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Sci Fi Writers Have / No Sense of Velocity

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Sometimes it's the character's faultnote 

Sci-fi writers cannot find velocity.

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Space Battleship Yamato:
    • The Earth see the approach of the Comet Empire, even though it's light years away and the light from it wouldn't reach us yet. Also, the Comet Empire is the size of a small planet — big, but not big enough to be seen at that distance anyway.
    • In the Americanization, Star Blazers, the newly launched Argo makes its first hyperspace jumps, traveling light years from Earth to Mars. Must have been a bit of a detour involved.
    • In order to save the Earth, the Argo needs to travel about 300,000 light-years round-trip to Iscandar and back within a year. It takes the ship about a week to reach Pluto, 4.5 light-hours away from the sun. Yep, we're screwed.
    • If we're being fair, the Wave Motion Engine was new, unproven technology at that point and the Star Force wasn't familiar with the equipment. Later warps had much bigger jumps in distance - the trip back to Iscandar in New Voyage several years later took slightly under a week to complete.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann:
    • The final battle against the Anti-Spiral and the eponymous mech takes place on a scale so huge entire galaxies are visible in single shots, and any movement is far beyond light-speed. By that point in the series, physics have been ground to a fine powder.
    • At least in the movie, the final battle is mentioned to take place in a pocket universe that can be shaped with Spiral Power, so the laws of physics as we know them (and scale, for that matter, seeing how you have a mecha with a visible planet on its head throwing a galaxy at another mecha while standing on a much bigger galaxy) need not apply.
  • In Dragon Ball Z, the original Funimation English dub had a Dub-Induced Plot Hole because of this: Goku learns to teleport himself in such a manner that he claims to move at the speed of light. He states that he could have used this technique to get to Earth faster than with his ship if he thought it was necessary. He was traveling on that ship from a planet millions of light years away. That trip took 3 years. In short, his teleport ability is millions of times slower than his ship was. The original script (and later events in the franchise) make it clear that Instant Transmission is exactly what it sounds like: instantaneous. The only limiting factor on distance is how well Goku can "sense" a source of ki at his destination.

    Comic Books 
  • Any time you are dealing with a speedster like The Flash, the laws of drama beat up the laws of physics and take their lunch money.
    • The Flash's writers eventually gave up trying to apply science to the Scarlet Speedster and introduced the magical Speed Force.
    • Even given the assumption that the Flash can move at an arbitrarily high velocity without any unintended side effects, most of his adventures still don't make any sense, because otherwise he would be able to defeat any villain before they had time to react (one of the early Wally West issues had a character observe that a normal human having a fight with Wally would be the equivalent of a normal human having a fight with an oil painting - and this was at a time when Wally's top speed was "only" the speed of sound). The laws of drama make him absurdly fast at some times and absurdly slow at others.
    • Writers also tend to badly overestimate just how fast "speed of sound" or "speed of light" actually is, which leads to situations like an infamous sequence in JLA where Flash evacuates an entire city at "a hair's breadth of the speed of light." Evacuating the city at lightspeed would have probably taken closer to two minutes, much less the claim of 0.00001 microseconds - pulling this off puts him closer to 13 trillion times the speed of light.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Starship Troopers once again shines through with a huge asteroid passing a battleship vastly distant from Earth, with the same asteroid striking the Earth mere hours later. To add insult to injury, the battleship was also moving towards the asteroid, yet the asteroid seems to slowly pass by happily ripping off a section of the ship as it does so - suggesting the ship is, in fact, flying backwards at a velocity very close to but slightly slower than the asteroid.
    • Possibly Fridge Brilliance, the United Federation is a fascist militarist state looking for a fight. The asteroid may have been completely unrelated to the bugs, but it allowed them rally the population to war.
  • Parodied in Spaceballs:
    Colonel Sandurz: Prepare ship for light speed.
    Dark Helmet: No, no, no. Light speed is too slow!
    Colonel Sandurz: Light speed too slow?
    Dark Helmet: Yes. We're going to have to go right to...ludicrous speed!
