Most SF universes have only one form of FTL, but a few, such as the Honorverse, may have more.

Other than naturally occurring wormholes being used (especially if wormholes in that universe are mostly for unintentional travel, like getting sucked into one), what SF universe is the first to have multiple forms of FTL in use?

Note: This is an offshoot of this question about which universe has the most forms of FTL. It was part of that question, but now it's been split up.

  • Just for the record, I will be picking an answer, but I am giving it more time and things got busy, so I haven't had time to even read answers carefully, as I like to. I've had comments in chat from people still researching or working on answers.
    – Tango
    Jul 27, 2015 at 16:55

4 Answers 4


There are two different forms of FTL transport in John W. Campbell's novelette "Forgetfulness", first published (as by "Don A. Stuart") in the June 1937 issue of Astounding Stories (available at the Internet Archive). One was used by the civilization of the "city builders" millions of years before the time of the story (set in the far future). The other is used in the story by Seun, a man of "Rhth" and a descendant of the city builders, to send an invading space fleet back home, a distance of three and a half light-years, in the blink of an eye. I consider the two methods different because the ancient city builders used great machines to power their spaceships, whereas Seun used only the power of his mind, aided by a handheld crystal of his own making; also because Seun maintains that the technology of the city builders has been "forgotten" (hence the title of the story). It seems pointless to speculate on whether the two forms of FTL use the same principles; that would be trying to compare one gobbledegook with another.

Seun of Rhth on the lost lore of the city builders:

"We have forgotten so much of the things the city builders knew, their arts and techniques," Seun explained. "They built things and labored that things might surround and protect them, so they thought. They labored generations that this city might be. They strove and thought and worked, and built fleets that sailed beyond the farthest star the clearest night reveals. They brought here their gains, their hard-won treasures--that they might build and make to protect these things.

"They were impermanent things, at best. How little is left of their five-million-year striving. We have no things today, nor any protecting of things. And we have forgotten the arts they developed to protect and understand these things. And with them, I am sorry, I have forgotten the thoughts that made the lathan [an antigravity suit] understandable."

Seun discusses the sorgan which powered the city builders' ships:

"The generator supplied the power for the city, and for the ships of the city, wherever they might be in space. In all the universe they could draw on the power of that generator, through that sorgan unit. That was the master unit; from it flowed the power of the generator, instantaneously, to any ship in all space, so long as its corresponding unit was tuned. It created a field rotating"--and the minds of his hearers refused the term—"which involves as well, time.

"In the first revolution it made, the first day it was built, it circled to the ultimate end of time and the universe, and back to the day it was built. And in all that sweep, every sorgan unit tuned to it must follow.The power that drove it died when the city was deserted, but it is still making the first revolution, which it made and completed in the first hundredth of a second it existed.

[. . .]

"Since, in its first swing, it turned to that time, and back to the day it was built, it radiated its power to the end of space and back. Anywhere, it might be drawn on, and was drawn on by the ships that sailed to other stars."

Ron Thule, a Pareethian astronomer, compares the city builders with the current inhabitants of Rhth:

"Once"--Ron Thule's voice was tense--"the city builders made atomic generators to release the energy bound in that violent twist of space called an atom. He made the sorgan to distribute its power to his clumsy shells of metal and crystal—the caves that protected him from the wild things of space.

"Seun has forgotten the atom; he thinks in terms of space. The powers of space are at his direct command. He created the crystal that brought us here from the energy of space, because it made easy a task his mind alone could have done. His people have no ships; they are anywhere in space they will without such things. Seun is not a decadent son of the city builders. His people never forgot the dream that built the city. But it was a dream of childhood, and his people were children then. Like a child with his broomstick horse, the mind alone was not enough for thought; the city builders, just as ourselves, needed something of a solid metal and crystal, to make that dream tangible.

  • Sorry for the delay in picking an answer. This was related closely to my question on the most types of FTL in one universe and I felt there was a good chance that answer might affect answers here.
    – Tango
    Aug 6, 2015 at 3:06

E.E. Smith in Gray Lensman, which was first serialized in 1939, had Boskone able to use hyperspatial tubes (that we'd now call artificial wormholes) in addition to the normal FTL intertialess drive.

  • Welcome to the site! This has the makings of a great answer, but could you elaborate on the details a bit more? Jul 25, 2015 at 4:44
  • Oops! I can't believe I forgot about the Lensman series. Great answer. So any other story proposed as the first should be before 1939. Jul 25, 2015 at 5:08

The following example, cited in my answer to Tango's other question, may also be relevant here. Although "Competition", proposed in M. A. Golding's answer, antedates "The Big Night", it's not clear how different the space drives in "Competition" are.

In Henry Kuttner's novelette "The Big Night", originally published (as by "Hudson Hastings") in the June 1947 issue of Thrilling Wonder Stories (available at the Internet Archive), there are two competing forms of FTL travel. The "hyper ships", which ply the currents of hyperspace, are being put out of business by the newer matter transmission technology. (Of course they still need a good old hyper ship to install a Transmat station on a new planet.)

Christie said uncomfortably, "I can't help it. You can't meet competition like Transmat. You can't afford to pay their prices. You got running expenses on La Cucaracha. Jet fuel costs dough, and--well, Transmat sets up a transmitting station, pays for it, and the job's done, except for the power outlay. With atomic, what does that amount to?

Ts'ss, the Selenite pilot of La Cucaracha, is philosophical:

"This will pass, too," he said. "We're an old race, Mr. Hilton. Earthmen are babies compared to the Selenites. Hyper ships are fading out, and eventually Transmat will fade out too, when something else comes."

  • Good reasoning and information. Too bad "The Big Night" was beat out by about 10 years. (But, hey, that was your answer, too, wasn't it?)
    – Tango
    Aug 6, 2015 at 3:07

The story "Competition" by A.E. van Vogt and/or his wife E. Mayne Hull in Astounding, June 1943, the first Artur Blord story, which can be found in various editions of Men Against the Stars and Planets for Sale, may involve the use of several different space drives by human interstellar society.

His answer was a shrug "Look lady, the Ridge star governments have offered a prize for the invention of an interstellar drive that won't infringe existing Earth patents, but until that prize is won the only way you'll ever get off Defi II would be to get in good with some private owner of a spaceship There just isn't any public transport."


"As you know, when the Galactic co, believing its space drive patents made its position invincible, asked prohibitive rates and impossible preliminary fees to start an organized passenger and transport service in the Ridge Star system, our governments announced an open competition.

"They had purchased local rights to a drive vastly inferior to the superb Galactic Drive, and asked competitors to put their research staffs to the task of improving it. All improvements were guaranteed to the companies that made them and, in the event of duplication, an equitable adjustment was promised."

and later:

"My ship," he begun, "will win the the race. It has attained a speed just under eighty-one percent of a Galactic liner If anyone can equal that, just let him speak now, and I'll go quietly to the slaughterhouse. Well?"

And eventually a company is formed to use that drive for public transport within the Ridge Stars.

Thus only earlier stories with two or more different FTL drives should be be mentioned, unless someone can dig up evidence in this story to suggest that the drive used in the Ridge Stars was merely a variation of the drive used by the Galactic Company, using the same principle but different enough not to infringe their patents.

  • using the same principal but different enough not to infringe their patents. that's basically how patents work. Nothing in the story suggests that there is more than one type of FTL. It's more "diesel vs gas" engine than it is "submarine vs boat"
    – user16696
    Jul 25, 2015 at 2:19

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