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Creative Constraints and Starflight

I discovered Karl Schroeder’s work when I was researching brown dwarfs some years ago. Who knew that somebody was writing novels about civilizations around these dim objects? Permanence (Tor, 2003) was a real eye-opener, as were the deep-space cultures it described. Schroeder hooked me again with his latest book — he’s dealing with a preoccupation of mine, a human presence in the deep space regions between ourselves and the nearest stars, where resources are abundant and dark worlds move far from any sun. How to maintain such a society and allow it to grow into something like an empire? Karl explains the mechanism below. Science fiction fans, of which there are many on Centauri Dreams, will know Karl as the author of many other novels, including Ventus (2000), Lady of Mazes (2005) and Sun of Suns (2006).

by Karl Schroeder

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My newest science fiction novel, Lockstep, has just finished its serialization in Analog magazine, and Tor Books will have it on the bookshelves March 24. Reactions have been pretty favourable—except that I’ve managed to offend a small but vocal group of my readers. It seems that some people are outraged that I’ve written an SF story in which faster than light travel is impossible.

I did write Lockstep because I understood that it’s not actual starflight that interests most people—it’s the romance of a Star Trek or Star Wars-type interstellar civilization they want. Not the reality, but the fantasy. Even so, I misjudged the, well, the fervor with which some people cling to the belief that the lightspeed limit will just somehow, magically and handwavingly, get engineered around.

This is ironic, because the whole point of Lockstep was to find a way to have that Star Wars-like interstellar civilization in reality and not just fantasy. As an artist, I’m familiar with the power of creative constraint to generate ideas, and for Lockstep I put two constraints on myself: 1) No FTL or unknown science would be allowed in the novel. 2) The novel would contain a full-blown interstellar civilization exactly like those you find in books with FTL.

Creativity under constraint is the best kind of creativity; it’s the kind that really may take us to the stars someday. In this case, by placing such mutually contradictory — even impossible — restrictions on myself, I was forced into a solution that, in hindsight, is obvious. It is simply this: everyone I know of who has thought about interstellar civilization has thought that the big problem to be solved is the problem of speed. The issue, though (as opposed to the problem), is how to travel to an interstellar destination, spend some time there, and return to the same home you left. Near-c travel solves this problem for you, but not for those you left at home. FTL solves the problem for both you and home, but with the caveat that it’s impossible. (Okay, okay, for the outraged among you: as far as we know. To put it more exactly, we can’t prove that FTL is impossible any more than we can prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I’ll concede that.)

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Generations of thinkers have doubled down on trying to solve the problem, unaware that the problem is not the same as the issue. The problem — of generating enough speed to enable an interstellar civilization — may be insoluble; but that doesn’t mean the issue of how to have a thriving interstellar civilization can’t be overcome. You just have to overcome it by solving a different problem.

The problem to solve doesn’t have to do with speed (or velocity, for you purists), but rather with duration.

Enter Lockstep. In the novel, all worlds, all spacecraft and all habitats participating in a particular civilization use cold-sleep technology “in lockstep:” the entire civilization sleeps for thirty years, then simultaneously wakes for a month, then sleeps for another thirty years, etc. All citizens of the lockstep experience the same passage of time; what’s changed is that the duration of one night per month is stretched out to allow time for star travel at sublight speeds. In the novel I don’t bother with interstellar travel, actually; the Empire of 70,000 Worlds consists almost entirely of nomad planets, wanderers populating deep space between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Average long-distance travel velocity is about 3% lightspeed, and ships are driven by fission-fragment rockets or ‘simple’ nuclear fusion engines.

The result is a classic space opera universe, with private starships, explorers and despots and rogues, and more accessible worlds than can be explored in one lifetime. There are locksteppers, realtimers preying on them while they sleep, and countermeasures against those, and on and on. In short, it’s the kind of setting for a space adventure that we’ve always dreamt of, and yet, it might all be possible.

Cold sleep technology is theoretical, but unlike FTL, it’s not considered out of the question that we could develop human hibernation. It’s a bio-engineering problem, and probably admits of more than one solution. It’s an easier problem to solve than FTL, in other words. And by solving it, and using locksteps, we have a universe where travelers can go to sleep at their home port, wake up the next day at a world that could be light-years away, spend some time there and, when they return, find that exactly the same amount of time has passed at home. Locksteps give you the effect of FTL, without requiring FTL.

