Transporters are a menace


There is, admittedly, some ambiguity about precisely how Trek’s transporters work. The events of some episodes subtly contradict events in others. The closest thing to an official word we have is the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, which states that when a person enters a transporter, they are scanned by molecular imaging scanners that convert a person into a subatomically deconstructed matter stream. …

After which the article goes into great detail about why there is some doubt about whether this is the correct, honest explanation. I must say, it sounds to me like transporters are not quite the innocent technology they seem.

I’m certain I read a SF novel where transporters created a mind-imprinted clone of the user at the distant location. In this story, the original was not destroyed, so rather than think of it as transportation, the user knew he would be cloned. After that, the two (or three, or four) copies of the person would go on about their separate lives, gradually becoming less similar as divergent experiences occurred.

What book was that? Does that ring any bells for any of you? It would have been published at least thirty years ago, most likely more. I was thinking it might have been by Philip Jose Farmer, but I’m not finding a title of his that rings a bell other than the World of Tiers, so I guess it was someone else.

Anyway, I missed the episode where it became clear that Star Trek transporters much work the same way, but the Riker copy makes it clear that they do — only with destruction of the original. Wow, that’s a questionable form of technology, that’s for sure.

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9 thoughts on “Transporters are a menace”

  1. I’m pretty sure that was a plot element in Farthest Star and its sequel Wall Around a Star by Frederik Pohl and Jack Williamson, about people sent to explore a fast-moving extragalactic Dyson Sphere called “Cuckoo”.

  2. There’s also “Think Like a Dinosaur” by James Patrick Kelly, where the transporter works like that but the species that builds it thinks it’s more convenient for it to work like a destructive transporter, and expects operators to take steps based on that.

  3. Mike got it — I was definitely thinking of the Cuckoo saga. I remember the cover now that I see it, and the description rings all kinds of bells. That’s the one.

  4. I liked the Galaxy Quest on transporter technology, personally.

    And, I read a Star Trek book where they revived someone long-dead because they found a transporter with that person’s molecular scan still in its memory. Which, if you can do that, why isn’t it SOP to make regular backups of yourself?

  5. Re Galaxy Quest transporters: yeah, count me out of playing with that particular unit.

    And yes, failing to think of making backups of yourself is one of the innumerable instances in which Stupid Rays plainly have a big effect on the Star Trek universe!

  6. It’s at least sometimes indicated that keeping a pattern in storage takes an impractical amount of resources. (E.g., there’s a DS9 episode where two of them basically requires overflow into Quark’s holosuites, and they’re having trouble maintaining them for any length of time.) But it’s generally of a piece with Trek never recalling some useful innovation after the episode is over.

    Wil McCarthy’s Queendom of Sol does take advantage of teleportation-based backups.

  7. Mike, that’s all very well, but the presumed scenario would then have to go like this:

    a) We have invented a way to be immortal! Yay!
    b) But it costs a lot.
    c) Oh, well, then, too bad, let’s not be immortal.

    I’m finding step “c” fairly unbelievable.

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