In various C.J. Cherryh books, it has been described how the crew in a ship has to be sedated or otherwise put to sleep during hyperspace travel. For the most part, it is alluded, without too much detail, that any person who is conscious during travel through hyperspace will go insane-- sometimes by seeing 'things', if I remember correctly.

Has anyone gone into more detailed explanation of this? And, what is it about hyperdrive that is assumed to make the human mind go insane?

  • 2
    Ha, not just in books by C.J. Cherryh. It's much more common!
    – Mr Lister
    Nov 11, 2012 at 13:08
  • I'll also add Lovecraft's alien geometries, Larry Niven's hyperspace 'blind spot', and Steven King's classic "The Jaunt". TVTropes has more.... Nov 13, 2012 at 19:52
  • Also see the Red Dwarf ep. "Future Echoes". Jan 8, 2013 at 4:52

3 Answers 3


Quote from Tripoint:

The fact was, in jump you were always naked to forces that you didn't understand and that physicists couldn't measure because physicists couldn't measure without instruments, and instruments didn't work there, or at least didn't produce consistent results.

So there's no in-universe hard data. The descriptions/reports of how bad the consequences of jump without trank drugs are seem to vary a lot, from "anyone who does it goes insane" to "it's very unpleasant, but most people recover just fine". IIRC, there's several stories that show the latter (Definitely the first Chanur novel, but I think also Tripoint and Rimrunners), so the former can be seen as in-universe exaggeration. After all, spacer kids grow up being told how important it is to always take trank, so it's no surprise the dangers end up being exaggerated.

Tripoint has many descriptions of what jump (with trank) feels like, and it's basically very much like a dream or psychotropic drug trip, unpredictable and varying in intensity:

But kid or adult, the mind painted its own images on the chaos

It could certainly be described as "seeing things", but still based on what you did or thought about before jump - I don't think there's any indication for or even strong in-universe myths about the "things" actually being any kind of malicious spirits like the warp demons in WH40K.

The drug trip analogy seems to be pretty close, with trank having the effect of drastically reducing the intensity and danger of the trip. In reality, people do develop all kinds of psychoses after particularly bad trips. The main difference is that unlike psychotropic drugs, jumps don't become more dangerous when you do them regularly, at least if you take trank.

  • Thanks. I always found the concept very intriguing, and have always wondered what the properties of Hyperspace were that would cause this.
    – Keoma
    Nov 13, 2012 at 20:57
  • IIRC, Tripoint finished with the protagonist routinely doing jumps un-tranked and spending ... uh, "quality time" with the spooky pilot who has been doing likewise for ages. Dec 3, 2019 at 14:25

One of the most prominent examples I know of is the film Event Horizon. Another example is the film Supernova. Both deal with FTL travel and (the) insanity resulting from it.

There are also a larger number of sources that touch on the idea of being able to see alternate realities, creatures living in hyperspace that prey on ships, and the dangers of colliding with objects, stars, planets, or gravity wells. While these don't deal with insanity, these stores do explore other possible dangers of hyperspace and FTL travel.


Actually the idea that "there are some things that man was never meant to know!" has a long history in science fiction. Frankenstein was essentially driven mad by the realization of what he had created, something Colin Clive emulated very well when screaming "Its Alive!" HP Lovecraft had many of his protagonists go mad when confronted with the alien reality of the cosmos. In real life things turn out very different. California Indian Ishi who was the last of his primitive tribe living isolated from the modern world didn't even cower in horror when he first saw a modern city. He assumed the buildings were just mountains with dwellings carved into them. He adjusted within a few years to his new environment. A camel riding Bedouin in the Sahara easily adapted to the modern world, becoming a truck driver, a taxi driver and ultimately a prosperous race car driver in Europe. There's something called adaptability. When things get too different the brain interprets what it sees through what it knows. No insanity. Stress levels may increase if the alienness hangs around too long.

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