Navigating Endless Portals

endless portalThis is only a very simple idea, but I thought it was worth sharing. In previous post, I talked about wormholes, stargates and ‘magic doorways’, and about the difficulty involved in using such a narrative device without it looking as though you are ripping off Stargate or similar shows/books/games.

If you use any kind of ringed device to create a wormhole, people will instantly recognize it as a stargate, removing the ring would make your doorway look exactly like the portals used in sliders, and if you put the portal in space it would be yet another clichéd ‘space-gate’ or ‘jump-gate’. And now with the Portal series of games similarly engraving itself onto the tombstone of western culture, portals and wormholes seem somehow old hat.

In my previous article, ‘The U WhaT Tube: It’s Like a Stargate But Not a Stargate‘, I set myself the challenge of creating a design concept that would do the same job as  a stargate but look and feel different, with limited success. Now, I’d like to talk about a different kind of magic doorway. The idea is very different to a stargate but equally useful to science fiction writers.

The idea is to have a portal without a definite shape and without definite borders. Most portals in science fiction are either circular, oval or spherical. These portals would be more like an endless barrier, ribbon or crack, and they could conceivably stretch across the globe.

Endless Portals

The best way to conceive of my endless portals is as huge cracks in space-time. They cut across the surface of the Earth like fractures in a pane of glass, like the ley lines of contemporary mythology. Perhaps they eventually fizzle out, or perhaps they just keep going, extending across continents and seas, high into the air and beyond the Earth.

Imagine falling off the edge of the world only to find yourself on another world, slightly to the left of our own.

You can’t see these fractures because they don’t have any physical properties. Ordinarily, you can pass right through them without disappearing off the face of the Earth. You wouldn’t even know that they were there, unless…

Unlocking the Portals

With the portals being so huge, it seems logical that you would need some kind of ‘key’ to use them, otherwise people would just keep on falling into the invisible trap. Perhaps some people have accidentally crossed these borders, explaining phenomena like the Bermuda Triangle. The ‘key’ might be the transmission of a certain radio frequency, or an advanced piece of technology, or it might be something as simple as approaching the fracture from a specific angle.

Using this key, you could pass through into another world, another dimension, or another time – whatever your science fiction story calls for. Without the key, you would just pass by without realizing that it is there.

What I like most about this idea is that there is still some actual travel involved. You can’t just open a doorway in your secret underground bunker and jump through to Abydos, you have to travel to the fracture and then on to your destination. Traveling through these portals wouldn’t be like flying through a tunnel, it would be more like stepping through a mirror or, since they’re invisible, a pane of glass.

I like the idea that many of the fractures pass through oceans, so you could sail a ship from New York towards Lisbon, for example, and at some point in the journey come to a metaphysical crossroads, and choose the path to New Lisbon, or New Earth, or something equally stupid-sounding. You could also fly through them, which would seem to be a more practical approach.

Navigating the Portals

The portals might be in fixed positions relative to the Earth, or they might be fixed in space, changing their relative positions as the Earth orbits and rotates. This would make navigation much more difficult, which might add interest to your story. It might be interesting if they were in fixed positions too, as nations would surely struggle to control strategic locations along the rift.

Where do the portals lead? That’s up to you. They might lead to an alternate Earth in a dimension that overlaps our own, or the point (or angle) at which you enter the portal might determine which world you visit. You might have to enter the North Pole to get to the sunny alien tropics.

Of course, if these fractures were fixed in space and moved relative to the surface of the Earth as it spins, you wouldn’t have to travel – they would come to you.

Entering the Nexus - Star Trek Generations

If you don’t need advanced technology to use the portals, only a bit of navigational know-how, people could have been using the portals for centuries. This throws up some interesting possibilities for alternate history stories. You could have 17th century sail ships trading weapons, opiates, tea and slaves with an alien civilization in the New-New World. You could have pirates operating out of a hidden extra-dimensional island. You could have Lancaster bombers and Spitfires flying out to attack the Nazis’ alien allies.

A crack in Space by iFrostyIce

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  • I’ll have to point you to two different items: Fringeworthy, a RPG that predates Stargate by almost a decade. And the novel, _Through Struggle, The Stars_ a political/action thriller, where the author set up a series of wormhole gates between worlds, but uses Hard SF for everything else.

    The problem with most wormholes as they are depicted in SciFi movies and TV shows is that those are not wormholes. Don’t know what they are, but they aren’t wormholes. Those are all toilet swirls, not wormholes. (Except for Stargate, Not sure what their’s is, but it most certainly not a wormhole.)

    Traversable wormholes 4th dimensional holes in space. So you’ll see a sphere with an event horizon. Now with Traversable wormholes, the event horizon is the “other side” of the wormhole. If you want to see what one would look like, check out this animation done by a physicist:

    Since you have to keep the wormhole mouth open using exotic matter, there will be structure around the sphere keeping it open. I would suggest something that looks like a dodecahedron.

    • Cool. Interesting stuff. Thanks for posting John.

    • Paulo R. Mendes

      The stargates of Orion’s Arm ( are based in this concept of true, scientifically accurate wormholes.

  • jollyreaper

    Love your idea. Pretty similar to something I’d worked out for myself liberally borrowing from other inspiration.

    1. I want strange new worlds.
    2. I want to keep the human tech relatable without being anachronistic.
    3. I want to keep the handwaving as minimal as possible.
    4. I want to have starfighers and starships which are admittedly special cases. Things like Star Wars and BSG and Trek simply don’t hold up and realistic space combat is not conventionally cinematic.

    so what I did was invent rifts and voids. The rift is your portal but rather than leading directly to another world it leads to a void. You fly your antigravity voidship to the rift which is conveniently in the air above your planet of origin. Fire up the field generators, pass through, you are now in a void. Looks like outer space but isn’t. Nobody is sure what it is. Light the reaction engines and burn towards the destination rift. Fire up the field generators and pass through to the other side. You’re on a new world.

    The voidships are recognizable to us and near-future tech. The only scifi assumptions are antigrav and the whole void field thing. Everything else basically operates like modern physics, no plasma shunts and inverse tachyon beams from the main deflector.

    I’m refining some ideas for the setting. Mentioned it here.

    • Sounds interesting, jollyreaper. So your ‘void’ plays a similar role as hyperspace does in Babylon 5? Are there any restrictions on what rifts you can use? How many are there?

      PS. You post didn’t appear right away as it was awaiting moderation. Now you have an approved comment, your comments will be published instantly.