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  #41  
Old Jan 28th 2013, 11:50 PM
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I think the weirdest science fiction writer in Russia must be Vasili Golovachev. I recently read a series of his books, where it begins sort of like your Star Trek. Starship fleets and all that. But then, it goes on much further. The whole universe, you see, is one giant game board, controlled by supreme Godlike beings, called simply Players. One Player turns evil, like Satan, and is helping a dark alien force take over the universe. Meanwhile, the other Players than choose an Earthling warrior named Ratibor Berestov who will have to fight and stop the evil force. In fact, he is chosen before his birth, after his space soldier father meets strange beings on another planet, who appear to him humanoid, but are, in fact, representations of the Players in humanoid form. Ratibor receives extraordinary superpowers, and his own human physical and mental abilities are also greatly enhanced by the Players. Frankly, I hope they make a film from it some day. The final battle between Ratibor and the evil force would put any Hollywood Superman blockbuster to shame
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Old Jan 29th 2013, 08:48 AM
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Are you familiar with The Integral Trees by Larry Niven ? That's set in a very special ecosystem with very special (though non-sentient) lifeforms. It's not a long book, so I'd read it if I were you. It gives an excellent example of creativity within ecological and physical plausibility.

As for relativity, that's another matter. If you're really serious about this project you should consult an actual relativity physicist. (I'm sure you have those in Canada). You'd need a basic intuitive understanding of things like time dilation and Lorentz contraction and probably most importantly () someone who could do the maths for you. When there is only the issue of someone going from star system A to star system B it's still pretty straightforward (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time_dilation) but as soon as there are more than two frames of reference it quickly becomes very tricky and counter-intuitive.
In a relativistic context (which would be the actual reality of interstellar space travel) every movement in space is also a movement in time (hence: spacetime) in the sense that it's a movement that differs from 'normal' time depending on the ratio of the relative velocity that your hero has vis--vis e.g. a heroin. If the hero goes of to an interstellar war at close to light speed and returns after a few months to the home planet to marry his heroin, that won't work because the heroin will have been dead for hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of years (depending on the distances and relative velocities). And that goes for any trip or number of protagonists.
There's also gravitational time dilation. That is similar to relative velocity time dilation. For instance, if you approach a star system with your fleet and you notice it's too heavily defended, you can fly to the proximity of a very strong gravitational force (a neutron star or a black hole e.g.) hover a few days close to it, and when you return to the target star system a hundred years might have passed there and the defenses may have lessened or disappeared.
On the other hand, they will have advanced a century technologically and may blow you out of the sky with weapons you've never conceived of. Or the war may have ended.

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In a way, the relativistic effects of interstellar space travel are a form of time travel in that you can travel into someone else's future much faster than they experience it their selves. It's very difficult to get a "date" in interstellar space
It would also wreak havoc with interstellar communications. Even if you did have a device that allowed for "instantaneous" communication, it would still be terribly difficult to have a conversation with someone in a different frame of reference.

Speaking of which, do you have any idea how fast other nearby stars are moving relative to our own? That is to say, pretending we could make the trip there or back instantaneously (wrt earth time), if you spent a year on a planet around Proxima Centuri and came back, would a year have also passed here? Or more or less?
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Old Jan 29th 2013, 12:22 PM
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That idea could be the basis of a pretty cool (albeit dystopian) story. A society constantly having to be prepared because they are at war with another star system and at any time (a few months or a few centuries) a fleet could appear out of nowhere and destroy you. Is the war real? Can we really prevent our destruction? Our hero goes to find out only to come back and find everything gone...
Yes, plausible story in a relativistic (and thus real) setting.

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On the other hand, they will have advanced a century technologically and may blow you out of the sky with weapons you've never conceived of. Or the war may have ended.
Indeed. The ramifications are endlessly confusing.

