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So, you have Faster-Than-Light Travel, and you want to travel to Rigel, but first you have to stop through Tau Ceti, even though you don't have any business there, and stopping there makes the journey longer. Why is this? Whether due to some law of physics or some artificial regulation, you have to follow the Hyperspace Lanes.

Hyperspace Lanes allow space to have choke points and pace the story in space since you have to make stops along the way between jumps anyway. These lanes typically connect the only closest systems to each other. Not as silly as might be expected, as the stars of a galaxy are always in motion and even the tiny pull of distant stars may bring a ship seriously off course at great distances. Having a few lanes for which the movement and gravity of nearby stars is extremely well mapped out might be a lot safer than just blazing straight through a star cluster whose gravitational effects are only reasonably well estimated.

Related to, but rarely overlaps with Portal Network, typically only if any given gate is limited in terms of potential destinations. Sub-Trope of Faster-Than-Light Travel.


Examples

Comic Books

  • This applies to the Marvel Universe; for interstellar travel most civilizations use these, and a major one is located in- Earth's solar system. It's because of this that so many aliens have found and interfered with the Earth over millions of years.

Literature

  • The hyperdrive used by ships in the Vatta's War series of books allow them to travel to any nearby system they choose, but if they travel to systems marked on their charts as off limits, they run the risk of running into all sorts of unknown hazards. Less scrupulous starship captains occasionally use these off-limits star systems as meeting locations off the beaten path to conduct illegal business.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe is a textbook hyperspace routes example. There are several major trade routes going from one end of the Galaxy to another, smaller but slower routes branching off them to individual systems and little-know routes that are faster than average but have the danger of coming too close to stars or black holes to compensate. When no known routes to a location exist, a series of mini-jumps is required to constantly double-check there are no stars or other dangerous objects in the way. Also, rarely used routes become unusable over time due to stars slowly moving around in space. To make matters more interesting, large portion of the galaxy is unaccessible to hyperdrive due to Hyperspace Disturbance and requires unconventional technology to get to. And yes, several stories point out how the fastest way to get from point A to point B lies anywhere but a direct route.
  • The Lost Fleet uses this, however a more effective Portal Network is set up in important systems and the FTL pathways are almost forgotten about until the events of the series.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy starts with earth getting demolished to make way for a new hyperspace express route. Of course, it was actually a plot to destroy the supercomputer designed to come up with the ultimate question.
  • David Weber's Honor Harrington novels slightly subvert this trope by having Casual Interstellar Travel of the vanilla variety (by hyperspace) for everyone, but featuring a wormhole network that allows for instantaneous travel between its termini, thus radically cutting on a delivery times. Naturally, the heroes' homeworld has the biggest bunch of those holes. Wormholes in the Honorverse don't really form a network, though. Various wormhole termini are usually too far apart for anyone to get from one to another, without hyperdrives that also allow FTL travel. They just supply a few very convenient shortcuts between some places.
    • Even in the Vanilla Hyperspace, there are also Grav Waves, for lack of a better term, "wrinkles" in hyperspace, that ships can use special energy sails to ride on to cut their travel time down considerably. These waves end up becoming de facto hyperspace lanes in their own right.
  • The Trope Codifier for genre SF was the Alderson Drive used for interstellar travel in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's 1975 novel The Mote in God's Eye (sporadic earlier examples existed, but this was the really influential one). It only works at specific "Alderson Points" in a star system, each of which leads to another specific system. Activating the drive anywhere else just burns up a lot of fuel for nothing. The story is a deconstruction: the Moties only escaped discovery and overrunning the universe because the only point into or out of their system leads within a supergiant star that would destroy unshielded ships on arrival. And this was the only reason the Moties never used their own version of the FTL device; they didn't have the humans' force field technology to survive at the far end of the trip, so explorers never came back.
  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet, this is the slower and less effective form of FTL. Some waystation planets are dying because a new means came in.
  • In C. J. Cherryh's Alliance Union universe each star system only has a limited number of other star systems which can be reached via hyperspace. Anyone trying to go anywhere else is never seen from again, presumably trapped in hyperspace. Even trying to stop partway between two connected systems is impossible.

Live Action TV

  • In Babylon 5, most ships traveling in Hyperspace make sure to closely follow the navigational beacons transmitted between the Jump Gates. They could go in any direction they want, and try to take shortcuts, but then they run the very real risk of joining the ranks of ships that have gone off the beacon never to be seen or heard from again. Larger ships, which can create their own jump points, have more sophisticated navigational equipment which allow them to travel more freely.
    • Even the larger ships will find themselves in trouble if they lose their navigation systems or engines in combat in hyperspace, drifting helplessly into the void. For this reason, most commanders, if given any real choice, will avoid fighting battles in hyperspace, instead preferring to mass their forces near strategic key points such as jump gates or planets.
  • Slipstream in Andromeda works like this.
    • Several star systems are strategically important because you need to travel through them on your way from one slipstream to another. Just the place to lay in ambush, or place a BFG In Space.
    • In one episode, they're trying to get to Tarn Vedra (the lost capital planet of the old Commonwealth) by following a ridiculously complicated sequence of slipstram routes. Several of the steps are jumps between different galaxies!
      • Well, they are following the diary of a guy named Hasturi. Oh, and his nickname is "the Mad Perseid". It's a wonder he didn't have them go through the Route of Ages.

