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Subspace Ansible

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"The message was an electronic shout, the most powerful and tightly-beamed short-wave transmission which men could generate, directed with all the precision which mathematics and engineering could offer. Nevertheless that pencil must scrawl broadly over the sky, and for a long time, merely hoping to write on its target. For when distances are measured in light-weeks, the smallest errors grow monstrous."
The Burning Bridge by Poul Anderson

Space is big. Really, really big. You might think it's a long way to the chemist, but that's peanuts compared with space. Listen... the only way to have snappy dialogue between characters in different star systems (hell, even to the moon) is with faster-than-light radio. This Subspace Ansible (a.k.a. FTL Radio) is also necessary for spaceships using Faster-Than-Light Travel to have two-way conversations, since actual radio waves are light (of a non-visible frequency) — and are therefore slower than the ship.

There are several types of faster-than-light technologies in fiction; however, Subspace Ansibles need to use one that doesn't require sending the ship's engines along with the message. So, they typically use the "shortcut" method: sending ordinary radio waves through an exotic Subspace or Hyperspace that is smaller than real space.

If the setting has both subspace and hyperspace, then typically subspace will allow nearly instant communication, but can't be used for travel. Even in Star Trek, which uses subspace for both, real-time conversations take place between characters who are days of FTL travel apart. This allows plots to be written as if Space Is an Ocean. On the other hand, just as not all FTL methods are equal, neither are all FTL comms. A humble 10c is technically FTL, but it'll still take about 5 months for a message to reach Earth from an Alpha Centauri colony. Raising the speed of transmission to 365c turns the travel time down to 4 days, but still an eternity for any poor spacers calling for reinforcement, and God forbid you need to call for help from anywhere further. Having a determinate speed rather than that of plot can shape a story's events. This can help mitigate Ungovernable Galaxy.

In some cases, a Subspace Ansible may exist even if Faster-Than-Light Travel does not. There might be some attempt to justify this, proposing that technology exists to bypass the limits of relativity for information but not matter, but often, it is simply a matter of necessity: although a single-star-system Space Opera can get by without Faster-Than-Light Travel, it takes several minutes for radio waves to travel the distance from Earth to Mars, so the problem of communication remains pressing even if Faster-Than-Light Travel can be safely shelved.

Presumably, an FTL Radio is also what allows ship sensors to work faster than light, viewing objects that are light-minutes away — or even light-years! — in real-time. However, any attempts to explain it are indistinguishable from a Hand Wave (unless tachyons are involved; then it gets complicated).

The term "ansible" for this kind of near-instantaneous subspace communication system was coined by Ursula K. Le Guin in her 1966 novel Rocannon's World. "Ansible" is a derivation of "answerable"; i.e., "messages will be answerable in realtime".note  Many other science-fiction writers picked up the name after Le Guin.

If Psychic Powers exist in a setting, they often work instantaneously at any distance, and function as a Subspace Ansible. Quantum entanglement is a popular explanation, since Quantum Mechanics Can Do Anything.

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Straight Examples:

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Macross Frontier, the Vajra are capable of interstellar communication via their Hive Mind link, which uses symbiotic, fold quartz-carrying bacteria in their entrails to link the whole species together instantaneously across the galaxy, without any sort of fold interference or delay. In fact, abusing this galactic overmind to link up the entire galaxy whether it wants to or not (humanity included) is the major goal of the Big Bad.
  • The SolarNet in Cowboy Bebop.
  • The ability of the Emilys from Str.A.In.: Strategic Armored Infantry. Which led to them being cranially bisected alive by human scientist to obtain it. Being Hive Mind, they share the pain as well...
  • Galaxy Network in Starship Operators is suggested to use quantum entanglement in dialogue.
  • Interstella 5555: In the final segment, people on Earth (including one guy on the International Space Station) are shown watching a live concert from The Crescendolls' homeworld.

    Comic Books 
  • In Legion of Super-Heroes comics, communications are relayed through the same Stargate system used for FTL travel, making it possible to have a real time conversation between Legion HQ on Earth and the Legion Outpost in deep space. In the post-Zero Hour, pre-Infinite Crisis Legion, when the Stargate system goes down, people can still travel in "old fashioned" warp vessels, but the only means of communication is Titanet, a relay of Saturnian telepaths.

    Fan Works 
  • Frontier has The HoloNet, par for the course in a work featuring the technology of Star Wars. Mass Effect has its quantum entanglement devices, and Borderlands has a "relay" network.
  • Transformers Alter Verse, instantaneous galaxy-wide communication and travel is made possible by Pulsewave Technology, and Transwarp space bridges by the Cybertronians. The Seraphims have their own, named Lightcomm Technology and Wrapspace for their spaceships.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, Flight Rings provide instantaneous galaxy-wide communication for Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes.
  • In Fragmentation, Hyperpulse Generators provide instantaneous communication across the stars.
  • The War of the Masters uses quantum entanglement technology for interstellar communication.
  • The Next Frontier: The Kerbals have created one, which enables the crew of Starfarer One to stay in realtime contact with Mission Control while in a neighbouring solar system. The bandwidth is pretty limited, the bitrate for data transmissions is in the 50kb/s range, but it's enough for Jeb to continue updating his blog on the Kerbin Space Agency's website.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Avatar:
    • According to the Avatar wiki, the Pandorapedia, the Venture Star has faster-than-light communication technology with a low-bitrate device using quantum-entangling. This is a case of All There in the Manual, as this Ansible was never shown or mentioned in the film itself, though it is probably how Quaritch was able to confirm "corporate approval" for Jake's legs. Actual faster-than-light travel is notably averted.
    • Also, in a deleted scene, Selfridge is threatening Quaritch with termination, claiming that "one phone call" to the home office is enough to get rid of him. This implies that the call would be instant and not take 4.3 years in either direction.
  • In The Fifth Element radio broadcasts and telephone/video conversations are instantaneous.
  • Inexplicably possible in the Soviet two-part sci-fi film Moscow — Cassiopeia, where the teen cosmonauts are able to attend classes via teleconference while in interstellar space. Later, when they end up traveling at near-light speeds and end up at their destination early (from their viewpoint), they talk to mission control back on Earth in real-time. There is also the moment where IOO uses a rotary pay phone and a metal cigar case to show real-time footage of the starship to The Captain's parents, but his abilities appear to be far beyond what's possible even in the film's science.
  • In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the Sovereign are are able to manually control a legion of drones from lightyears away from their homeworld.
  • In Space Battleship Yamato the Yamato has one, but its range is limited to within the Milky Way. Okita gives everyone one minute each to say goodbye to their relatives on Earth before they continue on.
  • Star Wars, of course. The galaxy-spanning HoloNet allows people to communicate in real time through holograms despite being separated by thousands of light years. Suitable communications systems on ships connect via relay stations spread throughout the galaxy in a manner similar to the real world cellular network. Users accessing the HoloNet can also be located via the network, as shown in The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. "Disturbances in the Force" can also be sensed instantaneously, even if the source is in real space and the Force-sensitive is in hyperspace, as when Obi-Wan sensed the destruction of Alderaan. The case of Darth Vader manipulating Luke to convince him to visit Bespin actually exploited visions of the future rather than this, Luke saw those happening before Han and Leia even arrived.