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It would also wreak havoc with interstellar communications. Even if you did have a device that allowed for "instantaneous" communication, it would still be terribly difficult to have a conversation with someone in a different frame of reference.
'Instantaneous' is always a big problem in real world physics. Newton already had problems with it and the inherent contradictions are one of the aspects that ultimately led to relativity. Mathematically it's simple : if one parameter is zero (i.e. instantaneous) then another will be infinite, be it time, distance or energy. And then you run into a brick wall both mathematically and conceptually and thus ultimately physically.


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Yes, writing a book always requires research and I will note this one. I certainly would put Larry Niven on the short list of 'most famous sci-fi' novelists that I know of.

I'd like to explore the idea of encountering relatively realistic lifeforms on other planets (sentient and non-sentient) - of the non-human variety.

Hmmm. That sounds like a 'science' novel. No doubt this is why we have things like 'guild navigators, spice and folding space' (as in Dune) and not actual 'relativity'. Btw, I think the whole idea of 'warp-speed' (in sci-fi) is to 'warp' the galaxy to get there instantaneously without the passage of time - in order to solve or bypass all this nasty math/physics stuff that just boggles the mind.

Using the 'jump/fold/warp' thing, once one 'jumps' across vast space, one then uses more modest speeds/engines for driving around a particular solar system (sub-warp speed). This seems to be the standard format, as shown in most popular sci-fi stuff (Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, etc).
Yes, they all ignore actual the actual physics of spacetime for the sake of a coherent story. And because humans are so slow that we never encounter relativistic effects at least not in direct experience. But if one day we would travel around in interstellar space, it's going to be relativistic. The science fiction is the fiction, not relativity. Even the GPS system wouldn't be correct if it didn't take that into account.

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Yes, this is a problem that I don't like. That when you start playing with time as a functional dimension, my grandchildren could kill my parents and that's just too weird and not something I want to read or write about.
That particular scenario doesn't occur. While time is relative it's still a one way street. We move into the future at different speeds, but we can't return. There are no paradoxes in relativity, just (very) counter-intuitive consequences.

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The thing about sci-fi that intrigues me (as a writer) is the idea of encountering non-human life on another planet. Heck, I expect us to find dinosaurs out there if we could actually go looking. And if we did find dinosaurs on some so-called 'goldilocks' type planet, wouldn't that create a conundrum for human ethics? Because we know that human-life evolved on a planet that had dinosaurs on it, that means if we even landed on that planet, we would be interferring with their natural evolution... and that's the ultimate irony - we build our magnificent spaceships, cross the galaxy searching for an ideal planet for us humans to live on and it is already occupied. Indeed, for it to be ideal, it would probably have to be already occupied with an ecosystem and complex creatures. And if we landed there, we'd be gods (or disasters like Columbus landing in the Caribbean). These are the kinds of themes I'd like to explore.
Other recommendation : The Mote in God's Eye also by Larry Niven. That explores many of these themes and has some philosophical undertones (though not to the extent of Dune).
By the way, there's another real world problem that gets ignored in all SF I know of. If there's sentient life on another planet, it's bound to have emerged from single cell organisms too. And that means bacteria. Bacteria for which we have zero weapons in our immunity system. And vice versa for the creatures on the newly discovered planet. Without massive precautions any interstellar contact is like having an orgy in an Ebola-riddled village in Africa.

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I do like realism as much as possible, but if actual realism prevents the game, then realism will have to be sacrificed.
I don't think it's possible actually to have a realistic novel that incorporates relativity. And if it were manageable I don't think the readers would buy it. It's just too weird for most people, even SF buffs.

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Speaking of which, do you have any idea how fast other nearby stars are moving relative to our own? That is to say, pretending we could make the trip there or back instantaneously (wrt earth time), if you spent a year on a planet around Proxima Centuri and came back, would a year have also passed here? Or more or less?
Yes, good point, stars aren't fixed, they're moving all over the place relative to Ye olde Sunne. I can't answer your question though. 'Instantaneous' can't be put into equations without ending up with infinities. You can only put speeds up to, but not including, the speed to light in relativistic equations which is logical because it's precisely one of the postulates of relativity that the speed of light cannot be surpassed. 'Instantaneous' obviously does just that.
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Old Jan 29th 2013, 12:45 PM
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I think I might have a solution though that's both feasible (to some extent) and allows for a classic story in terms of time.

