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Entry updated 30 March 2015. Tagged: Theme.

The Imaginary-Science device invented by Ursula K Le Guin for instantaneous communication between two points, regardless of the distance between them. The speculative Physics which led to its invention is described in The Dispossessed (1974), but the communicator is mentioned in a number of the Hainish series of stories written before The Dispossessed – the first being Rocannon's World (September 1964 Amazing as "The Dowry of Angyar"; exp 1966 dos; text corrected 1977) – and indeed is central to their rationale. It compares interestingly with James Blish's Dirac Communicator (see the entries Faster Than Light and Communication for further discussion of both.)

The ansible has since been adopted as a useful device by several other writers who paid homage to Ursula K Le Guin by retaining her name for the device, which she derived from "answerable". These include Terry Bisson in "The Shadow Knows" (September 1993 Asimov's), Orson Scott Card in "Ender's Game" (August 1977 Analog) plus its expansion as Ender's Game (1985) and its sequels, L A Graf in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Invasion!, Book Three: Time's Enemy (1996), Elizabeth Moon in Winning Colors (1995) and others, Dan Simmons in Ilium (2003) and Vernor Vinge in "The Blabber" (in Threats ... and Other Promises, coll 1988). David Langford borrowed the name for his long-running sf newsletter Ansible, launched in 1979. The retro-tech ansible in Paul Park's A Princess of Roumania (2005) facilitates communication with the dead. A broken ansible is mentioned in the Doctor Who episode "Nightmare in Silver" (11 May 2013), scripted by Neil Gaiman.

The ansible is merely the best-known of the many names given by sf writers to essentially similar instant communicators. Isaac Asimov's Foundation sequence makes play with Ultrawave and hyperwave transmissions, extending to the hyperwave relay of Foundation (May 1942-October 1944 Astounding; fixup 1951; cut vt The 1,000 Year Plan 1955 dos) – a remote-control switch that can be operated with immediate effect from many light-years' distance. Jack Williamson's "With Folded Hands ..." (July 1947 Astounding) features instantaneous communication and power transfer via "rhodomagnetic waves". Cordwainer Smith's "Under Old Earth" (February 1966 Galaxy) refers to instant-message machines. Frederik Pohl's unpoetic Aliens in Heechee Rendezvous (1984) simply call it a zero-speed [sic] radio. Neal Asher's Human Polity sequence nods to the ansible with "runcible" technology which provides both faster-than-light communication and travel, the latter via Matter Transmission. Further examples abound. [DRL/PN]

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