  • In Arrivals from the Dark, humanity learns to do this at the same time as they get FTL drives, sending instantaneous messages through Limbo. It's expensive and requires a lot of power, so the Space Navy mostly relies on couriers and FTL drones (they tend to be one-shot, since small FTL drives burn out after one use). In later novels, real-time video communication is possible across many parsecs. With the Faata, while they have radio communication equipment, it's only used to communicate with the primitive races they're about to conquer, while they themselves rely on Psychic Powers for communication among themselves. Powerful bio-computers are able to communicate across light years using psychic waves, but even they can't reach across the Void between galactic arms.
  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's The Norby Chronicles: The hycoms, or hyperspacial communications, provide instantaneous communication throughout the Colonized Solar System.
  • Curious version in James Blish's short story "Beep" (later expanded into the novel The Quincunx Of Time). Ansibles are common and cheap to use, if you can stand the loud and annoying beep that accompanies every one. Due to quantum effects, the title beep contain every message that ever was or will be sent, ever, and they can be heard if slowed way, way down and appropriately filtered. The government's primary purpose is to ensure that the events described in the beep come to pass at all costs, to prevent a paradox from prematurely ending the universe.
  • In Timothy Zahn's The Conquerors Trilogy, there are two possible FTL speeds for ships allowed by physics, but faster-than-light communications are impossible for humans. Humans quickly deduce, due to the coordination of the attacks, the alien Zhirrzh have a cheap, accurate method of FTL communication their Elders. This understandably terrifies the humans. We also see a minor side-effect of this communication radio waves cause Elders pain and can kill them— which is considered an unthinkable atrocity caused consequences that ripple through all of the novels.
  • Though it never actually comes up, the Discworld series has a bit of fun with this in a footnote. It points out that a Disc philosopher decided that the fastest thing in the universe is monarchy, noting that regardless of distance, the instant a monarch dies, the heir immediately succeeds them. He further proposes subatomic particles—kingons, or perhaps queenons—but his rough-hewn plans for artificially generating them by torturing a minor noble and using them to send messages vast distances were cut short when the bar closed.
  • In some of Sean Williams's "d-mat" stories, FTL communication is FTL travel: there is interstellar travel via teleporter beam, which became much more practical once somebody invented a method of transmitting the signal FTL. The short story "The Road to Tarsus" describes a case of Lightspeed Leapfrog resulting when people travelling via the new method arrive at their destination years before people who set out at light speed before the new method was devised.
  • Empire from the Ashes:
    • Hypercoms are very cumbersome, too big for sub-lightspeed craft and require exotic synthetic materials that starships aren't equipped to make. The mutineers sabotaged Dahak's and stole the only spares, so Dahak was forced to throw together a mundane lightspeed device instead in his attempts to phone home.
    • There are also short-range "fold-space" communicators, which are much smaller, but have a much more limited range. These ones are for personal use.
    • The short range of their ansible — about a light month — is one of the Achuultani's greatest disadvantages, forcing them to slowly advance through a system of preplanned rendezvous points and delaying reports back to their homeworld by centuries. Though comms with light hour range are cheap, small and common, which allows good coordination of space battles.
  • Ender's Game is a major example of another writer taking the name from Le Guin. A character mentions that there is a formal name for their FTL Radio, but "somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book." The working principle of an ansible link is something about "subatomic philotic links" that form between two subatomic particles, which can be stretched infinitely when properly separated. FTL travel doesn't exist though for most of the series at least, so the ansibles are really the binding force for the entire interstellar civilization (to the point where one colony declares itself to be in rebellion and does the unthinkable by destroying their own ansible, or so it would seem...)
    • These links are also both The Power of Friendship and what holds the universe together.
      • AND how the Buggers/Formics communicate with each other and their drones (they EVOLVED to possess FTL communication!) It makes sense if you read the explanation of how these links work and what they really are.
      • Turns out the Piggies use them to communicate too or at least the sentient Father Trees do amongst themselves (they can talk to Formic Queens directly too)
    • Also, the super-AI/alien-hybrid/space-god, Jane came into being when the Formics tried to create one of these links to Ender himself (during the third war) by going through the psych-analyzer computer program that created Fairy World
    • In the prequel novels, the existence of instantaneous communication is deduced by Lem Jukes, CEO of Juke, Ltd., when his father Ukko Jukes, the first Hegemon, appears to be having a meeting with the Strategos and the Polemarch, both of which are located far from Luna, and yet Ukko appears to be treating it as a real-time conversation. Lem then sends an employee to spy on some Hegemony technicians, who reveals the existence of an FTL communications system based on quantum entanglement. Basically, the communication involves creating two particles that behave as one, even when far apart. The communication device then observes or causes changes in its particle, which is instantaneously relayed to the companion particle in another device. Initially, the devices were bulky and only worked on a one-to-one basis, requiring multiple devices for communicating with multiple people. Eventually, scientists learned to array particles in a single (slimmer) device that allowed it to be used to contact multiple devices, also increasing the communication link to allow audio-visual communication instead of simple text messages. The technology is classified top secret for fear of it falling into the hands of terrorists, whose communications would then be possible to intercept. Anyone, who manages to find out about it is usually conscripted into the IF and sent to serve somewhere far from the public eye.
  • The Eschaton Series: In Singularity Sky and Iron Sunrise, FTL communication is possible through the use of quantum-entangled particles, however: a) the communication is only possible between paired transceivers, and b) taking "qbits" through an FTL jump destroys the entanglement. This means that useful interstellar communicators have to be shipped the long way 'round, making them very expensive. (Stross has pointed out on his blog that this situation — where setting up the communication network is a long and expensive process, but once it's done it's a much faster alternative to travelling if you can afford it — is exactly parallel to intercontinental telegraph and steamships.)
  • Brandon Sanderson's Firstborn book features a particularly brilliant Hand Wave. FTL travel is possible by traveling through something called the klage-dynamic, but the speed of klage travel is inversely proportional to the cross-sectional area of what you're sending through it. So you can have real-time com from one side of the Empire to the other, but that same distance will take a ship months or even years to cross.
  • Alan Dean Foster:
    • Foster uses the Subspace or Hyperspace version in his Humanx Commonwealth series. "Space plus" is hyperspace and is used for Faster-Than-Light Travel - it can also be used for communication but at the same speed as starships. "Space minus" is subspace and can be used for near-instantaneous communication, but at a very high energy cost. Later in the series, it's revealed that Sufficiently Advanced Aliens figured out how to travel in space minus as well.
    • In his remake of Design for Great-Day, Foster's Solarian Combine is a kind of galactic Hive Mind created as a natural extension of intelligent beings learning to live and think in harmony. Said thought processes apparently travel instantaneously, ignoring the speed of light. Of course, they've learned to circumvent this with starships as well; the Combine's ships can traverse a galaxy in a matter of hours, and intragalactic jaunts are considered to be fairly trivial, if not entirely routine.
  • Stephen R. Donaldson's The Gap Cycle features an aversion. Much of the story deals with the fact that vital information can't travel FTL unless using an unmanned vessel that goes FTL itself. The Amnion do briefly try to use some sort of experimental "symbiotic crystalline resonance device" as an FTL Radio, which becomes an important Plot Point.
  • James P Hogan uses a similar system (and also worked in the computer industry — for DEC during the PDP minicomputer days) in his Giants Series of books where both communication and FTL travel are accomplished through rotating black holes. Toroidal black holes. A similar concept is used in his book The Genesis Machine, in which a Cold War era book about a machine that is initially used to pull information from remote places in real time without there being a device on the other end to transmit the data is turned into a superweapon to stop the Cold War in its tracks — by causing a nuclear exchange and destroying the missiles before they hit the ground.
  • The Trope Namer appears in most of Ursula K. Le Guin's Hainish novels. Le Guin devised "ansible" as a contraction of "answerable".
    • In The Dispossessed she tells, among other things, the story of its invention.
    • In The Left Hand of Darkness it's clarified that the ansible needs a significant gravity source to work, so one "end" of the connection is a "stabile" and must be fixed on a planet while the "ansible" is portable.
    • In the world of the Ekumen, there is no faster-than-light space travel, but there are FTL weapons. No living thing can survive FTL but unmanned ships have no problem. In Rocannon's World, there are FTL ships packed with bombs whose pilots are effectively suicide bombers, ready to sacrifice themselves in a case of dire emergency.
    • Later into the cycle the problem of the Faster-Than-Light Travel gets solved, but as the means to do so are both psychic and mystical, the results are... varied.
  • Halo: Contact Harvest has a fun example of this working to somebody's disadvantage. A Kig-Yar (Jackal) privateer ship finds the human colony of Harvest. All Covenant ships are equipped with a Forerunner device known as a "luminary", which scans for Forerunner energy signatures (and other factors) and automatically relays the data back to the Covenant capital of High Charity; the one here registers Harvest as having lots of Forerunner relics. Tampering with luminaries is forbidden under the pain of death (not the least reason being that they're Forerunner relics and are thus holy); the Kig-Yar attempt to do just that in order to prevent their luminary from letting the Covenant know about their discovery. They fail, which thus eventually leads to a war.
  • FTL communication in The History of the Galaxy books is achieved using enormous spherical orbital stations, which use powerful generators and transmitters to punch through hypersphere to reach other worlds. During the heyday of the Confederacy of Suns, these were networked to create the Interstar, the future version of the Internet. As communication is vital between worlds, no one in their right mind would dare destroy an HF (Hyper Frequency) station, so they aren't even armed. A major plot-point of one novel involves a previously-unknown alien race launching a sneak attack on humanity by taking out the Interstar hub, isolating the human colonies. Ships also have their own HF generators, but those are usually not very powerful.
    • Technically, it's possible for anyone with a powerful enough HF generator to send an FTL message. However, the enormous HF stations allow the creation of stable "floating" channels that enable the existence of the Interstar.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy itself has the "Sub-Etha" (occasionally written as "Sub-Ether"). In later books, it's even implied that a sort of Internet has been built upon the technology (it's used to automatically update the Guide to the latest edition).
  • The Fatline in Dan Simmon's Hyperion Cantos uses modulated neutrinos (or some such Phlebotinum) to send messages instantly across interstellar distances. At the end of the second book God(?) revokes their radio privileges completely, since the transmission medium (the Void Which Binds) is disrupted everytime a message is sent.
  • Similarly, in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Lensman series, the title Lens enhances the Lensmen's telepathic abilities, thus allowing instantaneous communication between them. There are also a variety of "waves" and "rays" that can be used for FTL communication and sensors by people who aren't Lensmen.
  • White Radio in the Matador Series. Oddly for most of the series, it only transmits video in black-and-white; color is added on the receiving end, and looks kinda fake.
  • Andrey Livadny's Phantom Server trilogy has a straight example without FTL travel, at least in the titular VR game. According to the Backstory, an ancient race only known as the Founders discovered a way to send instantaneous messages through hyperspace, but sending physical objects proves impossible. In order to explore and settle the galaxy, they find an alternative solution. They build automated relativistic ships that travel to other stars and build space stations with biological reconstitution modules. After that, Founders then used Brain Uploading to send their consciousnesses across the light years to be downloaded into cloned bodies. Meanwhile, the ships would mine resources on uninhabitable planets or asteroids and make more of themselves, increasing the speed of the exploration. The Founders have long since died out, or, at least, no one knows what happened to them. The game takes place in the Darg System and involves conflicts between several sentient species (primarily humans, Dargians, and Haash), none of whom possess instantaneous communication.
  • In the Priscilla Hutchins series, unlike FTL ships, which can take weeks or even months to arrive at their destination, hyperspace communication is basically instantaneous, which allows expeditions to be coordinated from back on Earth, but means that when something goes horribly wrong, people back home are forced to listen, helplessly.
  • The Red Vixen Adventures uses some form of instant communication, which isn't specified beyond being very expensive.
  • The first of The Stainless Steel Rat novels by Harry Harrison feature psychics used explicitly as communicators over interstellar distances. Later novels don't seem to rely that much on conversations at distance.
    • Some Death World novels (which, supposedly, take place in the same universe) feature portable psychic locator beacons. Also, every ship is equipped with a psychic transmitter/receiver, making actual psychics obsolete.
  • The popular Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Spock's World by Diane Duane tells the history of the planet Vulcan, and points out that since Vulcans are psychic to varying extents and telepathy is assumed to be instantaneous, telepathy was their first subspace ansible. The limiting factor is that only a small minority of Vulcans are strong enough telepaths for this to be practical.
