Hyperspace (also, nulspace, subspace, overspace, jumpspace or slipstream) is a concept from science fiction and cutting-edge science relating to higher dimensions and a superluminal method of interstellar travel. It is related to the concept of four-dimensional space, first described in the 19th century.[1][2]

Its use in science fiction originated in the magazine Amazing Stories Quarterly around the 1930s. It is typically described as an alternative "sub-region" of space co-existing with our own universe. In much of science fiction, hyperspace is described as a physical place that can be entered and exited using a rubber science energy field or similar phenomena generated by a shipboard device often known as a "hyperdrive". Detailed descriptions of the mechanisms of hyperspace travel are often provided in stories using the plot device, sometimes incorporating some actual physics such as relativity or string theory.

Philip Harbottle called the concepts "one of the fixtures" of the sf genre as early as in 1963.[3]

Early depictions

Earliest references to hyperspace in fiction appeared in publications such as Amazing Stories (shown here is the Spring 1931 issue featuring John Campbell's Islands of Space)

Though the concept of hyperspace did not emerge until the 20th century, along with space travel as a whole, stories of an unseen realm outside our normal world are part of earliest oral tradition. Some stories, before the development of the science fiction genre, feature space travel using a fictional existence outside what humans normally observe. For example, in Somnium (published 1634), Johannes Kepler tells of magic travel to the moon with the help of demons.[4]

Hyperspace travel became widespread in science fiction, because of the perceived limitations of FTL travel in ordinary space.[3] With regards to modern science fiction, Kirk Meadowcroft's "The Invisible Bubble" (1928) and John Campbell's Islands of Space (1931) feature an early reference to hyperspace, with Campbell likely being the first writer to use this term in the context of space travel.[5][6]: 238–239 [7][8]: 72–73  Murray Leinster is credited with using the word "hyper-drive" for the first time in a preview for his upcoming story in Thrilling Wonder Stories 1944: "Once again Kim takes off in the Starshine with its hyper-drive to do battle in defense of the Second Galaxy.".[9] As related vocabulary evolved, entering the hyperspace often became known as "jumping", as in "the ship will now jump to hyperspace".[3]

From the 1930s through to the 1950s, many stories in the science fiction magazines, Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction introduced readers to hyperspace as a fourth spatial dimension, an idea that the three-dimensional space can be "folded", so that two apparently distant points may come into contact through the use of a special device, often called a "hyperdrive".[5][8]: 72–73  Another common explanation involves the concept of a parallel universe, much smaller than ours, which partially or fully can be "mapped" into ours, through which the objects travel through to return to our universe.[8]: 72–73 

Other notable early works employing this concept include Nelson Bond's The Scientific Pioneer Returns (1940), where his vision of the hyperspace concept is described in detail. Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, first published between 1942 and 1944 in Astounding, featured a Galactic Empire traversed through hyperspace.[6]: 238–239  Asimov's short story Little Lost Robot (1947) features a "Hyperatomic Drive" shortened to "Hyperdrive" and observes that "fooling around with hyper-space isn't fun".[10]: 100  In Isaac Asimov's Foundation (1951), hyperspace is described as an "...unimaginable region that was neither space nor time, matter nor energy, something nor nothing, one could traverse the length of the Galaxy in the interval between two neighboring instants of time."[11]: 5  According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Robert A Heinlein gave a particularly clear description of it in Starman Jones (1953).[5] E. C. Tubb has been credited with "furthering much of the hyper-space lore"; writing a number of space operas in the early 1950s in which space travel occurs through that medium. He was also one of the first writers to treat hyper-space as a central part of the plot rather than a convinient background gadget that just enables the FTL space travel.[3][12]: 75 

Later depictions

By the 1950s, hyperspace travel had become established as a typical means for traveling in science fiction.[5] Out of various fictitious drives, by mid-70s the concept of travelling through hyperspace by using a hyperdrive has been described as having achieved the most popularity, and would subsequently be further popularized through its use in the Star Wars franchise.[12]: 75 [13][14]: 404  A related set of terms - subspace (corridors, vortex), space warp, underspace and transwarp (conduits) - likewise gained recognition through the Star Trek franchise.[15] The term hyperspace itself is only used as hyperspace physics test in episode Coming of Age of Star Trek: The Next Generation.[16]: 353  A number of related terms (such as nulspace, overspace, interspace, jumpspace, imaginary space, tau-space, N-Space, Q-space, intersplit, megaflow and slipstream, to name just a few) were used by various writers, although none gained recognition to rival that of hyperspace.[3][6]: 238–239 [12]: 75 [13][14]: 404 

The streaking stars effect was initially used in Dark Star (1974) and became a popular cinematic depiction of hyperspace travel
The streaking stars effect in an animated form

