1. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    Semi-Realistic Communication over Relativistic Distances

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by DeepBlue10055, Jul 20, 2012.

    I'm currently working on a piece based in our own galaxy a few hundred years in the future. The Republic that the book takes place in is located in the Orion Arm (the arm in which earth resides), but as you may know even this small part of the Galaxy measures thousands of light years long.

    The starships in this story are equipped with Dark Matter drives, which allow them to travel across the Orion Arm in about a week. But what about communications?

    This is where I am split.
    I could make things easy by introducing a kind of "dark matter communication," in which news and information could travel instantaneously from planet to planet, no matter the distance.
    But what I have right now is a different system. Small automated ships, equipped with their own Dark Matter drives, are loaded with data and sent from planet to planet. This would be all well and good, but two problems arise. The first is in the writing itself-- I have to take a paragraph or two to explain the important details and their implications. boooring. The second problem is that news can take awhile to spread, which has implications for the story that I'm not sure if I like.

    What are your thoughts? Should I go less realistic and easier, or more realistic and harder?
     
  2. cobaltblue
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    cobaltblue Member

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    I have a similar situation in one of the pieces I have been toying with for sometime. My characters travel great distances through space in ships equipped with technology which basically allows them to open a wormhole and travel through, closing it behind them... but they need to communicate between their destination and their point of origin and I'm stumped on how to make that happen. I had been thinking along the line of, it's an established 'route' which they take and there are stations in place which relay the message along from point A to point B (which sounded like it would take way too long)... then I'd been thinking info pods that collect the data and do the same wormhole trick to transport the news (then I thought that sounded like the communications had to wait for a bus)... then I decided I needed something else, option 3... and that was where I ran aground.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Realistically, there is no way to do it through normal space. Relativistically speaking, it's impossible to even determine which of two separated events occurs first. There is no such thing as simultaneity in Einsteinian spacetime.

    So whatever technology you use to circumvent the C limit for travel, you'll have to either devise a technology for communication as well. Or consider the alternative, that the only practical communication is courier ships, effectively isolating civilizations in different star systems from one another, Limitations are the meat and potatoes of plot development.

    In a novel I'm working on, the colonists have traveled to a relatively nearby star, but it is far enough that radio signals take decades to travel one way between the colony and Earth. It required only a couple years for the colony ship to travel there, because they used a jump technology, so most of the travel time was between the jump point and the Earth or the destination planet. So they are effectively cut off from Earth.
     
  4. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    I really should have titled this "more plausible" rather than semi-realistic, as C+ travel is theoretically impossible.

    But either way, In my universe, the systems of the Orion Arm are all part of a Republic. To keep the dynamics of the country similar to modern day countries, I might have to go the easy route. I'm trying to make this a sort of loose commentary on the folly of current political parties in the United States, so keeping it relatable to current times is important.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Then postulate communication through microsingularities, microwormholes, string theory resonances, etc. If you've already postulated a dark matter drive (although it probably isn't "matter" at all), then you're in an entirely unexplored realm of physics anyway. However, dark matter phenomena are probably immeasurably small on anything less than a galactic/superglactic scale. You may be better off looking to quantum theory and string theory.

    Strong and weak nuclear forces dominate at an atomic scale. Electromagnetic forces dominate on our scale, overlapping with gravity, which dominates from pebbles up to interstellar scale. Newtonian mechanics yield to Einsteinian mechanics in dominance at high velocities and at interstellar to intergalactic scale. The still little-understood "dark matter" forces seem to first appeal at the high end of interstellar scale, running into galactic and supergalactic scale and beyond, where they become the most dominant set of physical laws.

    String theory originates at the subatomic level, but has ramifications that may extend to interstellar mechanics.
     
  6. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    All very valid facts. With my project I'm trying to have enough science present to satisfy some basic requirements without going overboard. A knowledgable reader might love highly technical explanations, but the average reader would likely be bored and confused.

    I'm thinking now of going with a happy medium-- Communications can be sent instantaneously through some Dark Matter/String Theory related concept or medium, but highly specialized equipment is required to detect the mode of transmission. Essentially, planets or space stations could pick them up, but in order for a battle cruiser to receive them, it would need to power down all other systems and divert all energy to the detection array.