What you need are naturally occurring stable wormholes of gargantuan size.
Their discovery can be part of the plot in fact.

Wormholes for the space travel. They're 'shortcuts' through space that don't require faster than light travel (at least not from the viewpoint of the vessel).

They have to be gargantuan because wormholes are by definition ruptures in spacetime and thus exhibit enormous spacetime curvature which would rip anything apart to the atomic (or maybe even lower) level. Only an enormous wormhole could have sufficiently diluted tidal gravity in its center so that a spaceship could go through it without (too much) damage.
Gargantuan means a radius of say the same radius as the Sun has. That big. Preferably bigger. (I've gotten too old to do the maths on it )

Naturally occurring because if you would have a technology that could create these monsters, you may as well fold up the whole universe and put it into your pocket. If you could make them, you wouldn't need them.

Stable because if they weren't their collapse would destroy the entire stellar system in which they reside.

Edit : DO get a second opinion on this.
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Old Jan 29th 2013, 06:43 PM
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'Instantaneous' is always a big problem in real world physics. Newton already had problems with it and the inherent contradictions are one of the aspects that ultimately led to relativity. Mathematically it's simple : if one parameter is zero (i.e. instantaneous) then another will be infinite, be it time, distance or energy. And then you run into a brick wall both mathematically and conceptually and thus ultimately physically.
And that's precisely where the fucky 'warp' math comes in. If time=0, as you say, energy becomes infinite - precisely the amount of energy needed to warp across the galaxy instantaneously!

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Yes, they all ignore actual the actual physics of spacetime for the sake of a coherent story. And because humans are so slow that we never encounter relativistic effects at least not in direct experience. But if one day we would travel around in interstellar space, it's going to be relativistic. The science fiction is the fiction, not relativity. Even the GPS system wouldn't be correct if it didn't take that into account.
Yes, and this is why I guess 'instant' jumps are necessary for sci-fi novels. Without it, space travel becomes all but impossible to conceptualize.

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That particular scenario doesn't occur. While time is relative it's still a one way street. We move into the future at different speeds, but we can't return. There are no paradoxes in relativity, just (very) counter-intuitive consequences.
Yes, well, tell that to the sci-fi authors! Star Trek certainly 'warped' back in time on several occasions.

Glad to know that it is essentially as impossible as it should be.

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Other recommendation : The Mote in God's Eye also by Larry Niven. That explores many of these themes and has some philosophical undertones (though not to the extent of Dune).
That sounds interesting, I'll check that one out. We have an excellent used bookstore in my neighborhood that seems to specialize in Sci-Fi paperbacks.

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By the way, there's another real world problem that gets ignored in all SF I know of. If there's sentient life on another planet, it's bound to have emerged from single cell organisms too. And that means bacteria. Bacteria for which we have zero weapons in our immunity system. And vice versa for the creatures on the newly discovered planet. Without massive precautions any interstellar contact is like having an orgy in an Ebola-riddled village in Africa.
Yes, this is definitely an idea that I've already thought about and want to explore. I always thought Star Trek was insane the way they just 'beemed' down onto any planet they found that had an Oxygen-Nitrogen atmosphere. I always found that incredibly silly, simple and unrealistic.

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I don't think it's possible actually to have a realistic novel that incorporates relativity. And if it were manageable I don't think the readers would buy it. It's just too weird for most people, even SF buffs.
That would be my conclusion based on what you wrote. Unless the science of relativity is the theme of the story.

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Yes, good point, stars aren't fixed, they're moving all over the place relative to Ye olde Sunne. I can't answer your question though. 'Instantaneous' can't be put into equations without ending up with infinities. You can only put speeds up to, but not including, the speed to light in relativistic equations which is logical because it's precisely one of the postulates of relativity that the speed of light cannot be surpassed. 'Instantaneous' obviously does just that.
For sci-fi purposes, I'd say that the 'warp-jump' occurs at the point at which the ship achieves light-speed. Thus, the 'jump' itself would be instantaneous, but it would still require some acceleration and deceleration time.
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Old Jan 29th 2013, 06:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Dominick View Post
I think I might have a solution though that's both feasible (to some extent) and allows for a classic story in terms of time.

