How to convincingly jump between dimensions?
October 18, 2008 6:23 AM   Subscribe

ShortStoryFilter: I'm writing a short story that involves travel between parallel universes, or dimensions, or whatever. You know, kind of like that TV show, Sliders. Unfortunately, my knowledge of science (and physics, in particular) is somewhat lacking. I'd like the superficial pseudo-science I employ to make this happen be at least mildly right minded. Help?

So, most of the science fiction books I read as a kid that dealt with this issue did so in a kind of fantastic, mystical way - "Oh ho! Here is a magic door that opens onto a NEW WORLD!" Well, great. Unfortunately, my idea involves actually building a device that accomplishes the same task.

My desire is not to go into brain numbing detail about the damn thing (think Neal Stephenson), but as I gloss over the process of its construction, I would like to sound like I'm using the right buzzwords and pulling from the right fantastical scientific theories.

As we can't actually jump between dimensions, I understand that the term "right" is somewhat subjective, but I think you know what I mean.

For example, I did a little reading on the Philadelphia Experiment, and kept coming across Einstein's Unified Field Theory.

So, you know something about science, you're writing a fictional account of someone building a device in their basement that opens a portal to a parallel world - what kind of components, what kind of technology, is involved in this black box?
posted by kbanas to Science & Nature (14 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sliders used a device to create an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, a.k.a. a wormhole. While you should probably avoid describing the actual components of the device specifically (since, you know, it doesn't exist and wouldn't really work, anyway), some of the terminology from the wikipedia article--like traversable wormhole or Morris-Thorne wormhole--might help give your story the illusion of reality.

You could also take the Star Trek route and invent fictional elements to power your device.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:12 AM on October 18, 2008

Oh, and you might also want to look up tesseracts, also known as hypercubes. I've read children's books and at least one adult SF novel (whose name escapes me) that used the hypercube, and its unfolding, as a means for interstellar/interdiminsional travel.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:16 AM on October 18, 2008

That's some great information, PhoBWan! Thanks a lot!
posted by kbanas at 7:21 AM on October 18, 2008

Michio Kaku writes a lot about physics and sci-fi-ish physics. Check him out.

In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, by John Gribbin, addresses some of the weird physics, like "many worlds," that would underpin your story. It's pretty accessible and generally mind-blowing.
posted by adamrice at 7:48 AM on October 18, 2008

Read 2 or 3 recent novels by Rudy Rucker. He is a mathematician and loves to write adventures in interdimensional spaces. You can be sure that his math is accurate and his extrapolations are based on real equations. Besides, his novels are short and he is one of the coolest writers of our 4 dimensioned universe. Two for the price of one: you'll find your scientific buzzwords and you'll have fun.
posted by bru at 8:27 AM on October 18, 2008

Device alters local probability putting you into another parallel dimension where some variable was changed but else remains constant.

Thank Marvel Comics and Quantum Leap.
posted by klangklangston at 12:30 PM on October 18, 2008

If you're not comfortable coming up with serious or spoof "hard sf" mechanisms on your own, I recommend you simply avoid them. TV shows like Quantum Leap often give gobbledygook explanations called technobabble (or "Treknobabble" for that show). Writers literally pay no real attention to the mechanisms, just writing in things like

LAFORGE: Captain, the treknobabble is treknobabbled. We need to treknobabble soon or the ship will treknobabble.

Later, people like Michael Okuda would come up with appropriate words that fit the show's canon.

Another way would be to realize that you're really a fantasy writer, not an sf writer. Star Wars is space opera. It looks like science fiction, but it's really fantasy -- and George Lucas was first to acknowledge this. Fantasy doesn't need such rigor in its explanations. (The only "hard fantasy" writer who comes to mind is Madeline L'Engle...)

As you say, you want to discuss a device with some authority. But if you lack the grounding to really deal with its ramifications (power supply? laws of physics? does a body going through it get its atoms scattered across time? etc.) you may do better not to deal with them in any detail at all. The movie Primer is an excellent example of this. Hardly anything technical about the device is explained in any detail. It ends up being a very good movie about humans as a result.

On the other hand, Primer uses a very complicated plot and some serious thinking about the results and effects of its device in order to craft that plot. One hard sf author who did a lot of this sort of thinking was Larry Niven. You may want to check out his two essay/talks "The Theory and Practice of Time Travel" and "The Theory and Practice of Teleportation". Both are in his 1971 collection All the Myriad Ways. There's some science in there, but he's basically thinking through some rules that writers can impose on their stories and the different effects that certain choices have, if you're hoping to be taken seriously. (Hard sf readers are a cynical lot.)
posted by dhartung at 1:40 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

2nding Primer. They do a fabulous job of making the device plausible, mostly through peoples' reactions to side effects (like the guy with the moss who gets angry with them because he thinks he's being pranked).
posted by ®@ at 2:57 PM on October 18, 2008

Membrane (or "M") theory and a little hand-waving about graviton leakage lets you travel between realities without sounding much weirder than most modern cosmologists.
posted by nicwolff at 3:21 PM on October 18, 2008

Not something you'd do in your basement, but if you want current events bent, you could use a wormhole generated by the LHC.
posted by jpdoane at 3:22 PM on October 18, 2008

Michio Kaku writes a lot about physics and sci-fi-ish physics. Check him out.

In particular, "Physics of the Impossible," which was partly written with writers like you in mind.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 4:53 PM on October 18, 2008

If you want to go with something based in reality, then the concept of the Multiverse I think is what you're getting at. There's a fun little podcast with Brian Greene on WNYC Radiolab if you're interested in some inspiration. I believe that concept however is based on information theory. That if we are made up of finite things, and the universe is infinite, then there are pocket universes that must repeat us completely except with slight differences.
posted by miasma at 6:48 PM on October 18, 2008

Sometimes sci fi is painful because it tries to use the "right" words. The words may be almost-plausible (though never actually plausible, by definition), but they're rarely interesting. What's interesting is the human element.

"How did you build the trans-dimensional thingo?"

1. "We had to re-polarise the flux capacitor when the something something neutrinos multiverse"


2. "We had to order pizza. And George accidentally dropped a slice right down the inside of that coil. That's why it smells like pepperoni in here."
posted by hAndrew at 1:40 AM on October 19, 2008

hAndrew: "Sometimes sci fi is painful because it tries to use the "right" words.

Not just sci-fi.
posted by WCityMike at 11:46 AM on October 20, 2008

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