The Big Idea: Steven Gould

When you build a universe, you set up rules that you have to follow from then on out. But can those rules in themselves add to the drama of the story? Steven Gould returns the universe he created in the best selling (and movie-adapted) Jumper with his new novel Impulse, and tells us how he fought the laws — and everybody won.


When I wrote Jumper (over twenty years ago) I was writing a book about the only person in the world who could teleport. By the time I wrote its sequel, Reflex, (ten years ago) the number of people who could teleport had doubled. Now, that number has tripled with the release of Impulse. At this rate I’m hardly going to achieve the massive societal transformations that jaunting did in Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. Jumper has a smaller frame than that. But from the beginning it has made some assumptions about teleportation and though I do different things with teleportation (jumping) in each of the books these things have always followed from what we’ve found out in the first book.

In the first book we learned a few things about Jumping:

1. Jumping does not conserve momentum. Davy can jump off a cliff or a tall building and, as long as he jumps before he goes splat at the bottom, he carries none of the acquired downward velocity with him when he appears elsewhere. Likewise, when he changes latitude on the surface of the earth. Standing at the equator, the a person is traveling west to east at 465.1 m/s, 1,674.4 km/h or 1,040.4 mi/h. The angular velocity at any other locations on earth can be calculated by multiplying the speed at the equator by the cosine of the latitude. So, the velocity at near Davy’s house in Canada (at the end of Reflex and in Impulse) is less than half that of the equator. So, if momentum were conserved, jumping to the house from the equator should hurl him through the appropriate wall at over 500 miles per hour. This doesn’t happen so we are not only matching two disparate locations we are matching their relative velocities.

2. Another thing we learn in the first book is that jumping is opening a hole between both locations. This is illustrated by the original cover as a video camera captures a momentary Davy shaped hole through which his destination can be viewed. In Reflex Davy learns how to actually hold this hole open for longer durations allowing air pressure, water, fish, and even a bullet to pass through this Davy shaped hole in the universe, but the fact that it is a hole is set up in the first book.

3. You can’t jump anything you couldn’t physically drag around. Davy manages to move some fairly heavy books shelves from New York to Oklahoma in Jumper but when he is handcuffed to a railing he fails to teleport and nearly dislocates his shoulder. This property is exploited by Davy’s captors in Reflex to hold him prisoner.

So, Cent, Davy and Millie’s daughter, can jump, like her parents, but she takes this to another place, exploiting rule 1: Momentum is not conserved. If she can jump to the equator, gaining over 500 miles per hour to match her destinations angular velocity, why wouldn’t she be able to jump in place and add that same velocity? If she can fall off a cliff and be rushing toward the ground at over sixty miles per hour, then return to the top of the cliff with that velocity negated, why couldn’t she jump in place and add sixty miles per hour of velocity…straight up?

And so she does.

I will leave, as an exercise for the reader, the direction the next book, Exo, will take. I promise one thing, though. It will all have been set up in the first book

On the personal note, Jumper the series continues to mirror and process my personal life. I was that teenage boy with the alcoholic father. I was the reluctant parent unsure whether my own childhood would poison my ability to parent well. And, now with Impulse, I have daughters who amaze and surprise me with their choices and abilities

Hope you enjoy Impulse.


Impulse: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s blog. Follow him on Twitter.

29 Comments on “The Big Idea: Steven Gould”

  1. Just finished this last night – it’s outstanding.

    I’m quite happy to hear there’s going to be a sequel. I wonder if it will explore whether someone can be _trained_ to Jump in a shorter period of time by being jumped around more frequently?

  2. As a fan of Jumper and Reflex I offer this small observation: Momentum is the product of inertial mass and velocity. Temperature is the average momentum of atoms, and certain key properties of subatomic particles are also dependent upon inertial mass. All of which is to point out that at least molecular momentum is conserved within the jumper and any things dragged along. Don’t know if that is of interest to you or if you’d already considered it. But there is a lot of science fiction that posits means of manipulating inertia without understanding that without its inertia, molecular matter would freeze and quantum particles decay. You seem like the kind of author who really tries to think things through, so I thought I’d point out that common mistake so that, as you explore the implication of jumping, you can take it into consideration. In any event, I’ll be looking forward to the new installment, and this was a nice surprise to find here at Whatever this morning.

  3. Where the “mg” came from is a mystery to me. And the misspelling of Steven also. Stupid fingers.

  4. Oh Steven… you had me at “The first time was like this” way back in 1993. I’ve loved Jumper, as have many of my students (it’s my most-borrowed book, and I’ve had to replace it seven times in seven years of teaching due to “loans” that became permanent.) Reflex was also wonderful, and I’m pretty sure Impulse will be, too. It’s sitting on my Kindle now and is the next book to read once I finish the one I’m on now.

    I suspect I’ll also need to buy a few copies of this for my classroom library, too.

  5. So, since Steven mentions that this book mirrors real life, are his kids echoing Impulse and trying out their father’s powers? Should we expect books from them soon? (My son and I are eagerly anticipating this book.)