Stanley Kubrick's epic 1968 science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey features interstellar travel through a mysterious "star gate". This lengthy sequence, noted for its psychedelic special effects conceived by Douglas Trumbull, influenced a number of later cinematic depictions of superluminal and hyperspatial travel, such as Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).[17]: 159 [18] In the 1974 film Dark Star, special effects designer Dan O'Bannon created a visual effect to depict the eponymous Dark Star spaceship accelerating into hyperspace by tracking the camera while leaving the shutter open. In this shot, the stars in space turn into streaks of light while the spaceship appears to be motionless. This is considered to be the first depiction in cinema history of a ship making the jump into hyperspace. The streaking hyperspace effect was later employed in Star Wars (1977) and the "star streaks" are considered one of the visual "staples" of the Star Wars franchise.[18][19]: 115 [20]

In some works, travelling or navigating hyperspace requires not only specialized equipment, but physical or psychological modifications of passengers or at least navigators, as seen in Frank Herbert’s Dune (1965), Michael Moorcock’s The Sundered Worlds (1966), Vonda McIntyre’s Aztecs (1977), or David Brin’s The Warm Space (1985).[6]

Characteristics and uses

Hyper-space is generally seen as a fictional concept, incompatible with our present-day understanding of the universe (in particular, theory of relativity).[5][8]: 72–73  Occasionally the term - which aptly originated in 19th century mathematical texts[14]: 404  - is used in academic works in the context of higher-dimensional geometry, popularized among others by theoretical physicist Michio Kaku's popular science book (Hyperspace, 1994).[5][6]: 238–239 [21] Some science fiction writers attempted pseudo-scientific rubber science explanations of this concept, or mixed it with real scientific concepts such as higher dimensions, relativity or string theory. For others, however, it is just a convenient MacGuffin enabling faster-than-light travel necessary for their story.[12]: 75 [5][8]: 72–73 [14]: 404 

Hyperspace is generally described as chaotic and confusing to human senses; in some cases even hypnotic or dangerous to one's sanity, or at least unpleasant - transitions to or from hyperspace can cause symptoms such as nausea, for example.[3][6]: 238–239 [14]: 405  Visually, hyperspace is often left to the readers imagination, or depicted as "a swirling gray mist".[12]: 75 [3] In some works, it is dark.[14]: 405  Exceptions do exist, for example, in John Russel Fearn's Waters of Eternity (1953) has hyperspace that resembles known universe, and contains observable objects like entire planets.[3]

While mainly designed as a space-travel enabling trope, occasionally, some writers used the hyperspace concept in a more imaginative ways, or as a central element of the story. In The Mystery of Element 117 (1949) by Milton Smith, a window is opened into a new "hyperplane of hyperspace" containing those who have already died on Earth. In Arthur C. Clarke's Technical Error (1950), a man is laterally reversed by a brief accidental encounter with "hyperspace".[8]: 72–73  In George R.R. Martin's FTA (1974) and John E. Stith’s Redshift Rendezvous (1990), the twist is that travel through hyperspace actually takes longer than in the normal space.[6]: 238–239 [8]: 72–73  In Bob Shaw's The Palace of Eternity (1969) the hyperspace is a form of afterlife, where human minds and memories reside after death.[14]: 405  Hyperspace is generally unpopulated, save for the space-faring travellers. Early exceptions include Tubb's Dynasty of Doom (1953), Fearn's Waters of Eternity (1953) and Christopher Grimm’s Someone to Watch Over Me (1959), which feature denizens of hyperspace.[6]: 238–239 [12]: 75 [3] In some works, hyperspace is a source of energy, in some cases, extremly dangerous and threatening to destroy entire world (ex. Eando Binder's The Time Contractor, 1937).[3]

Many stories feature hyperspace as a dangerous place, and others require a ship to follow set hyperspatial "highways". Hyperspace is often described as being an unnavigable dimension where straying from a preset course can be disastrous. In Frederick Pohl's The Mapmakers (1955), navigational errors and the perils of hyperspace are one of the main plot-driving elements.[8]: 72–73 [12]: 75  In K. Houston Brunner's Firey Pillar (1955), a ship re-emerges within Earth, causing a catastrophic explosion.[12]: 75 

