A half-dozen Terran battlecruisers are rendered helpless by Protoss stasis fields. Starcraft copyright Blizzard Entertainment.

Stasis Fields
Tech Level: 23

A stasis field generates a field that stops or greatly slows down time within a specific volume. Sometimes also called a time dilation field. The primary examples from science fiction are found in the "Known Space" series of stories by Larry Niven and in the novels The Peace War and Marooned In Realtime by Vernor Vinge. Similar machines were also used in the strategy game Starcraft by the Protoss Arbiter unit.

A device called a ‘stasis field’ was also seen in The Forever War by Joe Haldeman, but that technology had profoundly different effects than what’s discussed here. Also, sometimes a character using suspended animation technology is sometimes referred to as being ‘in stasis,’ but this usually refers to biological stasis only.

Stasis fields are almost pure conjecture with only a tenuous connection to real-world science. As with other such technologies, their placement on the Tech Level scale is somewhat arbitrary. They are rated at such a high level to reflect the extreme difficulty needed to finely manipulate the flow of time to such a degree.

Exactly how a stasis field generator can manipulate space and time usually is usually handwaved away in the stories. It would require a highly sophisticated degree of quantum manipulation, and may require the advanced warping of space, subspace, and/or higher dimensions.

Since the volume within the stasis field is removed from the flow of time, it cannot be altered by any force outside of the field, making them for all intents and purposes invulnerable. Its possible certain phenomena such as highly intense gravity fields could rupture the field, but otherwise anything encased by the field should be considered completely impervious. Objects in stasis fields have been shown in their source material enduring vast amounts of punishment with nary a scratch. Vinge’s stasis fields endured direct nuclear strikes and immersion in molten magma; Niven’s stasis fields protected the exploration ship Lying Bastard from Ringworld’s meteor defense laser, which cold melt planets, as well as a high speed collision with the megastructure itself.

Stasis fields are also a means of preserving the things within across very long stretches of times, even millions or billions of years. The objects inside will be exactly the same when the field is turned off as when it was turned on, even if aeons passed in between.

The stasis fields in Niven’s stories conformed around the surface of a material objects, so it took on that object’s shape. The fields were engineered so that a shut-off switch would protrude out of it; when depressed or otherwise activated, it would break the field’s ‘circuit’ and shut it off. Given the many damage-resistant supermaterials in Known Space, such a switch could endure quite a bit of punishment for quite a long time, but even so, some of the switches found on billion-and-a-half-year-old stasis fields had been worn to nubs.

The surface of Niven stasis fields were 100% reflective to all known forms of radiation, including radio, light, heat, x-rays, and even neutrinos. It was often how stasis objects were found; besides the fusion core of stars, stasis boxes were the only objects within a solar system that could reflect neutrinos from ‘deep radar’ units. An object encased in a stasis field would look like a perfect mirror, and would even feel warm to the touch as your own body heat was reflected back at your skin. The surface would be nearly frictionless, however.

A Niven stasis field can also be shut off by encasing it in a second stasis; when the outer field is shut off, it shuts off the inner one as well.

Vinge’s stasis fields, known informally as ‘bobbles’ in the novels, share many characteristics as Niven’s, including being impenetrable, frictionless, and acting as perfect mirrors. However, bobbles are always spherical, and will even encompass the ground under a person’s feet if activated on a planet’s surface. Also, instead of being able to switch them off manually, a bobble can only decay naturally. The duration until decay is set at the time of activation. In the first novel (The Peace War), bobbles were used primarily as weapons or as a defense, and decay rates were usually set at minutes, hours or days. However, instabilities during generation were not unknown, and some bobbles ended up trapping their occupants for thousands or even millions of years, as shown in Marooned In Realtime.

The stasis fields used by the Protoss in Starcraft resemble Vinge’s fields in effect. However, they appeared as translucent blue polygons instead of mirrored surfaces (though this may have been mostly a game convenience, so a player could see which units were trapped), and would decay after only a few minutes.

All stasis fields do have another thing in common, in that gravity still affects any mass within normally. Falls or impacts still couldn’t hurt anything inside, but the mass within still attracted other masses, could enter into orbits, and so on.

Two sentient dolphins exploring the sea floor discover an alien trapped in a stasis field for a billion and a half years. From the novel World of Ptavvs by Larry Niven. Illustration by Rick Sternbach, copyright 1975 by Del Rey Books.


In Gaming

Starcraft by Blizzard Entertainment

In Print

"Known Space" novels and stories by Larry Niven

The Peace War and Marooned In Realtime by Vernor Vinge

On The Web

Article added 9/12/09