One of the reasons I made my Ravages of Honor series (affiliate link) into a space opera was so that I could focus on the characters, their adventures and relationships, the politics of a galactic empire, and the political machinations of feuding noble Houses. And so that I could use handwavium (i.e. make stuff up).
As with most things I set out to do, things don’t always turn out the way I intended. There’s a reason I chose the slogan, “human drives, not hyperdrives” so I was surprised to find out that my handwavium (my science) was considered pretty crunchy after all.
And actually, I’m okay with this. Like most writers, I ended up writing something I wanted to read—something that hit all of my buttons just right, and I have a lot of them. I want character-based stories with romantic elements (like chivalry and romance, not Romance) as well as handwavium that makes sense in-universe. I wanted to explore the question of “What makes us human?” as well as the cost and price of honor, i.e. of doing the right thing. I wanted to look what makes freedom and liberty and tyranny. I wanted to look at cultural clashes.
I consider the FTL in RoH to be the least crunchy element of my handwavium, but maybe it’s not. When a writer friend pointed this one, I had to shrug and then nod and go off and think about it some.
One of the reasons I don’t go into huge info-dumps in RoH is because as a reader, I find them quite boring. The characters don’t need to explain things to themselves (how often do you stop to explain to yourself how your car works?) and even when we contrive a reason to explain things to an ingenue, it comes across as authorial intrusion of the worst kind.
Even if the character being used as a mouth-piece is actually an expert (in this case, an n-space expert) he has to have a good reason to “explain” things to another character. Then we have the level of explanation. If a differential geometer (someone who is mathematician specializing in differential geometry) were to explain something to a layman, would they use all the terms-of-art unique to differential geometry? The answer of course is no, so vomiting that on the page is again, pure authorial intrusion.
My definition of science fiction is not just that it has to have a speculative element (like nanotechnology or FTL or genetic engineering) but that such elements have to be integral to the story, i.e. it can’t happen without it. It can’t just be window dressing or a thin veneer. There must be a speculative element that is integral to the story in such a way that taking it away kills the story. If the story solution depends on it, so much the better, and by the way, now you may have well crossed into “hard” sci-fi, whether you intended to or not.
The Ravages of Honor series (affiliate link) has three such elements: FTL, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering. Take any of these elements away and there can be no story. Without FTL, Syteria can’t get pulled out of her part of the universe and find herself in Darien’s. Without FTL, there is no Imperium. Without genetic engineering and nanotechnology, the donai cannot exist.
I think the genetic engineering in my series is actually the most speculative element, followed by the nanotech, but that’s probably more of a reflection on the fact that my education is the most lacking in the genetic engineering aspect, whereas I do have a better grasp of how nanotechnology would work just like I have a better but still tenuous (theoretical) grasp on the math and physics of “hyperspace” (as in the space of higher dimensions, not the x, y, and z of our own physical universe; oh, and t (time) of course, but let’s leave t’ (the prime of time) out of this, cause yeah, let’s just leave it out).
I apologize in advance for making physicists cringe and for making lay people think about math, but I promise, no equations. I also apologize for the quality of my graphics. It was either spend ten minutes drawing it by hand or the next few days trying to figure out how to make the same image via some program I haven’t used in years, and I have a release coming up tomorrow (10/20/23). Yikes!
So here it is, the quick and dirty, and not very technical version of my FTL handwavium.
It requires you to imagine the space between stars (just like in our universe) as a surface. If we were to look at a surface edge-on, we’d get a line.
What constitutes a region A as different from region B is part of the speculative element here. Let’s call it any region of space that is gravitationally connected in some way, like a solar system or a cluster of stars and their solar systems.
Now imagine that this line (that represents a surface) has some curvature to it that can be represented mathematically (if not physically) via the surface (and surface only) of a sphere.
Kind of like this:
So, what we have here is much like two soap bubbles that have been brought together and can touch, thereby creating an interface.
That interface is what connects region A to region B, in hyperspace (as in the space of higher dimensions).
What does that interface itself actually look like?
It’s an intersection where region A and region B “touch,” thus creating a “phase-point” connecting the regions and therefore providing a way to travel from star C to star D hyperspatially. This phase-point might look like a disk you can pass through.
Everyone with a physics background, stop cringing. It’s called science “fiction” for a reason.
This is why the territory of any particular House in the RoH universe isn’t necessarily connected in real space. The n-space (phase-point) connections are the defining factor instead. And if one wants to travel through a phase-point that is located physically in another House’s territory, they must have permission or enough power not to worry about getting permission. This is part of the reason why we have a feudal system in this far-future universe, i.e. because one of the elements of a feudal system is that communication and/or travel is slow and/or difficult. Messages must also travel through these phase-points or take years or decades or centuries to arrive.
Now, imagine if you will, what happens when those bubbles move further or closer or get pushed apart. It would change the dynamics of alliances, both political and economic. Fertile ground for any space opera.
Especially this one (release date 10/20/23):
[Crossposted to Substack]