Speculative Fiction Tropes: Teleporters
Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on Teleporters.
This entry will primarily deal with the technology-assisted science fiction version of the trope. Made famous by Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek (originally as a cost-cutting device to avoid filming landing scenes), the concept involves an advanced construct of some kind that can break matter down and convert it into a data pattern, reassembling the object or person at the destination.
Teleportation is one of the more fantastic elements of science fiction. It would be very nice to press a few buttons and find yourself on the other side of the world in an instant, but the truth is that a technology like this will most likely not exist in our lifetimes. Even if a working method for matter teleportation was devised, a real-life teleporter would need a massive data capacity and tremendous computational power, not to mention the astronomical energy requirements of converting matter to energy and back again. I'm afraid we're stuck driving each other around for a little while longer.
The concept does come up in the news every couple of years or so however, pretty much every time there's a breakthrough in quantum teleportation. Unfortunately, this is usually just a case of the media confusing things due to misleading terms.
Written by George Langelaan, The Fly has been adapted to the screen several times, most recently in the 1986 David Cronenberg film. It relates the sad tale of a scientist experimenting in teleportation. Upon perfecting the device, he tests it on himself, unaware that a housefly has flown into the pod. The results are not pretty.
The only time I've played with the concept of teleportation in my own work is while brainstorming ideas for faster-than-light travel for a space opera story. One of the concepts I kicked around involved using matter teleportation with time travel (which I later learned was similar to a Michael Crichton novel) to make travel over interstellar distances more feasible. I ended up not using the idea, but I still have it tucked away for safekeeping.
I think teleportation is one of those tropes that requires a greater degree of suspension of disbelief, depending on how the story handles it. That doesn't mean it shouldn't be used, it just means that the writer will pay for it faster and harder if using it as a "techno-crutch" or deus ex machina device. The story must be compelling enough that the reader or viewer isn't distracted by its presence.
I must admit, there are times when I really wish this technology existed. I hate driving, even just down the road to work. I'm patiently waiting for the day when I can just tap my com-badge and say "energize!"
Known Space series by Larry Niven
Hyperion series by Dan Simmons
The Jaunt by Stephen King
Space Quest V