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In The Stainless Steel Rat universe, space ships would often travel quickly across the galaxy. There was one case when DiGriz traveled a long distance to meet an alien race. I can't remember if the ships had warp dive/warp jump/hyper jump/hyper speed abilities. Did they?

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    About time we had some Stainless Steel Rat questions :)
    – user8719
    Mar 14, 2015 at 21:20
  • I want to learn Harrison's writing style, so I'm writing a short story like his original Stainless Steel Rat. Warp drive may affect the plot :P
    – Towell
    Mar 14, 2015 at 21:23
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    @XosMel - You actually have two choices; point-and-shoot Warp drive (like Star Trek) or Babylon-5 style hyperspace with beacons.
    – Valorum
    Mar 14, 2015 at 23:09

1 Answer 1

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In the world of Stainless Steel Rat they have both FTL communication (in the form of FTL transmitters) and FTL travel (in the form of warp drives):

"So they are already in warpdrive and cannot be contacted until they emerge." I considered the possibilities. "You will of course be in touch with the authorities at their scheduled destination. The Stainless Steel Rat goes to Hell

and

“Bang on.” I had forgotten that he was an engineer. “An FTL transmission, faster than light, is almost instantaneous, even at stellar distances. But radio waves move at the speed of light—and how far is the nearest star from here?” ‘Three point two light-years.” The Stainless Steel Rat gets Drafted

There are a few rules that seem to be fairly common across the various novels;

  • Warp drives are powered by "generators" (this is a key point of the second novel)
  • Warp drives allow you to access "warp space".
  • Newer drives are somehow better (there's no explanation why this is the case)
  • When traveling in warp space, you cannot receive conventional or FTL communications.
  • When traveling in warp space, you cannot interact with normal matter and are therefore largely immune from attack.

Interestingly, in the "Stainless Steel Visions" collection of short stories (published in 1994 but written substantially earlier) the rules are substantially different. No mention of warp drives, now it's all about hyperspace transit using beacons.

To understand the importance of the beacons, you have to understand hyperspace. Not that many people do, but it is easy enough to understand that in this nonspace the regular rules don't apply. Speed and measurements are a matter of relationship, not constant facts like the fixed universe.

The first ships to enter hyperspace had no place to go—and no way to even tell if they had moved. The beacons solved that problem and opened the entire universe. They're built on planets and generate tremendous amounts of power. This power is turned into radiation that is punched through into hyperspace. Every beacon has a code signal that is part of its radiation and represents a measurable point in hyperspace. Triangulation and quadrature of the beacons works for navigation—only it follows its own rules. The rules are complex and variable, but they are still rules that a navigator can follow.

For a hyperspace jump, you need at least four beacons for an accurate fix. For long jumps, navigators use as many as seven or eight. So every beacon is important and every one has to keep operating. That is where I and the other troubleshooters come in.

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