  6. This sounds like a fun book. I always enjoy it when writers discover unexpected things to do with the laws of their fictional world. (As when Larry Niven realized that Gil Hamilton’s “imaginary hand” could work through a video screen.)

    I say “writers” because I’ve noticed that it’s only in books and short stories that writers seem to be willing to follow through on the implications of what they make up. Contrast film and comics, which don’t like to stray too far from the character’s central concept. So it took Larry Niven (him again!) to notice that relativistic travel plus Green Lantern’s vulnerability to the color yellow equals a way for Hal Jordan to defeat a villain equipped with a power ring like his own. The regular comics writers, however, don’t use that technique ever again.

    Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading _Impulse_.

  7. Steven’s books are some of my very favorite reads. They sit on a separate shelf with all the books I regularly re-read when I want to get lost in a good story. They are also some of my most recommended books to others.

    I am very much looking forward to reading this.

    John has talked quite a bit about how movie adaptations of books work and how in the end the changes to the story are not as problematic as they bring readers to the books where they can experience the “real” story in the format the author intended. Not to mention having a movie made from a book brings in $$$. But when I talk about movie adaptations gone horribly wrong I include the movie adaptation of Jumper. It is right up their with the Starship Troopers adaptation travesty in my book. I am however very glad and fully understanding that this adaptation brings in $$$ which allows Steven to continue to write other stories. I just hope someday we can get a re-boot of Jumper that is closer to the book. I would have thought the original Terrorism story line would have been very current with events happening in the real world with Al-Queda etc.

    One of the Rules not mentioned above is that you can’t Jump to a place you haven’t already been to in person. The first story has Davy going to places and then making videos and such to help him “remember” where he has been and to give him Jump points to go to. (I would imagine the development of Smart phones & tablet computers, which were not around when the first book came out, will really assist a Jumper in remembering the details of and locating jump points near a location they wish to travel to.)

    I also have always thought it would be cool to explore the effect of teleportation on space exploration. What you could do for space exploration is have the Jumper learn the inside of the spaceship/lander so they can jump to it. Then launch the vehicle to the Moon or Mars etc. Once safely at its location the Jumper could Jump to the lander. In addition, as already established, they could begin ferrying individuals and supplies to the new location. Instant colony. One factor that would have to be determined is if there is an upper limit on the distance a Jumper can Jump. Anywhere on Earth has been established but what about the Moon, Mars another Star? If I have guessed anywhere near the story line I am going to Squeeeeee with delight at reading about a long held daydream.

    Keep up the good work Steven!

  8. I’ve read “Jumper” at least ten times. All of Mr. Gould’s other books have made their way through my library too, and the only one I could part with (after re-reading of course) was “Helm.” “Impulse” has been on my wish list ever since I found it in my periodic trawl through Amazon.

    The “Jumper” movie adaptation was interesting, but the book I’d really like to see on screen is “Wild Side.”

  9. Haven’t read it yet, nor the original, but I’m already having issues. Doc Smith, of course, *did* worry about it with tavel via Bergenholm….

    mark “wants to be Dick Seaton when he grows up”

  10. One other item of note for jumping: The jumpers spatial axis orientation always changes to match local conditions….. but what condition? Direction of gravitational pull? Whim of jumper? Closest plane surface of sufficient surface tension? (i.e. anything equal to or greater than water surfaces?)

    The science here gets complicated, fast.

  11. Dragon: Is jumping affected by local gravity fields? If so, this may not work from orbit. What is max-distance limitation? So far, global surface transfers seem to be fine, but might there be a limit at further ranges? This could tie to gravitational spatial distortion, but don’t ask me for the math…. Maybe limits of difference in gratational strength, i.e. you could jump from a 1g to a 1.1g field, but not from 1g to 2g? Or through a field of differing strength from the start/end points?

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled nervous breakdown….

  12. I always thought of it as matching frames of reference. So, orientation and velocity are part of that mix. And it’s a doorway so we’re not at all worried about the atomic and sub-atomic motions. We are definitely not taking someone down to their fiddly bits and reassembling. That has always struck me as copying, not teleporting, and incidentally, killing.

  13. @ Theophylact

    Jump allows you to make a perpetual-motion machine using Davy as, say, the weight in a cuckoo-clock.

    Yes, violating the conservation of momentum means violating the conservation of energy unless inertial mass is converted to mass-energy.

    @ mark

    Doc Smith, of course, *did* worry about it with tavel via Bergenholm….

    Um, Smith the original “toss the laws of motion out the window” offender. He had Lensmen flying up elevator shafts by switching off their inertia and then restoring it at the top, a clear violation of the conservation of energy, and he his “inertialess” objects should have frozen solid and their molecular structure break down.

    @ Steven Gould

    And it’s a doorway so we’re not at all worried about the atomic and sub-atomic motions. We are definitely not taking someone down to their fiddly bits and reassembling. That has always struck me as copying, not teleporting, and incidentally, killing.