    Colonel Sandurz: Ludicrous Speed? Sir, we've never gone that fast before...I don't know if the ship can take it.
    Dark Helmet: What's the matter, Colonel Sandurz? Chicken?
    • Also, when he said "Light speed too slow?!" it didn't sound like a joke, like an obvious idiot saying something like that when of course light speed is nothing when it comes to interstellar travel; the situation is that they were chasing a particularly fast ship and the punchline is pretty much that there's a setting called Ludicrous Speed that takes you from stars zipping by to plaid.
  • In just every work involving an Asteroid Thicket, spaceships are seen passing rocks at relative speeds that would be about right for seagoing vessels passing an island. If there is a chase inside this asteroid field, it looks like a downtown car chase (or jetplane chase, if you're generous). In reality, even with today's technology, flybys are measured in dozens of kilometers per second.
  • Since the Star Wars universe runs on Rule of Cool, it has a couple of examples of this trope:
    • In The Empire Strikes Back, near the end, the characters are looking out the side of a ship while watching some stellar object. The object has been identified by various sources as the Galaxy. However, if this was true, then given that the stellar object was visibly spinning, the Galaxy must, therefore, be spinning faster than the speed of light. The 2004 Blu-Ray commentary has either retconned or clarified that the object in question was a stellar nebula instead.
    • The Force Awakens has two doozies:
      • At one point Han makes a hyperspace jump right out a hangar. The mechanics behind him are knocked over by the exhaust, when realistically they (and possibly the hangar itself) should have been reduced to quark-gluon plasma by the ship going to faster than light speed right in front of them.
      • Han gets past the Starkiller Base's Deflector Shields by going into Hyperspace then dropping out at the exact fraction of a second the shields have to be inactive. He comes out of Hyperspace a few miles above the surface, but is somehow able to stop in time. Even if he had managed to slow down to only 10 percent of lightspeed by that point, that would still give him only 1/18600 of a second to react, meaning he should have just crashed before he or the audience could even see anything.
    • Zigzagged in the Star Wars expanded universe. Most of the starfighters have surprisingly low atmospheric top speeds; according to official sources, the iconic X-wing is barely able to make Mach 1, less than half the speed of modern jet fighters. Although this makes sense considering the non-aerodynamic shape of the vessel, one would expect a slightly higher level of sophistication from a spacefaring civilization. The trope is averted in official sources by the use of a fictional unit, MGLT, for a ship's highest-rated spacegoing speed... which then comes full circle because objects in space have no actual speed limit. Additionally, considering the actual film footage, it's clear that the fighters in the films don't fly any faster in space than they do in atmosphere, which sadly undercuts the whole fictional-unit thing.
    • Mythbusters once did an experiment to find out if the characters would really be able to dodge blaster fire. At one point they review the movies and estimate that blaster bolts travel at about 130 MPH. While this is too fast for a person to dodge (as the experiment confirmed), it's still absurdly slow for a futuristic Ray Gun, as most modern-day bullets travel more than ten times that speed.
  • In the Soviet two-part film Moscow Cassiopeia, the ZARYa is supposed to be a relativistic ship crewed by teens whose journey is expected to take decades even from their viewpoint. And yet, in a matter of hours, the ship gets close to Proxima Centauri, which is about 4.24 lightyears away. Given that they engage in real-time communication with Earth, their speed can't be a high percentage of the speed of light, meaning it should take many years before they can get close to another star. Then again, the movie isn't really trying to be hard sci-fi, given that IOO pretty much breaks every law of physics we know.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness: Two ships battle in warp space, one knocking the other out. At this point, they are 250,000 miles from Earth, as pointed out by dialogue. That's roughly how far away the Moon is, so one of their computers should have been alerting the crew that they were near home. It's kind of like driving at 100 miles per hour and stopping on a dime an inch from your house.

  • Justified in Animorphs where travel through Zero Space is explicitly stated to be relatively random, where the same distance can take either hours or months, depending on how Zero Space shifted.
