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An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay. The term ansible is broadly shared across works of several science fiction authors, settings and continuities.


Ursula K. Le Guin coined the word ansible in her 1966 novel Rocannon's World.[1] The word is a contraction of "answerable", as the device would allow its users to receive answers to their messages in a reasonable amount of time, even over interstellar distances.[2] Her award-winning 1974 novel The Dispossessed, a book in the Hainish Cycle, tells of the invention of the ansible.[3]

Le Guin's ansible was said to communicate "instantaneously",[3] but other authors have adopted the name for devices capable only of finite-speed communication, although still faster than light.

Use in fiction[edit]

The name of the device has since been borrowed by authors such as Orson Scott Card,[4] Vernor Vinge,[5] Elizabeth Moon,[6] Jason Jones,[7] Kim Stanley Robinson,[8] L.A. Graf,[9] and Dan Simmons.[10]

In Le Guin's work[edit]

In The Word for World Is Forest, Le Guin explains that in order for communication to work with any pair of ansibles, at least one "must be on a large-mass body, the other can be anywhere in the cosmos."

In The Left Hand of Darkness, the ansible

doesn't involve radio waves, or any form of energy. The principle it works on, the constant of simultaneity, is analogous in some ways to gravity ... One point has to be fixed, on a planet of certain mass, but the other end is portable.

Any ansible may be used to communicate through any other, by setting its coordinates to those of the receiving ansible. They have a limited bandwidth which only allows for at most a few hundred characters of text to be communicated in any transaction of a dialog session, and are attached to a keyboard and small display to perform text messaging.

In Card's work[edit]

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game series uses the term "ansible" for his own fictitious communicator, one of the characters explaining that "...somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere."[4] Card's description of the ansible's functions in Xenocide involves a fictional subatomic particle, the philote. In the "Enderverse", the two quarks inside a pi meson can be separated by an arbitrary distance while remaining connected by "philotic rays". This concept is similar to quantum teleportation due to entanglement. However, in reality, quark confinement prevents quarks from being separated by any observable distance. The ansible is also featured in the video game Advent Rising, for which Card helped write the story.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bernardo, Susan M. & Murphy, Graham J. Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006), page 18.
  2. ^ Quinion, Michael. "Ansible". World Wide Words. 
  3. ^ a b Le Guin, Ursula K. (August 2001) [June 1974]. The Dispossessed (mass ppb. ed.). New York: Eos/HarperCollins. p. 276. ISBN 0-06-105488-7. 'They print Reumere's plans for the ansible.' 'What is the ansible?' 'It's what he's calling an instantaneous communication device.' 
  4. ^ a b Card, Orson Scott (July 1994) [August 1977]. Ender's Game (mass ppb. ed.). New York: Tor Books. p. 249. ISBN 0-8125-5070-6. What matters is we built the ansible. The official name is Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator, but somebody dredged the name ansible out of an old book somewhere and it caught on. 
  5. ^ Vinge, Vernor (1988-11-01). "The Blabber". Threats & Other Promises. Riverdale, NY: Baen. p. 254. ISBN 0-671-69790-0. 'It's an ansible.' 'Surely they don't call it that!' 'No. But that's what it is.' 
  6. ^ Moon, Elizabeth (1995-08-01). Winning Colors (mass ppb. ed.). Riverdale, NY: Baen. p. 89. ISBN 0-671-87677-5. ...when I was commissioned, we didn't have FTL communications except from planetary platforms. I was on Boarhound when they mounted the first shipboard ansible, and at first it was only one-way, from the planet to us. 
  7. ^ Jones, Jason (with Greg Kirkpatrick) (1995-11-24) Marathon 2: Durandal, computer game, Chicago, Illinois: Bungie Software. "A connection [?ansible] was left; awaiting the next quiet [?peace]; and though destroyed by the threes, it will scream over the void one time."
  8. ^ "Any device that uses this phenomenon is called an ansible, and these devices have been constructed." (2312)
  9. ^ Graf, L.A. [Julia Ecklar] (August 1996). Time's Enemy (Star Trek Deep Space Nine: Invasion, 3. mass pbk. ed.). New York: Pocket Books. p. 203. ISBN 0-671-54150-1. '...The two Dax symbionts can communicate with each other across space, instantaneously, because they're composed of identical quantum particles. I've become a living ansible, Benjamin.' 
  10. ^ Simmons, Dan (2003-07-01). Ilium (hbk. ed.). New York: Eos/HarperCollins. p. 98. ISBN 0-380-97893-8. I can see Nightenhelser madly taking notes on his recorder ansible. 


  • Bernardo, Susan M.; Murphy, Graham J. (2006). Ursula K. Le Guin: A Critical Companion (1st ed.). Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-33225-8. 
  • Bloom, Harold, ed. (1986). Ursula K. Le Guin (1st ed.). New York, NY: Chelsea House. ISBN 0-87754-659-2. 
  • Sheidlower, Jesse, ed. (6 July 2008). "ansible n.". Science Fiction Citations for the OED. Retrieved 15 March 2014.