This is not a post about Breaking Bad's brilliant Star Trek pie-eating contest scene, although the title would work.
Rather, it's about a pet theory of mine, which is that one of the reasons the matter transmitter is overlooked as an enduring and important trope of science fiction is because it doesn't have a cool name.
"Ray gun", and "robot" are examples of evocative nomenclature that entered common parlance way back when and stuck there. Alternatives exist, such as "blaster" or "android", but they're not universal. Everyone knows what a "time machine" is, if you want another great example.
So why not the matter transmitter?
I'll admit that this is a personal bug-bear. I've been selling matter transmitter stories since 1991, up to and including my latest novel, Hollowgirl. A couple of years ago I received a PhD for research into the trope, making me arguably the world expert on the subject. (Which is not to say that I am a complete authority, just that no one else has taken it on.) I'm currently outlining a non-fiction book called Traveling Light in order to explore the topic further, because I think it has interesting things to say about the evolution of science fiction and of science itself. The idea is almost a century and a half old, after all, and not much closer to becoming a reality than it was then, despite the convergence of 3D printing and scanning technologies. Maybe it's too fantastical for hard SF to deal with, or maybe the ramifications of the technology are too broad. Drop a working matter transmitter into your story, I'd argue, and everything changes. The trope is like a black hole, warping everything else around it.
Or maybe, as suggested earlier, it's just the name.
So where did it all go wrong?
From the beginning, seemingly. Edward Page Mitchell got there first in 1877 with "Telepomp", an ugly term that was immediately and rightly forgotten. It's possible The Space Machine might have worked (as Christopher Priest suggested much later), but H. G. Wells claimed that construction first, even as he nicked the idea for a machine that travels through time from the incredibly inventive Mr. Mitchell.
Subsequent attempts weren't much better: "lightning transmitter", "electrical transmission" and "etherical transmigration" all failed to stick, and "matter-sending apparatus", although accurate, lacked even a hint of prosody.
The trope's best bet, both in terms of catchiness and a high-profile champion, might have been Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Disintegration Machine", except for the fact that the story was slight, and the name only describes half the process. A problem fixed in the best-known story containing the trope ("The Fly"), but "disintegrator-reintegrator" was never going to catch on.
"Transporter" did catch on, thanks to Star Trek, but only within the context of SF. The word has too many other meanings. It's no "spaceship".
And so the problem remains. There are many names for matter transmitters. Everyone seems to have had a crack at it. The list below ranges from the evocative ("skelters") to the ridiculous ("transplat"). It was some years in the making, but I'm sure there are gaps, maybe even outright errors. If you find them I'd be grateful.
What would make me truly ecstatic, though, is a kick-arse alternative.
To paraphrase Arthur Machen, give a toy a cool name and everyone will want to play with it.
The list (in chronological order):
- Telepomp (Edward Page Mitchell, "The Man Without a Body", 1877)
- lightning transmitter (Tremlett Carter, The People of the Moon, 1895)
- electrical transmission (Clement Fezandie, "The Secret of Electrical Transmission", 1922)
- etheric transmigration (Benjamin Witwer, "Radio Mates", 1927)
- matter-sending apparatus (Edmund Hamilton, "The Moon Menace", 1927)
- super-radio (Charles Cloukey, "Super Radio", 1928)
- Nemor Disintegrator (Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Disintegration Machine", 1929)
- X-cast (Norman Matson, Doctor Fogg, 1929)
- Cosmic Express (Jack Williamson, "The Cosmic Express", 1930)
- matter transmitter (Leslie F. Stone, "The Conquest of Gola", 1931)
- beam transmission (George H. SCheer, "Beam Transmission", 1934)
- destinator (Charles B. Pool, "Justice of the Atoms", 1935)
- transposer (Murray Leinster, "The Fourth Dimensional Demonstrator", 1935)
- radio transporter (Arthur C. Clarke, "Travel by Wire!", 1937)
- Leggett-Heath Reproducer (William F. Temple, Four Sided Triangle, 1939)
- Radio Transit (Don Wilcox, "Wives in Duplicate", 1939)
- teleport (H. Walton, "Boomerang", 1944)
- Verdi Matter-Transmitter (Alexander Blade, "The Vanishing Spaceman", 1947)
- telesender (Frank Hampson, Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus, 1950)
- vibro-transference (Duncan H. Munro, "U-Turn", 1950)
- hyper-wavicle dissolution and resolution, transmatter (Alan E. Nourse, "The Universe Between", 1951)
- Doorways (Damon Knight, "Ticket to Anywhere", 1952)
- hyper-space machines (A. E. Van Vogt, The Mixed Men, 1952)
- evaporators ("Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century", 1953)
