Stepping Into Hyperspace

I made this compilation of so-called “hyperspace” scenes from science-fiction movies last year with my friend, the artist and businessman Mike Merrill. Although the film was initially meant to be a catalog of these scenes, the finished product has an ambient, meditative effect that speaks to the power of the very idea of the hyperspace.

The hyperspace (or, in the case of Star Trek, “warp speed”) is an enduring concept in science fiction, seemingly because it provides a panacea for all conflict. Romulans hot on your tail? Human understanding reaching its limits? Unsurmountable distances to cross? Simply kick it into overdrive, find a wormhole, and absolve yourself from the constraints of physics as we know it. In films, hyperspace has a reality-nullifying effect, and is used as either an accidental tunnel to the unknown (see 2001: A Space Odyssey, Stargate, or Contact), or as way to escape from danger via total oblivion (the aforementioned Star Trek usage). Universally, these are moments of madness, with passengers often not knowing what (or where) they will find themselves once they reach the end.

(It’s interesting to note that hyperspaces in films aren’t limited to outer space — we see them in films like Altered States, Lawnmower Man, and Freejack as wormholes into profound “inner” (or mental) space. Harebrained theory: the function is the same, because hyperspace is a concept native to the psychedelic experiences of the human mind, one that has been ported over to sci-fi because of its capacity to be understood on some lizard-brain level as being, somehow, transcendent.)

Of course, in actual science, there’s no observational evidence for such hyperspace tunnels (or wormholes), although they are valid solutions, theoretically, in general relativity. In fact, the most legitimate scientific postulation on the subject came from Albert Einstein himself, who, with his colleague Nathan Rosen, argued in 1935 that such “bridges” between areas of space could be modeled as vacuum solutions to Einstein’s famous field equations. This “Einstein-Rosen bridge” could be done by combining models of a black hole and a white hole — but the idea was later proven to be too fundamentally unstable to work, pending the existence of some kind of exotic matter (antimatter, if you will) to hold it open.

In the intervening years, a motley of wormhole-hyperspace models have popped up: wormholes held open by cosmic strings, wormholes held together by a sphere of exotic matter, Krasnikov tubes, weird circular configurations of wormholes, and wormholes as time machines. All theoretical, of course.


  1. #1 Mike Olson
    February 23, 2010

    I tend to prefer hard sci fi but even there the distances can be overwhelming to overcome. Therefore the travel you mentioned becomes a necessary device to many of the stories. I’m simply an interested amateur but, couldn’t the same effect be given an upgrade by suggesting that the travel is being done in one of the dimensions posited by string theory? Meaning, last I heard string theory suggested 12 dimensions. We of course have the three dimensions of movement and time. Moving from 4 to 12 would be similar to the experience suggested by those living on the plane in “Flatland” moving into our normal space. If those extra dimensions exist…we have to really bend our mind to understand how we’d perceive it and what effect it would have on travel…a plane(such as a map) can be folded in three dimensional space such that two distant points can make direct contact….okay, now I feel like I’m using psychedelics…

  2. #2 WIll
    February 24, 2010

    Very cool. I prefer the Star Trek instances myself. My all-time favorite for trippiness in travel is when Kirk et al slingshot around the sun in ST IV; seeing their unearthly faces emerge from the cosmic soup is…awesome.

  3. #3 Aaron
    February 24, 2010

    Mike’s first comment reminded me of the way Orson Scott Card treated faster-than-light travel in the Ender series. If I remember correctly, he actually did use some variation of Mike’s suggestion.

  4. #4 Mike Olson
    February 24, 2010

    @Aaron…I read the series a couple of years ago, but didn’t remember that specifically when I asked. You might very well be right. To me, the whole hyperspace thing, is getting a little played out. Kind of an updated version of the “Lost World” or kingdoms in the center of the earth. Just seems kind of dated. Worm holes or string dimensions just seem to be more updated ideas to apply to stories. Funny, I think I only read the first three in the Ender series. I was impressed with the combination of ingenuity displayed by the characters and the obvious influence of “Lord of the Flies.”

  5. #5 Claire L. Evans
    February 24, 2010

    Mike, that’s a good point about hyperspace being the only way to surmount the “vast distances” problem of science fiction. What are the other ways? Inter-dimensional travel, faster-than-light engines, and intergenerational ships…? It’s all a means to an end, I guess.

  6. #6 Claire Binkley
    February 25, 2010

    Trippy clip. Definitely kept my attention. The whirring sound effect certainly helped.

    Wonder what science fiction will bring in the future. Wonder what science will bring in the future.

  7. #7 Mike Olson
    February 25, 2010

    @Claire L. Evans, I agree but I’d also point out that the story has a whole different quality if, for instance, interdimensional ships are used, or hyperspace ships are used, or intergenerational ships are used. For instance in Star Trek going to warp doesn’t mean you are lost or in hiding…the enemy can still follow you. Intergenerational ships are usually just transport ships…with no real war to speak of…Dimensional ships all seem to just “disapear” without hope of pursuit. I’d also mention this: In most space battles involving armadas it seems as if, particularly on film or TV, all of the ships are oriented to the same plane. Obviously, there is no plane, surface or up and down. It is all relative to your own position. Something also touched upon in “Ender.” This would mean that in, for instance, an episode of “Star Trek” one ship could be upside down, coming straight at from above or at any oblique to another ship or all ships. From a tactical point of view simply massing your ships and flying at one another on the same plane is a lot like the old military style of marching men in rank and file at one another and shooting as you march to the point of hand to hand combat. In short it is a silly tactic that is always used because people are used to the convention of up and down.

  8. #8 Qzl
    February 25, 2010

    Thx! Nice compilation & nice choice of drone – what was the music?

  9. #9 Claire L. Evans
    February 25, 2010

    @Qzl Thanks! The drone is home-made, simply a synthesizer tone stretched out over time.

  10. #10 artie
    February 28, 2010

    I loved the designs, although this kind of transport will likely encounter patterns less symmetrical.