Pure Fiction But We Wish It Was Real: A is for Ansible

Imagine you want to talk to someone over great distances of space.

A mobile phone isn’t going to work. You’ll need something way more powerful.

In Ursula Le Guin’s 1966 book, Rocannon’s World, she invented such a device. It could receive messages and then send them within a reasonable amount of time. It allowed users to communicate over star systems.

She called the device an ansible. According to Wikipedia, the word was a contraction of “answerable.”

This invention and its name have shown up in other works of science fiction such as Orson Scott Card’s 1977 version of Ender’s Game.

No epic space story is any good without the ability to communicate with other ships over light distances. Ansible is a great invention and term.

In some stories, they don’t bother naming the device that makes it possible to communicate over such distances. Perhaps they lack the imagination for naming things.

What’s another good name for a telephone that allows ships to communicate over great distances of space?

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T.S. Valmond is the science fiction and young adult fantasy author of The Bolaji Kingdoms Series and The Verity Chronicles. As an award-winning poet, world traveler, and sign language interpreter she uses her experiences to fuel her stories. She’s a regular contributor to the website and founder of the Riders & Flyers group.


  1. I didn’t know the word came from LeGuin! I’m reading a number of LeGuin books at the moment, I think I have this one in ebook.

    I have often wondered about those conversations people have in Star Trek and Bsbylon 5 and such, where they can talk to each other visually over light years. I became very excited when we could see each other on the phone via FaceTime and Skype, but the ansible, I suspect, is a long way away! 😉

    A Is For Australian SF Publishing/ https://suebursztynski.blogspot.com/2019/03/a-z-challenge-2019-is-for-australian-sf.html

    1. Good to see you’re doing A-Z again this year. Yes I didn’t know about the LeGuin connection either.

  2. Thanks for the post! I’m going to have to add Rocannon’s World to my ever expanding to-read pile! XD I’m terrible at naming things and want desperately to avoid sticking quantum in front i.e. the quantum-communicator…

    I LOVE your AtoZ theme, I’m really looking forward to checking in this week!

    1. It’s so hard to keep up but I keep thinking someday I’m going to need a hundred unread books on my kindle. I mean, Lost, hello!

  3. My ignorance is showing… I’ve never heard of ansible, but worse… I’ve never questioned how they communicated over great distances in space! hahaha.

  4. I had never thought about it, I know it’s not great to assume things, but I had assumed that they had a communications array like our wifi…only with a stronger signal, which is why wifi was invented lol…well that’s what I thought.

    1. It’s so true the less I know about the technology the easier it is for me to get into the story. I’m more character driven then science but I thought it might be interesting anyway.

  5. Intercom’? Fun post!

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