What you need are naturally occurring stable wormholes of gargantuan size.
Their discovery can be part of the plot in fact.

Wormholes for the space travel. They're 'shortcuts' through space that don't require faster than light travel (at least not from the viewpoint of the vessel).

They have to be gargantuan because wormholes are by definition ruptures in spacetime and thus exhibit enormous spacetime curvature which would rip anything apart to the atomic (or maybe even lower) level. Only an enormous wormhole could have sufficiently diluted tidal gravity in its center so that a spaceship could go through it without (too much) damage.
Gargantuan means a radius of say the same radius as the Sun has. That big. Preferably bigger. (I've gotten too old to do the maths on it )

Naturally occurring because if you would have a technology that could create these monsters, you may as well fold up the whole universe and put it into your pocket. If you could make them, you wouldn't need them.

Stable because if they weren't their collapse would destroy the entire stellar system in which they reside.

Edit : DO get a second opinion on this.
Yes, the 'wormhole' idea has been around for a while. It certainly sounds more plausible for human technology than warp-jumping since sub-warp speeds could be sufficient.

The only downside of wormholes is that they would only exist in particular and specific spots. That being said, that isn't a serious problem since that opens up the idea that control of a particular wormhole would have enormous strategic value.

I'll have to read up on wormholes. I don't know anything about them except what you've stated. I've heard of them, but that's about it.

All in all, I think I like the wormhole idea if only because it is more plausible without having to set my story some 50,000 years in the future just so I can use some impossibly sophisticated technology like warp-jumping. I like the idea of looking at the 'early stages' of stellar exploration and colonization rather than setting a story in some galactic federation that has already existed for 10,000 years or something. I like the analogy of human history - we discovered and colonized the new world using old wooden ships, but a couple centuries later, we use jet planes to get there.
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Old Jan 29th 2013, 11:25 PM
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Yes, the 'wormhole' idea has been around for a while. It certainly sounds more plausible for human technology than warp-jumping since sub-warp speeds could be sufficient.

The only downside of wormholes is that they would only exist in particular and specific spots. That being said, that isn't a serious problem since that opens up the idea that control of a particular wormhole would have enormous strategic value.

I'll have to read up on wormholes. I don't know anything about them except what you've stated. I've heard of them, but that's about it.

All in all, I think I like the wormhole idea if only because it is more plausible without having to set my story some 50,000 years in the future just so I can use some impossibly sophisticated technology like warp-jumping. I like the idea of looking at the 'early stages' of stellar exploration and colonization rather than setting a story in some galactic federation that has already existed for 10,000 years or something. I like the analogy of human history - we discovered and colonized the new world using old wooden ships, but a couple centuries later, we use jet planes to get there.
It's not necessary for your exploratory vessel to achieve light speed or an approximation thereof to go through a wormhole. You could ride a bicycle through it so to speak. If it's big enough (see earlier) it would be completely uneventful other than that the view of the surrounding stars and galaxies would be distorted. Of course that doesn't suit Hollywood so they always add weird effects.
If you're going to look into the physics aspect of wormholes, the one stop shop is Black holes and Time Warps by Kip S. Thorne. It's a genuine science book but there's no maths in. Promise !

To elaborate on my idea of a huge wormhole, there's a problem in that there needs to be an explanation why it hasn't been observed yet. If it were say at the same distance as Jupiter or Saturn it would have been noticed centuries ago since it would distort the view of deep space objects in that direction. So it has to be further out without being too far for ordinary space faring. I think you could use Voyager there as a plot device. Voyager could inadvertently enter the MegaWormhole and that would be noticeable on Earth because its communications would be very redshifted (see the aforementioned book). When Voyager would be through the hole, it would be at an unexpected location (preferably in the neighbourhood of one of the recently discovered Earth-like planets). Earth would then know that there is a 'shortcut' in space nearby and there could be a frenzied race to get there without the need for fancy or improbable propulsion systems.