I won’t go into all the implications—that’s what the novel’s for. But, to circle back to the idea of creative constraint, by requiring an FTL-like civilization without FTL, I stumbled into a whole new universe. In the world of Lockstep, there are Sleeping Beauty-like tales, a version of the Twin Paradox, and an even stranger paradox in which the newest immigrants to the lockstep have the longest history with it… It’s no exaggeration to say that many books could be written in this world without exhausting its possibilities. Maybe I’ll write more of them myself.

Meanwhile, the idea’s out there. It’s a bit crazy, but it’s a possible solution to an issue, that avoids having to solve an impossible problem.

A constraint that gives us a way to reach the stars.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David H March 14, 2014, 9:19

    Necessity breeds invention. I guess that the notion of ‘cold sleep’ hinges on the rate at which we age while under. Karl, Paul, looking forward to the read. I have pre-ordered this on iBooks (yes, it is over there too, not just on Amazon).

  • Alex Tolley March 14, 2014, 9:50

    As a reader you picked up after guest blogging on Charlie Stross’ site, I for one, think this is a fascinating solution. I very much look forward to reading Lockstep and seeing how you resolve some of the obvious problems.

  • James D. Stilwell March 14, 2014, 10:48

    Karl Schroeder with his Lockstep has perfected a replacement for the now very boring Star Trek…especially after a decade of exploring with the Webb Telescope when it becomes clear we are likely orphans in the galaxy…
    A great foundation for a massive trilogy…
    Here’s where Hari Seldon wakes…
    More Centauri genius…

  • Giuseppe March 14, 2014, 12:41

    Brilliant solution! The low fraction of lightspeed allows for an almost perfect alignment of time among planets and traveling ships, at the narrative level would seem that nothing happens.. but i imagine that in the long “nights” a lot of intriguing complications may arise.. I need to read the book!

  • Mike Lockmoore March 14, 2014, 12:42

    I wonder if it was Karl Schroeder who wrote a short story I read about two young lovers living on a colony planet participating in this lockstep-type of lifestyle. They chose to skip part of their hibernation cycle and had some adventures, which allowed them to notice a phenomenon others were missing. Interesting story, and the lockstep approach is fascinating to consider. Although I think the temptation to “cheat” the Lockstep periods would be irresistible for enough individuals/clans/etc. to be practically unworkable against countermeasures, I’ll be looking to read Lockstep one of these days… ;-)

  • Craig Watkins March 14, 2014, 14:05

    A very interesting solution. My first question is how lockstep gets enforced. It seems like at least some people would find a benefit in delaying sleep to do unscrupulous things like take out political enemies, scurry off with natural resources etc…

    I did think the Santa Claus line was a little bit rough. FTL travel seems well within the bounds of theoretical physics. Sure it may require “unobtanium” and the energy of entire suns, but it’s still there. Things like Santa Claus and the flying spaghetti monster are an entirely different animal in my mind.

  • Paul Gilster March 14, 2014, 14:58

    Alex Tolley writes:

    As a reader you picked up after guest blogging on Charlie Stross’ site, I for one, think this is a fascinating solution. I very much look forward to reading Lockstep and seeing how you resolve some of the obvious problems.

    It also resonates interestingly with some of Alastair Reynolds’ notions in House of Suns, which I recently finished. I may write more about that early next week. Both include extremely creative uses of hibernation technologies, though Karl explores their implications much more fully.

  • CharlesJQuarra March 14, 2014, 15:15

    very interesting concept. A twist on this concept could be that there is no global lockstep but that different people or groups decide to enter collectively in deep sleep for multiple reasons, but you still get the same civilization dilation-time effect, although in an asynchronously manner

  • Wojciech J March 14, 2014, 17:33

    Thumbs up for any science fiction that goes away with the idea of FTL and tries to imagine a more realistic vision of slower than light speeds. It is far more interesting and convincing. Furthermore to people who studied the issue it is rather obvious that such visions bring us more to the developing real solutions than fantasy wishful thinking.
    I have added Lockstep to my purchase list on Amazon, although I dimly remember that these ideas of freezing civilization aren’t new-I definitely read about them before(Return from the Stars by Lem has one, although for a bit different reason IIRC)

  • Keith Soltys March 14, 2014, 18:02

    It reminds me of one of Charles Sheffield’s novels in which the characters travelling between stars had their biological processes and consciousness slowed down by a factor of a thousand or so. In any case, I’m looking forward to reading Lockstep.

  • Stan Clark March 14, 2014, 18:03

    Speaking of sub-light speed travel. Have you read “Forever War” by Joe Haldeman which deals with time dialation due to near light speed travel.

