An Exercise in Overthinking
I was looking for a topic with which to populate a mind map; something to check out the software. I decided to use it to map out the questions I have had when trying to include teleportation in a story. Fantasy teleporting, not quantum physics teleporting; that’s boring.
It all got quite complicated fairly quickly.
Not how to teleport as that remains firmly in the realms of fantasy but rather what to teleport and where to teleport it.
Take the simplest action: Teleporting yourself across a room. Nothing fancy; not going out of the room, not trying to carry something. From here to there, maybe six metres to your left. Easy, yeah?
Ignoring the air molecules occupying the space you are teleporting into — which you have to do otherwise you would have to explain away the sudden introduction of so much air into your organs and bloodstream — and the movement of the planet between disappearing and reappearing, you need to think about a very practical consideration.
Is it going with you? Or is it just going to collapse to the floor as you disappear, leaving you to reappear as naked as a newborn? Embarrassing.
So let’s just decide here and now your clothing goes with us. Forget why, just go with it, yeah? Ok.
What are the restrictions?
If just those items touching your skin go with you I hope you’re wearing clean underwear as those artfully-torn jeans are going nowhere. Your socks might go along for the ride but those expensive Air Jordans are going to become someone else’s. Probably mine, if they fit.
If you’re the type to wear a cape, and what hero wouldn’t wear a cape given the opportunity, are you going to have to buy a new one every time you teleport? Hope the credit card is up to the strain.
Right, so now we need to decide, for legal reasons, that all of your clothing goes with you whether it’s touching our skin or not. What else?
You really need to take other stuff with you.
Your gun/knife/sword/frisbee … Is it going too? How? Do you have to be holding it, or is being in a pocket good enough? If being in a pocket or pouch doesn’t cut it this could be a great way to get rid of pocket lint or that old wad of chewing gum that’s been there since your kid brother “borrowed” your jeans last year. Dirt? Zap! Gone. Laundry industry collapses overnight.
Of course, your wallet will need replacing along with your now-overworked credit card, driver’s license, health insurance card …
So the contents of pockets will have to go with you. Your handbag, too, if you are the sort of hero who wears a dress; designers almost never include pockets in them. Think of Supergirl and Wonder Woman: No pockets.
Where does the Zone-of-Effect™ end? It could be awkward to take everything you’re touching, and everything that is touching, with you. Everything is, as they say, connected. Oh, I suppose you could be floating alone in a vacuum but that introduces a whole different set of problems. Like, you know, breathing.
If everything touching everything goes with you, you will effectively shift the whole planet and everything on it six metres to the left. Awkward and ultimately pointless as you would still be standing where you started in relation to, well, everything else. The planet will probably be exploding around you, so there’s that. The astronauts in the ISS might get a little concerned as well. Or the hundreds of pilots about to land …
Right. That’s just silly. We’ll limit the Zone-of-Effect™ to an inch off your skin, automatically including your clothes and other accessories. That’s got it sorted, yeah?
Are you sitting down? What about the chair? Does all of it go with you, or just the seat? That’s going to hurt. Easy to fix though: only ever teleport when you’re standing up.
Oh, are you holding that sword I mentioned earlier? Does the complete sword go, or just the hilt?
Ok, all of the above and anything you are carrying … and anything inside anything you are carrying.
There. That sorts it. All good now. Clothes, handbags, scabbards, backpacks, laptops, all of it. The Zone-of-Effect™ magically stops at the edge of anything you want to take with you.
Hmmm. How about taking other people … ? Are you holding someone’s hand, gazing romantically into their eyes? Will you reappear still holding their hand but nothing else? Well, she probably didn’t really love you anyway. She definately won’t now.
No, let’s stay with just you for now.
Where are you going? We started out moving you six metres to the left. A bit silly really. Handy to get to the fridge but not much else. How about down to the shop for some milk? You’ve been there before so it should be easy, yeah?
You’re really going to have to ignore planetary motion here. Inertia too. This is fantasy though so no problems.
How about altitude? Here you are now, standing on a floor three metres above ground level. The front door of the shop is one kilometre East and ten metres down the hill, so thirteen metres below us. Do you need to know this, or does your talent somehow take care of these sorts of details? It would be … unfortunate … to teleport to exactly the same altitude. Gravity always has the last laugh.
You’d better hope there are no mountain tops involved. I wouldn’t recommend trying it from an aeroplane, either.
Location, location, location. Do you have to know where you’ll going? Can you zip over to a totally unknown place? Distance becomes an issue too. How far can you teleport and just what limits you? Does how much weight you are carrying change things?
Let’s move on, shall we? Oh, before we do … Water. Teleport into it and where does the water go? Teleport above it and you’re going to get very wet. Those swimming lessons are going to come in handy after all.
Let’s consider time. As Albert Einstein spent quite a lot of his career thinking about it, it behooves us to think about it too.
How long does this trip take? Is it instantaneous, or is there a period when you are not here or there but somewhere in between? Instantaneous travel is going to upset an awful lot of physicists; they’re limited by law to the speed of light, which is so slow in the real universe. Perhaps you’ll travel at the Speed-of-Plot™, that highly variable velocity dependent entirely on the whims of the author. So, how long does it take, and does the duration increase with distance? Is the relationship linear, logarithmic, geometric? Perhaps it’s some hitherto unknown Waving-Hand-Factor™ that will remain unexplained because it is a Universal-Secret™ known only to certain ungendered monks in Tibet.
Are you aware during the transit? What do you see, or feel? It’s easy to brush over this when you’re writing in third-person, but a first-person viewpoint leaves you somewhat obliged to describe the experience.
This whole essay speaks to why I am not a writer. I can’t write without analysis and in doing that analysis I completely destroy what I was imagining.
I started to write a story involving a young protagonist who wound up on a space station. You know the type: a big wheel spinning around a central core. The space station, not the protagonist.
It’s all very easy until you start looking at NASA reports on spin and its effects on the human body. I did that and then started working on the mathematics to make my fantasy at least possible. The size torus necessary to get a decent level of centripetal force, say 0.6G, at less that two revolutions per minute (see NASA) is big. Really big. There went that story.
Maybe one day I’ll figure out how not to overthink, but that day is not this day.