I'm now trying to find an idea that would force every stellar system to have such a huge wormhole for bona fide astronomical reasons. That would be handy so you can visit every star system
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Old Jan 30th 2013, 08:43 PM
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It's not necessary for your exploratory vessel to achieve light speed or an approximation thereof to go through a wormhole. You could ride a bicycle through it so to speak. If it's big enough (see earlier) it would be completely uneventful other than that the view of the surrounding stars and galaxies would be distorted. Of course that doesn't suit Hollywood so they always add weird effects.
I was only suggesting that warp-speeds might become available several centuries in the future (or not at all, who knows?).

That being said, if humans were to build a starship to traverse a worm hole located out somewhere around Jupiter, we wouldn't want the trip to Jupiter to take three freakin' years.

And yes, I understand that 'normative' speeds would be sufficient if wormholes were available.

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If you're going to look into the physics aspect of wormholes, the one stop shop is Black holes and Time Warps by Kip S. Thorne. It's a genuine science book but there's no maths in. Promise !
I will certainly check out that book. As I've said before, I do like the idea of sci-fi based on quasi-realism rather than purely imaginative fantasy. Wormholes sound like a good way to have 'quasi-realism' without the imaginative fantasy of warp-jumping.

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To elaborate on my idea of a huge wormhole, there's a problem in that there needs to be an explanation why it hasn't been observed yet. If it were say at the same distance as Jupiter or Saturn it would have been noticed centuries ago since it would distort the view of deep space objects in that direction. So it has to be further out without being too far for ordinary space faring. I think you could use Voyager there as a plot device. Voyager could inadvertently enter the MegaWormhole and that would be noticeable on Earth because its communications would be very redshifted (see the aforementioned book). When Voyager would be through the hole, it would be at an unexpected location (preferably in the neighbourhood of one of the recently discovered Earth-like planets). Earth would then know that there is a 'shortcut' in space nearby and there could be a frenzied race to get there without the need for fancy or improbable propulsion systems.
That sounds like a good plot device with Voyager.

And believe it or not, I am familiar with redshifting. My interest in this topic isn't something I just came up with last week. I've been casually reading about the issues for years.

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I'm now trying to find an idea that would force every stellar system to have such a huge wormhole for bona fide astronomical reasons. That would be handy so you can visit every star system
That would indeed be handy, but perhaps a bit unrealistic?

As long as there are some wormholes, that should be at least sufficient, given the size/scale of the galaxy, to find linkages to some good planets.

Indeed, it might be interesting if wormholes came in slightly different varieties - meaning that some would be wonderfully useful because they are so huge and stable, while some other ones might be a bit smaller or less stable and therefore much more dangerous.

Speaking of which, I'm sure I'll read up about it, but for wormholes to be truly useful for interstellar travel, one has to have the possibility of TWO wormholes in a system, otherwise one just gets a single bridge between two solar systems where one can go only back and forth. I'd like to be able to go through wormhole #1 to solar system A and then through wormhole #2 to get to solar system B and so on.
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Old Jan 30th 2013, 10:27 PM
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Another alternative, and one that would get rid of the whole interstellar problem thing entirely, is forget about wormholes and warp tech and just hypothesize that we get really good at terraforming over the next few centuries. Instead of finding "earthlike" planets around other stars, we turn the Moon, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and who knows what else into bodies capable of comfortable supporting life from earth.
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Old Jan 30th 2013, 11:03 PM
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Another alternative, and one that would get rid of the whole interstellar problem thing entirely, is forget about wormholes and warp tech and just hypothesize that we get really good at terraforming over the next few centuries. Instead of finding "earthlike" planets around other stars, we turn the Moon, Mars, the moons of Jupiter, and who knows what else into bodies capable of comfortable supporting life from earth.
No intent of repressing any ideas but colonization of Earth's solar system by Earthlings (and others) has been done so many times the scenario variations are literally formatted. A new twist might do it.
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