  • A. A. Jackson March 14, 2014, 18:27

    Distance = Velocity * Time (non-relativistic version) has been an obsession with the guild of interstellar fliers both non fictioneers and fictioneers for a long long time now.
    Special Relativity and that damned VELOCITY problem!
    Some great science fiction writers have tackled TIME.
    Poul Anderson , maybe, did it best, forget lockstep, full time dilation ahead!
    Of course Tau Zero.
    The first solution was (I guess) was the World Ship , even if Goddard and Tsiolkovsky got there first John D. Bernal got there best, world ships.
    Far Centaurus (1944), A. E. van Vogt pulled a fast one us with STL and FTL!
    It’s odd , in my inventory of SF and special relativity, it seems FTL stories far out number STL ones, I wonder how many STL stories there are?
    (Of course it is hard to call something like Tau Zero a STL story when one has a Lorentz Factor of , who knows what?, a 1000 or is it 10000?)
    There is , of course, Heinlein’s Time for the Stars 1956 or Clarke’s The Songs of Distant Earth (1958, 1968) which have STL ships.
    One notes that Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War explored the deepest sociological consequences of Special Relativity and interstellar flight in 1974.
    To me , I think that the great cutting edge science is molecular biology…
    and perhaps post-human-machine civilization. I put my money on biological technology … it seems possible humans will within few hundred years have life spans of 1000’s to 10,000’s of years if not longer.
    That changes the whole dynamic of D = V*T , it would have a huge impact on the whole socio-politico-economic fabric of a civilization.
    Have always thought this has an unknown impact on the Fermi Paradox.

  • Joe March 14, 2014, 21:03

    A very interesting concept. I would like to know how the lockstep universe came to be. It would take hundreds (maybe thousands) of years to settle these planets. Especially since it’s hard to conceive how a new colony planet could afford to “waste” 30 years over and over just to stay in sync with other planets that are light years away. Also what happens if an asteroid hits one of these planets while everyone is sleeping? Or on a more mundane level, plants grow, rivers change courses, earthquakes happen. Another interesting question is physiology. How do you handle pregnancy and childbirth? Can pregnant women hibernate? What about newborns? Obviously there’s enough material here for several books.

  • Brett Bellmore March 14, 2014, 21:40

    It’s an amusing concept, but I’m at a loss as to why any society would adopt it in the first place, given the advantages which would accrue to people who kept working while others slept. (Forget “preying upon”, just having extra time available for doing perfectly legitimate things would be motive enough.)

  • Scott March 14, 2014, 23:22

    FTL just requires a deeper understanding of physics, which you would have already if you didn’t keep putting your physicists to sleep for thirty years at a time.

  • NS March 15, 2014, 1:26

    “fantasy wishful thinking”

    “What is now proved was once only imagined.” — Blake

  • Adam March 15, 2014, 6:22

    Having read an instalment in “Analog” I am intrigued and await the full version with ‘bated breath. Mike Lockmoore, you’re thinking of “Schild’s Ladder” by Greg Egan – the main character and his first girlfriend speed up to normal time while the rest of the planet is in “go slow” to stay in synch with an ambassador who has gone to another star system. The post-humans of “Schild’s Ladder” can vary their clock-speed as desired.

  • Norman Wells March 15, 2014, 7:43

    As simple a requirement as voice communication is already a problem ,due to FTL as soon as we leave Earth .And all forms of data transfer,using e/m radiation suffer from an increasing delay the greater the distance from Earth due to the finite transmission time involved .For travel within the Solar system it may be possible to accommodate this handicap to two way communication using e/m transmission, but on venturing into Deep Space its use will soon become impractical . Thus to retain two-way communication with home base from destinations whose distances are measured in light years one must hope that some much faster method may be discovered .

  • Eniac March 15, 2014, 9:34

    A.A> Jackson:

    it seems possible humans will within few hundred years have life spans of 1000′s to 10,000′s of years if not longer.
    That changes the whole dynamic of D = V*T , it would have a huge impact on the whole socio-politico-economic fabric of a civilization.

    Would the impact really be huge? It is an often stated preconception that longer life spans lead to more patience, somehow. I am not convinced. An 8 year turn-around time for basic negotiation with, say, the Centauri system will be vastly detrimental (fatal, really) to the conduct of administration, trade, politics, and war. It hardly matters whether the participants can hope to live 80 or 8000 years. It is not your lifespan that your patience will relate to, but the comparative rate at which you can achieve things without the latency. Hours instead of decades. I do not think that an 8000 year lifespan would reduce our appreciation of instant gratification. Not mine, anyway, I am pretty sure.