  • In Tunnel in the Sky, two teenagers notice a new visible star above the alien world they're stranded on and conclude that they've just witnessed a nova. At the book's end, it's revealed a nova is what interfered with their Cool Gate back to Earth. If it's the same nova — which is strongly implied; indeed, the chapter where they see it is titled "The Nova", and it reads like a Chekhov's Gun — then the boys shouldn't have been able to see its light until years after it happened. (Assuming, of course, that whatever disrupted the gates wasn't some substance or energy traveling outwards at the speed of light.)
  • Overlapping with Distance, there's an essay out there that analyzes the Threadfighting tactics in the Dragonriders of Pern stories. It concludes that in order for the tactics described to work against the Threadfall patterns described, either the dragons must be flying at barely-subsonic velocities, Thread is drifting downward somewhat slower than a falling leaf, or the dragons are emitting gouts of flame better than half a mile long.
  • In E. E. "Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Space, the titular Skylark accelerates to 3 times the speed of light in the space of 20 minutes, knocking its inhabitants unconscious. While Smith acknowledges that this violates Einstein's universal speed limit, he fails to acknowledge as to what such an extreme acceleration (about 75,000 G's) would do to a human crew.
  • Star Carrier: Earth Strike describes the railgun cruiser Kinkaid's spinal mount as accelerating a slug at 500 gravities down a 1-kilometer barrel. This results in a muzzle velocity of about 3.1 kilometers per second, only about four times the muzzle velocity of the average Real Life assault rifle. At that speed it would take a very large, very heavy slug to do much damage (at least, damage noticeable to ships that regularly weather hits by 10 kiloton nukes), which sort of defeats the purpose of using a railgun that long (real railguns have achieved 2.4 km/s with a much shorter barrel).
  • In Perry Rhodan, the maximum acceleration for spaceships is 500km/s/s, however, full power is needed for multiple seconds to minutes to slow down in the atmosphere. This alone shouldn't be a problem for a ship just coming in on a 400km/s/s brachistone from Jupiter, but ships also use 'braking orbits' to slow down from interplanetary speeds. These should provide about 1/1000 seconds worth of acceleration, and the speeds afterwards would mean for landing one only needs about 11/500 seconds of thrusting, assuming the defense screens can survive a fall into the atmosphere at orbital velocity. This is explained in some issues by saying the ships use different engines for out and in atmosphere maneuvering to prevent turning the whole spaceport and surrounding city into slag.
  • Star Wars Legends: A technical manual states that the Discord missiles used by Trade Federation/Separatist Vulture droid starfighters to deploy ship-sabotaging "buzz droids" have 2 minutes of fuel and a straight-line acceleration of 10,000 gravities. A back-of-the-envelope calculation gives the missile a theoretical terminal velocity of 11,768 km/s, or about 4% of the speed of light—meaning that the missile itself could do significantly more damage as a purely kinetic weapon than the buzz droids ever could: a missile the mass of an American AIM-120 AMRAAM would hit with the force of a 2.6 megaton bomb.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Star Trek franchise is such a frequent violator of this rule, even within their own rules, that the Memory Alpha wiki has a list of numerous contradictory values for the speeds of various warp factors, as well as a lengthy discussion of the various rules-of-thumb and Hand Waves employed over the last 50 years, the biggest being that the Warp speeds have been revised a few times over the course of the five series.
    • The USS Enterprise in Star Trek: The Original Series traveled to the edge of the galaxy (in "Where No Man Has Gone Before" and "By Any Other Name") and to the center of the galaxy (in Star Trek V) in the space of a single episode. The trip from one galaxy to another would take about 300 years (though the trip would be made with the modifications of extra-galactic aliens who had engines that were better than the Federation's). Yet in Star Trek: Voyager, when ships were about 2-4 times faster, the estimated travel time to Earth from the opposite side of the galaxy was upwards of 70 years.
      • Several episodes of original Trek have the Enterprise departing the planet-of-the-week at Warp Factor 1. This would mean they're travelling at the speed of light. At that rate, it would take them years just to get to the nearest neighboring star system. (Perhaps Kirk cranks it up to warp 6 once they're past the asteropause.)
