Speculative and real science in fiction: teleportation and the cloaking device.

In my last post I mentioned some of the “science” in Star Trek, and focused on the warp drive. One of the more interesting things about science fiction is if your story involves moving between stars, either you use faster than light travel, or you use very near light speed. Most authors use the first, but that seems to be more for convenience than anything else; they also want to communicate with “home” frequently, as they did in Star Trek from time to time. In some ways, the alternative makes for a better story. In the third of my Gaius Claudius Scaevola trilogy, four Romans wake up on an alien space vessel after abduction, and one of the women, Claudia Lucilla, wants to see her husband, but he had been put off at a different star system. How does an alien explain that if they did go back, the husband would have been dead for at least six hundred years? What is required is a basic explanation of relativity to someone who has no knowledge of simple physics. That was difficult to write. I have the alien try three different explanations, and I would be interested to hear from any reader whether they are any good.

Einstein’s relativity is unquestionably real, but is generally ignored is Scifi. On the other hand, teleportation is tolerably popular, but as presented I believe it is impossible, and to see why, we have to consider what a teleport does. It scans what is here, and reproduces a copy there. Strictly speaking, a fax machine could be considered as one. However, what a fax machine does is to accept the information and assemble the copy from material it has. Transmitting information is not a problem, but matter is different, as it would require the matter to be converted to energy, be transmitted, then be reassembled. None of those are easy. Converting a human to energy would produce energy that would make the biggest hydrogen bomb seem trivial and hence would destroy the ship using it; transmitting it without dissipating it would be a nightmare, but reassembling it and reconverting it to matter in a place without equipment to guide it verges on the impossible. So, I decided it was impossible, or at least impractical. Is there any way out? Not with our current knowledge, although something like “folding space” might do it. Is that possible? Not with our current knowledge, but if space were something that could be folded, perhaps. On the other hand, transmitting information opens up possibilities, but then again, having introduced the possibility I then found it would wreck the story.

In Star Trek the Klingons had a cloaking device. Is that possible? There are at least two possible ways that I could see it working. To see how, we have to define what we mean by being cloaked, or being invisible. The concept is, if we look at the object, we see the electromagnetic radiation from the background as if the object were not there. One way to achieve this is to have the light bent around the ship and continue onwards as if the ship were not there; the other is to have it absorbed on one side and an exact copy be transmitted from the other side. The latter is quite feasible, at least in theory, and I incorporated that in my book, BUT I also gave the enemy the technology. Now the question is, how do you locate a number of cloaked ships? In my third book in this trilogy, Scaevola’s Triumph, my Roman protagonist has to work out how to do this. Assume you are being attacked by aliens intent on wiping out your civilization, you have powerful beam weapons and your defences should hold out provided you can locate the aliens, because only concentrated bursts will destroy them. So, a puzzle. How can you locate a fleet of invisible ships? The answer requires you to use real science, and assume the cloaking device works on one of the two principles outlined above, preferably the second. The method of detection has to be practical, thus one way I mention in the book is to use gravitational effects, but these are rejected because they are too weak. My answers will be found in Scaevola’s Triumph, which will be published as an ebook at Amazon at about September 30. The first two ebooks in the trilogy (Athene’s Prophecy and Legatus Legionis) will be at reduced prices from October 3 to October 6.

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