system) before "submerging" again. This allows for choke points and ambushes during the Galactic Wars. However, later advances allow ships to "change lines" while remaining in Hypersphere, throwing that tactic out the window. Later books have The Federation discover the center of Hypersphere, where all the "vertical" tension lines converge into one point, and find out how to use this "hub" to travel "up" and "down" any vertical to any system in the galaxy. While this would seem to indicate a new period of unrestricted galactic exploration, the government quickly puts a lid on the knowledge and prevents travel into unexplored systems, fearing an advanced enemy that, with the knowledge of the "hub", could strike anywhere without warning.
FTL travel in The Flight Engineer is reliant on naturally occurring jump points that only connect to a few other points.
In Christopher Nuttall's Ark Royal trilogy FTL travel is dependent on gravimetric "tramlines". Most routes that human ships can handle are five lightyears or shorter, but the enemy can go much, much, further.
Live Action TV
In Babylon 5, most ships traveling in Hyperspace make sure to closely follow the navigational beacons transmitted between the Jump Gates. They could go in any direction they want, and try to take shortcuts, but then they run the very real risk of joining the ranks of ships that have gone off the beacon never to be seen or heard from again. Larger ships, which can create their own jump points, have more sophisticated navigational equipment which allow them to travel more freely. Even the larger ships will find themselves in trouble if they lose their navigation systems or engines in combat in hyperspace, drifting helplessly into the void. For this reason, most commanders, if given any real choice, will avoid fighting battles in hyperspace, instead preferring to mass their forces near strategic key points such as jump gates or planets.
Several star systems are strategically important because you need to travel through them on your way from one slipstream to another. Just the place to lay in ambush, or place a BFG IN SPACE!.
In one episode, they're trying to get to Tarn-Vedra (the lost capital planet of the old Commonwealth) by following a ridiculously complicated sequence of slipstream routes. Several of the steps are jumps between different galaxies!
Well, they are following the diary of a guy named Hasturi, nicknamed "the Mad Perseid". It's a wonder he didn't have them go through the Route of Ages.
Plus the Tarn-Vedrans intentionally messed with the slipstream during the start of the Long Night to get rid of any easy paths to their system; cutting off the 'freeways' and only leaving a long, twisting 'dirt road' leading in or out.
The Borg of Star Trek use a network of transwarp conduits, allowing them to go almost anywhere in the galaxy in a matter of minutes.
Star Trek: Voyager also contributed a network of underspace corridors maintained by the Vaadwar.
Star Trek: The Next Generation had a solar system which was well-travelled by most warp-capable species. So much so, in fact, that they were actually damaging the boundary between realspace and subspace. A scientist trying to prove this, tired of being constantly ignored, decided to make her point clear by intentionally poking a hole between the two. She killed herself and risked many lives in her reckless action, but she proved her theory.
Game Designers' Workshop's board game Imperium. In order to travel at FTL speeds, starships had to use hyperspace jump routes between stars.
Warp travel in Warhammer 40,000 theoretically lets you go anywhere if you're willing to put up with the inherent dangers of traveling through Space Hell. That said, the Warp has "currents" that make travel in certain directions easier than others, so a ship going from Calth to Hydraphur will get there faster than one moving from Kar Duniash to Macragge, even though the latter is a shorter distance in realspace. When sub-sector maps are drawn up for Battlefleet Gothic, this makes them resemble half-finished connect-the-dots puzzles, where to get from point A to point B requires arcing through points C, D and E instead of moving the inch or two to B.
There's also the Webway, a labyrinthine highway in the warp constructed by The Old Ones. It has set entrances/exits called Webway gates. If a traveller isn't close enough to enter it, or its destination isn't close enough it, then they have to make their way there the old-fashioned way, for at least part of the trip. Only the Eldar and the Dark Eldar have access to the Webway, the latter live inside it in fact, and they use it because normal Warp travel is extremely dangerous to them, mostly due to the Eldritch Abomination that will eat their souls if they ever go inside.
In Traveller, jump routes are limited mainly by the presence of fuel stops. As most ships can only jump one parsec at a time that means that most traffic follows places where the stars are one parsec apart. A ship equipped for the purpose can obtain fuel at a gas giant without landing in port. It is still necessary to be in-system. A ship can theoretically jump in whatever direction it wants. However coming out of jump in deep-space is disastrous without fuel supplies to get back and there is almost never any reason to do so.