    • In Infinity's Prism, there's a Star Trek: Voyager story set in an alternate timeline where Voyager didn't manage to cross Borg space at the end of season 3, and instead ends up building a new Federation analogue in the delta quadrant. The holographic Doctor becomes a distributed AI with one node sent back to the Vidiians to cure the Phage. That node's updates via subspace take a day (each way, I think) to make the trip to the Doctor's central processing core located near Borg space.
  • Star Wars Legends went so far as to make its prevalence an Invoked Trope in The Corellian Trilogy. FTL communications are so commonplace that they're relatively easier to tap into, and so people sometimes use lightspeed communications over short distances (outer planetary orbits, tops) for security reasons.
    • In fact the SW EU plays this straight, subverts it, and averts it, in various places. There's the Holonet, which is instantaneous and built on a network of large, planet-based repeaters. However, it's subject to network failure and communications taps. Direct subspace communication between ships is also possible, but can be much slower and harder to get a signal depending on how distant you are from the other party. Smaller ships like your average shuttles and starfighters, however, usually don't have any kind of FTL radio, since it's too expensive. A "small" transmitter designed for a spy is described as costing more than a high-end fighter craft, so equipping small ships is only done by the wealthy, the well connected, or for military reasons. It's also called out multiple times that this does NOT work for sensors: detection is speed-of-light only.
  • In Isaac Asimov's The Stars, Like Dust, a "personal beam" sends a signal through hyperspace, allowing for real-time verbal communication with "a world half a thousand light-years away". Since the signal is attuned to the receiver's particular brainwaves, it's essentially impossible to eavesdrop on. Reception must take place in a room where the fabric of space has previously been "polarized", but requires no other equipment to receive (and only a device that can fit into an ornamental button to send).
  • The Stormlight Archive: A few years before the start of the story, spanreed fabrials are developed, which link two quills so that when they are both turned on, they will mirror each other no matter how far apart they are; combined with a standardized writing desk, and instantaneous long-distance communication is achieved. While it's used as essentially a telegraph, it actually functions using quantum entanglement, meaning that there is no upper range of the effect. Once the planet progresses more, they will be able to use it as a more traditional ansible.
  • Richard K. Morgan's Takeshi Kovacs series features "needlecasts", but no FTL travel. Interestingly, since Brain Uploading is routine, people may travel from planet to planet by downloading into a local body.
    • The information-only aspect is a power limitation, not an inherent limitation of the functionality. The information is transmitted by energy; the best matter-energy conversion reactors they have can hold open a needlecast portal for at most 15 to 30 seconds, and transmit only blinking light. They find a stable Stargate-style portal created by the precursors, extrapolate the energy costs, and realize that a hiccup in the portals matrix would crack the planet open like an egg. Hazards of children playing with adult toys.
  • In Time for the Stars by Robert A. Heinlein, telepathy is used for instantaneous communication. Eventually, scientists studying the process learn how how it works well enough to create Faster-Than-Light Travel as well.
  • In the Tower and the Hive series by Anne McCaffrey, Psychic Powers not only provide interstellar communication, but interstellar travel by psychokinetic teleportation.
  • Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War series featured the operation of these as well as the sudden non-operation of them as a major plot point. Notably, interstellar FTL comm is possible, but not local FTL comm, due to the ansibles being full-scale space stations. At least at first.
  • We Are Legion (We Are Bob): Everyone uses the SURGE drive, a reactionless drive that somehow uses subspace to accelerate to ridiculous speeds in realspace. In theory, it could be used for communication, though the people of Earth haven't bothered to look into it. Bill decides to stay behind in Epsilon Eridani to work on it. He manages to invent an instant subspace radio with a range of twenty-five light years, but unfortunately it needs a working transponder on both ends to work. He sends off plans for the first version to the other Bobs as soon as possible, but by the end of the book only Riker's group has received the plans and built a relay. In the second book, more Bobs have built relays, creating an instantaneous network across dozens of lightyears or, as they like to call it, BobNet. Bill has a standard hazing ritual, whenever a new Bob joins BobNet by popping up in the newly-joined Bob's personal VR. The original Bob notes that Bill still omits the fact that the system has enough bandwidth for interstellar VR in order to pull this trick on every Bob. When Marvin finally leaves Bob, he promises to stay below a certain speed in order to allow him to regularly chat with Bob without relativistic effects affecting them. Even then, Bob has to slow his framerate down and Marvin has to jack his up to communicate in real-time.
  • Heightened stellar activity can interfere with FTL communications in the Wing Commander universe, as shown in the novel Action Stations (aka "Pearl Harbor IN SPACE!"), but otherwise, the only time there's significant time lag for communicating across interstellar distances is the human steps relaying transmitted messages to/from the comm system and the people ultimately at either end of the line.
  • The protomolecule in Caliban's War surprises people when it proves to be capable of instantly transmitting messages from Venus to Jupiter and back, when humans had to (and still have to) contend with lightspeed lag that makes snappy dialogue more impossible with increasing distance.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Alien Nation: Dark Horizon, a Made-for-TV sequel, reveals that the Overseers have beacons capable of signaling across untold light years to their fleet from Earth.
  • In Altered Carbon, this technology is implied to have been developed, as Needlecasting is shown to be near instantaneous. The books, as noted above under Takeshi Kovacs, explain it as a Portal Network that can barely open a portal large enough to send an optical transmission through in 15-30 seconds, but there's no such explanation here.
  • Star Trek, as mentioned.
    • However, when the plot required it in the Original Series, they'd make mention that their messages would take several days to reach a Star Base.
    • They touched briefly on the logistics of subspace radio in the TNG episode "Aquiel," where the plot took place in what amounted to a subspace repeater station, an idea later confirmed in Enterprise.
    • Communicating over long distances is important for the crew of the USS Voyager, as they're stuck on the other side of the galaxy (and presumed dead), so even subspace communication won't work. After several failed attempts, they eventually succeed via Lost Technology and then Applied Phlebotinum (as well as physically moving closer in the mean time).
    • In some circumstances, long-range communications occur in realtime, and in others they do not. Some Expanded Universe sources indicate that the signals can be effectively instantaneous if the signal strength is high enough, but this requires a repeater network to maintain over more than a few dozens of lightyears. The TNG Technical Manual, meanwhile, explains that Starfleet exploratory vessels automatically drop subspace signal boosters as they travel in order to maintain contact with the Federation.
  • Babylon 5's tachyon relays are a complicated bit of Applied Phlebotinum to justify this. It's established in-story that they're expensive and limited in bandwidth, with the result that most civilians have to rely on (hyperspace) snail-mail.
  • The Stargate-verse uses stuff like this on occasion, and it is explicitly stated that radio waves can travel both ways through wormholes, which work only one way for matter streams.
    • Besides simply sending radio signals through stargates, plain old FTL radio is used, the range of which can be determined by one episode which involves relaying an important message to Atlantis by sending someone with a subspace radio to the outer edge of the Milky Way in order to contact the Daedalus, halfway between galaxies.
    • Also, in the episode "Tangent," Teal'c and Jack are stuck on a glider that is on its way out of Earth's solar system at a speed where it won't reach its destination for over a century, thanks to a realistic space travel speed. The further from Earth they get, the longer the delay in the radio signal between the glider and Stargate Command. By the time they're rescued, the immediate transmission informing the SGC of that rescue is delayed by almost ten minutes.
    • The Ancient Communication Stones, which allow one to not only communicate, but INSTANTLY transfer your entire consciousness from point A to B. Distance does not seem to be an impediment - from thousands of galaxies away one can report to Stargate Command.
    • When the Tollan were first encountered, one of them used an FTL communication device to send a message to the Nox. When Daniel asks Omoc how the Nox are supposed to get it within any reasonable amount of time, Omoc grudgingly (due to the Tollan unwillingness to share technology) takes a tree branch and bends it so its ends touch. Daniel guesses that he's talking about space folding, only for Omoc to disappointedly drop the branch and reply "no".
  • Used with subtlety on Firefly. The orbit-to-land transmissions lack any delay at all, which is impossible if they were ordinary radiowaves. The Movie has several conversations between Mal in deep space, and somebody else on a far away planet.
  • Defying Gravity is near future and mostly hard scifi, but the ship has instant communication with earth on multiple channels in at least the megabit range (HD video transmissions, internet use, etc), handwaved as being brand new tech that made the mission possible in the first place.
  • Eureka
    • After Fargo and Henry build an FTL drive, the government starts planning the Atraeus mission, the first manned flight to Titan. One episode involves a scientist trying to build a Subspace Ansible for real-time communications and telemetry with the ship. Given that this is Eureka, this ends up causing a big problem (although, not by itself).
    • Later on, after Sheriff Andy is accidentally transported to Titan, Jack is able to communicate with him via real-time video.
  • The Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers communicators, which are connected to the Command Center's teleportation system, can communicate across incredible distances.
  • In a multiple shout out, the Doctor Who episode "Nightmare in Silver" has a "solid-state sub-ether Ansible-class communicator".
  • Quark. In the pilot episode The Head and Palindrome have to send a 'laser-telegram' to Quark, but it's so expensive that by the time they've finished cutting down the message and sent it the crisis is over.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In a typical Warhammer 40,000 take on an otherwise innocuous trope, FTL communications within the Imperium of Man are the responsibility of astropaths, specially-trained psykers who send coded telepathic messages across the Warp. Unfortunately, due to the Reality Is Out to Lunch nature of the Warp, this is less like radio and more like sending out a heavily encrypted message in a bottle, hoping it reaches the intended destination in a reasonable time, and that the astropaths who see it are able to understand its meaning. Besides being incomprehensible, messages are known to arrive late, not at all, or early. There's one lore anecdote of an Imperium ship going to its death responding to a distress call sent by its future self.
    • In one case (Ciaphas Cain), a message announcing help was on the way was received decades after the man leading the rescue fleet had retired and the relevant war had ended. Fortunately, Cain was the only one aware that it was an echo, and said nothing to avoid losing morale. In the end Inquisitor Vail points out that the odds of this happening at the exact time they needed it (it forced the enemy into rash actions which cost them the war) are so utterly remote that it probably counts as a miracle.
  • Eclipse Phase's Quantum Entangled Communicators provide instant communication regardless of distance, but like those in the Charles Stross example rely on pre-linked, finite "qbit reservoirs".
    • Since the vast majority of what's left of posthumanity is still in the solar system most people just deal with a few minutes or hours of lag with radio, laser, or (speed-of-light) neutrino communications. Or farcast a fork of their ego if they absolutely have to have a real-time conversation. QE comms are mostly used by spies or to contact the few exosolar colonies that have been established.
  • GURPS: Ultratech has two versions. The first uses quantum entanglement (so it's impossible to intercept) the second is generic FTL Radio.
  • The BattleTech universe has Hyper Pulse Generators (HPGs), which send messages between star systems instantaneously. It works by creating artificial hyperspace jump points (natural ones being null-gravity locations at a star's zenith or nadir or in LaGrange points) to transmit tight-beam signals to a receiving HPG. It's been stated in canon that sending a message via HPG can often take anywhere from a few days to weeks, but that is mainly because the cost of transmission is so high, the operators will wait for a large number of messages to be sent at once.
    • Though the animated series had a few examples of interstellar videoconferencing, which is possible if an extremely expensive relay is used, and is also how the Clans communicate.
    • A secret technology developed by the Star League before HPGs but abandoned when HPGs were more practical was the "Black Box" devices. Instead of point-to-point, the Black Boxes worked instead by broadcasting much like a radio, but into hyperspace. The Federated Commonwealth acquired and developed the technology to secretly break the monopoly on interstellar communication via HPGs by the "officially politically neutral" quasi-religious organization known as ComStar. The Black Boxes have two major disadvantages compared to standard HPGs: first, their transmissions are not instantaneous so there's a delay based on how far the broadcasting Black Box is from the receiving one. Second, they don't have the ability to send transmissions only to selected receivers- they simply broadcast in every direction and all Boxes within range will get the signal, making them useless as a means of secret communication as soon as more than one faction has them.
      • Eventually, the Draconis Combine developed it too, and secretly revealed it to FedCom Intelligence during the Clan war. Their deliberate revelation was part of the message: They didn't want ComStar to know about the communique, and that their deliberate revelation to a former enemy state that's now a provisional ally was an acceptable price to pay to convey the severity and secrecy of their warning about ComStar's "Operation Scorpion".