    The lockstep approach is an interesting approach, albeit like others here I have a feeling that it amounts to a huge waste of time not worth the benefits. One interesting aspect that I have not seen mentioned, though, is that you could have, in the same space and time, a large number lockstep civilizations proceeding in parallel, keeping away from each other by taking turns with their wake-periods. A multi-phasic lockstep civilization, if you will. Wake-hardware could be shared, sleep-hardware would need to be separate.

  • Joe March 15, 2014, 11:39

    Rather than Lockstep, a better name for this universe might be the Hangover Universe. That’s becuase the inhabitants are likely to spend about 10% of their waking lives recovering from the effects of hibernation. Bears are grumpy and hungry when they wake up in the spring. And we all know what Hans Solo was like when he got out of the carbonite.

  • James D. Stilwell March 15, 2014, 11:53

    Very solid comments throughout….
    FTL would surely come well after the Artilects….
    In which case we may have become their adorable pets….
    Perhaps ‘Q’ in Star Trek might not be so far-fetched after all…
    As someone back a few has warned with an important quote:
    “What is now proved was once only imagined.”….Blake
    Be aware Lockstep author….

  • Brett Bellmore March 15, 2014, 13:07

    From a storytelling standpoint, perhaps you could posit that the hibernation has some positive benefit, perhaps during it medical nanites are busy repairing your body, so that occasional long periods of hibernation will greatly extend lifespan. In that case, I could see an argument for people coordinating those periods, so that people didn’t lose any competitive advantage by hibernating while others were awake, and everybody could thus safely gain the benefit of the treatment.

    But there are so many potential unscheduled emergencies that could come up, that I really can’t see a whole society going under at once. Eniac’s polyphase civilization seems a more likely solution to that, multiple societies time sharing the same living space.

  • Norman Wells March 15, 2014, 14:12

    An increase in our life span seems possible,without much physical change in our bodies or our constitutions. I think it probable that a doubling could be achieved by medical science within the next two hundred years, but I doubt that our race will achieve a much longer life span due to the physical changes in our anatomy that would be necessary and the modifications that a longer life span would produce in our society. Even longer life spans still, may only be achieved by evolution of a new model ! Historically Evolution has taken a long time, but one can imagine it being shortened dramatically by human intervention.
    I think that even a doubling our life span would have advantages . For example it would permit individual scientists and engineers to have more time in which to follow up and develop new discoveries and concepts, to useful conclusions and practical applications.
    However a longer life span would not solve the problem of communications latency. As I have already said we must hope that science eventually finds the answer and proves once again that neccessity is the mother of invention.!

    I do not see the ‘Lock step ‘concept’ as practicable , but clearly as part of a Sci-Fi theme it will make an interesting read,and who knows! And I have always enjoyed Sci Fi ,which is after all a fertile breeding ground for new ideas .

  • david lewis March 15, 2014, 15:24

    If the hibernation process isn’t too excessive with the energy it would alleviate many of the environmental problems that a high tech society might have. On a per time basis it would be as if the planet had 1/(12*30)th of the people, and the waste, to handle. (Actually I think that was the basis of a movie, or book, that I once saw advertised.)

    It could also make it appear as if computers working on intractable problems were able to run 360 times faster than what they actually are.

    Still, while I can think of many reasons why some individuals and small groups might be eager to hibernate for a period of time, I fail to see anyway short of actual coercion that would make whole societies hibernate like that. It’s easier to believe one of the loopholes that “might” allow for what seems to be FTL being discovered and exploited.

    Or simple place the story in a universe where the civilization isn’t interstellar yet. Maybe instead of so many thousand star systems have several thousand clusters of space habitats each with different internal conditions where different cultures have arisen.

  • Alex Tolley March 15, 2014, 15:30

    Orson Scott Card’s, “Hot Sleep” has Jason Worthing repeatedly hibernate on Somec and awaken to follow the future development of a space colony.

    @Eniac – what could be more immediate gratification than initiating a project, hibernating and awakening to see the successful result?

  • Mike March 15, 2014, 16:13

    Where did all those planets come from? Thousands, maybe millions of Ort cloud bodies in a few light-year radius maybe but 70,000 rogue planets between here and Alpha Centauri? 70,000 rogue planets per 4 cubic light years through out the spiral arms unless somehow our little corner of space is special?

    I suppose we’ll have to wait a little longer to get confirming observations from lensing surveys and all-sky surveys from current and up coming instruments ground-based and space based but I suspect that heavy a rogue planet density doesn’t exist. Current theories of planet formation ( though imperfect) just don’t give us those kind of numbers of planets whether in a system or ejected. Perhaps at best a few dozen planets forming with each star but not thousands.

