With hyperspace suddenly in the news, here are some thoughts on how taking a shortcut to reach the stars has appeared in science fiction. They’re from The Science in Science Fiction, edited by Peter Nicholls (London: Book Club Associates, 1982), p. 72:
“Hyperspace is the science fictional name for the ‘other space’ used in such short cuts. The word was invented by John W. Campbell for his short story “The Mightiest Machine” (1934) and unashamedly stolen by hundreds of writers since. Today, hyperspace is part of science fiction’s standard furniture — solving all those awkward problems of travel to the stars…
“[One] view of hyperspace is as a ‘universe next door’ much smaller than our own, with every point in hyperspace corresponding to one in this universe. Mathematicians call this a ‘one-to-one’ mapping. So hyperspace behaves like a little map of our own universe, a map which can be visited — as though we could step from London to the point marked ‘London’ on the map, walk a short distance to the point marked ‘New York’, and step out of the map into the real New York. Again, the difficulty is getting into the map — into hyperspace — in the first place.
“This model features in Frederick Pohl’s story “The Mapmakers,” in which (logically enough) an error in positioning of 1 cm on the ‘map’ can bring a ship back to normal space millions of light-years from its planned destination. There is no reason why hyperspace travel should be even this simple. In Bob Shaw’s Night Walk the hyperspace universe has a fiendishly complicated shape, like a mathematician’s nightmare — the odds are that inexperienced travellers will end up at completely random points in our space, and will never get home again.
“Still more depressing is George R.R. Martin’s story ‘FTA,’ where people break into hyperspace and find that it is not a short cut after all. Why, apart from wishful thinking, should it be? In this story, to go via hyperspace takes longer.”
Centauri Dreams‘ take: There’s nothing wrong with being an optimist, and while the Martin story makes for good reading, a determined effort to push the limits of the possible may one day pay off in a true superluminal breakthrough. But the key to this kind of research is to understand that it is incremental, that progress is likely to occur in a series of small steps that build the foundation for the great events that follow, and that this incremental work should be an ongoing process. Everybody hopes for the grand design discovered in a scientist’s papers, one that will turn everything over in the blink of an eye, but getting to the stars is more likely to be a matter of slow, patient physics that keeps probing the nature of spacetime even when the news media have moved on to other topics.