In space, it has to be done. Somehow. And while there are many methods of ‘travel,’ let’s focus on a detail … Wait,… ARRRRRRRRRGH! I said this twice before! It’s the same post all over again!
The Fold Drive?
Yes, let’s talk about the fold drive. As I pointed to in a previous blog, space is massive. The last blog emphasized that stuff can be missed if you’re trying to focus on only traveling far. However, traveling far may be at times necessary, or the time involved using conventional methods would be limiting.
As much as it is interesting to explore locally, sometimes you need to leave the area for something needed. Richard, in fact, leaves the bounds of the empire more than once in this book. Once was when he went to meet Joe and Maice since the earth is not part of their empire.
This book, in time covered, is only about 3 weeks, including a couple days of exclusively travel where nothing appears to happen, such as between Earth and Feldspar (between Chapters 3 and 4). So, what is happening when the book doesn’t relate the events of the day?
Here is an indication:
Richard starts humming a rather bland tune. After several seconds, the humming begins to grate on the nerves of Joe. “Are you bored?” he asks, trying to end his torture.
Richard stops humming, to Joe’s relief. “No, not really. Why?”
“You only do things like that when you are bored out of your mind! I know you hate quiet, but one can only take so much excitement at a time!” Joe stops. “I’m starting to realize why you hate being awake in transit, because you have to deal with the passage of time.”
Joe & Richard
Richard ‘hates being awake in transit.’ I think this is where you recognize that if you’re traveling for several hours, or even several days, and you are limited in what you can do to pass the time, sleeping is one thing that can help this along. As the expression implies, there is some form of hibernation employed for lengthy trips, likely through known spaces. Seriously, would you like your pilot sleeping through a flight he’s never taken before? (Don’t answer that. I forget planes can’t fly themselves, or at least take-off and land themselves. Forget I asked).
Sleeping or, with the description given, hibernation may allow the time to pass quickly for our characters (and also save a lot of time explaining why there are less lengthy scenes in some chapters). It doesn’t change that they may need to get somewhere ASAP, and faster than light drives won’t cut it.
The Fold Drive
In the book, Joe pioneers the Mass Displacement Drive and begins its development with the company he is employed with at the beginning of the story. While this drive does allow for travel to distant points, it faces an unexpected obstacle to its use:
Joe lets out a sigh. “It will be, once I find something that can power it. Conventional power sources just aren’t concentrated enough, since it discharges the energy for the conventional trip instantly. The amount of conventional fuel needed to power it for more than five or ten seconds would fill this hangar, assuming we could get it into the thing fast enough.”
When I wrote this way back when I’m not sure I weighed the complexity of the problem I presented for Joe. The magnitude the solution would need to have. Because I’m basically saying this thing won’t work unless it’s hyper-efficient at expending fuel.
Even if it were slightly more efficient, the ship wouldn’t be able to travel much further than it could conventionally. To be clear, I do not want to say they would want to just appear somewhere and see what’s there. I’m merely pointing out that the tech would be faster, within a limited range.
Of course, this book would only reflect a need to do just that: quickly travel a short distance. But the solution proves to be more valuable than that. While it can appear there are limitations on the range of these ships, Richard makes a statement that clarifies concerns about limits to travel, even with faster than light drives:
“Joe, we will not need to refuel our ship for another seventeen months.”
If you remember my math from last week, even at cruising speed this could translate into thousands of light-years that could be traveled just with the ‘fuel’ this ship possesses. But, as was seen in Joe’s comment, the problem is how fast it burns through it, rather than the amount.
When I wrote this, I couldn’t say I was familiar with the nature of the operation of capacitors, since this is an obvious solution to the problem. I think though even with the capabilities of even more efficient capacitors today, the issue isn’t their ability to discharge the energy, it will be charging them for the surge. Someday I’ll try to put a pencil to what I imagine the energy expended for a couple of the trips taken. For now, when we consider the energy needed to just leave Earth, and possibly multiply that millions of times, and then discharge that energy in a single moment of time (we’re talking seconds at best), you realize that overcoming this is not for the faint-hearted.
And yet, not only does Joe accomplish this, he is able to replicate the process in short order. While the fold drive is the primary beneficiary of this new power source, Richard makes clear that it benefits everything:
… Joe is preparing to transplant his power plant to the Maelstrom, doing a complete systems analysis first in order to find which systems will support the additional power output and which ones will not. He is being quite thorough, so if everything will support it, we may have a chance to upgrade the power plant on the Maelstrom.
While the fuel burn of the fold drive may seem a limiter to its use, Joe innovates to make it useful anyway. But, like anything, there are always trades that must be made.
Rather than belabor this, we’ll discuss what some of those tradeoffs were at a later time. For now, I must mentally prepare to ‘share “things”‘ with you. I still need to write my post about me for next month, because that’s how much I love writing about myself.
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