Before the invention of jump-3(3 parsec jump) one Terran Confederation ship during the Interstellar wars carried extra jump fuel in drop tanks. That option is still available during the Third Imperium as is jumping as much as 6 parsecs. Normal merchant traffic seldom has motive for either of these because of the extra space the jump engines take up; more then one parsec is usually given to warships and sometimes to merchantmen running specialized contracts. Normal traffic abides by the one parsec rule and thus policymakers have to still assume that when building infrastructure, and such like.
2300 AD had FTL limited to a maximum distance of 7.8 light years and trips had to end near a stellar-mass object. Combine that with the real map of the stars around our solar system and you get choke points, dead end routes, and stars (or even connected networks of them) that are just beyond the distance limit and so are completely unknown except by sending slower than light space probes.
When there is a gap between star systems, ships will sometimes either carry extra fuel, or visit a Space Station maintained for the purpose, if the motive is strong enough.
Fading Suns has the portal version with the added bonus of requiring "keys" to access a given gate.
The series as a whole uses a Portal Network for FTL travel. Jumpgates connect only to a single other gate, no system has more than four gates, and which gate connects to which does not change, barring meddling by the Ancients or, in X3: Terran Conflict and its expansion Albion Prelude, the player making use of the Hub. This is an Ancient-built structure that interposes itself between a pair of gates and can do so with up to three pairs at a time.
X Rebirth has "space highways" similar to the trade lanes in Freelancer, which will let you get around between different planets in a system. Jumpgates are used to get between different systems.
In Sins of a Solar Empire, ships can only jump from certain from a planet's gravity well to certain other planets' gravity wells, as well as only being able to jump to other star systems from the star in the system they're in.
Escape Velocity, ships can only jump from a given system to certain other (usually) nearby systems without stopping in other star systems along the way.
The Polaris tunneling organ in the third game (Nova) allows players to enter hyperspace without having to stop the ship, a multi-jump organ can allow players to make 10 or less jumps for the time and energy of one.
The Fan SequelNaev adds the caveat that hyperspace travel is limited to specific jump points.
They are essential to the gameplay, as ships can only move one or two squares per turn. Unfortunately, this also means they are constant targets for Space Pirates.
In Privateer 2: The Darkening, hyperspace travel consists of jumping from one navpoint to another, with each jumping point a possible ambush site.
In Freespace and Freespace 2 travel between systems is done at jump nodes, essentially the end points of established wormholes that travel between systems.
Master of Orion II has more or less free travel — as long as it's star-to-star, in range and no black hole stands in the way, you'll get there. Also, randomly generated "stable wormholes" connected each a pair of systems for one-turn travel.
Master of Orion III used lanes. A ship technically could go "off-road," but doing so took far longer than using the predefined star lanes.
Infinite Space - Space travel is restricted to "starlanes", which are apparently a naturally occurring phenomenon.
Mass Effect uses Mass Relays (ancient space stations that function by creating a virtually mass-free "corridor" of space-time between each other) for interstellar travel.
Even using standard faster-than-light travel requires ships to dump excess static and heat on galactic bodies, so travling through nothing but space isn't very practical.
EVE Online uses jump gates to travel between systems. In addition, Titans (large, capital-level ships) can create their own jump gates.
Sword of the Stars has humans reliant on fixed "nodespace" routes for interstellar travel and the Zuul can "rip" temporary nodespace routes.
Unfortunately, while very fast, this method also annoys the Energy Beings native to that dimension. While humans only mildly annoy them (imagine a neighbor who randomly walks through rooms in your house), Zuul forcing their way through tends to piss them off (this is the neighbor with a battering ram who doesn't use doors). Both races occasionally have their colonies attacked by these so-called Spectres. And if you don't use energy weapons, you're screwed, as ballistic shots and missiles go right through them without damage. They also show up during battles in subspace, but those are pretty rare and can only happen with human/human, zuul/zuul, and human/zuul match-ups.
The first Star Control in strategy mode has colonies as nodes in a jump graph — and you can's know for sure whether and where each node is connected until you visit it.
Vega Strike has jump points network. Another form of FTL travel is limited to in-system use as relatively slow.
Ascendancy has "starlanes" — normal blue links usually taking a few turns to ride and red links that require improved drives to navigate in a reasonable time. There's also expendable devices blocking a starlane or speeding up everyone in it.
