Skip navigation.
Write - Share - Read - Respond

Discussion - Is FTL necessary?

Paul B. Hartzog's picture

Is it possible to hold a galactic empire together without faster-than-light travel (including portals, teleportation, etc.)?


What if the biology of some species (through natural evolution, or gentic engineering) made them "hyper-loyal" to a "ruler" or "rulers" who they were gentically disposed to obey? This could change ove time, but then again an institution could be set up to reinforce it.

Although, that would be extreme, and from the perspective of an "Emperor", any "territory" that they cannot reach might not be worth the energy and time to try and "rule" over.

Sam Rose
Social Synergy

what does empire mean?

I suppose the question that I'd be much more interested in asking is, "what do we mean by empire, and what would be necessary to hold it together?"

If we mean a sort of "developing nation" style economy, where development and progress and economy is dependent on regular and substantial amounts of material trade, then, no, an galatic-scale empire doesn't require FTL.

But if planets/star systems are self sufficient in themselves, and over many generations, one could see connections, and the exchange of information, this might constitute an empire on the galactic scale.

I mean, empires cannot be centrally managed, nor can local administrators be complete pawns sent from the central government.

Think of Alexander the Great's "Empire" before and after Alexander, the leadership/power throughout the middle east probably looked more or less the same, even though the empires changed. Same thing in northern africa and the arab world in relation to Mohammmed. Empire didn't completely knock out regionalism, or regional authority, and you couldn't--I think--expect something much different from something on a galactic level..

This forces me to ask, would there be a purpose/intrest/need for a galactic empire without FTL, would the reason even occur to people otherwise?


You know that this means Time Travel - Right?

I don't suppose I have to point out the gamut of paradoxes (Paradoxi?) that would result from holding your Galactic Empire together with FTL travel. The question it does beg is, "Are you trying to hold dominion over a vast area of space at one moment in time or are you trying to dominate all outposts of life as and when they arise (but before they die out) in your region of space-time?" In other words, "Whose real-time clock are you planning on using as your empire's master clock?" because, as you fan out from that at FTL speeds to conquer neighbours, you will be conquering them in YOUR past.

KarnuVap - but you can call me Mr. Vap.

sim's picture

Not Human, Not An Empire

This question runs headlong onto the Fermi Paradox. If it were possible, it'd have been done by now and we'd be paying the impost to the Overlords. But that's why we like science fiction, for the fiction part that lets us make things up.

For a galactic empire without the benefit of double-talk drives, I think you'll need other well-known SF tropes: namely longevity and an artificially static culture that will provide continuity over galactic timescales. To me, that implies machine intelligences. But what if AI is one of the impossible dreams like FTL, anti-gravity and time-travel? Vernor Vinge covers this in his Deepness In The Sky. Instead of having machines with human level intelligence, he has humans with machine-like dedication.



Allopatric Speciation

Without faster than light travel, it's going to be difficult to maintain a language that works between colonies. There will be significant linguistic drift in both places. Australians and Scottish can find themselves mutually incomprehensible, how do you think it'll be when it takes 200 years (elapsed time for the static cultures, remember, it'll be less for the travellers) to travel between them?

And if we start travelling much further afield, it'll be hard even for the human race to stay recognisably the same. Evolution dictates that species separated into distinct non-interbreeding niches will evolve independantly. Forget Kirk making out with alien species, it'll be hard enough for him to make out with the descendants of the first long distance settlers.

FTL in firefly

In the Firefly universe there was no FTL travel, but it wasn't a galactic empire, but a really big star system.

Now, if we must describe a true galactic empire, power must be enforced in a way. The roman empire built a road system covering most of the empire. Likewise, transport is a important part of the empire-enforcement. What I'm trying to say is, if there's no FTL technology, there must an equally strong way to force the common culture and wealth.

Personally, the concept of a galactic empire is ludicrous. It's just so much space... Probably loosely confederated states, with no central power, is more likely.


Someone posted a story a while back having the general idea that in the future, humans would upload their minds and transport them through a series of interplanetary "routers", to be downloaded upon arrival at destination, and re-integrated into a corporeal body. I thought that was a pretty nifty idea. Instead of looking at the cosmos in a world centric view (earth-like), the author put forth a kind of node centric view, much like the structure of the internets.

