I am looking for a very short story (just a few pages long) from the mid 1980's (maybe late 1970's).

The story is about the Enterprise getting trapped inside a region of space where Special Relativity does not exist.

Captain Kirk is rather frustrated that many of the gadgets he depends on won't work because they depend on Einsteinian physics (or later). Science officer Spock learns that this region of space only has Newtonian physics. The crew also uncover some of the paradoxes that occur in a Newtonian-only universe, and why those problems don't occur in a universe with Special Relativity.

One of the things they learn is that impulse engines can move spacecraft faster than light because there is no time dilation or Lorentzian contraction at relativistic high speeds.

The story is partly a humorous parody of Star Trek and partly a teaching mechanism to explain the differences between Newtonian Physics and Modern Physics. The story contains math and physics to help teach.

Given my interest in astrophysics, I want to use examples from this story to help explain why relativity is necessary.

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    Do you recall if this was in a science fiction magazine line Analog or could it have been in a scientific or educational magazine like Physics Today?
    – user14111
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 6:35
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    I'd expect nearly all of the technology used on a starship to fail without Special Relativity. If I'm not mistaken, electromagnets and radios wouldn't work. It sounds like an interesting story, though.
    – Eric Smith
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 8:45
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    @EricSmith It was a funny and interesting story. Not even computer screens work without Special Relativity. View screens work because of the photo-electric effect (first described by Einstein in 1905) and the photo-electric effect is part of Quantum Mechanics which relies on Special Relativity. It comes down to you can't explain how an iPhone screen works without invoking Einstein.
    – RichS
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 17:43
  • @user14111 I don't recall where I read it. Wish I did. :-(
    – RichS
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 17:44
  • @RIchS Most CRT monitors for computers used electromagnetic deflection, and would fail. Some vector CRT monitors (relatively uncommon) use electrostatic deflection like oscilloscopes. Might work without SR? Though I suppose the transformer in the high-voltage supply wouldn't work, so it would still fail.
    – Eric Smith
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 7:20

1 Answer 1


It was in Scientific American, December 1991 Ian Stewart's column - "A short trek to infinity".


Captain's log, stardate 2529.2 ...

Captain Kink and First officer Pock names threw me off the scent. The main theme is that the Overambitious is caught in a part of the universe where there is no upper limit to the speed of light.

The story ends with the spaceship rapidly accelerating toward oblivion.

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    You can download a PDF version of the story here. google.com/…
    – RichS
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 5:57
  • That is indeed the story I remembered. Thank you! It's somewhat different than how I remembered it, but it is the story.
    – RichS
    Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 5:58
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    @RichS, you're welcome. As a matter of fact, I wanted to find it myself. It really is funny the tricks our memory plays on us. I've noticed that with one of my questions here. We try to fill the gaps of lost neurons with plausible detail, while we might remember crystal-clear other related events. For example, I remember exactly where I was when I first read this story. Mmm... Do I, really? Commented Apr 12, 2017 at 8:45
  • You know, even though I've never read the story mentioned, my first thought on reading the description was to wonder if Ian Stewart was involved in any way. See also the "Science of Discworld" series, which has a similar sort of idea, but with characters from a rather different universe...
    – Jules
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:36

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