    This is not unlike what submarines had to do during the Cold War. If they wanted to receive transmissions from command, they needed to expose themselves by coming to the surface and sending up the comms array. Similarly, if a cruiser in deep space (in my project) wants to receive comms, it must power down its weapons and defenses to receive a signal.

    Thoughts?
     
  7. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    You shouldn't be "split." You have an inbuilt component for drama yet you find the potential it offers you to be... boring? Dude!

    What is "boring" is real-time communications. What is boring is having the news of events communicated so rapidly that it's yesterday's news by the time the cause physically reaches the destination. Instead of trying to figure a way around using slower communications by inventing more science-fiction, you should be wondering how to develop the nature of your current communication system into a plot element all its own.

    You've already broken the FTL rule, so trying to comply there isn't worth it. You've made FTL blase' for a reader that would view FTL as "ZOMGZ FTL!" That's OK, but you have to play with it gingerly. If you don't, people will expect a fantasy novel out of you instead of the hard science-fiction novel you're trying to write.

    If it were me, I would use the slow communications as a plot element by adding a lot of drama to it. What happens when "the message arrives to late?" What happens when the reader fears that the message will arrive to late? That apprehension on the part of the reader might be worth its weight in ink if you can use it by twisting it around a slower-than-light communications paradigm.

    But, if you're determined for FTL communications to be the rule of the day, then here's an idea -

    Dark Matter Quantum Teleportation - Do some homework on Quantum Teleportation, which basically refers to the uncertainty of a quantum particle causing it to appear somewhere it would not otherwise be able to appear... as in anywhere or even on the other side of otherwise impermeable barriers. Now, mix this in with massless particles not being forced to obey the Universal Speedlimit and add the fact that these particles do not experience time within their frame of reference, so they don't ever degrade. Add in Quantum Entanglement to the mix by forcing the message particles to become entangled with the Universe's Dark Matter. Properly done, FTL communication is possible, in your setting, and has a bunch of catchwords that some hard science-fiction people might appreciate. However, add into the mix that certain types of messages transmitted using certain particles from the vicinity of a rapidly rotating Kerr black-hole or an appropriately massive rotating neutron star could, in practical effect, be transmitted back in time. Yes, you could call your grandfather, before he was your grandfather... At least, in your science-fiction story. :D (Or, you could warn of an upcoming event before the recipients even knew of the possibility.)

    I'd still think that the suspense component of slower than light communications in an FTL travel setting would be more interesting and could provide for more creative opportunities.
     
  8. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    True. And this is why I'm split! At its core, this novel will be about politics, underhanded plots, and violent conflict. The science will be central as well, but mostly as an enabler to the action.

    There will certainly be things that are downright unrealistic. The "dark matter drives" operate by generating a surplus of dark matter behind a ship, and a vacuum in front of it. Is this realistic? No. Is this how dark matter really works? Almost certainly not. But it's an idea that most can wrap their heads around. High pressure behind, low pressure in front, object moves forward.

    For this novel to work on a basic level, FTL travel is essential, because how could a Republic form in the Orion Arm if the planets could only send one message to each other every thousand+ years, then have to wait for a response? I think communications is an area that I can get more plausible in, however. Quantum Teleportation is something I will certainly look into. I'll also give more thought to comms that take up to a week to arrive, because you're right, it could (and should be) be a huge plot device. I'm currently drafting a short chapter/scenario that depends on this type of communication.
     
  9. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    Actually, it would be a surplus of Dark Matter in front of a ship, or even none, and a vacuum of it behind. Dark Matter is basically just mass and you're using a gravity drive principle. However, if you wished to use Dark Energy, you could use something similar to what you have described above as Dark Energy is repulsive. It's not quite Anti-Gravity, but close enough.

    Make the technology influence the society and effect the people within it, at all costs. That is what Science Fiction is about. Science Fiction is not about neat gimcrackery. It's about how that neat gimcrackery effects people. Otherwise, Science Fiction books would be fictitious technical manuals and would be pretty boring reads.

