Portals in science-fiction are technological doorways that connect two separate locations in space and/or time. They usually consist of at least two connected (or attuned) gateways which can establish communication with one another, and transfer matter from one to the other.
Portals usually work by stretching a wormhole between them, which allows them to send and receive any object or person passing through. But they could also create a tear in the space-time continuum, through which objects can “fall”. Such a tear would not really be a tunnel, but more of a glitch in the matrix. Or they can all lead to an intermediary plane of existence which is separate from our space-time and which serves as a relay. In that case, there is no movement through space (or hyperspace, or whatever) but a removal from normal existence into a preternatural ether, and a reinsertion at another point.
Whatever the choice of technology or phenomenon, portals have a fantastic appeal since they cut short on the tedious transit times between worlds, and can offer a myriad of conflict opportunities.
Different places in the same universe
The most famous example of such portals is found in the TV series Stargate. “Stargates” are circular devices created by the Ancients and placed on many worlds throughout the galaxy (and beyond). They can dial one another if the user has the destination address, and offer practically instantaneous access to all larger moving bodies without permitting atmospheric exchange.
Another type of portals can also be found in Dan Simmons’ Hyperion Cantos, where they are of various sizes and transparencies, and can be used to unite places on different worlds to an apparent single construction (a house where each room is built on another planet, and connected to the rest through “farcasters”).
This being the most common form of science-fiction portal, it comes in many shapes and sizes, either static or mobile, the size of a doorway of the size of an entire world.
I like this type of portal the most because it offers the most versatility and allows for a very rapid and vast expansion of the setting. Yay to stepping through a door in your neighborhood and emerging in Alpha Centauri or Andromeda!
Different times in the same universe
Rare, but nonetheless beloved are time portals. Differing from time machines by being static and well disguised, time portals have the ability to transport objects and people between specific points in time.
The most beloved travel destination if such a time portal existed, I believe, would be the time of the dinosaurs. Or that of Ancient Rome, or Pharaoh-ruled Egypt. Although many of us (me included) would rather travel to the distant future, just to see if we ever discover the secret to immortality and make friends with aliens.
When would you like to travel if you could?
Portals between parallel universes would allow characters to meet with their alternate personas and intervene in each others’ timelines. This principle of transfer can take the form of a physical gateways, or the ability of a person to generate a temporary portal around themselves, taking any object close-by with them (the way Olivia Dunham does in the TV series Fringe).
The main appeal of such portals lies in the entanglement of two separate plots, with the same—and yet not quite the same—casts of characters. Lotta work, but can be lotta fun too.
I for one wouldn’t want to see different versions of myself. I get enough of those on various days of the week, depending on the amount of sleep my daughter grants me. I can range all the way from ‘Good morning, sunshine! Here I am!’ to ‘Get off my back or I’ll eat your face’.
Different planes of existence
I think the rarest of all science-fiction portal types (because it’s more of a fantasy trope) is the one that can take you from this reality to another one that has no resemblance to ours. Not a parallel universe, and not a different point in time, but a different place of existence altogether. Something like hell, or heaven, or the Underworld, or a place roamed by strange creatures. Like Cthulhu’s closet.
That darned portal can even bring those creatures into our world, like in the movie adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist. *eye twitching* INTERDIMENSIONAL MONSTERS! *runs away*
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This post is part of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, April 2014.
In 2012, my P post was — The Three Pillars of Fiction