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Hyperspace (also, subspace, overspace, nulspace[1]: 75 ) is a concept from science fiction and cutting-edge science relating to higher dimensions and a superluminal method of interstellar travel. It is typically described as an alternative "sub-region" of space co-existing with our own universe. In much of science fiction, hyperspace is described as a physical place that can be entered and exited using a rubber science energy field or similar phenomena generated by a shipboard device often known as a "hyperdrive".[2] The superluminal function of the concept is therefore facilitated by the fact that, once in hyperspace, the laws of general and special relativity do not necessarily behave in the same way when compared to normal spacetime, allowing travelers through hyperspace to go astronomical distances in periods of time far shorter than what an analogous object traveling at the speed of light would take traveling said distance in normal spacetime. This allows for apparent faster-than-light travel, which is necessary to have practical, human-timescale travel across outer space.

Astronomical distances and the impossibility of faster-than-light travel pose a challenge to most science-fiction authors. They can be dealt with in several ways: accept them as such (hibernation, slow boats, generation ships, time dilation – the crew will perceive the distance as much shorter and thus flight time will be short from their perspective), find a way to move faster than light (warp drive), "fold" space to achieve instantaneous translation (e.g. the Dune universe's Holtzman effect), access some sort of shortcut (wormholes), utilize a closed timelike curve (e.g. Stross' Singularity Sky), or sidestep the problem in an alternate space: hyperspace. Detailed descriptions of the mechanisms of hyperspace travel are often provided in stories using the plot device, sometimes incorporating some actual physics such as relativity or string theory.

Early depictions[edit]

Earliest references to hyperspace in fiction appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories (shown here is the Spring 1931 issue featuring John Campbell's Islands of Space)

Though the concept of hyperspace did not emerge until the 20th century, along with space travel as a whole, stories of an unseen realm outside our normal world are part of earliest oral tradition. Some stories, before the development of the science fiction genre, feature space travel using a fictional existence outside what humans normally observe. In Somnium (published 1634), Johannes Kepler tells of travel to the moon with the help of demons.

From the 1930s through to the 1950s, many stories in the science fiction magazines, Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction introduced readers to hyperspace as a fourth spatial dimension. Kirk Meadowcroft's "The Invisible Bubble" (1928)[3][4] and John Campbell's Islands of Space (1931) features an early reference to hyperspace.[5] In John Buchan's Ruritanian romance novel The House of the Four Winds (1935), the young Scotsman John "Jaikie" Galt is said to know "...less about women than he knew about the physics of hyperspace."

In Isaac Asimov's Foundation (1951), hyperspace is described as an "...unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time."[6]

Writers of stories in magazines used the hyperspace concept in various ways. In The Mystery of Element 117 (1949) by Milton Smith, a window is opened into a new "hyperplane of hyperspace" containing those who have already died on Earth. In Arthur C. Clarke's Technical Error (1950), a man is laterally reversed by a brief accidental encounter with "hyperspace".

Hyperspace travel became widespread in science fiction, because of the perceived limitations of FTL travel in ordinary space. In E.E. Smith's Gray Lensman (1939), a "5th order drive" allows travel to anywhere in the universe while hyperspace weapons are used to attack spaceships. In Nelson Bond's The Scientific Pioneer Returns (1940), the hyperspace concept is described. Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, first published between 1942 and 1944 in Astounding, featured a Galactic Empire traversed through hyperspace. Asimov's short story Little Lost Robot (1947) features a "Hyperatomic Drive" shortened to "Hyperdrive" and observes that "fooling around with hyper-space isn't fun". In the 1955 classic Forbidden Planet, the crew is in a hyperspace suspended state during interstellar travel.

Later depictions[edit]

By the 1950s, hyperspace travel had become established as a typical means for traveling in science fiction.