    The conjecture about planets forming separately in huge numbers is not supported by observations at this time. Brown dwarfs (not really planets) are apparently rarer then Red dwarf stars according to WISE and other observations hence Brown dwarfs won’t be filling the interstellar gulfs either.

    Creative constraint is about facing the known realities isn’t it? So we add another creative constraint to this Lockstep universe but not a fatal one. If considering a very much lower rogue planet density and consequent longer travel times then lets have the Locksteppers sleep say, 300 years or longer. Wouldn’t change the space opera plot very much would it?

    I have to agree with some of the postings I’ve read here on this article and other previous articles, unless we have some marvelous breakthrough in physics then I believe Humanity will have to learn how to hibernate its way to the stars. Per somnus ad astra! Centauri dreams indeed.

  • Brett Bellmore March 15, 2014, 16:37

    What could be more ironic than initiating a project, hibernating, and awakening to discover that everybody else did the same?

  • Karl Schroeder March 15, 2014, 17:13

    The “multiphasic” civilization idea is a critical part of Lockstep. Different locksteps keep different schedules, and these may or may not fall in and out of phase. When two locksteps come into phase, it’s called a jubilee–party time! Multiple civilizations can exist in parallel on lockstep worlds at densities that would be impossible in realtime.

    For those who think that there’s no advantage to lockstepping compared with living in realtime, you might want to consider trade. A realtime civilization, while it can exploit resources far faster, also uses them faster; so subjectively, for citizens of lockstep worlds resource availability is far greater than for realtime worlds. More importantly, though, your available trade partners scale hugely in a lockstep, as your “monthly” accessible destinations go up by a factor of 8 with distance. A realtimer may hope to visit five or ten worlds in their lifetime; a lockstepper could visit thousands–and benefit from trade with far more. All of these details are considered in the novel.

  • william f collins March 15, 2014, 18:24

    I think that the premise of this blog and the subsequent responses to be both fascinating and enlightening. I seriously doubt that there are will be any fanciful or imaginary loopholes – warp drives, FTL propulsion, non-existant traversable wormholes, etc.- will provide humanity with FTL space travel. I think that enhanced humans with extended lifespans , who have adapted to space travel after years/decades/centuries of interplanetary exploration , and who will have benefited from the exploitation of the resources of this solar system will spread to other solar systems – albeit at STL. Finally, the proposed explitation of “Dark Energy” or the power of entire stars or any other exotic energy does not mean that we “go there” a lot faster – it does mean that we will not run out of “gas” before we get to our interstellar destinations.

  • Wojciech J March 15, 2014, 18:55

    “I have to agree with some of the postings I’ve read here on this article and other previous articles, unless we have some marvelous breakthrough in physics then I believe Humanity will have to learn how to hibernate its way to the stars.”
    Hibernation would be useful, even needed to stars that are further out from our system, but the nearer stars like Alpha Centauri or Epsilon Eridani could be reached within a human life span. With speeds achievable by realistic propulsion methods we can already sketch out without inventing new physics.

  • Eniac March 15, 2014, 22:19

    Norman Wells:

    … and the modifications that a longer life span would produce in our society.

    Here it is again. Albeit not “huge” this time.

    For example it would permit individual scientists and engineers to have more time in which to follow up and develop new discoveries and concepts

    Really? What motivates most scientists and engineers to finish their work? Is it a) the fear of being scooped by a competitor, or b) the fear of not living long enough? I think that it is safe to say that in the overwhelming number of cases it is a), and that this fear is affected very little by a longer lifespan.

    Sure, if you are dedicating your entire life to a particular endeavor, you may accomplish more with a longer lifespan. However, few people do so, even given our current short lives. And even for those that do, chances are that 10 people living 80 years each could do at least as good a job as one person living 800 years (working on the same problem all that time, shudder!).

  • Eniac March 15, 2014, 22:28

    Alex Tolley:

    what could be more immediate gratification than initiating a project, hibernating and awakening to see the successful result?

    I know what would be less gratifying: Initiating a project, hibernating and awakening to see the failed result, realizing that one could have helped had one stayed awake.

  • Eniac March 15, 2014, 22:54

    It just occurred to me (again, I did not see it mentioned here, although I am pretty sure Karl has thought it through), that the life cycle of the cicada is a fair biological analog of the lockstep civilization. Whatever is known about the evolutionary advantages of the former could shed some light on potential motivations for the latter.

    As I understand, the selective advantage that keeps cicada broods in lockstep is the availability of potential mates. If you wake up at the wrong time, you find yourself very lonely and will have trouble reproducing.