    Video Games 
  • It is never explained how exactly communication works in the Descent: Freespace games. Seemingly, instant interstellar communications do occur in that universe, which means FTL communications. Command can also communicate with you as your ship is traveling in subspace, though the messages break up and distort like a bad telephone connection. It presumably uses subspace somehow, since the rest of the galaxy is unable to talk to Earth once their subspace gates are destroyed.
  • The Wing Commander series explicitly uses FTL radio with no particular explanation given for the differences between how it and jump drives work.
    • The film shows there are limitations to FTL radio, as Admiral Tolwyn needs to send a message to the Tiger's Claw, but it is too far away to reach, so he instead transmits the data to Paladin's ship to be delivered by hand.
  • Mass Effect allows faster-than-light travel by giving physical objects zero or negative mass or through the use of large and fairly rare mass relays that create long tunnels of space where everything has zero or negative mass. Communications often take place through large numbers of comm buoys deployed throughout explored space, which transmit messages via photons passed through miniaturized corridors of mass-free space. Time lag in real-time communications occurs if transmitter bandwidth is overloaded, though high-level government operatives and military personnel get access to high-end, high-speed channels that allow near-instantaneous communications. Long-range interstellar calls are implied to be highly expensive, judging by one overheard conversation on Noveria.
    • The second game also features a quantum-entanglement transponder which allows the Illusive Man to contact Shepard instantly while conveniently avoiding the relay network. While this is efficient, as it bypasses the limits of bandwidth and time delay, it is highly inefficient for mass production, as it's basically a two way radio with a truly astronomical price tag - according to EDI "each quantum pair costs almost as much as a comm relay." It also only communicates between the Normandy and the Illusive Man's hideout. If they wanted to contact somebody else this way, they would need to do more quantum entanglements.
    • The existence of Subspace Ansible also Handwaves the fact that Harbinger is capable of "ASSUMING DIRECT CONTROL" of individual Mooks, despite being a Reaper whose physical form is drifting thousands of light-years outside the galaxy.
    • The third game has quantum entanglement communication units practically everywhere, after the Systems Alliance takes apart the Normandy SR-2 and finds out all the enhancements Cerberus made to it. Not only are they slightly inferior (they only work in monochrome, presumably on account of being hastily mass-produced), since a single communication unit can only connect to its partner, the QEC network used to co-ordinate the fight against the Reapers is heavily dependent on large "switchboard" stations that house the partners of many communicators in the galaxy. Guess where Cerberus decides to attack?
  • The plot of Commander Keen 4 starts with Billy Blaze building a FTL radio and accidentally picking up a transmission from a group of aliens planning on destroying the galaxy.
  • In Metroid Prime: Hunters, it's stated that a signal was sent to various bounty hunters via a telepathic frequency. Metroid Prime 3: Corruption introduces the Aurora Units, partially organic super computers that form a network, allowing for instantaneous communication.
  • EVE Online uses pairs of particles which are synchronized with each other: Manipulating one affects the other as well, no matter the distance between the two particles. This was used to create a galaxy-wide network (not unlike the Internet) where latency due to physical distance is not an issue. Carrying one half of a particle pair on a spaceship allows one to "phone home" from any part of the galaxy.
    • This is based very loosely on the concept of quantum entanglement. It is possible to create pairs of particles both of which are both in superpositions of quantum states (e.g. spin up and spin down at once) and can be separated by a substantial distance. Observing the spin of one of the particles forces it to collapse into one state (either spin up or spin down, but not both) observations of the other particle are then guaranteed to see it in the other state. The particles seem to have needed to communicate faster than light to make this coordination. Unfortunately, in the real world, this does not help us communicate faster than light — when we collapse the state of the first particle we can't force it to enter one state or the other, so it's simply random noise which happens to be correlated with random noise somewhere else in the universe, but not a communication channel.
  • The Homeworld verse is implied to have FTL communication (the Veer-Rak alerting the Kuun-Lan which is in another system that Hiigara is under attack at the beginning of Cataclysm, for example) but it's never explained. FTL sensors however, are a bit sketchy: the manual of the first game explains that the Mothership has a cobbled-together short-rangenote  sensor that can see if the ship is passing near a high-mass object in realspace but they have to drop out of hyperspace to actually see what it is. Homeworld 2 has Advanced Sensor Arrays buildable on Hiigaran super-capital ships that can detect enemy ships in hyperspace.
  • Every (playable) race except the Liir (see aversions with FTL travel below) in Sword of the Stars.
    • Humans the the Zuul actually use regular radios to send and receive messages. They just leave relay buoys near node space points that re-transmit the messages through to the other side. Given this All There in the Manual description, this method is far from instantaneous.
    • The Tarka actually start without one but can quickly research it in order to be able to send orders to their ships while in flight.
    • The Hivers use tiny gates hooked up to their Portal Network used to send and receive messages. While ship-sized gates require being in the gravity well of a planet-sized object, the mass of the ship is enough for a communication gate.
    • All races seem to have FTL sensors, though, which the manual doesn't even attempt to explain. Also, one of the prerequisites for interstellar trade is FTL "Broadband", which carries the side effect of letting you observe allies' combat.
  • In Dead Space 2 the player sees a recorded conversation between Isaac and Nicole, which happens in real time between earth and The Ishimura.
  • In Descent 2 has a real time FTL communication connection that somehow keeps working even when the ships warp drive malfunctions and deposits the character in the middle of nowhere with the ship broken.
  • In the Alien Crossfire expansion to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, the Progenitors have FTL travel and communication technology. However, since their ships were destroyed, the survivors have to re-discover the latter and use it to build powerful FTL transmitters to alert their fraction's fleet. Doing so results in automatic victory for the builder, as the massive fleet that arrives shortly after the message is sent is assumed to crush every other side. It can also be assumed that, after everyone on Chiron undergoes Transcendence, the various parts of Planet (including humans) become parts of its Hive Mind. The final interlude mentions a ship sent by Planet to rebuild the devastated Earth. This would imply Planet can instantly communicate with its parts across light years.
  • Star Ocean mentions that they apply the same gravetic warping to communication signals as they do their ships.
  • In Project Firestart, protagonist Jon Hawking must fly out to investigate the research vessel Prometheus, near Saturn's moon Titan. His superiors advise him to use the subspace radio to call in status updates — important since he has two hours to accomplish his mission before they assume the worst and remotely trigger the ship's self-destruct.
  • Halo: Played straight by every major faction, though the lore notes that UNSC didn't develop a reliable means of this until several years into the Human-Covenant War.
    • Notably, FTL communications for UNSC civilians are slow enough that messages sent through Waypoint (basically an interstellar Internet) often have to be prerecorded.
    • Forerunner technology was good enough to enable real-time conversions between people on opposite ends of the galaxy; it's explicitly stated that they used quantum entanglement. Additionally, their sensors were so good that they could provide detailed analysis of a single planet's geology and ecology from light-years away.
    • Covenant FTL communications are also near-instantaneous, as they reverse-engineered it from Forerunner tech. However, they have a bad habit of not encrypting their messages properly, which often works to their disadvantage.
    • By Halo 4, the UNSC has recovered some valuable tech from Shield World Trevelyan and a few Engineers familiar with Forerunner tech. Besides much better slipspace drives, they also get much improved FTL communications, including the ability to maintain communications while still in slipspace.
    • The Flood has an esoteric method by which its Graveminds can telepathically control their hordes across multiple star systems; they can even use this to communicate with non-Flood beings on occasion.
  • Star Control: the silicon-based Chenjesu are described as natural hyperspace communicators. The franchise features also the typical (artificial) FTL 'casters,in seemingly real time.
  • Downplayed in Mecha Ace. It never gets mentioned in the main story, but if you read through the tech database it explains that ansibles are very rare and use quantum entanglement to allow instantaneous communication between planets in different solar systems.
  • Warframe features a few examples of FTL communications, in particular your Mission Control, the Lotus, who provides live commentary on your mission whether you're around Mercury or on Sedna, 86 AUs away from the Sun. Little Duck from Fortuna can likewise comment on your Disruption missions anywhere in the system seemingly without departing from Venus.
  • Axiom Verge 2 has several ansibles resembling old computers that are capable of communicating with each other instantaneously, even between worlds (such as between Earth and Kiengir, or even the afterlife). However, the computers are stated to be an early model with very low, hard-coded memory limits — as such, Indra's communication with Dr. Hammond ends up being two or three sentences per ansible until near the end of the game, at which point one of them receives an upgrade.