There is also a trick to making lane travel instantaneous, which involves developing a device that, when fired at a star lane (even red) momentarily destabilizes it, causing all ships currently using it to end up at their destination instantaneously. While this is a one-shot device, there is nothing to prevent players from building specialized ships filled with these devices and use them to create an interstellar highway of sorts, moving warships from one end of your interstellar empire to the other in several turns (as opposed to hundreds).
The Recall device instantly transports the ship equipped with it to the race's home system, no matter where it is. Very useful if the homeworld is threatened.
Haegemonia: Legions of Iron has naturally-occuring wormholes leading to fixed points in other systems. Interstellar travel is restricted to these, except for the final missions, where the humans manage to modify Darzok wormhole-blocking technology to allow a fleet to jump directly to a beacon that can be placed in any system. This can, essentially, allow you to avoid the entire enemy line of defense and go straight for the HQ.
Similar to the above example, Conquest Frontier Wars has static wormholes connecting systems. The Celareons have the technology to make temporary wormholes to any system. The first mention of this is when they use it to save Captain Thomas Blackwell's corvette from falling into a black hole. This is the main reason why the Mantis are attacking them: they want the technology. And some Celareons are willing to deal with the Mantis in the hope that the bugs will leave them alone after this.
The iOS game Galaxy On Fire II has this, overlapping with Portal Network. Nearly all systems have a jumpgate orbiting one of its planets (the design varies from race to race but the overall look is the same). The jumpgate allows a ship to travel from one system to another (you're even allowed to pick which planet in the target system you want to go to, although that's likely a gameplay shortcut), as long as they're connected on the starmap. Going to a remote system may take as many as 6 jumps, although that usually involves entering the gate, jumping, turning around, entering the other gate, etc. Other methods of FTL travel are later discovered, including the Void wormholes which are used by the Voids to raid planets. A scientist named Khador studies the wormholes and uses certain crystals from Void space to build an instantaneous jump drive to any system, although each use drains energy cells, which must be replenished at starbases. The Khador Drive can even be used to access systems not accessible via jumpgates (including Void space). In the "Valkyrie" DLC, Khador and Deep Science start building ships with integrated Khador Drives, freeing you from lugging one around everywhere. Interestingly, the prologue started with the Player Character's own hyperdrive malfunctioning. No mention of this method of travel after that, although, since we never see large ships (including freighters) using gates, it's implied that they have their own hyperdrives that can go even where there are no gates. Notably, you start the game (after the hyperdrive malfunction) in an isolated system and have to wait for a Terran battleship to arrive in the area to hitch a ride.
In Elitenote which owes rather a lot of inspiration to Traveller according to Word of God and its Fan RemakeOolite, for some not especially well-explained reason, the maximum distance it's possible to travel in hyperspace is seven light-years. Ships apparently don't have to exit hyperspace at a designated exit point, but not doing so would leave you with a bit of a problem if your FTL drive packed up.
At the beginning of Endless Space, you're limited to this mode of travel. Later, you can discover technology to utilize wormholes that are generated randomly throughout the galaxy and another technology allowing your ships to go "off-road", even though this path is way longer. Either way, ships at FTL are unable to change direction.
FTL: Faster Than Light uses lanes to go from point to point and then lanes from sector to sector, a small option can be enabled to show which points you can jump to from another point your mouse is hovering over (great for planning with the Rebel fleet on your tail). Players can acquire an augment that allows them to jump to any previously explored point in a sector.
The Tal-Seto jump points in Mission Critical connects nearby stars. It's initially hypothesized that every star in the galaxy is part of the network. After the protagonist travels to the Bad Future, he is told that the network was fully mapped out some time before that point and only constitutes a small part of the galaxy. The ELFs theorize that other networks may exist, but getting to them would require sublight travel to stars not on the network.
Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers took their cue from Star Wars on this one. Humans were still quite new to hyperspace travel, and there were a lot of things that could go seriously wrong (and did in-series) if your calculations were off or your drive was malfunctioning.
Prof. Farnsworth: Of course! That was the Panama Wormhole, Earth's central channel for shipping. Dr. Zoidberg: [laughs] How humorous. Prof. Farnsworth: Yes, it's sort of a Comedy Central channel, and we're on it now. * beat* Amy: [gasps] I get it!
Certain interpretations of the variable speed of light cosmology would greatly increase maximum speed (both for light and for ships) when traveling along cosmic strings, and reduce relativity as well. Of course, any ship leaving the string would slow down considerably.