  • Brett Bellmore March 16, 2014, 8:26

    ” A realtimer may hope to visit five or ten worlds in their lifetime; a lockstepper could visit thousands”

    I don’t see that. Regardless of whether or not they take part in some “lockstep” scheme, if hibernation technology is available, people are going to use it on decades long interstellar trips. So the ‘realtimer’ can visit just as many worlds as the ‘lockstepper’, they just won’t be participating in some illusion that it didn’t take a really long time to do so.

    “so subjectively, for citizens of lockstep worlds resource availability is far greater than for realtime worlds. ”

    Only if the resources are restoring themselves during the periods of hibernation. Some resources might do this, like a fishery, or a forest. Others, like ore bodies, would not, and 30 year timeouts would have no influence on the subjective experience at all. And in the multiphasic case, you’d actually see resources diminish faster, because part of them would be consumed while you were shut down, for somebody else’s benefit.

    The basic issue I see here, is that, unless the hibernation itself has some actual benefit, all the benefit from ‘lockstepping’ is subjective, while it has objective disadvantages; Hazardous natural phenomenon going on while you’re hibernating, structures weathering, coordination problems, loss of competitive advantage relative to people who don’t do it.

    Objective problems, I think, tend to trump subjective advantages, in the long run.

    No, a ‘lockstep’ society will not evolve naturally, because of the immense advantages accruing to those willing to work while others sleep. It would have to be enforced by law. Now, if hibernating had real medical advantages, or there was a local resource that needed a ‘time out’ once in a while to recharge, maybe that legally enforced practice would appear to make enough sense that it would get enacted, so society could gain that advantage. Like the law mandates which side of the road we drive on, or allocates frequencies.

    But, even then, it wouldn’t be complete, because you do need a substantial population awake all the time, to deal with contingencies, maintain critical infrastructure, (Having the infrastructure repaired/upgraded while nobody was using it? Very handy.) and so forth. And there’d be a lot of “so forth” going on.

    And, what of the Amish? Or their local analog?

  • A. A. Jackson March 16, 2014, 11:03

    @Eniac
    The mention of cicadas for lockstep reminds me of Cryptobiosis.
    Tardigrades are my favorite, the tardigrade’s metabolism reduces to less than 0.01% of what is normal, and its water content can drop to 1% of normal.
    Because they can endure almost any kind of extreme one can imagine temperature, pressure, radiation and even toxins… they have been of interest in xenobiology.
    Water Bears (Tardigrades, but I love the name ‘water bear) can live 10 years on nothing (well .. really next to nothing).
    Have this vision of genetically engineered cryptobiosis (either Anhydrobiosis or Anoxybiosis or Chemobiosis or Cryobiosis (the OT here I believe) or Osmobiosis… a combination of all these used for interstellar flight.
    Probably already has been done (seems I saw Dr. Who in this game somewhere, maybe?)
    So keep track of proper time and (for want of a better term) inertial time… destination reached , add water!!

  • Peter Popov March 16, 2014, 14:57

    Nice concept. Closer to reality than FTL, by a factor of an unknown constant divided by zero (the amount we know about hybernation divided by the amount we know about FTL). I don’t see why society has to enforce hybernation intervals. One gets to sleep during travels. Basically, you could commute between your home star and your work star every week, separated by 100 years. You just have to get your family and business partners to do the same. One could also seamlessly maintain multiple spouses in this way without any intrinsic conflicts ;-)

    What is not clear if it is easier to hybernate than to transcribe oneself into a silicon substrate (Poul Anderson’s Harvest of Stars tetralogy)

  • Mike March 16, 2014, 15:16

    To Wojciech J, What would you prefer on a 40 or maybe 80 year trip to one of our neighbour stars? Or even (big if) we can manage 20 years to Alpha Centauri? To sleep through nearly all the trip or possibly spend your whole life travelling? One could only guess at the psychological effects.

    Providing hibernation isn’t dangerous and the ship can function autonomously I would think that would be the prefered choice even for the closest stars. Just consider the reduced demand on life support and other resources.

    As I type these words I’m so conscious of how often such ideas have been discussed in the past in fiction and non-fiction writings. I don’t know what will do the job but I hope something will. I like the idea of sleeping through a decades long journey though. “Per somnus ad astra”.

  • Eniac March 16, 2014, 17:20

    A.A. Jackson: I think cryptobiosis refers to a state where there is NO metabolism, not even 0.01%. There is no maintenance and no repair. All that happens during the state, if anything, is damage, to be repaired upon rehydration/thawing. That explains why organisms capable of cryptobiosis are highly radiation resistant: they have heavily souped up DNA repair mechanisms.

