You Can Always Get What You Want… But First You Have To Figure Out What You Need. OR: Yes, You Can Have Your Space Fighters Dogfighting In Space.

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.

 

 

 

 

Science Fiction Pet Peeve: Really Bad Naval Architecture.

Okay, it’s time to discuss one of my favorite topics: Pet Peeves Of Science-Fiction. In this edition, we’ll discuss really awful naval architecture.
Naval architecture is, of course, the science and art of designing warships. Now, for most of history, warships were really just floating fighting platforms that rammed into each other, after which the soldiers aboard tried to kill one another in various awful ways. With the advent of guns, people had to decide where to put them, and the physics of sailing pretty much meant that the guns, which were very small compared to the ship, had to be placed in broadsides, like so:
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However, with the advent of better steel and larger guns, cannon could be built that were a significant fraction of the ship’s width, and launch shells that would gain a lot from being able to elevate the guns significantly. Additionally, these guns were too heavy to permit the ship to carry twice as many of them that would be permanently pointed away from the ship. With the simultaneous elimination of sail, that meant that guns could and should be placed in turrets with about 270 degrees of action, thus:

Image result for uss new jersey deck plans

Of course, 360 degrees of action would have been better, but you have to have a place for the bridge, the smokestacks, and of course, the OTHER GUNS to be, safely.

Okay, so that’s basic fields of fire as influenced by technology. Okay, ready? THIS is an Imperial Star Destroyer:

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Take a good look at the turbolaser batteries. They are arranged in broadsides, and they are tiny compared to the ship, and most ridiculously, they are in turrets.

Now, the fact that they are tiny is not a problem. We know from Star Wars canon (no pun intended) that these are very powerful ships. It may be that Star Wars ships HAVE to be that much bigger than the weapons they carry simply to power them, and that most of that mass IS power generation.

But they are arranged in broadsides, and only half of them can fire at a given moment because of the superstructure. Which begs the question: was there any reason these guns couldn’t have been put on the BOTTOM of the ship? They can’t even fire forward or aft except at half-strength, because the guns block each other. For a simplified version, they look like this (please forgive the ridiculously poor computer drawing skills):

ISD 1

Now in space, there’s no excuse for this., especially when we know that the Star Wars universe has the technology to make very fast and maneuverable turrets. The only way this makes sense at all is if a Star Destroyer can roll and pitch so fast that turrets don;t really matter at all, and we know from the events of pretty much all Star Wars movies that this is not the case.

A far superior design would be this:

ISD 2.png

From this design, we can immediately see that I don’t know how to manipulate images very well, but we can ALSO see (and this is my point) that with larger, globular turrets that could clear the entire hull, a Star Destroyer design could easily have been imagined that would have allowed all turrets to bear on targets both above and below and (assuming, again, large turrets and a FLAT hull), to fore and aft, and even to both sides simultaneously by offsetting them as pictured. The bridge (assuming it could not have been buried deep in the hull, which is where it always SHOULD have been) could be moved up front.

Why isn’t this done? Well, I suspect that for one thing, people tend to find asymmetry ugly, even when it is practical. And for another, Lucas seems to have really liked the idea of big ships with tiny guns, possibly to justify his overreliance on space fighters (about which more another time). But it just annoys me when people build ships that, for no apparent reason, have huge unnecessary blind spots. When we build the ships of the future, they should at least be well-built.

 

Travel, DragonCon, and Why Has The Blog Been So Sparse Lately?

So, this is just a brief note to catch everyone up.

This is a busy time of year for me: the kids are all starting a new school year at a new school, I’m starting teaching new courses at a new school, and for the past three days, I’ve been at a camp related to the new school, where internet connectivity was spotty at best.

This is why there has been no blog this week, and only weekly updates for the past week or so.

In addition, on Thursday evening, I’ll be traveling to DragonCon. Unfortunately, I’ll be going as a fan rather than as a professional, because I didn’t know I’d be going until the last minute. But I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of fellow writers there. And, who knows, I might even run into a fan or two!

So, the good news is that there WILL BE a William Shakespeare’s Dune on Monday.

The bad news is, there isn’t likely to be anything else until well after DragonCon as I adjust to travel and the craziness that will consume my life.