In Skylark Three by E.E. "Doc" Smith, the Skylark has an acceleration of five times the speed of light, and in The Skylark of Valeron, it has nearly unlimited acceleration. Is there any indication of how the light speed limit was overcome? It seems to have been ignored entirely.

  • 3
    an acceleration five times the speed of light?
    – HorusKol
    Jan 23, 2011 at 23:37
  • 1
    That's the wording used. I know, it doesn't make sense, which is why the question. :)
    – Michael
    Jan 23, 2011 at 23:51
  • The speed of light has an acceleration of 0 m/s^-2...5*0=....
    – AncientSwordRage
    Dec 5, 2012 at 20:41
  • @Michael - Where in the story does he talk about acceleration being five times the speed of light? The story is public domain so you can read the whole thing online here, I only see a reference to the "speed" being five times the "velocity" of light, not the "acceleration". Here's the quote I found at the end of Chapter VII: "But in spite of the lack of apparent motion, the Violet was now leaping through the unfathomable depths of interstellar space with the unthinkable speed of five times the velocity of light!"
    – Hypnosifl
    Jan 6, 2016 at 13:51

5 Answers 5


It would appear the author ignored lightspeed restrictions entirely. The choice of wording is a clue of a lack of regard for basic physics -- the speed of light being a fixed speed in your medium of choice, rather than acceleration which is the rate at which your speed changes.

  • 2
    IIRC, there was a brief mention in the first book about Einstein apparently having been wrong. He also glossed over the accelerations needed by mentioning special chairs. Jan 16, 2011 at 14:41
  • I am reminded of a brief passage in (I think) a Moorcock book where someone someone with a name like "O'Malley" invents a FTL drive. When asked how he circumvents Einstein's laws he says: "To be sure Einstein must have been wrong, then". May 5, 2011 at 21:10
  • Well, the original Skylark was written between 1915 and 1921, Einstein presented his General Relativity as we currently know it in 1915, so it was very new when he started. Imposing Einstein physics which was still fairly new and relatively unproven in 1930, when the sequel was written, would have probably caused some conflict in continuity. It's not likely E.E. "Doc" Smith was all that up to date on the latest physics.
    – ewanm89
    May 16, 2012 at 10:16
  • @ewanm89 Fair point, when it comes to lightspeed limitations. However, "the Skylark has an acceleration of five times the speed of light" is a pretty unambiguous usage of speed as a measure of acceleration, which shows a lack of regard for even basic physics. This isn't a judgement on the story, just the lack of scientific accuracy, even considering the time period.
    – Saiboogu
    May 16, 2012 at 15:35
  • Yeah, E.E. "Doc" Brown made other errors, I'm just saying he was writing more the end of Jules Verne and HG Wells Era than the start of more physics correct Asimov era.
    – ewanm89
    May 16, 2012 at 17:54

In the first book they are held to normal human accelerations with the engine pushing the ship, but in Skylark Three they find a way to accelerate everything at the same rate with no side effects. They also get artificial gravity from it as well.

Early inertial compensation, I guess.

  • 1
    They weren't at normal human accelerations, but rather extraordinary ones, capable of exceeding lightspeed by a lot fast. This was explained as special floors and special chairs (one wonders why the floors were special, except to allow Perkins and DuQuesne to survive the acceleration in the first book). Don't try to make sense of this, because there isn't any. Smith was writing a story, and using what he needed. Mar 13, 2011 at 3:52

IIRC I think the first book said that the drive acted on every particle of the ship, though I'm not sure exactly what that drive did physics-wise but initially, they were going five times light speed. Later on in the Lensman books Doc Smith came up with first,the partial neutralization of inertia, and then the complete cancellation of inertia.


I interpret the accelerations as being per second. Thus, an acceleration of five times light speed would be 5 * 186,000 miles /second / second. This was the acceleration of the Fenachrone ships.

Warning: spoilers below!

The Skylark Three had a Fenachrone style drive, which accelerated every particle in the ship and its contents equally, so no sense of acceleration was felt; the first two Skylarks did not, so their acceleration was limited by what the inhabitants could stand. But Skylark Three actually had a higher acceleration than the Fenachrone ships -- 3.9186 times as high, according to the novel -- or it could never have gotten close enough to Ravindau's ship to fight it.

As for Einstein, relativity was ignored as being "just a theory". Basically, special relativity says that an object's mass increases as the object moves at faster and faster speeds, so it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object up to the speed of light.


And do remember that Einstein doesn't postulate the speed of light as a speed that cannot be exceeded. All the theory of relativity does is indicate that it's a speed that cannot be attained, it says nothing about what would happen if you found a way to reach a speed faster than light without first reaching the speed of light itself (thus some sort of discontinuity drive that would make you jump from say 0.8c to 1.2c without passing through c itself while accellerating). I've had in the past some interesting discussions with my university physics teacher about this subject, including what it would mean for accelleration and braking in an FTL environment.

  • On the other hand, the Skylark simply accelerated, not doing anything discontinuously. Mar 13, 2011 at 3:53
  • Yes it does, the root becomes negative in the equation, this leads to complex.imaginary numbers, causing all sorts of fun issues. Now one could find a way so relatively speaking they weren't actually traveling that fast in relation to the space around them, this is the approach taken by most hard sci-fi warp/subspace/hyperspace/wormholes...
    – ewanm89
    May 16, 2012 at 10:21

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