  • In Schlock Mercenary, the main means of communication is the Hypernet, a refinement of the ansible idea as a packet-switched system that relies on tiny wormholes. It carries all communications in digital form, from real-time video to text mail, and it's explicitly said that the lag time in the sender's electronics is more significant than the infinitesimal transit time. The cartoonist knows a thing or two about packet switching; his former day job was for Novell Groupware as a project manager.
  • The Starslip technical manual asserts that FTL communication is actually an incredibly sophisticated computer that anticipates what the other party will say. "Modern" systems are so good, it can predict and initiate a call at the same time it is placed, light-years away. Faster-Than-Light Travel is almost as preposterously handwaved. Only at first, though (and hell, the strip is named after their FTL system) — the detailed explanation becomes a major plot point, and the titular Starslip Crisis happens when the future declares war on the past to make them stop using it.
  • In A Miracle of Science, the Mars Hive Mind developed an FTL communications network so they could be in constant contact with one another and allowed the unaugmented human colonies across the solar system to use it as well. They're capable of FTL travel as well, but they haven't told many others that yet.
  • Escape from Terra has "tanglenet" using quantum entanglement, and somehow they were able to make an "internet" that cannot be intercepted.
  • In Among the Chosen the Quantum Analogue Relay (QAR) is a one-of-a-kind prototype; carried by the starship Sabrosa, which is itself a one-of-a-kind prototype.
  • Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger features subspace radio and the hypernet, an information network that piggy-backs on the hive mind of an alien species. This species, the Confidantines, have special privileges in the galactic community, such as being immune from interrogation, and anyone who does try to interrogate one of them will find themselves, their home planet, and possibly their entire species cut off from the hypernet for at least a century. The Confidantines take space-age cyber security very seriously.
  • In Drive (Dave Kellett), most interstellar messages are carried by ships, but there's a recently developed network of relay stations that use the ring drive's space-folding to enable real-time communication across the galaxy. However, it's expensive enough that it's usually used by the Imperial Familia on-screen.

