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Hyperspace Science Fiction
What is Hyperspace Science Fiction?
Hyperspace is one of the answers Sci Fi writers have come up with to combat the challenge of interstellar travel—that is, astronomical distances and the impossibility of faster than light travel (FTL). With many science fiction books featuring intergalactic travel (or at least travel between stars), Hyperspace is sometimes used as the 'scientific conciet' powering this travel.
Hyperspace is often used for space opera science fiction or science fiction that's not too concerned about hard real science but more concerned about the overarching story, plot, or characters.
This means you are less likely to find hyperspace used for serious Hard Science fiction or Firm Science Science Fiction subgenres, though there are some older classics like Foundation (Hard Sci Fi) that utilize Hyperspace to explain travel between stars.
Hyperspace is usually described as an alternate space that coexists with our own. Hyperspace is entered with some kind of device or energy field and generally difficult to navigate. Indeed, in the great Star Wars: A New Hope Han Solo says to Luke Skywalker, “Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations, we could fly right into a star, or bounce too close to a supernova, and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?” Hyperspace is scary, it is complicated, and it is potentially fatal—pretty great place for a story to take place.
Hyperspace as a concept didn't emerge in Sci Fi until the 20th century and by the 1950s hyperspace had become an established plot device. It emerged as authors explored ideas of relativity and became more interested in the ideas of multi-dimensional space.
As a sub-genre it is defined mostly by setting, i.e. there is a hyperspace. There are two main approaches to writing a story within the Hyperspace sub-genre, and they can be combined. The first is that hyperspace is a way to travel astronomical distances. The second is that there are alien species living within it—or humans. However hyperspace is used it is a great backdrop for any sci fi story.
Other Features of Hyperspace Science Fiction
- Level of Real Science
Moderate. Hyperspace technology is a fiction, but writers will often incorporate some aspects of real science—theory of relativity or string theory—in order to make hyperspace seem plausible.
- Level of Grand Ideas/Social Implications
Variable. Interstellar travel certainly has the potential to transform society, but the sub-genre has no particular investment in exploring ideas and social implications. Hyperspace is merely a setting and plot device, which can be used to great effect...or not.
- Level of Characterization
Variable. Hyperspace is defined by setting and its plot device, not by characters. Readers are likely to encounter all levels of characterization within the sub-genre.
- Level of Plot Complexity
Moderate-High. Hyperspace is a plot device, which means there first must be a plot. Hyperspace is a way to keep the story moving, which means there is usually a pretty good plot movement. There is, of course, the risk of relying too much on the plot device and creating a story that jumps around.
- Level of Violence
Variable. Hyperspace can be an incredibly dangerous place, or just a highway. In some stories hyperspace weapons have been created and in others jumping to hyperspace is a way to escape from threat. So hyperspace can create, or at least be a big part of violent situations, but not all hyperspace stories are violent. Hyperspace itself can also be a hostile environment—so there is definite potential. At its core hyperspace is just a means for transportation, which is not inherently violent.
Related Science Fiction subgenres
All the sub-genres! Hyperspace is a way to travel, it is a plot device, it is another dimension—all things that are used in multiple sub-genres.
Hyperspace pretty much always crosses genres. YA books use hyperspace, First Contact can use it, Space Operas, Military, Robot. For example, in one of Asimov's Robot stories, “Escape!” a robot is asked to design a hyperspace engine—but it ends up insane—lots of sub-genre crossing here: robot, hyperspace, social sci fi, artificial intelligence.
Hyperspace Science Fiction isn't for you if...
Hyperspace as a concept has been embraced by the Sci Fi and the scientific communities—it's an idea people want to explore, which means there can be dissertation length discussions on it. Long-winded, academic, and sometimes confusing scientific theories can bog a story down. But, generally speaking hyperspace is accepted in Sci Fi and chances are you have read a Sci Fi story that you enjoy that has used hyperspace.
- 1 Animorphs
By K.A. Applegate. In this series hyperspace is called zero-space and is almost another universe of white nothingness where the normal laws of physics don't apply.
- 2 Foundation series
By Isaac Asimov. In the Foundation series hyperspace is used as an FTL device and is described as a condition rather than a location.
- 3 The Technomage Trilogy
By Jeanne Vavelos. These books are considered a part of the Babylon 5 canon. Hyperspace is an alternative dimension and boosts psionic powers.
- 4 The Culture
By Iain M. Banks. In the Culture universe hyperspace is a four dimensional energy grid that underlies the universe, separating it from a smaller antimatter universe.
- 5 Dune
By Frank Herbert. In the Dune saga hyperspace is depicted uniquely. Space is folded and navigated by special humans who use spice to enhance their abilities to find a safe path through space—though the spice mutates them. The ability to navigate the hyperspace is a source of great power.
- 6 The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
By Douglas Adams. The series opens with the demolition of Earth to make way for a hyperspace bypass.
- 7 Known Space
By Larry Niven Hyperspace in this series is another dimension where all objects move at a rate of 0.3 light years per day. Don't look directly at it—you just may go insane. The Outsiders are the only species to develop hyperspace on their own, because of their unique biology.
- 8 Tiger by the Tail
By Alan E. Nourse. This is the title story in a collection of short stories. In this story an alien civilization lives in the fourth dimension—a version of hyperspace.
- 9 Ultimate Peril
By Robert Abernathy. This is a tory of interplanetary war, with the use of hyperspace weapons.
- 10 This Alien Shore
By C.S. Friedman. Hyperspace is inhabited by creatures called sana, but they are an unknown creature. There are some people who can see the sana and navigate through hyperspace safely, but they are insane.