    That’s not what I meant. I just meant that the jumper’s violation of the conservation of momentum would have to be highly selective. Cancel velocity in one direction, and all the jumper’s atoms suddenly loose one vector of her kinetic energy, dramatically lowering the jumper’s body temperature. Cancel all momentum and the jumper not only freezes, her subatomic particles begin to decay without their inertial mass. So the canceling would have to operate in one direction, but someone not cancel Brownian motion. It seems the simplest explanation for that would be that the jumper controls the process as a subconscious reflex, which fits nicely with the way Davy discovered and honed his talent.

    Anyway, didn’t mean to pick apart the mechanics. I only brought it up as a passing observation, and the books are still great reading regardless.

  14. Started it last night (after reading “The B Team” on my dinner break, horrah for weird job with a long dinner break!) and I’m loving it. I’m always fascinated by the people and relationships in stories and I’m loving the dynamic between Davy wanting to protect Cent (and his understandable paranoia) and her wanting some freedom.

    And I do very much love the “the first time was like this” convention. Makes me happy every time it shows up!

    On the subject of the movie… I do thank it for introducing me to the series in the first place. I have no idea how long it would have been before I found it otherwise. I always like to read the book before I see the movie and the movie seemed interesting so I found the book. Fell in love with the book, still haven’t seen the movie.

  15. Maybe Doc didn’t worry in that first seen in Galactic Patrol: he certainly worried elsewhere in the series – consider the things they went through to adjust someone’s momentum, like the surgeon’s, or other ships.


  16. Given the title of the next book, I think we’re gonna see jumps to earth orbit, if not a lot further. The physics gets harder then (ok, it’s impossibly hard already, as Gulliver has pointed out) because then you really do need to take GR into account. As is now widely known, your gps wouldn’t work nearly so well without general relativistic corrections, and gps satellites only orbit at an altitude of about 20,000 km.

  17. A new Steven Gould novel? Score!

    Now I just want a sequel to Blind Waves and I’d be happy. Grownup novels, while probably not as fun to write, are awfully fun for me to read.

  18. It’s interesting; I was only about 22 when Jumper came out, but I never read it as a YA title. it wasn’t sold in the YA section of my bookstore, it wasn’t marked as YA so far as I recall. I was shocked a few years later when I saw it lauded as a YA title.

    That said, though, I’d love to see more in the Blind Waves universe, and especially more 7th Sigma.

  19. Weeeeee! I loved Jumper. Not as keen on Reflex; Millie is practically my twin as far as age/education/life circumstances go, but I hated every single line she spoke in Reflex. And hey, look, now she has a daughter, just like me! I’ll definitely pick this one up.

  20. I am a spiritual author (Touched By Angels) and believe and deal in teleporting for real. Because spirits are actually capable of materializing and dematerializing. My book tells of my personal experiences with telepathy. Thanks twitter and comments for introducing jumper to me as a kid I was fascinated with jumping as most kids and would jump off ever increasing objects ending with the roof of our local garages! I look forward to reading Impulse but should I start with Jumper. Any advice or do I just jump in?

  21. @Gulliver

    “I just meant that the jumper’s violation of the conservation of momentum would have to be highly selective. Cancel velocity in one direction, and all the jumper’s atoms suddenly loose one vector of her kinetic energy, dramatically lowering the jumper’s body temperature. Cancel all momentum and the jumper not only freezes, her subatomic particles begin to decay without their inertial mass.”

    “Cancelling velocity” is meaningless since all velocity is relative. Zero velocity relative to one frame of reference is non-zero relative to another. The only way the ability could work is to add/subtract velocity. So for example, when he jumps onto a train moving 60mph, he could add 60mph to all of his atoms to match its velocity, and his body temperature and everything else would remain the same. As long as the same translation is done to every part of him at once, there’s no wierd effects like freezing or radioactive decay.

  22. @ phunk

    “Cancelling velocity” is meaningless since all velocity is relative.

    One observer matching velocity to another’s reference frame cancels (in the mathematical sense, which is how I’m using it) their Δv to zero.

    Motion is relative. Inertia is not. If the effect depends on altering inertia, temperature and other properties are also effected. In which case temperature change is not a weird effect; it is an inevitable consequence. If the effect works merely by adding or subtracting velocity, then its momentum, not inertia, which is changed. But adding or subtracting velocity requires adding or subtracting kinetic energy. Since the jumper does not get pancaked by the effect, we must assume that the kinetic energy is added or subtracted at least uniformly and simultaneously to all atoms, as opposed to from one direction to the other per Newton’s third law. If it operates over arbitrarily large Δv, it must act uniformly and simultaneously on all quantum particles.

  23. After reading this post, I went and bought all three books and read them in two days flat. Couldn’t put them down. I love the way each book reveals another facet of the jumping phenomenon….wonder if we’ll ever find out how the ability to jump is acquired? Love the concept of jumping off-planet, but also wondering about the things that accompany a person through the jump, intentionally or accidentally (water, sand, rattlesnakes….). What if a disease agent were to be transferred? Could be interesting.

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