    So, to build the best tech for your story, which ideas have the most opportunity for you to think of ways they could effect the people in your book in an interesting manner compared to today? Obviously, writing about submarines today is sort of passe' since "Hunt for Red October." But, done a hundred years ago and they would be considered marvelous Science Fiction. So, pick the tech that would have the most impact on the people and the story. FTL communications would be boring because we experience almost instant communication ability across the globe, today. But, pair STL Comm with FTL travel, and you have a nice irony and dichotomy to work with. You can play them off each other to great effect. Otherwise, it's just a storyline "also ran" and won't be significant in and of itself.

    You don't have to have STL comms. But, now that you have introduced the idea, it's probably a good plot device if you can manage. Yet, plenty of Science Fiction novels do without it and opt for FTL comm. They just don't use that as a plot device.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    That does not fit with current theories about dark matter, The majority of physicists and cosmologists believe it is a property of matter, or of space itself, that only appears in detectable levels in very large scales (interstellar and up).

    There would not be "concentrations" of dark matter in that scenario. It isn't like concentrations of dust or non-radiating gases.
     
  11. CrimsonReaper
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    CrimsonReaper Active Member

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    If you want a commentary on modern policitics (sigh...already boring) then make it instant communication via Zupelgorf waves. After their discovery by Andre Zupelgorf of course. Or via paired psychics. Whatever. It's all the same in the end (magic). You just can later on get differest stories out of different versions (block the waves, kill one of the psychics). Or don't bother explaining FTL coms. Do most people who watch the news really know how it gets to their television? Who cares? If it doesn't affect the story itself, you are wasting words on it. Just put in the scene where a news reporter and her floating camera gets in your hero's face and gets punched out. And that is totally not refering to a popular video game.
     
  12. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    Precisely why I brought this here. I don't know a thing about Dark Matter. I don't want readers who are more knowledgeable than myself calling out all the BS in my later drafts :p Then again, it is the future. Maybe in my story I could include a passing mention of a physicist who made revolutionary discoveries about the properties of dark matter that made FTL travel possible.

    @Crimson, I think that explanations are a cool part of science fiction. It can allow the reader to fantasize about a possible future. Does that make sci-fi fantasy? In a way, yes. But I don't mind. Fantasy had always appealed to me, but sci-fi has a cooler edge to it.
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    So call it something like the Hutchinson drive. Don't try to explain its basis, just its behavioral characteristics that apply to the story (i.e. whether it jumps instantaneously or follows a plotted course in subspace, whether you can enter or leave it anywhere in space or only at certain points relative to gravity wells, etc.)

    Technobabble will always get you in trouble, especially if you don't follow the frontiers of physics.

    I recommend you stay away from "warp drive" concepts that just act like the speed of light limit doesn't exist with the right kind of engines - there are still too many General Relativity constraints that would be violated.
     
  14. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    I would enjoy reading a reference that discussed Dark Matter in that way. If have not read of it in majority-opinion pieces described as a field. Your description sounds a lot like MoND. But, suffice it to say that the key to dark matter is that it possesses or interacts with mass/gravity. Since you can not have "anti-gravity" without jumping through some serious hoops or upsetting some hard science-fiction readers, placing "dark matter", of whatever flavor you wished to call it, capable of interactions across short distances in a position "behind" a ship in some concentration would only succeed in attracting the ship backwards.

    However, if had enough energy, you could take advantage of the Dark Energy, likely a field, and put that behind the ship and figure out some way to interact or "surf" it.

    However, it's science fiction and not really worth worrying about too much. For myself, I've always preferred either "transitional" travel, where the ship enters a realm that defies a few convenient laws, or restricted gravity drives.
     
  15. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    Alright, I've changed a few things. Hopefully Cogito won't mind, but I'm posting a few sentences from my project in here (for plausibility reasons only!)

    "The technology itself was even older than the Republic. In the early 24th century, a pioneer in astrophysics named Doctor Christopher Halcyon developed the technology single-handedly, using his own set of physical laws known as Distortion Theory. A science that deals with Quantum particles and the alteration of space-time, Distortion Theory is still not fully understood even two-hundred years after the death of its creator. But Halcyon Drives could nevertheless be replicated and improved upon for greater efficiency. Previous warships would disappear for as long as a month before materializing on the other side of the Orion Arm, but revolutionary advances in the past year allowed Intervention-Class cruisers to make the trip in just six days."

