posted Mar 24, 2009

I was reading a rant about sci-fi physics (or the lack thereof), and it mentioned how Star Trek had a problem with the transporter being too powerful, requiring a series of increasingly-implausible reasons why it couldn't save the day today. I say "increasingly-implausible" not because it didn't make sense that the transporter would be disrupted by, well, everything, since in some sense that's exactly why they are totally impossible, but because by the end of the run of Star Trek, it is completely implausible that anybody would ever trust their lives to one of these disasters!

It occurred to me that a slight reformulation of them would have solved the majority of problems. Say that the transporters are rock-solid reliable, as long as they can get a lock, but that they absolutely, positively, written-into-the-laws-of-physics require a long setup time, at least fifteen minutes. Maybe if there's a compatible transporter at the other end, we permit them to instantly link up, but blind transportation requires a set up time. I wouldn't even require the transportee to stand in the transporter for that period of time, they can just show up after fifteen minutes, but there should be no way around the setup time.

This makes most of the ways in which the transporter can suck the drama out of the story go away without making it useless. It's still clearly valuable. It's still clearly faster to use the transporter than take a shuttle. In fact it may well be more valuable since my version doesn't break down in a strong wind. But you don't get to use it to beam people out of trouble, or beam a bomb onto a moving ship (can't set up something that isn't stationary or fully predictable), or in fact use it in a conflict situation very often. I believe I would permit the transporter to be set up in advance, as long as the requisite setup time is passed, so if you make it back to the rendezvous point maybe the transporter is waiting for you, but if you don't make it back it's not immediately available.

This seems so much better, from a dramatic point of view.

 

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