    • By the time of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a Warp Speed scale was firmly established by Paramount, where the speed of Warp X (below Warp 9) meant the ship was travelling at X^3.3333... times the speed of light. This makes Warp 1 equal to light speed, Warp 2 just a hair over 10 times the speed of light, and Warp 9 a little more than 1500 times light speed. Yet in the episode "Where Silence Has Lease", the Enterprise traverses the 1.3-parsec distance to the edge of a giant space cloud at Warp 2 in about 30 seconds.
    • This was then completely abandoned by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, where traveling anywhere invariably took about half a day. Runabouts (established as having a top speed of warp five) seemed to be able to reach Earth, Cardassia, and various other locations in the same short amount of time (while the distances aren't given, that would put both the Federation and Cardassian capitals within two light-years of each other at most). On another occasion, a runabout travels to a planet given as five light years away in a few hours (it should take over a week).
    • Many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager also have the ship traveling at sublight for extended periods of time. There is no particularly good reason for a ship that's trying to cross literally the entire galaxy in under 7 years to travel at sublight. In fact, they may as well be standing still (to any stellar body nearby).
    • One Bad Future episode of Voyager has the titular ship crash-land on what looks like Hoth. According to Chakotay (one of two survivors courtesy of not being on the ship when it happened), it looks like Voyager hit the planet at full impulse — which should've vaporized the ship and left a huge impact crater on Hoth.
    • In Star Trek: Enterprise, the first episode has Archer stating the ship's top speed in terms of how long it would take to travel to Neptune and back — six minutes. He then says that it will take Enterprise eighty hours to get from Earth to Qo'noS. Using those same calculations, Qo'noS would be less than one light-year from Earth; the nearest star to us in Real Life is four and a half.
    • The fastest velocity ever mentioned in any Star Trek show or supplementary materials is warp factor 9.9999, which is stated as being the speed of subspace radio signals. This is quoted in supplementary materials as being equivalent to 199,516c, which is admittedly very impressive especially considering we have a hard time reaching 1c. However 199,516c equates to almost exactly 500AU/s. Put this velocity into any interactive starscape, such as for example SpaceEngine and set a course for our nearest neighbouring star system (Alpha Centauri, 4.3 light years), and how long does it take to fly there at that velocity? 11.5 minutes. Fast, yes, but certainly not instantaneous. And that's only for the very nearest star...
    • Depending on the Writer, "impulse" might mean anything from real-world rocket engines to a weaker secondary FTL drive (although one possible handwave is that it may be a generic term in-universe). Some episodes have ships travelling at FTL speeds on impulse power without explanation.
    • Notably averted in an episode of Star Trek: Discovery where a single unbroken scene shows a shuttlecraft traveling at warp 1 to a location exactly as long as needed for light to cross that distance (since warp 1 is the speed of light).
  • Space: 1999 comes through again by having characters track the approach of faster-than-light craft optically, and by allowing floating space rubble, conventional rockets, alien spacecraft, and a moon hurtling interstellar distances in days to be in range of each other for exactly as long as the plot demands.
  • In Babylon 5 hyperspace travel is, as per the DVD commentaries, done at the speed of plot. For example, it takes 3 days to get from Babylon 5 to Earth, which is about 14 light-years away. It also takes 3 days to get from Babylon 5 to Z'ha'dum, which is about 20,000 light-years away. It's explained that Hyperspace travel doesn't necessarily translate linearly. Which might explain why no one on the show ever says how far away something is, only how long it will take to get there, although the titular station is stated to be in the Epsilon Eridani system (10.5 light years from Earth).
  • Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis zigzag this trope. One the one hand, the Daedalus is able to reach Atlantis for the first season finale in about three days while powered by a ZPM. The Pegasus Galaxy (assuming the one in the series is the Pegasus Irregular Dwarf Galaxy in Real Life as is implied) is 3 million lightyears from the Milky Way. That's a speed 365 million times the speed of light. It's also mentioned that the trip would take about 2 weeks without the ZPM. That's about 78 million times the speed of light. Taken by themselves, these don't seem horrifically unreasonable. The universe runs on MORE POWER!. The problem comes when one considers that it usually takes them a few days to get anywhere in the galaxy. At the aforementioned speeds, they could traverse the entire observable universe in and 55 and 255 years, respectively. So either they normally run their engines far below their capacity, or it's this trope.
  • At the end of Power Rangers in Space Zordon dies, and his death unleashes the Z-wave, which disintegrates or purifies all the villains in the Power Rangers universe. We see the Wave travel interstellar distances in a matter of seconds, and it's implied that it swept through the entire Universe in a day or less. Later seasons had an implicit Retcon that it only affected our galaxy, rather than the whole Universe. While this isn't quite as ridiculous, it would still have to travel something like a trillion C or more to cover the Milky way in a day.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Averted, as the chaotic nature of the Warp means that the same trip can take vastly different amounts of time. We have at least one example of a ship arriving quite sometime before it left, and another of a vessel arriving at its destination millennia after it was supposed to arrive, though the crew seemed to believe it took only a couple of months. When your hyperspace is made of illogical thought, it's no wonder there's a bit of variation in travel times. In one case this is used for some dark humor. A crew of a ship responding to a distress signal travels through the warp ending up being attacked by demons. They proceed to send out a distress signal... which is sent back in time due to the anomalies in the warp, the very signal that they themselves responded to.
    • 40K also borrowed the inertialess drive from the Lensman series for the Necrons. It makes the ship unbound by inertia, allowing it to almost instantly (the time it takes for the drive to activate) accelerate to a practically infinite velocity, then immediately come to a stop. Necron phase technology would prevent them from crashing into anything, and the precision of their machinery (their weapons, for example, are crafted atom by atom, as an idea of how precise Necrons are) would ensure they don't go way too far, out past the galaxy.
  • Nova Praxis claims that rail guns and coil guns in the setting fire projectiles at 18000 feet per second. This is almost 5500 meters— per second. Even assuming that a bazooka-sized gun shooting a BB-sized projectile at such a speed would put the recoil at near 7500 Newtons; plenty enough to crush any bones in the way if not completely dismember your arm. Ironically, that's the least of your worries since friction from the air would heat your BB up to five times the surface temperature of the sun, forming a quickly mushrooming cloud of burning plasma in its wake. The person shooting such a gun would surely be killed in a very quick and horrible manner. The target has a much better chance of surviving as the shooter might have missed.

    Video Games 
  • In System Shock 2, it's discovered that a piece of the space station which was jettisoned by the player in the first game has crashed on a planet in the Tau Ceti system - crossing a distance of 12 light-years in a mere 30 years. This would require the ejection charges to have kicked the module loose at about 40% the speed of light. Even if you can accept that that happened, this would have resulted in the module slamming into a planet at 40% the speed of light, which is more than enough velocity to disintegrate the entire thing on impact.
  • Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time has the titular heroes caught by Dr. Nefarious and propelled off his space station on a catapult-like device to their assumed deaths. They awaken on a planet "hours later". Even taking into account planetary distances in the Rn C universe being much smaller than in Real Life, this shouldn't be possible because either they would've been turned into paste by the acceleration or whatever planet they landed on should be well visible to anyone on the space station.