In many stories, for various reasons, a starship cannot enter or leave hyperspace too close to a large concentration of mass, such as a planet or star; this means that hyperspace can only be used after a starship gets to the outside edge of a solar system, so the starship must use other means of propulsion to get to and from planets.[12]: 76  Other writers have limited access to hyperspace by requiring a very large expenditure of energy in order to open a link (sometimes called a jump point) between hyperspace and normal space; this effectively limits access to hyperspace to very large starships, or to large stationary jump gates that can open jump points for smaller vessels.[14]: 404 [22]: 231 An example of this is the "jump" technology as seen in Babylon 5.[22]: 231  Another would be the star gate seen in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).[14]: 404  The reasons given for such restrictions are usually technobabble, but their existence is just a plot device allowing for interstellar policies to actually form and exist.[8]: 72–73 [12]: 75  Science fiction author Larry Niven published his opinions to that effect in N-Space. According to him, such an unrestricted technology would give no limits to what heroes and villains could do.[23]: 554  Limiting the places a ship can appear in means that they will meet each other most often around contested planets or space stations, allowing for narratively satisfying battles or other encounters. On the other hand, less restricted hyperdrive may also allow for dramatic escapes as the pilot "jumps" to hyperspace in the midst of battle to avoid destruction.[23]: 557 

While generally associated with science fiction, hyperspace-like concepts exist in some works of fantasy, particularly ones which involve travel between different worlds or dimensions. In such works, such travel, usually done through portals rather than vehicles, is usually explained through the existence of magic.[14]: 405 

See also


  1. ^ Halsted, George Bruce (1878). "Bibliography of Hyper-Space and Non-Euclidean Geometry". American Journal of Mathematics. 1 (3): 261–276. doi:10.2307/2369314. JSTOR 2369314.
  2. ^ Halsted, George Bruce (March 1879). "Addenda to Bibliography of Hyper-Space and Non-Euclidean Geometry". American Journal of Mathematics. 2 (1): 65–70. doi:10.2307/2369197. JSTOR 2369197.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Harbottle, Philip (1963). "Hyper-Space - the Immutable Concept?" (PDF). Vector. 21: 13–17.
  4. ^ "Themes : Space Flight : SFE : Science Fiction Encyclopedia". www.sf-encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 1 September 2021.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "SFE: Hyperspace". sf-encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Stableford, Brian M. (2006). Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-97460-8. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  7. ^ "Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction: hyperspace". sfdictionary.com. Retrieved 5 December 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Langford, David (1983). "Hyperspace". In Nicholls, Peter; Langford, David; Stableford, Brian M. (eds.). The Science in Science Fiction. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-394-53010-9.
  9. ^ "Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction: hyperdrive". sfdictionary.com. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  10. ^ Palumbo, Donald E. (27 April 2016). An Asimov Companion: Characters, Places and Terms in the Robot/Empire/Foundation Metaseries. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-2394-8.
  11. ^ Asimov, Isaac (1991). Foundation. N.Y.: Bantam Books. ISBN 0-553-29335-4.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Ash, Brian (1977). The Visual Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-517-53174-7.
  13. ^ a b "5 Faster-Than-Light Travel Methods and Their Plausibility". The Escapist. 18 June 2014. Retrieved 3 September 2021.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Langford, David (2005). "Hyperspace". In Westfahl, Gary (ed.). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. 3. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-32951-7. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  15. ^ Stableford, Brian M. (2006). Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 238–239. ISBN 978-0-415-97460-8. Retrieved 29 August 2014.
  16. ^ Okuda, Michael; Okuda, Denise; Mirek, Debbie (1994). The Star Trek Encyclopedia: A Reference Guide to the Future. Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-88684-4.
  17. ^ Frinzi, Joe R. (24 August 2018). Kubrick's Monolith: The Art and Mystery of 2001: A Space Odyssey. McFarland. ISBN 978-1-4766-2867-7.
  18. ^ a b "Dark Star". Kitbashed. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  19. ^ Taylor, Chris (2014). How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present, and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise. Head of Zeus. ISBN 978-1-78497-045-1. Retrieved 5 January 2021.
  20. ^ Howell, Elizabeth (12 December 2017). "Warp Speed: The Hype of Hyperspace". Space.com. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  21. ^ Kevles, Bettyann (15 March 1994). "BOOK REVIEW / NONFICTION : His Scientific View Is Out of This World : HYPERSPACE: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku ; Oxford $25, 344 pages". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 5 November 2021.
  22. ^ a b Grazier, Kevin R.; Cass, Stephen (2015). Hollyweird Science: From Quantum Quirks to the Multiverse. Springer. ISBN 978-3-319-15072-7.
  23. ^ a b Niven, Larry (1990). N-space. Tom Doherty Associates. ISBN 978-0-312-85089-0.

Further reading

  • Pickover, Clifford A. (17 May 2001). Surfing through Hyperspace: Understanding Higher Universes in Six Easy Lessons. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-992381-6.

External links

  • "Hyperspace". Dr Curtis Saxton. Star Wars Technical Commentaries.
  • Hyperspace A Vanishing Act by P. Hoiland
  • Hyperspace in Science Fiction : The Astronomy Cafe - Dr. Sten Odenwald at www.astronomycafe.net
  • SF Citations for OED at www.jessesword.com