Sunday, 27 October 2013

Trepidation Vortices

In Poul Anderson's "Gypsy," the faster than light spaceship, the Traveler, carrying colonists from Earth to Alpha Centauri, suffers an explosion in its engines and winds up thousands of light-years away, unable to find home. To explain the mishap, crew members speculate about space warps, "...points of infinite discontinuity, unidimensional fields, and Cosmos knows what else." (Starship, New York, 1982, p. 20)

The phrase "...Cosmos knows..." acknowledges that there is a Cosmic religion in this future history although I am not sure that its tenets are elucidated anywhere in the series?

Three other works explain the phenomenon that threw the Traveler off course: a trepidation vortex. The Author's Note to Virgin Planet informs us that such vortices are consistent with the postulated physics of the series. "Virgin Planet" and The Peregrine present, respectively, shorter and longer dictionary definitions of a trepidation vortex and Virgin Planet summarizes the Manual on the subject.

Combining these three accounts, such vortices are:

(i) traveling regions of warped space;
causes of violently shifting gravitational fields;
responsible for planetary perturbations;
able to displace and, usually, destroy a spaceship on hyperdrive.
(ii) large traveling force-fields of uncertain origin and nature;
causes of gravitational turbulence with gyromagnetic and electric side-effects;
similar to hydrodynamic vortices;
causes of trepidation in material bodies and of irregularities in hyperdrive fields, either destroying a ship or throwing it off course;
possibly caused by local concentrations of nascent mass.

(iii) little understood traveling sections where the geometry of the continuum is distorted;
able, if big enough, to make a planetary rotation period fluctuate by a few seconds;
able to destroy or displace a spaceship on hyperdrive if the ship's discontinuous psi functions mesh with those of the vortex.

We can see that Anderson has an idea and tries out different ways to express it.

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