Fantasy thoughts: teleports, jet lag, and time zones

Teleportation is a convenient way of travel and allows, in the hands of a skilled mage, long-distance travel in settings where the otherwise fastest way to travel is on the back of a horse (or other beast).

They are also a tool that bears some hidden dangers when it comes to power and its consequences – but also way more mundane things tied to basic geography.

Power cost

Magic usually has some limits and drawbacks – their main purpose is to prevent characters from being at near-god levels of power. Thus, using any kind of magic has some effect on the caster, most often in taking his energy. Going too far can have various effects depending on how much one pushes himself – going just a bit over the edge might be fixed with a few days of rest just as overtaxing your muscles would. Pushing it a lot might knock the character out and leave him vulnerable as his body regains energy in a long, deep slumber. Going too far can end up in a coma or even with death.

It’s easy to keep this in mind with combat magic when the effect is visible via the damage, whether to living targets or solid objects.

It might be harder when it comes to non-combat magic, such as teleports. In simplicity, a teleport should be demanding based on the distance, thus putting a limit on how far one can go without draining him/herself too much – and thus puts a limit on how far can one travel. Such a limitation also prevents a skilled mage from being able to escape anything or from being able to perform a series of hit-and-run attacks their opponents would be unable to match.

Still, teleports tend to be (near-)instant. Which is a problem on longer distance.

Time zones

While being a necessity in a world like ours is now, in a typical fantasy setting, most (if not all) of the populace will do well enough with the sun’s movement and some rough estimation of time.

Traversing major distances doesn’t incur problem in this regard – few people can afford such a journey and even if they can… they’ll not travel fast enough to notice an issue.

Unless they teleport… really far.

If you teleport from somewhere in the morning and appear somewhere else in a moment only to see it’s close to sunset, it could be disorienting. The problem is not as much about the (in)existance of formal time zones but about confusing your ‘inner clock’. Some people need a few days to adjust just to the summer time switch, let alone to traveling across several time zones – which still takes some time, even with airplanes, and you see the landscape (and the sun) pass around.

You don’t get that with a teleport. You’re here in one moment and somewhere else in another. You can go from noon to midnight in a moment. And it’s not the same as sleeping – your body keeps some track of time even in sleep. Which brings us to the last point…

Jet lag

Jet lag is called that because the invention of jet engines – which brought air travel to more people than ever – allowed many people to experience this effect of confusing their inner clock.

Of course, the farther you go, the stronger it’ll be – and, in fatnasy, it’ll be magnified by the instanteous nature of teleportation. Which is where the power limit comes back to play. Teleporting a (relatively) short distance costs less power – and it’s likely that anything less than a single time zone would not cause trouble (to someone used to it, at least).

Going further would not only increase the jet lag but also the power strain on the mage casting the teleport – and would lead to stronger exhaustion. In the extreme cases, it could drain the mage so much he’d be knocked out and sleep for hours before his body would recover, thus somewhat dulling the fact what he/she sees doesn’t match his/her inner clock.

Even if it’s not far enough for severe exhaustion, there will be some effect on the user if it’s a long distance – which I would believe to be similar to motion sickness: dizziness, vertigo, or nausea among others.

Group travel

While there are ways to make the cost felt by the mage teleporting himself, there’s another issue: taking someone along. As the ‘passenger’ doesn’t tend to share the burden of the spell, they could be taken across any distance without the abovementioned drawbacks.

And they would probably get a strong motion sickness for that reason – not only would there be the major desync but also not feeling of exhaustion or energy draing that could give the body a hint for what the hell just happened.

This is something that I’ve actually seen in practice in smaller scale: in Harry Potter and the half-blood prince movie, Dumbledore teleports (I know JKR doesn’t use that specific word) Harry somewhere and comments it with something like ‘most people vomit their first time’. Since the story of HP is pretty much bound to Britain, there’s no case of teleporting across an exhausting (let alone life-threatening) distance but it show that one needs to get used to the concept and feeling of teleportation and that it’ll have an effect even on short distances for the inexperienced users.

And, as with anything that can be trained, the distance safe to traverse without negative consequences can be increased by experience – until the point you go far enough to confuse your inner clock.

I’ll wrap it up here. I’ll welcome your thoughts on the topic. Have you used teleports in your writing – and if yes, with what consequences? Have you read a book that delved into the consequences – or a book that had none in an absurd way? Feel free to share.

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