Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Hollowness of Teleportation

Teleportation isn't ubiquitous in science fiction, but it is common enough for its more disturbing properties to get play. Star Trek popularized it, originally as a means to avoid the expensive effects shots that would be required to land the Enterprise on the Planet of the Week - it wasn't until later that the writers thought of shuttles. Today, the Stargate franchise keeps it up. Teleporters have been around from the beginning in that bundle of series. Nevertheless, I can't really look kindly on teleportation. I'm not the sort of dude to get behind a device which, when everything works properly, kills you.

The "take you apart, put you together" method of teleportation seems to be the most common in current use. The only example I can think of which doesn't use that method is the Battlestar Galactica jump drive, and only then because absolutely nothing was ever explained about its function. Admittedly, the dematerialization school is probably the simplest to imagine - a person is converted into energy and then re-converted into matter on the other end. That doesn't make it any more palatable for me. I've never really been able to understand the seeming obsession with this method of travel.

Still, what most people tend to gloss over in televised portrayals of this technology is that this isn't transportation - this is a gussied-up fax machine with a shredder attached. With these teleporters, what arrives at the end is the product of the same information - a result of the implementation of "how to build this dude from nothing" blueprints - but not the original. How could it be?

Personally, I prefer to stay well away from teleportation. I consider it to be a crutch for authors - it's unnecessary in written portrayals, where effects costs are irrelevant, and with ubiquitous computer-generated imagery the same is effectively true in visual arts. At this point it's more of a stylistic choice, and it's one that I'd rather avoid. Teleporters allow people to be dropped into danger or plucked out of it at the wave of a hat, and their existence tends to require justification on why they can't do X or Y so that they can't solve the problem of the day on their own.

There's actually only one really substantial advantage that I can think of which teleporters provide - they render the issue of differing relative velocities irrelevant. This is particularly important in the Stargate series, where the stargates on either end of the active wormhole may well be moving tens or hundreds of kilometers per second in different directions, relative to each other. This is also an advantage that, I don't think, isn't ever mentioned.

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