MATTER TRANSMISSION
   The matter transmitter is one of sf's many facilitating devices: a hypothetical machine which is not rationally plausible in terms of known science but which is very convenient for certain narrative purposes (IMAGINARY SCIENCE). By virtue of an obvious play on words, mattertransmitters were sometimes called "transmats" - as in Lan WRIGHT's "Transmat" (1960) - but the contraction never really caught on.Essentially, a matter transmitter is a teleportation machine (PSI POWERS) whose plausibility is usually secured by analogies with radio. The best illustration of its narrative utility is in the tv series STAR TREK, in which the "transporter" not only transfers people from the Enterprise to this week's stage-set with a minimum of fuss but serves as an ever-ready deus ex machina to come to the rescue when our heroes are in a tight situation. As with other facilitating devices like the TIME MACHINE and the FASTER-THAN-LIGHT starship, however, there is a flourishing subgenre of "what if . . . ?" stories exploring the logical corollaries of the supposition that such devices might one day exist, ranging from elementary questions like "what happens to the matter occupying the space into which you are transmitting?" to questions about the way in which routine transportation of this kind would transform society. Three Trips in Time and Space (anth 1973) ed Robert SILVERBERG presents three original novellas on this theme by Larry NIVEN, John BRUNNER and Jack VANCE; the commission for the volume intrigued Brunner sufficiently that he went on to publish two novels further exploring the possibilities - Web of Everywhere (1974) and The Infinitive of Go (1980) - while in 1973-4 Nivenwrote four other stories elaborating the background of his "Flash Crowd", carrying forward ideas first broached in RINGWORLD (1970).Early stories of matter transmission include "The Man without a Body" (1877) by Edward Page MITCHELL and "Professor Vehr's Electrical Experiment" (1885) by RobertDuncan MILNE, in both of which the process is interrupted with dire consequences; a later variant of the same theme, with an additional horrific twist, is George LANGELAAN's twice-filmed "The Fly" (1957) (The FLY). Matter transmitters feature as a method of interplanetary travel inFred T. JANE's tongue-in-cheek To Venus in Five Seconds (1897) and as a method of ore-shipping in Garrett P. SERVISS's The Moon Metal (1900), but few other authors could bring themselves to deploy the notion until the advent of the sf PULP MAGAZINES, when it was quickly added to the standard vocabulary of symbols, featuring in such stories as "The Secret of Electrical Transmission" (1922) by Clement FEZANDIE, The Radio Man (1924;1948) by Ralph Milne FARLEY, "The Moon Menace" (1927) by Edmond HAMILTON and "The Cosmic Express" (1930) by Jack WILLIAMSON. Matter transmitters are rarely featured in work done outside the genre, although Norman MATSON's Doctor Fogg (1929) is an interesting comedy about an unexpectedarrival by such means.More sophisticated versions of the Star Trek transporter can be found in various HARD-SF stories, including Poul ANDERSON's THE ENEMY STARS (1959), Harry HARRISON's One Step from Earth(fixup 1970) and Joe HALDEMAN's Mindbridge (1976). Melodramas cunningly deploying them as plot-elements include Lloyd BIGGLE's All the Colours of Darkness (1963), Philip K. DICK's The Unteleported Man (1964; 1966; exp1982; vt Lies, Inc) and David LANGFORD's The Space Eater (1982); Langford and John Grant (Paul BARNETT) cruelly parody several aspects of matter transmission in Earthdoom! (1987). Matter transmitters function as devices facilitating the COLONIZATION OF OTHER WORLDS in Eric Frank RUSSELL's "U-Turn" (1950) and Joseph L. GREEN's The Loafers of Refuge (fixup 1965)."Buildings" whose doorways are matter transmitters and whose "rooms" are on different worlds are featured in Bob SHAW's "Aspect" (1954), Roger ZELAZNY's Today we Choose Faces (1973) and Dan SIMMONS's HYPERION (1989).The idea of a galactic culture linked by matter transmitters is soberly and memorably displayed in Clifford D. SIMAK's WAY STATION (1963).Matter transmitters which malfunction occasionally result in embarrassing duplications, as in Clifford Simak's Goblin Reservation (1968), and stories about matter duplication - classic examples include the later stories in George O. SMITH's Venus Equilateral (coll of linked stories 1947) and Damon Knight's "A for Anything" (1957; exp as The People Maker1959; vt A for Anything UK) - may be regarded as an extension of the theme; indeed, scrupulous attempts to rationalize matter transmission (like Niven's and Brunner's) assume that what is actually transmitted isinformation regarding the exact duplication of the object to be reconstituted, not actual matter, so that much so-called matter transmission is really matter duplication. In Algis BUDRYS's ROGUE MOON (1960) the duplication is calculated, the transmitted "clones" beingcontinually sacrificed to the task of exploring a hazardous alien artifact. In Thomas M. DISCH's Echo Round his Bones (1967) ghostly duplicates, perceptible only to one another, are an unintended consequence of the use of matter transmitters. Both of these last-named stories sensitively exploit the bearing which the imaginary device has on the philosophical problem of identity.
   BS/MJE

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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