    For human applications, that would mean total radiation shielding and exquisite control of the chemical environment, since any radiation or carcinogens present will cause cumulative damage during the cold sleep. Even then, survivable stasis times will always be limited, this way.

    In the end, it is more likely that long-term hibernation will involve a combination of life extension and controlled coma, with metabolism reduced, perhaps, but all maintenance and repair mechanisms functional. I doubt the hibernation itself will contribute much to life extension, that one would need to be achieved separately. Consciousness would be suppressed simply to kill the time, and not necessarily. Perchance to dream?

    You’d need a heck of a tape collection for that road trip….

  • Eniac March 16, 2014, 17:46

    In other words, instead of “live for 10 years on nothing”, it is more accurate to say “be dead for 10 years and then revive”. The name “crypto”-biosis is aptly chosen to allude to this.

  • Gary Warburton March 16, 2014, 18:20

    Ursala Lequin (I`m not sure of the spelling of the second name) used to write about interstellar trips that happened at sublight speeds but at a speeds that were fast enough that relativity came into effect. Her trips were at 99.999 % of the speed of light . I haven`t worked it out but even at half the speed of light time would slow down for the people on board the ship. Such speeds are not beyond the realm of possibility and would be better than cryogenic sleep. One would still be able to make contact with a future earth not too far removed from our present time period. This would work best at least for some of the closer stars. A rotating torus to create artificial gravity and a radiation shield are also not beyond the realm of possibility nor is an ion engine and a nuclear power source. An interferometer is all that is needed to tell us what`s out there and away we go.

  • Wojciech J March 16, 2014, 18:48

    Mike:
    ” To sleep through nearly all the trip or possibly spend your whole life travelling? One could only guess at the psychological effects.”
    We already have a precedent in human history, quite widespread actually, where people did this-monasteries. People spent their entire lives in seclusion, contemplating ideas among like minded individuals and seldom if ever interacting with world(in some orders of course, not all of them). I personally wouldn’t mind spending 20 or 30 years among people with like minded vision and similar passions, especially if a new world to explore would be the reward. And for some people in today’s hectic social interaction heavy world such prospect could be actually very attractive.
    But yes, you are correct that hibernation makes more sense from efficiency point of view and would be favorable to most people. The thing is I am not exactly sure if hibernation slows down aging that well enough. If somebody knows, please share your knowledge.
    Perhaps to truly travel the interstellar void, humans would have to be heavily bioengineered in order to hibernate, have increased life spans, resist radiation, have better senses in zero-g, more adaptive muscular and bone structure. Effectively making them post-human. An interesting vision, not many would like the idea of forcing kids to do this in a dangerous mission to other star(there is a way around this though, give many these modifications and then select volunteers who would agree to use their gifts for this)…Perhaps the point is that to force humanity to travel across the stars current political models are unsuitable, constrained by shortsightedness and ethics. Just a speculation, a food for thought.

  • ljk March 17, 2014, 8:13

    To quote from this article:

    “I did write Lockstep because I understood that it’s not actual starflight that interests most people—it’s the romance of a Star Trek or Star Wars-type interstellar civilization they want. Not the reality, but the fantasy. Even so, I misjudged the, well, the fervor with which some people cling to the belief that the lightspeed limit will just somehow, magically and handwavingly, get engineered around.”

    I think that sums up the key problems with making interstellar travel a reality even more than just the technical and physics issues.

    As for living longer, if that means barely functioning at all or becoming like a tardigrade or a clam, then what is the point?

  • ljk March 17, 2014, 8:20

    Perhaps the two are not entirely connected, but the fact that The Walking Dead and Resurrection did better in the ratings than Cosmos did during its premiere last week shows that many people do not really want to learn about science. This translates into the preference for living in fantasy worlds over building real ones in space.

    I considered whether what I wrote above was too harsh and even generalizing. I have decided I am being mild. If we really did care about what matters in life, we would have had colonies throughout the Sol system and sending probes to other star systems by now. Perhaps even have detected intelligent alien life. None of these things have come to pass despite literal centuries of thinking about them.

    Am I impatient? You bet. Will we have enough time left to make these things happen? I don’t know. You tell me….

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/nasafunded-study-warns-of-collapse-of-civilisation-in-coming-decades-9195668.html

    If we want to build starships, we better do it now while things are still relatively stable and we have enough resources and time. Deciding to launch survivors in a Worldship when civilization is on the verge of collapse or some celestial catastrophe is on its way is not going to work.