Tabletop Games

  • Game Designers' Workshop's board game Imperium. In order to travel at FTL speeds, starships had to use hyperspace jump routes between stars.
  • In Traveller, jump routes are limited mainly by the presence of fuel stops. As most ships can only jump one parsec at a time that means that most traffic follows places where the stars are one parsec apart. A ship equipped for the purpose can obtain fuel at a gas giant without landing in port. It is still necessary to be in-system. A ship can theoretically jump in whatever direction it wants. However coming out of jump in deep-space is disastrous without fuel supplies to get back and there is almost never any reason to do so.
    • When there is a gap between star systems, ships will sometimes either carry extra fuel, or visit a Space Station maintained for the purpose, if the motive is strong enough.
  • Fading Suns has the portal version with the added bonus of requiring "keys" to access a given gate.

Video Games

  • X-Rebirth has "space highways" similar to the trade lanes in Freelancer, which will let you get around between different planets in a system. Jumpgates are used to get between different systems.
  • In Sins of a Solar Empire, ships can only jump from certain from a planet's gravity well to certain other planets' gravity wells, as well as only being able to jump to other star systems from the star in the system they're in.
  • In Escape Velocity, ships can only jump from a given system to certain other (usually) nearby systems without stopping in other star systems along the way.
    • The Polaris tunneling organ in the third game (Nova) allows players to enter hyperspace without having to stop the ship, a multi-jump organ can allow players to make 10 or less jumps for the time and energy of one.
  • In Freelancer, there are Trade Lanes within the systems. You can enter a Lane at any one of the Trade Lane Rings that are spaced along it, and you can cross an entire system in seconds this way.
  • Hyperspace Lanes are also used in the Final Frontier mod of Civilization IV, to justify the construction of roads in outer space.
    • They are essential to the gameplay, as ships can only move one or two squares per turn. Unfortunately, this also means they are constant targets for Space Pirates.
  • In Privateer 2: The Darkening, hyperspace travel consists of jumping from one navpoint to another, with each jumping point a possible ambush site.
  • In Free Space and Freespace 2 travel between systems is done at jump nodes, essentially the end points of established wormholes that travel between systems.
  • This was present in Master of Orion III. A ship technically could go "off-road," but doing so took far longer than using the predefined star lanes.
    • Which is a little confusing given that the first two games have nothing of the sort. You can go anywhere you want (unless there's a black hole in the way), as long as you've got the range.
  • Infinite Space - Space travel is restricted to "starlanes", which are apparently a naturally occurring phenomenon.
  • Mass Effect uses Mass Relays (ancient space stations that function by creating a virtually mass-free "corridor" of space-time between each other) for interstellar travel.
  • Eve Online uses jump gates to travel between systems. In addition, Titans (large, capital-level ships) can create their own jump gates.
  • Sword of the Stars has humans reliant on fixed "nodespace" routes for interstellar travel and the Zuul can "rip" temporary nodespace routes.
  • The first Star Control strategy mode has colonies as nodes in a jump graph -- and you can's know for sure whether and where each node is connected until you visit it.
  • Vega Strike has jump points network. Another form of FTL travel is relatively slow and thus limited to in-system use.
  • Ascendancy has "starlanes" -- normal blue links usually taking a few turns to ride and red links that require improved drives to navigate in a reasonable time. There's also expendable devices blocking a starlane or speeding up everyone in it.
  • Haegemonia: Legions of Iron has naturally-occuring wormholes leading to fixed points in other systems. Interstellar travel is restricted to these, except for the final missions, where the humans manage to modify Darzok wormhole-blocking technology to allow a fleet to jump directly to a beacon that can be placed in any system. This can, essentially, allow you to avoid the entire enemy line of defense and go straight for the HQ.
  • Similar to the above example, Conquest Frontier Wars has static wormholes connecting systems. The Celareons have the technology to make temporary wormholes to any system. The first mention of this is when they use it to save Captain Thomas Blackwell's corvette from falling into a black hole. This is the main reason why the Mantis are attacking them: they want the technology. And some Celareons are willing to deal with the Mantis in the hope that the bugs will leave them alone after this.

Web Comics

Western Animation

 Prof. Farnsworth: Of course! That was the Panama Wormhole, Earth's central channel for shipping.

Dr. Zoidberg: [laughs] How humorous.

Prof. Farnsworth: Yes, it's sort of a Comedy Central channel, and we're on it now.

Amy: [gasps] I get it!

Real Life

  • Certain interpretations of the variable speed of light cosmology would greatly increase maximum speed (both for light and for ships) when traveling along cosmic strings, and reduce relativity as well. Of course, any ship leaving the string would slow down considerably.
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