    Web Original 
  • In Orion's Arm, messages can be sent faster than light via wormhole. One side effect of this is that some entities use systems of wormholes to cheat the normal limitations on processing speed which makes them far more powerful than they could possibly be otherwise.

Aversions With Faster-Than-Light Travel

    Anime & Manga 
  • Communication across large distances is virtually impossible in the Macross universe; it is actually a plot point in Macross Frontier, where even relay buoys must contend with "fold interference" that delay or disable communication entirely. However, the Protoculture and the Vajra have their ways around that (see above).
    • This actually seems to be a retcon. Earlier series had more or less instant FTL communication across the galaxy to the point that various fighter and ship designs were completely standard thanks to simply downloading them via a galaxy spanning internet. It was also specifically stated in Macross 7 that the issue wasn't that no one knew what was going on, but that even with a call for aid it would take months at best for anyone else to arrive to reinforce the colony. The sudden addition of all these range limits and interference and such in Frontier really came out of nowhere seemingly driven entirely by rule of drama.
  • Outlaw Star seems to frequently make use of video messages, namely when communicating between planets. At one point, Aisha is relieved of her command and reassigned as Reginal Officer to Blue Heaven by Ctarl-Ctarl Empire via video cube because of her recent blunder. She keeps trying to plead her case but is repeatedly reminded that it is just a recording and he can't hear her. The only two-way conversations seem to be when both people are on the same planet or no farther away than orbit.

    Films — Animation 
  • The time taken for messages to reach to the other recipient is practically the entire point of Voices of a Distant Star. Mikako and Noboru are separated by Faster-Than-Light Travel without a corresponding method of faster-than-light communication, meaning that Mikako's messages take first a month, then six months, then eventually eight years to arrive. Only at the very end, when Mikako has been stranded in space for eight years and Noboru, now twenty-four, has finally gotten assigned to a spaceship himself, does the fleet finally gain FTL communications capabilities.
  • The characters in Lightyear spend decades stranded on a planet millions of light-years from Earth trying to repair their Faster-Than-Light Travel drive and the idea of messaging home is never mentioned.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Alien. The Nostromo and other ships are out of contact while on the frontier, and are thus on the spot, for taking on the terrors that wait on whatever God forsaken planet the crew finds themselves on.
    • However, the sequel, Aliens, explicitly uses FTL communication, as the Sulaco is expected to report back to Earth on a daily basis, and the lost contact with Acheron is noticed after a matter of days, not decades. Since this communication is not explicitly accomplished by means of FTL drones or somesuch, the presence of an ansible is implied.
      • In the Extended Edition opening, one of the colony higher-ups on LV-426 says that "[i]t takes two weeks to get an answer out here", implying that the speed of messages is no more than one week either way (as the delay may be partially due to Executive Meddling or other delays on the end of the replier). Since 57 years separates the two movies, perhaps there's been a technological advance.
    • The novelization to Alien³ says sending a message back to Earth costs.more than the average person makes in a lifetime.