As to the question, can an empire be held together without FTL, I think the answer varies. I would imagine, from my understanding of human history, that perhaps an empire could form on a small distance scale, but with any increase in size, a corresponding increase in fragmentation would occur. As more and more fragmentation occurs, pressure against the empire builds (most likely in the form of cultural differences), until a limit is reached where the empire splits into separate empires, or falls into a dark age. Foundation describes this concept very well.

I have always been of the assumption that sooner or later, as most of us stare perplexed at the limits of breaking FTL, some Orville Wright/Einstein is going to pop on the scene with a eureka! and change the game. So FTL might not even matter! Whatever the case, I'm sure we humans will figure out how to spread when the time comes......

Not Necessarily

Fact is, There didn't seem to be FTL travel in Firefly, and the purplebellies seemed to have what might righly be termed an 'Empire.'

But what of the Galactic element?

All that's needed, really, to have a galatic empire is a propery situated cluster of planets in the far reaches of a pair of galaxies, right?


kelson.philo's picture know, I've know, I've always wondered what was up with Firefly and their getting around...'Best I could figger is that they were in some sort of hyper cluster of worlds, so that the, erm, "lightning bug drive" was adequate transportation.

Let me put it this way. If a certain, slightly nefarious, earth corporation (let's call them "Spamiburton") wanted to exploit the mineral rights of a planet that's 20 light years away, would it be at all feasible to do so without FTL? Your returns for such a task would have to be at least astronomical in order for the venture to be profitable. And that's assuming that there are no natives interfering with the biz plan.

kelson.philo's picture

Lessee...The word "empire"

Lessee...The word "empire" (from wikiP) means:

(from the Latin "imperium", denoting military command within the ancient Roman government). Generally, they may define an empire as a state that extends dominion over and populations distinct culturally and ethnically from the culture/ethnicity at the center of power. Other definitions may emphasize economic or political factors. The term generally implies military hegemonic power.

Now what if you're in rome and yer plotting out a conquest of your nearest neighbor (for the various purposes of material wealth, glory, whatever) and you talk to the Imperial Survey and they say, "Preator, it will take us just over four years to reach the shores of our nearest neighbor. We'll need some big boats." So you think to yerself, "well, shoot. 4 years to get there, and assuming that my neighbor falls quickly to our mad Roman Skillz, it'll be another four years getting back. I'll be ten years older assuming I make it..."

And that's your closest neighbor. What happens when the next context is ten years away, or fifty or a hundred? What happens when you go and conquer somebody and then they forget about you in the mean time? You'd have to instill some sort of forced halt to technological process on each of your conquered worlds to make sure that while yer in yer sleeper ship (or what have you) the peeps you conquered don't figure out how to whipe the floor with you in the interim. And let's not even talk about the poor bastards who get stuck there doing guard duty. I hear the poison ivy on zeta reticulae 3 is quite fierce...

Let's face it, if it took Columbus (or lief erikson) 20 years to get to get to the new world, the only people interested in the discovery are going to be one's looking for a permanent new home.

Now, certainly, where there's a will, there's a way. But you'd have to ask yourself, without some sort of FTL contrivance, would you even want to bother with the insane logistics involved with galactic empire? You'd need some pretty strong reasons for doing so, I think. You'll notice i'm pushing slower than light travel to just under light speed, so we're prolly talking antimatter engines. Antimatter (unless some whizzbang doohickey is developed) is expensive to produce in our neck of the woods. Assuming that you have that kind of capital, your basic wants and needs of the majority of the citizenry are (probably) already going to be met. So. What reason...what reason.

Boredom. Conquer others 'cause yer flat out bored with living the vida loca. What's that saying about idle hands?

Faster than light travel.

My Stefaxians do not travel faster than the speed of light, they just ignore it. It is space which sort of slthers beneath and around them. Anyway, it works for them!

Faster than light travel.

My Stefaxians do not travel faster than the speed of light, they just ignore it. It is space which sort of slthers beneath and around them. Anyway, it works for them!

Identical responses.

I appear to have been responsible for two identical responses. Sorry, but I don't know how it happened.