On the physics of FTL in space opera books

Almost 2 years ago, I published an article on space operas. I just read the last few books in some series, and it’s quite interesting to see the differences in how faster-than-light travel works.

I won’t talk about Star Wars or star Trek, I’m more into The Lost Fleet and others.

So for Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet, there are 2 ways of traveling. The first is natural jumps between systems due to some unknown physics. Then, on top of it, you have an alien technology that allows you to jump between arches. The jumps are interesting, because you need several days to cross from one to another.

On a similar way, you have Mike Shepherd’s Kris Longknife/Vicky Peterwald world. Here, you have jumps between star systems that are instantaneous, and alien made. They don’t require an arch, so similar to the first Campbell’s kind. And then there are other hidden jumps that are also alien made, but not known by everyone. The interesting thing is that if Campbell speed makes sense, Shepherd’s is not that much, as he talks about acceleration, and not speed itself. So you never know how fast they re actually going. On a side note, Shepherd is making lots of references to Campbell’s world in his latest books.

I also read some Evan Currie’s Odyssey One. Here, you don’t have jumps, you have a FTL that lots of people have, except Earth, which travel through tachyons. At some point in the past, people thought that tachyons could travel faster than light, so it makes some sense to use them for instantaneous travel and sonar scanning. The fact that the aliens are not using this technology makes me think that it is too dangerous and they evolved a better, safer technology for FTL, even if it’s not instantaneous like the other.

The last one I’d like to talk about is Joshua Dalzelle’s Omega Force universe. Here we don’t have jumps, but we don’t have instantaneous travels either. Let’s say that if one day we can figure out FTL, I think that this universe is the closest to what we will actually have.

All these universes have also other differences, of course, mainly in the targeted audience. Campbell will be targeted for strategists, Shepherd is oriented towards young adults, Currie’s towards space explorers and Dalzelle’s towards space RPG fans. There are others that I liked but where FTL is not that important (like Ancillary Justice), but still lots of fun.

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