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White Holes

Entry updated 31 August 2021. Tagged: Theme.

Item of Terminology denoting proposed cosmic counterparts of Black Holes. A series of theoretical papers in the 1970s suggested that for every black hole there must somewhere else – perhaps at the far end of a connecting Wormhole – be a corresponding white hole gushing energy out into the Universe in the same way that a black hole would suck it in. The idea was popularized by John Gribbin in his "speculative nonfiction" White Holes: Cosmic Gushers in the Universe (1977), but suffered from the disadvantage that, although white holes should be by definition among the most visible objects in the Universe, none had (or has) been detected. One pleasing notion, however, equates the Big Bang with a white hole. Incidentally, owing to "quantum leakage" (see Black Holes) a small enough black hole would release a gush of energy much as a white hole is expected to – as in David Langford's The Space Eater (1982).

The white-hole idea has never had quite the same success in sf as its black-hole counterpart. An early sf example is "Fountain of Force" (in Infinity 4, anth 1972, ed Robert Hoskins; rev in Black Holes, anth 1978, ed Jerry Pournelle) by Grant Carrington and George Zebrowski, which links white holes with interstellar Wormhole transitions. Perhaps the most notable instance is the New Sun in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983 4vols), whose description in the fourth volume of the Book corresponds closely to that of a white hole. Possibly because the notion was falling out of scientific favour, the sequel The Urth of the New Sun (1987) generally refers to it as a Star.

White holes are deployed as incidental plot devices, without much regard for their actual theoretical properties, in The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf (1988-current). [BS/PN/DRL]

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