  • Averted in the Alliance/Union 'verse (including the Chanur Novels). Communications between star systems can only be done via FTL courier, and FTL travel is only possible between the outside edges of star systems. When a space ship arrives at the edge of a system and travels inwards it takes a long time for light-speed messages to reach the inner system (or vice-versa), with the time shortening as the ship hurtles forward at a considerable fraction of the speed of light.
  • Battlefield Earth features the Psychlo Empire, a civilization linked by the miracle of teleportation. Here's the thing, though — the rules of teleportation make opening two "links" to the same planet dangerous, so the Psychlos set up a strict schedule of when their worlds can link up with the capital. This means that the disparate worlds of the empire have to function on their own for a year or more, until they reach the hours-long window to exchange communications and supplies and personnel. Aside from the inherent problems with this scenario, this means that once the protagonist bombs the Psychlo homeworld into a new sun, there's no way for the rest of the empire to know about this until they try to open a teleport link to it and instead get a facefull of atomic fire.
  • The CoDominium universe and The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
  • In the Commonwealth Saga, constantly maintained planetside wormholes allow very rapid transportation and communications from one end of the Commonwealth to the other. The most common method of traveling from planet to planet is by train, spaceships having been made redundant.
  • In Dune, the Spacing Guild is responsible for getting information from place to place. In the books by Frank Herbert's son, Navigators and his human twin manage to contact each other FTL with a device one of them cooked up, but that never caught on, mainly due to the unfortunate side effects (namely, the navigator half died of pressure induced hemorrhaging, while the brother actually fried his brain from the inside out). It was shown that two Navigators could communicate directly mind to mind in real-time, but they also died later.
  • In The Gap Cycle, courier drones are the order of the day — although the Amnion do briefly try to use some sort of experimental "symbiotic crystalline resonance device" as an FTL Radio.
  • In Hellspark, there is FTL travel but no FTL communication. Messages have to be physically transported, and there are severe penalties for interfering with a ship carrying mail. Expeditions planning to spend time away from the regularly travelled routes may take unmanned message drones, but these are expensive and hard to replace, and are kept in reserve for emergencies.
  • Honor Harrington has courier ships to carry messages between star systems, but because of the delay, there's no way to control battle groups in multiple systems with military precision. Early in the series, the kingdom figures out how to create a comm system using gravity pulses (or rather a hyperspatial "echo" of them that travels at 64c), but this only works within a system, and initially is roughly as fast (in terms of bandwidth) as Morse code. The technology undergoes multiple improvements, and in the later books is capable of carrying video.
    • At one point, a Manticoran diplomat intentionally exploits this trope just to issue a calculated insult to a Solarian admiral, by keeping his video feed on and using the lengthy comm delays to kick his feet up on a nearby piece of furniture and catch up on some casual reading.
    • The next Solarian admiral to come calling gets a shock when Honor talks to him via an FTL buoy, when he thought they were just a myth.
  • In The Lost Fleet, the delay in receiving electromagnetic signals plays a large role in the various spaceship battle tactics shown. For example, at the opening of the first book, Geary uses the massive delay in communication with the enemy to buy the time he needs to rearrange the title fleet for a Tactical Withdrawal. Even then, the fleet barely makes it.
  • In Isaac Asimov's Nemesis, the humans left on Earth eventually discover faster-than-light travel, but point out that there is no way to send radio waves through hyperspace. This leads to difficulties communicating with the Nemesis colonists.
  • In The Night's Dawn Trilogy, it is possible that certain alien races have developed FTL communications, but humans certainly have not. Information is couriered around by manned starships.
  • In the Old Man's War trilogy, the CDF is only able to communicate between systems using courier drones. The reason for that is that FTL travel is impossible. Instead, ships actually jump to a nearly identical (like, maybe one atom out of place) parallel universe in a new location. It's a way to cheat the normal laws of physics. Most people either don't know that or don't think about it too much.
  • Seafort Saga: While FTL travel existed in the form of "N-Waves" propelling a ship, even human-level computer AI couldn't run a ship (robotics not being advanced in Feintuch's 'verse). Physical mail was carried by the ships traveling to extrasolar colonies, while ordinary radio was used in-system.
  • Stephen Harper's Silent Empire Quadrilogy exists in a universe with FTL flight, but no FTL communication. This necessitates the use of psychics for communication. This universe has a thriving slave trade for the same reason.
  • The lack of FTL sensors and communication in the Star Carrier books despite the presence of FTL travel both limits and allows certain tactical maneuvers, such as the standard opening move when a fleet arrives to a system controlled by the enemy involving the launch of several fighter wings at near-c velocities with the rest of the fleet following at slower speeds. The idea is that the enemy, also lacking in FTL sensors would only get a few seconds' warning of the arrival of the fleet before an Alpha Strike of nuclear-tipped missiles launched by the fighters at relativistic velocities wipe out a good number of their ships. Communication between system is achieved by courier ships that have better FTL drives.
  • Star Wars Legends: One of the entries in the X-Wing Series has the squadron tapping in on a pirate conversation. They figure out how far apart the two conversing parties are by the length of the pauses, and by doing so, pinpoint their locations.
  • In the Technic History novels and short stories, there is no "interstellar equivalent of radio" and all messages have to be carried by courier spaceships.
  • In H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History, news and communications travel with FTL starships — taking months to get to their destination, and months to get an answer back — but no FTL radio exists. This has a major impact during the System States War, in his novel The Cosmic Computer, where planning and controlling fleet and army movements has to be done for a theater of war thousands of light years across. In fact, the Terran Federation's "Manhattan Project" is to create a super-powerful computer capable of evaluating not only military but social and economic factors and effectively predict the enemy's future actions, so that the Terran generals can determine just where to send troops and ships.
    • It can be said that Piper and other writers who have FTL travel but no FTL radio setups in their works often do so to justify why the protagonists must handle the issue at hand and can't just call back to base for help/relief/support from more qualified personnel.
    • They come the closest in the Empire story "Ministry of Disturbance", where a scientist discovers a method of teleporting a particle. Unfortunately, the only story following "Ministry of Disturbance" took place several thousands of years after that one and on a backwater planet, so Piper never managed to explore the consequences of this new technology.
  • George R. R. Martin's "Thousand Worlds" Science Fiction setting has mankind spreading across a swath of the Milky Way in faster-than-light starships, but communications between planets in different star systems can only be accomplished by plain old snail mail. One novella ("Nightflyers") mentions an information packet that was in transit from a distant world to the protagonists' planet for twenty years.
  • The Vorkosigan Saga uses wormholes as shortcuts through space; unfortunately, there's no way to send messages through a wormhole without recording them and putting them on a ship. High traffic routes have regular courier ships shuttling the mail back and forth through the wormholes. On low traffic routes, your mail may sit for weeks for someone to come along and carry it on. Once on the other side, a message may be beamed at the speed of light (called a "tightbeam" to the next wormhole (if there's a permanent station there) or it may be carried on a ship the whole way. The lack of FTL communication plays as a plot point a few times; in The Vor Game, Miles uses the time lag between communications to play with the head of his compulsive plotter opponent, Cavilo. He also uses it during Cetaganda as an excuse to act on behalf of his Imperial Security boss even though his boss has no idea what is going on, going on the logic "Well, if he did know..." — he snarks to himself that would make a poor argument during a court martial.
  • Most of the writings of Timothy Zahn fall into this category. The Blackcollar books, Spinneret, The Cobra Trilogy, The Conquerors Trilogy, etc. all feature settings where FTL travel is possible, even common, but FTL communications depend on actual ships making the trip.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Notable in its absence in Andromeda, where communication over interstellar distances requires a living courier.
    • It's mentioned that they attempted to use Slipstreams for FTL radio, but that it didn't work very well, so they went back to couriers.
    • This is because Slipstream is highly unstable. Traveling through it requires one not only to be a good pilot but to be lucky (something about quantum physics). It is stated several times that a machine, even an AI, is unable to successfully navigate in Slipstream, as machines can't guess. An attempt was made to map out Slipstream, but it failed.
    • In one episode, Hunt laments the need to wait for a reply when the Andromeda is more than a few light-minutes away.
      Dylan Hunt: I hate physics.
  • Battlestar Galactica apparently relies solely on radio (referred to in-story simply as "wireless") for ship-to-ship communication, and faster-than-light comm does not exist; ships on recon missions must be provided with rendezvous points before departure lest they never be able to find the fleet again.
    • However, the presence of some kind of FTL transmissions is implied with the Cylons. They possess tracking beacons mentioned early on that can be traced after an FTL jump (see the Olympic Carrier in the first regular episode), plus the very nature of Resurrection technology requires FTL transmissions, as the Resurrection ship/hub is often shown as being in different star systems from the point of the Cylon's death and yet works relatively fast.
    • It's shown in the pilot that the colonies actually possess this tech, but Galactica and its fighters were specifically built without it during the first war. The reason is shown clearly when all the newer ships are remotely hacked and effortlessly destroyed by the Cylons.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959): In "Probe 7, Over and Out", Colonel Cook is able to communicate with his home base 4.3 light years away in real time.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Traveller, where all interstellar messages have to be delivered by courier (although those can still jump). This has a natural impact on the way the universe works.
    • Deliberately invoked in The Fifth Frontier War, a tabletop board game based on the Traveller universe. Players were required to plot moves multiple turns in advance. The presence of Admirals, intelligence gathering, or other factors could reduce the preplanning by one or two turns.
      • Note that this is almost exactly the same problem faced in H. Beam Piper's universe.
  • Warhammer40000 again. The Tau have FTL travel, but since they don't have psykers like the Imperium or Eldar they have to bounce their signals off relay beacons the old-fashioned way.
    • Taken to hilarious extremes with Da Orks. They have FTL travel too (sort of) but in terms of communications technology they fluctuate between "FM radios" and war drums.
  • The "Pony Express" style system can also be used in BattleTech. It was the only way to communicate before the advent of the Hyperpulse Generator (noted above in the aversion-free section), and also experienced resurgence during the recent "Dark Age" where sabotage against the entire HPG network effectively disabled a significant majority of it. It's also used for backwater worlds without a HPG.
  • In Mindjammer 2-space can be used for FTL travel but not communications, in most systems the local Mindscape is kept synchronized with the rest by use of ships called Mindjammers that download a complete copy of the Mindscape each time they leave a system and upload as they enter a new one. The only exceptions are the Core systems connected by 3-space FarGates.

  • Journey into Space: This becomes a plot point in The Red Planet, when the lack of any significant delay in communicating with Earth alerts the Discovery crew to the fact that the voice is an impostor, that of James Edward Whitaker.

    Video Games 
  • In FTL: Faster Than Light, your ship is carrying a message to The Federation, delivering it in person rather than by any signal. It is implied that transmissions cannot go faster than light, but you can.
  • Halo: For most of its history, the UNSC had to rely on FTL ships to carry messages between planets. Halo: Contact Harvest describes this as being like the Pony Express. As noted elsewhere, the UNSC eventually develops the technology to play this trope straight by the time Halo: Reach takes place.
  • Starsector: Transmissions go between relays instantaneously, but in open space they travel in real time. News and signals may even be outdated by a few days by the time they're received.
  • The Liir (dolphin-like aliens) from Sword of the Stars use communication drones equipped with FTL engines. For gameplay reasons, there is no delay even at very long distances that require many years for the ships themselves to cross. (In-game, the engines work by teleporting the object an enormous number of times per second by small amounts, so that the ship is technically not accelerating or moving, but appears to go at up to FTL speeds.) The drones have a much smaller mass, meaning teleportation calculations would be much quicker (i.e., faster "movement").
  • In addition to allowing starship travel, the jumpgate network in the X-Universe series acts like a subspace ansible, allowing lightspeed radio signals to travel across the galaxy fast enough for real time communication. (This is mainly because a sector's gates are rarely more than 100 kilometers apart.) The fact that this is not true FTL communication becomes a plot point: after the gate network shuts down following X3: Albion Prelude, interstellar communication in real time becomes impossible and all organized interstellar governments in the X-Universenote  break up instantly. In the X-Encyclopedia, it's stated that several 16 years after the jumpgate network collapse, the Paranid Empire managed to contact Argon Prime and Nishala, the former seats of the Argon Federation and Kingdom of Boron, via drones traveling near the speed of light.

