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OSC Answers Questions

QUESTION: I am curious about the origin of the Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator, or the ansible. Did Mr. Card simply create this by himself or did he get it elsewhere? I would be very thankful if you responded to my question.

-- Submitted by Anonymous


The "ansible" is a longtime device in science fiction. In the broadest sense, many stories have needed to take place in a universe where travel is limited by lightspeed, but communication is not. Specifically, calling the communication device an "ansible" originated with Ursula K. LeGuin, or at least that's where I first encountered the word; if she had a source for it, I am unaware of it.

I used LeGuin's word for the same reason that we all use "robot" and "waldo" today -- when somebody defines a concept, even if we can never build it, we use their word for it (if it's a good word, as "ansible" is). That way writers get to live on in the language, even for people who never read their work. Thus Capek has "robot" even with people who've never heard of "R.U.R.," and Heinlein has "waldo" even for people who've never read "Waldo the Magnificent." LeGuin is entitled to ansible, even though I suspect she'd rather be remembered for other things <grin>.

However, the frou-frou surrounding the ansible in my novels is my own invention -- i.e., the Philotic Parallax Instantaneous Communicator stuff, the mechanism, the metaphysics, etc. Each science fiction writer gets to make up his own underpinnings and his own elaborations on the common devices.

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