One of the things that truly sucks about Fans of Anything is that they all have their ideas about what constitutes “Anything.” It’s not a soluble problem: without passion, you don’t have fans at all, and with passionate love of what they like comes equally passionate hatred for what they don’t like.
Science-fiction fans, especially the book-reading ones (yes, there are non-book reading ones… sort of… shudder) really love to bag on movies for getting space combat “wrong.” Just to take some examples not at random: 1) you would not be able to see beam weapons in space. 2) Human reflexes would be almost useless in space combat because computers would fight so much faster. 3) Weapons would strike from so far away that enemy ships would be invisible to the eye, and 4) Therefore dogfighting starfighters are stupid.
And let’s admit one thing right off. If you’re writing super-hard SF, and restricting yourself to tech we can build today or are planning to build tomorrow (see Niven and Pournelle’s Footfall for an epic space-battle scene of that type) then you’re pretty much right on all counts.
But the problem is that the same things are said of works that utilize gravity drives, hyperspace, force shields and any number of other things that move the fiction completely into the Space Opera subgenre. To which I reply: are you KIDDING me?
Look, folks, you can’t have hard science-fiction and space opera at the same time. You can sure as hell enjoy both: I do. But if you’re going to complain about spacecraft maneuvering like airplanes and ships hitting each other from visible ranges, then let’s be honest and complain about EVERYTHING. Let’s have no warp drives, no magic shields, no acceleration compensator fields, no antigravs, nothing.
And for cripes’ sake let’s not pretend that space opera is worse LITERATURE. One of the finest works of SF Literature in history is Dune. The novel that decided that guns would be obsolete because of personal body shields that would bring back a form of feudalism, and as a side note wiped out computers because of a religious war. Or we could look at The Left Hand Of Darkness that posits a branch of humanity that have evolved a sexual mechanism that hasn’t been seen in any known species more advanced than… what? Frogs?
No, if you want to make your Space Opera work, then make it work. Just don’t be stupid about it. I can outline a way to make manual starfighter combat plausible right now. It involves a lot of handwavium, but it’s not hard.
Imagine for a moment that humanity has developed the (what could I call it?) the Yamamoto Field. The Field’s generator can be carried by a fighter-sized craft. The Field has the following qualities:
1) It’s impenetrable to E-M radiation except for visible light. Any other form of radiation is absorbed or
passes through is refracted around it. Its radius when activated is at least a half-mile.
2) The Field also prevents computers and other delicate electronics from functioning inside it. It scrambles their circuits. Only simple mechanical calculation devices can aid the human pilots.
3) The Field deflects incoming objects directly proportional to their velocity and inversely proportional to their mass.
So, now I have a Field that’s going to protect our fighters from targeting computers, guided missiles, and high-velocity mass-drivers. It provides no protection from lasers, but you’re going to have to fire those pretty much with the Mark I Eyeball assisted with passive lenses. Since the Field can also be mounted on capital ships, they will have much the same problems. Granted, nuclear weapons might be brought in to solve those problems, but larger Fields might nullify that threat.
Now, it’s possible that I overlooked something in the design of the Yamamoto Field. It’s possible that one of my commenters will gleefully point it out to me. But I trust the point is made: a piece of tech COULD be plausibly designed to bring back WWII Fighters In Space. You might not like that story. You might not want to read that story. Which is fine; there are poor lost souls out there who don’t like Dune.
But it doesn’t mean it can’t be a good story.