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Beyond the stars

If something is from "beyond the stars", where is it really from?

Can it be from beyond a mere two stars? (Sometimes, both our sun and theirs would intervene, after all.) Does it have to be from beyond *all* stars? Which stars are "the" stars?

This query brought to you via an ad for a book set near Alpha Centauri.


Jan. 6th, 2011 06:38 pm (UTC)
In pre-1924 science fiction (predating Edwin Hubble's measurements of the Cepheid variables, and later work on the red shift) it was not known that nebulae were in fact galaxies comparable to the Milky Way, and our conception of cosmological scale was pretty much an estimate of the size of our own galaxy.

So 'beyond the stars' was, until 1924, a plausible and scientifically-informed description of a location beyond the galaxy. Or, after 1922, of a place beyond Opik's estimate of the most distant supernova.

You can just about excuse the use of the phrase 'beyond the stars' after this date, and up to about 1950, if the author had some conception of a steady-state universe in which you could, eventually, travel to some place where there were no stars. This is still pretty sloppy, though, as it runs against developments in cosmology from about 1917, when relativity placed boundaries on the universe. After 1950, the consensus view of the theoreticians had converged on the Big Bang, and the observational evidence (of stars and more stars, wherever you look) rendered the phrase meaningless.

Is there anywhere left to hide 'beyond the stars'? 'Beyond the observable universe' and 'Parallel universes' fit the bill: but they are by definition beyond observation, unknowable and beyond reality. It is difficult to regard any 'Science Fiction' that uses such terms as plausible - better, I think, to place such writings on the shelf marked 'Fantasy', alongside the extradimensional horrors of Lovecraft and the latter-day Laundryverse.

...Which brings us to Charlie's observation that you can plausibly posit 'beyond' as a time before stellar ignition, and after the stars' extinction. Whether any complex object or entity could've existed in the 'before the stars', let alone that it could still exist today, is quite a stretch of the imagination.

...del_c Seems to have beaten me to the punch on this one. But I'd say that any author who viewed the universe that way - a Milky-May-sized island of light surrounded by infinite darkness
- as being behind the science after 1924, and wilfully ignorant after 1929. Seriously wrong, as in cavemen coexisting with dinosaurs.

Edited at 2011-01-06 06:50 pm (UTC)