The Background

Imagine a setting in which the only major fictional technology is human teleportation at the speed of light (for this question please ignore the question about how the teleportation device makes it to the destination).

Human beings are able to teleport themselves around the nearby stars at the speed of light. What this means in a practical sense is that for the teleported person, no time transpires. Meanwhile for everyone not being teleported, time continues to advance at its normal rate.

So a person who teleports to Alpha Centauri A, turns around, and jumps back experiences just seconds of elapsed time. While the people they left back home experience ~8.6 years of elapsed time.

There is already a teleport booth/portal network in existence between all habitable planets within teleport range of the Earth. Some of the settlements in the Solar System have these booths/portals but there are also several colonies on inhabitable planets within 15-20 light years of the Earth.

Human History

Empires like the British and other colonial powers, controlled territories across the globe when it would take months for instructions to pass from the empire's sovereign to the various outposts. So from that perspective there is some precedence of a human government being able to control its various functions with long latency between the issuance of an order and its receipt. Obviously some local functionary would take the role of governor to handle the urgent stuff.

The question

Could humanity maintain control over such an empire or would it tend to fly apart into independently controlled units (maybe at the stellar system level)?

Although I'll accept yes/no, I'm more interested in the reasoning behind that yes/no and will rate answers with explanations higher.

Bonus points

  1. Are the any precedents for a single government controlling such an empire / civilization that seem relevant (links?)
  2. Any special points of interest or consideration?
  • $\begingroup$ How do they determine where they are going? Do they just think of the name, point some kind of device, or do they have to see where they're going? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 4:19
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking booth to booth or equivalent. Dial up the destination, hit the [enter] key, and zzzaappp! You're there. $\endgroup$
    – Jim2B
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 4:20
  • $\begingroup$ So is there a way back? Do they have to already have another booth set up? (Please elaborate in your question.) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 4:22
  • $\begingroup$ How much control is necessary? $\endgroup$
    – sh1
    Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 4:54
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Side notes: ability to teleport in propellant would revolutionize rocketry, ability to teleport in supplies would revolutionize life support. So I think your civilization could definitely reach other planets and even systems. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 28, 2016 at 11:16

3 Answers 3


A traditional empire would have trouble staying together long term. Distant planets have to be at least somewhat independent, and any rebellion would have a huge advantage - decades for Earth to even hear about it, twice that for any response, and potentially centuries if they have the option of burying the stargate.

The conventional solution to local rebels is to station lots of troops from another part of the empire, but sooner or later someone is going to decide he would rather be king than governor.

That said, it would be possible to keep control if your ethics are sufficiently flexible.

First, some basic evil scheming:

  • No planet can be allowed to be fully independent.
  • All interstellar travel is via Earth. If Earth doesn't like you, no trade.
  • Keeping all those planets dependent on supplies from Earth would be impractical, but it should be possible to ensure that every planet is importing something important they can't make themselves.

If you want to truly rule the galaxy with an iron fist:

  • Governors and soldiers are only posted for a year or so, and know that their families back home will be executed if contact is lost.
  • Any loss of contact results in the dispatch of a large rock moving only slightly less than light speed.
  • That planet killer capability is also good against alien threats (which may or may not exist). We humans have to stick together.

The other option that can work is an empire in name only. The emperor gives orders which the local governors follow if they feel like it, which works out just fine because the emperor knows not to give orders that won't be followed.

  • $\begingroup$ But man - trade would SUCK: "We need more cheese!" - ok, we have your order, expect your cheese in 9 years. Completely useless. Furthermore - imagine a star gate is broken, so everyone you send in just dies. You will never know!!! The first mention if someone made it safely to the other side is after 9 years o_O $\endgroup$
    – Falco
    Commented Jan 29, 2016 at 9:21
  • $\begingroup$ Have you read "A Boy And His Tank" maybe? Because some of ideas looks similar. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Mar 28, 2017 at 11:10

History has shown us that with the right incentives, people will do almost anything (even killing each other or themselves).

Then again some things change history forever. S.O.L travel might easily be one of those things. Consider that regardless of the delay for each individual transport - a constant stream of supplies can be made to happen between one place and another (think of the oceans of methane on Titan).

Most planets will be deficient in one commodity or another (He3 on earth vs water the moon needs). In the transport kind mentioned, trade lines can not be forced without an armed occupation. That, of course, would be very difficult to maintain support if you were restricted to one teleport per planet (other factors would be the cost of operation, whether there was a detectable energy signature when used thus giving away the location of any covert ops,...).

It also represents a failure on the part of the enforcer to have the imagination to solve his supply needs amicably. The normalization of resource distribution of course would depend a lot on the the real costs of the means of transport. If it was very expensive to operate then only very precious things would be transported.

Enough of my musings on the ramifications of the technology. The simple truth is that distance (and time) are a huge factor per the cohesiveness and maintenance of any motivational meme you might try to employ for galactic unity.

There really is no way to keep people from ditching old ideas for new ones (especially given the number of variables we're talking about). Isolated planets (or planets whose teleports broke) may undergo huge evolutionary changes over the time scales involved.

In short, you might keep a sector of closely grouped star system aligned, but don't expect it on the larger scale.


Whether the empire can stand or not is questionable, but either way, the people who manufacture and control access to the teleporation technology will have enormous power over whatever government or governments "rule" over them.

The Spacing Guild in Frank Herbert's Dune Series

The Towers in Anne McCaffrey's Pegasus Series and Rowan Series

What governing body rules over any given planet may change as time passes, but the authority of teleportation providers will remain absolute.


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