The streaking stars effect was initially used in Dark Star (1974) and became a popular cinematic depiction of hyperspace travel

Stanley Kubrick's epic 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey features interstellar travel through a mysterious "star gate". This lengthy sequence, noted for its psychedelic special effects conceived by Douglas Trumbull, influenced a number of later cinematic depictions of superluminal and hyperspatial travel, such as Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).[7][8] In the 1974 film Dark Star, special effects designer Dan O'Bannon created a visual effect to depict the eponymous Dark Star spaceship accelerating into hyperspace by tracking the camera while leaving the shutter open. In this shot, the stars in space turn into streaks of light while the spaceship appears to be motionless. This is considered to be the first depiction in cinema history of a ship making the jump into hyperspace. The streaking hyperspace effect was later employed in Star Wars (1977).[9][8]

Hyperspace is often depicted as blue, pulsing with Cherenkov radiation. Many stories feature hyperspace as a dangerous place, and others require a ship to follow set hyperspatial "highways". Hyperspace is often described as being an unnavigable dimension where straying from a preset course can be disastrous.[citation needed]

In some science fiction, the danger of hyperspace travel is due to the chance that the route through hyperspace may take a ship too close to a celestial body with a large gravitational field, such as a star. In such scenarios, if a starship passes too close to a large gravitational field while in hyperspace, the ship is forcibly pulled out of hyperspace and reverts to normal space. Therefore, certain hyperspace "routes" may be mapped out that are safe, not passing too close to stars or other dangers.[citation needed]

Starships in hyperspace are sometimes depicted isolated from the normal universe; they cannot communicate with nor perceive things in real space until they emerge. Often there can be no interaction between two ships even when both are in hyperspace. This effect can be used as a plot device; because they are invisible to each other while in hyperspace, ships will encounter each other most often around contested planets or space stations. Hyperdrive may also allow for dramatic escapes as the pilot "jumps" to hyperspace in the midst of battle to avoid destruction.[citation needed]

In many stories, for various reasons, a starship cannot enter or leave hyperspace too close to a large concentration of mass, such as a planet or star; this means that hyperspace can only be used after a starship gets to the outside edge of a solar system, so the starship must use other means of propulsion to get to and from planets. The reasons given for such restrictions are usually technobabble, but their existence is just a plot device allowing for interstellar policies to actually form and exist. Science fiction author Larry Niven published his opinions to that effect in N-Space. According to him, such an unrestricted technology would give no limits to what heroes and villains could do. In fact, every criminal would have the ability to destroy colonies, settlements and indeed whole worlds without any chance of stopping him.[citation needed]

Other writers have limited access to hyperspace by requiring a very large expenditure of energy in order to open a link (sometimes called a jump point) between hyperspace and normal space; this effectively limits access to hyperspace to very large starships, or to large stationary jump gates that can open jump points for smaller vessels. These restrictions are often plot devices to prevent starships from easily escaping by slipping into hyperspace, thus ensuring epic space battles. An example of this is the "jump" technology as seen in Babylon 5.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ash, Brian (1977). The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-517-53174-7.
  2. ^ Westfahl, Gary (2005). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. 3. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 404. ISBN 978-0-313-32951-7. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  3. ^ The Invisible Bubble title listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  4. ^ Jesse Sheidlower, Science Fiction Citations: hyperspace. Last modified 4 June 2009
  5. ^ Stableford, Brian M. (2006). Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 238–239. ISBN 978-0-415-97460-8. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  6. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1991). Foundation. N.Y.: Bantam Books. p. 5. ISBN 0-553-29335-4.
  7. ^ Frinzi, Joe R. Kubrick's Monolith: The Art and Mystery of 2001: A Space Odyssey. McFarland. p. 159. ISBN 978-1-4766-2867-7.
  8. ^ a b "Dark Star". Kitbashed. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  9. ^ Taylor, Chris (2014). How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. Head of Zeus. p. 115. ISBN 978-1-78497-045-1. Retrieved 5 January 2021.

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