  • In Freefall, it's specifically said that the only way to communicate between star systems is by sending messages via ship. As most interstellar travel is via sublight vessels (Faster-Than-Light Travel being quite expensive, and possibly dangerous going by the drive's name: Dangerous and Very Expensive [or DAVE] drive), this means that a message and its response could take up to many months, as the ship carrying it travels on its normal route.

Aversions without Faster-Than-Light Travel

    Anime & Manga 
  • Planetes features a phone on a lunar colony with a Windows-esque progress bar on a video screen that gives the delay between messages between the Moon and Earth (about a second and a half)
  • Stellvia of the Universe has this as a plot point. Videomail between Foundations travels slower than light, so it takes hours for the messages from Shima and Rinna to reach each other.

  • In Passengers (2016), after Jim is accidentally woken up 30 years into a 120-year voyage on a Sleeper Starship he sends an email to the customer service office for the company that built the ship, and then the computer says the message will take about 25 years to reach Earth and a reply should arrive in 55 years. And he just spent six thousand dollars on that one transmission.

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which an interview with astronauts on their way to Jupiter has to be edited together to remove the long delay times in the conversation.
  • Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder features a universe with neither FTL communication nor travel. Being written by Greg Egan, most interstellar travel is done by transmitting your mind, with only a few "anachronauts" crawling around in starships to investigate the future they find along the way; either way all travellers are doomed to miss decades of time. One planet solves the problem by putting the entire population into what amounts to slow-motion until the traveler returns.
  • Mikhail Akhmanov and Christopher Nicholas Gilmore's novel Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise averts both interstellar communication and FTL travel. In this 'verse, space travel is a rarity due to the prohibitive costs involved. Also, while there is a way for a ship to jump to near-light speeds that make it seem only seconds pass for the traveler, decades (sometimes, centuries) pass for everyone else. It also requires one to move to the edge of a system on sublight (several months) before activating the drive in order to avoid Critical Existence Failure. The titular character mentions that, in 20,000 years (aging has been "cured" long ago) of traveling through space, he has intercepted about 20 interstellar messages (sent via ordinary radio), and none of them contained anything of value to him. He explains that building and maintaining large orbital arrays is too costly for most planetary governments, much less private persons, and provides virtually no return on the investment. The only people to travel between stars are colonists on one-way trips, occasional missionaries, and space traders. There are only a few hundred space traders in existence, and all are treated as royalty on most worlds, as they are the only ones who bring news from other worlds (even if those news are centuries old).
  • The Revelation Space Series lacks either FTL traveler or FTL communications; interstellar travel is only possible via impossibly precious lighthuggers that can continuously accelerate at roughly 1g for years with the use of the Black Box Conjoiner Drives. The plot of Revelation Space is kicked off when the Nostalgia For Infinity arrives at Yellowstone, the former hub of human civilization, searching for Dan Sylveste in order to coerce/hire him to save the ship's cyborg captain from the Melding Plague, not realizing that Sylveste left the system thirty years prior.
  • The Great Ship universe, being Mundane Dogmatic, lacks either FTL travel or communications. The scientists that seized control of the derelict Greatship routinely beam messages back to Earth via communication lasers which will take over a thousand years to be received. The huge communication delays are generally no more than an annoyance because, hey, you're Transhuman and are gonna outlive civilizations. It does however become a plot point at the climax of The Well of Stars, where the Greatship is seized by Starfish Aliens and its true reactionless engines are activated; it'll take a human fleet thousands of years to catch up with the Greatship as it flies into intergalactic space.
  • Implied in the Red Dwarf novel Better Than Life, in which the delay caused by talking to someone through time dilation is compared to making a person-to-person call to Mars.
  • Isaac Asimov's "My Son, the Physicist": Earth has unexpectedly set up radio communication with Pluto, and now they're trying to work out how to handle the communication lag (six hours one way). The scientist's mother suggests they do the same thing women do on the telephone; they just keep talking and listening at the same time.
    "At the present moment Pluto is just under four billion miles away. It takes six hours for radio waves, traveling at the speed of light, to reach from here to there. If we say something, we must wait twelve hours for an answer. If they say something and we miss it and say 'what' and they repeat-bang, goes a day."
  • This is the cause of the central conflict in The Three-Body Problem and its sequels. The lack of Faster than Light communication over interstellar distances means that alien species cannot effectively build trust with each other and can only exterminate rival species before they are exterminated themselves.
    • In the first book, the first message Earth receives from extra-terrestrial life urges them not to answer or else the aliens' space fleet will triangulate the location of Earth and invade it.

    Web Original 
  • The characters in 17776 communicate with each other in real-time by establishing a "quantum link", which can apparently be installed on any old space probe. Regular satellite communication would take about 217 days to transmit.
  • Our universe in Fine Structure used to allow FTL communication (and FTL travel), and nobody knows when the Imprisoning God excised FTLC from reality. That is the reason there are only nine FTLC engineers on Earth.
  • SCP-179 is a rare Thaumiel-class humanoid woman named "Sauelsuesor" located roughly 40,000 kilometers below the south pole of the sun. After a drone is sent to her location, an interview takes place via radio-waves with the log stating that the sixteen minute delay between speakers have been omitted for the sake of brevity.

    Western Animation 
  • The Venture Brothers: In the episode "All This and Gargantua-2", there is a "conversation" between Sgt. Hatred on Earth and Dr. Venture on an orbiting space station. Lines are weirdly repeated, and they talk over each other.
    Sgt. Hatred: Doc, I am calling from Earth. There's like a huge delay; will you just wait for it?

    Real Life 
  • Real Life, so far. This clip shows how tricky surface-to-orbit conversations can be without an ansible to hand.
    • Even Digital Satellite TV (e.g. DirecTV, Dish Network) is delayed about 4 seconds relative to the cable feed the shows come from. This delay is mostly due to the processing time necessary to compress the data on-the-fly, however; the actual signal-propagation delay to and from the satellite is only a quarter of a second.
  • As of 2 December 2011, scientists have discovered that quantum entanglement is possible in macroscopic scale. Quantum entanglement experiments make it seem as if systems are somehow "communicating" faster than light through correlations between their states, although if quantum mechanics is correct it's (provably) impossible to actually use this to send information faster than light.
    • The reason why quantum entanglement cannot be used for FTL communication is this: imagine you have two entangled particles. Particle A is with you and Particle B is many light-years away. Obviously, you can easily measure Particle A to find out something about its state (say, its spin). Once you know the spin of A, the spin of B is determined and anyone measuring the spin of B will definitely measure the opposite of what you measured. To use this for communication, you would have to somehow communicate that A had been measured; otherwise, whoever measures B would assume that they had established A's spin. So to use entanglement to send data FTL, you first need a way to send data FTL.
    • In other words, imagine you take two cards: the ace of spades and the ace of diamonds. You shuffle them, give one to your friend, then fly to the other side of the solar system. By looking at your card you know instantaneously what card she had (because it needs to be the opposite of yours), but no information was transmitted.
  • This trope is Older Than They Think:
    • One solution to The Longitude Problem, which similarly involved trying to transmit information (Greenwich Mean Time) over vast distances (the ocean) beyond the scope of modern technology (handwritten letters), was to keep a wounded dog in a cage on a sailing ship. A person in London would dip its bloodied bandage into what was called "the powder of sympathy" at a prearranged time, whereupon the dog would yelp at the same instant. In case it wasn't blindingly obvious, this theory never caught on with the scientific community.
    • Similarly, grisly rumours, perhaps inspired by the "powder of sympathy" theory, emerged during the Cold War that both the USSR and USA were testing out the fringe idea that psychic communication not only worked, but worked instantaneously, by separating a mother animal from her newborn young, which went to sea on a submarine whilst the mother stayed at home in a research lab. At prearranged times, one of the baby animals would be killed whilst the home lab monitored the mother for a sign of sudden unmistakable distress. Baby rabbits and kittens have been suggested as the most likely test subjects.

Alternative Title(s): FTL Radio, Faster Than Light Communication, Superluminal Communication