    This may not go into the project, but I'll probably use a similar idea. So would you call BS on this? Want to know more?
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Reads like an infodump. When your character is on board a starship, just show the maneuvering (if necessary) to move the ship to where the drive can be engaged, then announce (again, if necessary) a shipboard alert that the Halcyon drive is about to be engaged. Then do it, and show the passenger or crew perception of travel with, or after, the Halcyon drive is activated.

    You don't need to give a history lesson!
     
  17. DeepBlue10055
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    DeepBlue10055 Member

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    Yeah, I completely agree, I plan on integrating it into dialogue or action somewhere else. But do you think the concept is workable? I feel that it's a nice balance between being too vague and overly technical.
     
  18. Morkonan
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    Morkonan Senior Member

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    There's nothing to call "B.S." on as there's nothing there specific enough to argue about. That's fine.

    However, I would save such a piece, as a whole, for a Glossary and not put it in the body of the text in that form. Instead, I would gift certain bits of the lore, here and there, as short explanations from characters in dialogue or as tidbits of exposition scattered throughout the earlier portions of the story.
     
  19. AAvertigo
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    AAvertigo New Member

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    Infodumping aside this sounds fine but I think there needs to be a decision upon what the tone of your story is going to take. If you want a frenzied political atmosphere where every major player can be overloaded with information then I'd go with some form of instant information transfer. The slower method allows for more routes for political sabotage (intercepting messenger ships, etc.) but will naturally create a calmer/paced atmosphere. However I disagree that a glossary entry is needed for this blurb as Morkonan suggested. Perhaps the character could be attending a class, pass by a plaque, or something along those lines (of course it'd have be a more streamlined blurb but it would convey the same message.)
     
  20. B93
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    B93 Active Member

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    Your "facts" about the Halcyon drive are palatable and adequate. Work the info into conversations and action.

    "He going to FarWorld."
    "That's the other side of the Orion Arm. He won't get there for a month."
    "He's on a new Intervention-Class cruiser. The engineers have gotten the efficiency up and it can do it in six days."
    "You mean they've finally understood Distortion Theory?
    "Not really. The astrophysicists haven't improved the theory since Doctor Halcyon died two hundred years ago. It's still not self-consistent, but it works anyway and they keep tweaking the machinery."

    I missed any connection to communication, though. That's where you have to deal with the more obvious paradoxes. What are you planning to do with that?
     
  21. DeepBlue10055
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    I might go with the semi-instantaneous route. I could still use a messenger type system, but say that because the mass of the automated Infopods carrying the messages is much less than a battle cruiser, they can travel much faster. This would fit into the Halcyon's limits, but allow for a fast paced story.

    By the way, if you haven't read it yet, the first 3000 words of this project are up in the novel section. It's called Divide.
     
  22. DeepBlue10055
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  23. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Take it with a grain of salt with the mass of stellar singularity. I don't place much faith in the site at the other end of the link. However, I will leave the link in this instance because it is relevant to the discussion and not something that will necessarily turn up in a google search.

    Many theories built upon general relativity in the last several decades have reinforced the premise that the speed of light is an inviolate limit within spacetime, so I am very suspicious of theories that "tweak" their way around it. Too many other theories would collapse if conditions of GR are shaky.

    Even theoretical physicists aren't immune to the seductions of wishful thinking.
     
  24. DeepBlue10055
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    Exactly. I just thought (whether it was plausible or not) that it was very interesting that some physicists had theories that were similar to my fictional ideas.
     
  25. PlotDeviceManager
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    I have recently been working a story about a woman who leaves Earth and heads into the galaxy, sort of right at the start of Earth's involvement with the whole galactic community. At first, I struggled with the technical details because as much I love science and learning, I'm kind of dumb.

    Then, I thought what if my character is equally "dumb"? She ends up traveling halfway through the galaxy, not understanding how most things work. It ended up being kind of funny and sort of scary, especially when she gets arrested. Prison in another country is bad enough, but "space prison" and you barely know how the toilets work? Can you imagine being the "hillbilly" of space prison?
     

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