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I'm more than willing to cut Larry Niven a break -- when Beowulf Shaeffer got dropped out of hyperspace in "The Borderlands of Sol" until The Ringworld Throne (retitled Ringworld's Children more recently) was more than forty years in author time.

Still, I don't recall any in-universe explanation of how what Bram found to explain ships "disappearing" in hyperspace, especially when too deep in a stellar gravity well,

the presence of hyperspace beasts that literally eat ships when they can catch them, and mostly live near stars

squares with what happened to the Hobo Kelly's hyperdrive in "The Borderlands of Sol", when

the antagonist used a quantum black hole to cause the hyperdrive engine to vanish, dropping Hobo Kelly into normal space ten minutes -- or sixty days under fusion drive -- from normal dropout distance.

Two very reasonable explanations, based on two different understandings of what the hazards are in hyperspace -- but Niven, as far as I'm aware, just left the two seemingly conflicting explanations hanging.

Were these ever reconciled in-universe within the Known Space stories?

"But why can't both be true?" In "Borderlands" and several other stories talking about hyperspace, the danger of running too deep into a gravity well was emphasized; specifically in "Borderlands" Shaeffer says something about the hyperdrive "running off the edge of the universe", trailing atoms of the ship along its path, as if that were a phenomenon that had been detected, perhaps even that there had been hyperwave communication with a ship so afflicted (though I don't recall ever reading anything that specific). This doesn't match up well at all with Bram's discovery.

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  • 2
    Why can't both be true?
    – NomadMaker
    Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 20:18
  • @NomadMaker No reason I know of -- but in that case, is there any in-universe support?
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 11:01
  • 1
    Best to ignore the Ringworld sequels after the first one. Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 12:11
  • 1
    @OrganicMarble I liked Engineers and Throne -- and Niven wrote them in continuity with the rest of Known Space.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 12:43
  • @ZeissIkon I hadn't heard either story before.
    – NomadMaker
    Commented Jul 1, 2020 at 15:28

2 Answers 2

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To the best of my knowledge (including several years on Niven-List, when that still ran), it was never reconciled. Basically, the limits of the hyperdrive don't add up. As you can't hyperdrive right up to the Fleet of Worlds ( circa 5 earth-masses at circa Earth-moon separations), that gives you a lower limit on the gravity gradient which drops ships out of hyperspace. But that limit implies that the "hyperdrive borderland" of Sol would be somewhere in the vicinity of the asteroid belt or Jupiter's orbit. But the gravity gradient "borderland" around Forward's/ Achilles'/ Brennan's primordial black hole would then be a few km across. Which is a minuscule target to hit with a ship on the Sirius (Jinx) to Earth route.

It just doesn't add up. Unless Dimity Carmody has a non-canon explanation in her 'Treatise on Hyperdrive Physics'.

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  • But presumably it was steered to be in the ship's path, no? You could improve this answer by putting some specific numbers on this: how close to the Fleet of Worlds is it possible to travel on hyperdrive? (The number you're using for the mass of the "quantum black hole" would also be useful.)
    – DavidW
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 0:42
  • Black holes that big are heavy and very, very hard to grab ahold of. They don't steer well.
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 2:28
  • @MarkOlson "Borderlands of Sol" specifically mentioned that a very heavy space tug with an EM grappler was being used to move the hole around after (presumed) spending months or longer pouring charged particles into it (a black hole's intrinsic properties including charge as well as mass and angular momentum). This did, however, imply a means of more or less accurately forecasting the course of an incoming ship...
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Nov 16, 2023 at 12:04
  • > @zeiss-ikon This did, however, imply a means of more or less accurately forecasting the course of an incoming ship... Which of course you can do if the pilot doesn't deviate in the slightest from the planned route. "The slightest" meaning a couple of kilometres side to side. Which is pretty challenging when your Einstein space several light hours maps to a few seconds in hyperspace (cite : Betrayer of Worlds, about an hour into the audiobook). At 3 days/ LY (Known Space passim), the 30 day-ish trip from Jinx (Sirius) to Earth is very likely to need several "sanity breaks"
    – Rockdoctor
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 22:06
  • in Einstein space for the passengers, so you'd need to know the timing of those breaks, and the travel vector to literally nanosecond accuracy to predict the spaceship's incoming vector at Earth to the necessary several kilometres precision.
    – Rockdoctor
    Commented Nov 28, 2023 at 22:06
-1

Maybe both are true, only the creatures around Sol have been steering clear of the singularity (and why wouldn't they?). It is only blind luck that the Hobo Kelly ran into the singularity instead of the creatures.

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    In "Borderlands of Sol" the singularity was located well outside Sol's singularity -- ten minutes in hyperspace is many light-hours (3.5 days per light year, fixed speed), hence needing 60 days at 1G on fusion drive to get home from there. You'd normally have spent a couple weeks on fusion drive getting to/from the safety limit.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 15:00
  • Beyond that, what support can you give for this hypothesis. I'm not saying both explanations might not be true -- but I'm looking for whether Niven ever reconciled them, either in-universe or out-of-universe.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 15:02
  • 2
    The problem in BoS was precisely the ships disappearing - apparently historically unprecedented and nobody could make sense of it. IIRC the "beasts" idea was floated but rejected as tinfoil hat material. Once the primordial black hole was found (and presumably removed or marked with hyperspace danger buoys or whatnot), the disappearance of ships presumably ceased. No beasts. Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 15:17
  • 1
    Well, over the whole Known Space history, ships disappeared in hyperdrive from time to time anyway. It was always chalked up to not paying enough attention to the mass indicator, cutting the gravity well too close, looking out a window and forgetting you have eyes, etc. Hyperdrive was never fully understood by humans into Louis Wu's time, so a certain accident rate wasn't impossible to accept.
    – Zeiss Ikon
    Commented Dec 3, 2020 at 18:11

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