  • The X-Universe series has a particularly egregious example in which each individual map is at most two hundred kilometers across, and as little as tens of kilometers in the original Beyond the Frontier — almost comically small by astronomical standards — yet your ship requires a Time Dilation device to travel between locations on the same map in a reasonable amount of time. Unless the kilometer was redefined at some point, this suggests spaceships in the game are far, far slower than they have any right to be — raising the interesting question of how any of the spacefaring races actually managed to become spacefaring races when they don't seem to have any ships that come anywhere near escape velocity for a planet with a mass similar to Earth. For added fun, the ships we actually see entering and exiting planetary atmospheres in the series are TL-class large transports, of which the absolute fastest in the series, tuned for maximum speed, can go about 1,000kph, and which are more typically in the 200-400kph range. For comparison, the Space Shuttle moves at 7,743 m/s (27,870kph; 17,320 mph). Spaceships in the X-Universe traveling at Earth-bound speeds would take DECADES, if not, CENTURIES to move from one place to another in outer space; in other words, this is laughably sluggish by Real Life outer space standards, and if Newtonian physics were to come into play, these ships would be rendered entirely and legitimately unfit for space-worthiness (and it isn't just limited to velocity alone; see the other entries of how the series fall under these ludicrous contrarinesses of mathematics). Apparently, the developers were confused about how actual velocity works in outer space and decided to make Earth-bound velocity work as it does on everyday vehicles.
    • Several mods were developed to address this. All of them massively increase all speeds, which makes the game feel much faster at the price of causing occasional glitches with the movement AI - notorious for bugging out even at stock speeds, let alone when everything is zipping around like moths on crack. Many players argue that it's a price worth paying.
  • X: Rebirth has ships that move roughly at the same speed as before, but a completely reworked map system makes the screwy velocities less silly. The game uses explicit solar systems, with sectors being in orbit around different planets while zones (equivalent to the sectors of previous games) connect points-of-interest. Highways connecting the zones accelerate ships to several kilometers per second and the Super Highways that connect planets accelerate ships past the speed of light.
  • Star Ruler: You can travel faster than light on raw engine power alone, no Phlebotinum handwave provided. Lasers also remain hitscan even as their effective range becomes measurable in AU, which means that they are travelling FTL as well. However, the rest of the game generally is relatively "hard".
  • In Evochron Mercenary, it's possible to see a galaxy. The galaxy is rotating at about the same visible speed as a carousel, meaning that it is rotating at several hundred billion times the speed of light. Ships in the game are capped at 10000 meters per second in the X, Y, and Z plane.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has its main protagonist running at the speed of sound (hence the name); for reference, the speed of sound is 1,235 kilometers per hour (767mph), equivalent to Mach 1. Most aircraft need to be specially designed to handle that sort of speed. At that speed, Sonic would be obliterated without protection (which is more than just shoes, of course). Even if Sonic has some Bizarre Alien Biology to cope with said pressure, his lungs would need to be enormous to supply enough oxygen to keep that speed going. At least he's not depicted traveling at the speed of light, which is far, far faster than the speed of sound, and any being traveling at such speeds even when streamlined would instantly turn into paste.
    • Exaggerated with some of the modern games. Sonic now has attacks that are stated to let him move at light speed and Super Sonic is stated to give him a speed boost on top of this. Sonic Generations, in particular, has Sonic outright obliterate the laws of physics with him being able to run so fast he can restore the space-time continuum and this is before being granted the speed boost of his aforementioned Super Form.
  • According to the official manual the railgun in Quake II fires it's slugs at "near relativistic" speeds, i.e a significant fraction of the speed of light. Realistically, the recoil from the gun should flatten whoever is using it, not to mention the friction created would probably destroy the gun as well, along with everything else within a mile or so.
  • In Civilization VI the spaceship for the scientific victory is driven by lightsails, pushed by lasers from Earth or from Lagrange-point laser satellites. So far, so good; that is actually a workable concept in real life. The problem is, it launches with a speed of one lightyear per turn and each laser you build adds another lightyear. In slower game modes one turn might be less than a year of in-universe time, making this light-driven ship faster than light at launch. And even in faster game modes it can easily break the lightspeed barrier with a few lasers.


    Western Animation 
  • In The Magic School Bus episode "Out of this World", the class has to stop an asteroid from hitting the Earth, specifically their school. It takes the whole episode for the asteroid to get close to Earth and that's with Dorothy Ann having tracked it for days prior to the start of the episode. They defeat it by changing its trajectory to Hurl It into the Sun, which it manages to hit within the span of a few seconds. This is Lampshaded in the producer segment (basically a Q&A and also where they point out Artistic License taken) and says "Our show is less than thirty minutes long, what could we do?"