- Doors (Isaac Asimov, "It's Such a Beautiful Day", 1954)
- Interplanetary Transference (J. T. McIntosh, "Five Into Four", 1954)
- transplat (Theodore Sturgeon, "Granny Won't Knit", 1954)
- Ramsbotham Gate (Robert Heinlein, Tunnel in the Sky, 1955)
- Jaunting (Alfred Bester, The Stars my Destination, 1956)
- 'caster (Poul Anderson, The Enemy Stars, 1959)
- disintegrator-reintegrator (George Langelaan, "The Fly", 1959)
- mattercaster (Poul Anderson, The Enemy Stars, 1959)
- Webb Traveleasy (Raymond E. Banks, "Rabbits to the Moon", 1959)
- matter scanner (Algis Budrys, Rogue Moon, 1960)
- transmat (Lan Wright, "Transmat", 1960)
- McAllen Tube (James H. Schmitz, "Gone Fishing", 1961)
- transo (Clifford Simak, Time is the Simplest Thing, 1961)
- particle transmission (Hugo Gernsback, 1963 Forecast, 1962)
- impulse patterns, materializer (Clifford Simak, Way Station, 1963)
- TARDIS: Time and Relative Dimension in Space (Doctor Who, "An Unearthly Child", 1963)
- electroport (The Outer Limits, "Fun and Games", 1964)
- Reprostat (Thomas M. Disch, "Now is Forever", 1964)
- Telpor (Philip K. Dick, The Unteleported Man, 1964)
- travel dials (Doctor Who, "The Keys of Marinus", 1964)
- Wonkavision (Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, 1964)
- cellular dissemination (Doctor Who, "Counter Plot", 1965 - likely a mix-up by William Hartnell, who was notoriously bad at remembering his lines)
- cellular fragmentation, molecular dissemination (Doctor Who, "Counter Plot", 1965)
- Steel Womb (Thomas M. Disch, Echo Round His Bones, 1966)
- transporter (Star Trek, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", 1966)
- Instravel (Jack Wodhams, "There is a Crooked Man", 1967)
- gate (Philip José Farmer, A Private Cosmos, 1968)
- SIDRAT: Space and Inter-Dimensional Robot All-purpose Transporter (Doctor Who, "The War Games", 1969)
- T-mat (Doctor Who, "The Seeds of Death", 1969)
- Interface, m-t (Duncan Lunan, "The Moon of Thin Reality", 1970)
- jumpdoors (Frank Herbert, The Whipping Star, 1970)
- MT (Harry Harrison, One Step From Earth, 1970)
- MOIRA: Matter, Organic and Inorganic Reconstruction Apparatus (George Collyn, "Mix-Up", 1971)
- displacement booths (Larry Niven, "The Alibi Machine", 1973)
- stepping disks, transfer booths (Larry Niven, Ringworld, 1970)
- TOMTIT: Transmission of Matter Through Interstitial Time (Doctor Who, "The Time Monster", 1972)
- matter booths (John Brunner, "You'll Take the High Road", 1973)
- passways (Jack Vance, "Rumfuddle", 1973)
- tachyon transporter (Frederick Pohl and Jack Williamson, "Doomship", 1973)
- Cage Process (Barry N. Malzberg, Guernica Night, 1974)
- Jenson Displacement Gates (Tak Hallus, Stargate, 1974)
- skelters (John Brunner, Web of Everywhere, 1974)
- teletransportation (Frank Coss and Ronald D. Lennox, "New Directions: Teletransportation - An Answer to 21st-Century Problems", 1975)
- instant-transportation, prilatsil (Larry Niven, A World out of Time, 1976)
- LVT: Levant-Meyer Translation (Joe Haldeman, Mindbridge, 1977)
- Ambassadors (Orson Scott Card, A Planet Called Treason, 1979)
- matter transference beam (Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, 1980)
- posters (John Brunner, The Infinitive of Go, 1980)
- Teleclone (Douglas R. Hofstadter and Daniel C. Dennett, The Mind's I: fantasies and reflections on self and soul, 1981)
- trip-box (Roger Zelazny, Eye of Cat, 1982)
- Hometrans, Teltrans (Kurt Von Trojan, Transing Syndrome, 1985)
- MAT-TRANS, Quantum Interface Mat-Trans Inducer (James Axler, Pilgrimage to Hell, 1986)
- Telepod (The Fly, 1986)
- displacer (Iain M. Banks, The Player of Games, 1988)
- Velde receiver/transmitter (Robert Silverberg, "We are for the Dark", 1988)
- Beamriding (Martin Caidin, Beamriders, 1989)
- Farcaster (Dan Simmons, Hyperion,1989)
- Springer (John Barnes, A Million Open Doors, 1992)
- d-mat (Sean Williams, "New Flames for an Old Love", 1994)
- migration (James Patrick Kelly, "Think Like a Dinosaur", 1995)
- hex gates (Damien Broderick, The White Abacus, 1997)
- Wire (Arthur C. Clarke and Stephen Baxter, "The Wire Continuum", 1997)
- digital conveyor (GalaxyQuest, 1999)
- fax (Wil McCarthy, Collapsium, 2000)
- MAT (Sean Williams, "The Land Itself", 2000)
- runcibles (Neal Asher, Gridlinked, 2001)
- faxnodes (Dan Simmons, Ilium, 2003)
- tangler (Sean Williams and Shane Dix, Geodesica: Ascent, 2005)
- trans-pad (David Darling, Teleportation: the impossible leap, 2005)
- A-Gates, T-Gates (Charles Stross, Glasshouse, 2006)
- hardcaster (Sean Williams, Saturn Returns, 2007)
- electroportation (Allison Chase, "Outrageously Yours", 2010)
- porting (China Miéville, Kraken, 2010)
- wormcaster (Sean Williams, "The N-Body Solution", 2012)
- observational transport (Thoraiya Dyer, "Wish Me Luck", 2013)
- Some of these authors are pseudonyms, which seems fitting given the title of this post.
- Only two of them are women. Care to speculate why?
- I have neglected computer games and fantasy. Maybe next survey.
- The line between teleportation and matter transmission is a grey one, I know.