  • Terraformer March 17, 2014, 11:19

    I have to question why people have to get to other worlds within a few subjective days of travel. Through human history, people have put up with journey times on the order of months – taking 2 months to get to a world (say, living in the Oort cloud and using fast beam powered ships, allowing travel to planets within a couple of lightweeks) does not seem to be particularly a hardship, especially if you’re staying awake and using the time constructively, are immortal (or very long lived), or indeed both. I don’t think your homeworld will change much in the year that you’re away, and any news from there will only be a fortnight out of date when it arrives. Of course, if people opt to sleep for two days and wake for one, that subjectively speeds everything up by a factor of 3… but I don’t think that’s all that necessary for ‘near’ worlds. People leave home for 6 month stretches regularly today, and I’m sure they had longer tours of duty when it took longer than a day to travel back home…

  • A. A. Jackson March 17, 2014, 11:53

    “As for living longer, if that means barely functioning at all or becoming like a tardigrade or a clam, then what is the point?”

    O, come on!
    Of what use is super science then?
    A K2 civilization just uses the mechanism , but enhances the result, or the outcome.

  • Mike Lockmoore March 17, 2014, 12:19

    Adam: you may well be right that I’m remembering Egan’s _Schild’s Ladder_. Thanks for that. The whole notion raises a lot of questions and issues, to which the number of posts here can attest!

  • ljk March 17, 2014, 14:43

    A. A. Jackson March 17, 2014 at 11:53:

    [LJK] “As for living longer, if that means barely functioning at all or becoming like a tardigrade or a clam, then what is the point?”

    “O, come on!
    “Of what use is super science then?
    A K2 civilization just uses the mechanism , but enhances the result, or the outcome.”

    A. A. Jackson, with all due respect, it concerns me that this sounds a lot like those folks who think hyperdrives will someday just happen because it will take place in their future.

    What current medical evidence is there that we can extend human lives while at the same time ensuring their physical and especially their mental health do not suffer from decline in the process?

    I am also very wary of unknown aliens having such answers for us. While I do think we will learn a lot from discovering ETI, I am not banking on them sending us their equivalent of the Encyclopedia Galactica. I will not mind being wrong about this, but I just do not think any rational society will give away all its secrets to the Universe at large, unless they are either really secure or really apathetic.

  • Michael March 17, 2014, 16:06

    @Eniac March 16, 2014 at 17:20

    ‘That explains why organisms capable of cryptobiosis are highly radiation resistant: they have heavily souped up DNA repair mechanisms.’

    Radiation resistant organisms such as Deinococcus radiodurans don’t have to have souped-up repair mechanisms as they only need to repair a smaller number of base pairs ~3 million versus ~3 billion for a human for example. Further they are much smaller and simpler independent cells, so if one is damaged it would say mutate or die, what would most likely kill humans is cancer as one cell could reproduce uncontrollably to kill the whole organism.

  • Alex Tolley March 17, 2014, 18:13

    We already live in a lockstep by sleeping 1/3 of our lives, in approximate synchrony. Without sleep we would die within weeks, so this state of unconsciousness is necessary for long life.

    It seems to me that if reality changed so that sleep was the dominant state of our lives, we would approach the world of lockstep. We already see this in cases of coma victims who eventually recover. They unfortunately do not live in a lockstep world. The attempt to have Capt. America awaken in a simulated world that he left is an example of simulating lockstep (at least temporarily).

    Conversely, we have had fiction where the subject’s experience of time is hugely increased compared to the rest of the world (e.g. Clarke’s “All the Time in the World”). The problems of this experience may overwhelm the apparent benefits when the world is dominantly slow.

    I therefore do not see obvious objections to the concept of a lockstep world, but some problems are self evident, as are the apparent benefits.

  • Terraformer March 17, 2014, 20:56

    One possible way to have a lockstep world would be for people to spend 10 days asleep with one awake. Go to bed, and at some point transition into cold sleep, waking up 10 days later. You don’t have the same problems that accrue from spending years asleep at a time. Perhaps a more realistic (at the start) way would be transitioning to spending 1/3 of our lives awake, so sleeping for an additional 24 hour day for each day.

    At a 10:1 lockstep, a world a light month away will be accessible to ships travelling at 5% of c within a couple of months of waketime. Have faster ships, and you can make it in a couple of weeks. Or a closer destination, or both.

    People would choose to lockstep, I suppose, if they wanted to retain bonds between themselves and another world that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. Say, a group of worlds settled by a group that wanted to maintain a strong group identity.