3D printing of ships of the fleet

A slightly incomplete post but something I’m too excited about to sit on. Via a friend who is versed in the dark arts of 3D printing I have got my hands on a print of one of my very own designs.

IMG_20160306_234550IMG_20160306_234601IMG_20160306_234626

Once I have access to my main computer and modeling paints I’ll be putting up an image of the original file and the completed model but for the moment here we are.

 

 

 

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Don’t break your universe or responsible use of FTL

NOTE: During this post I’m going to be mentioning plot points from number of books, films and television series, including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and New Battlestar Gallactica.

Introduction

Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

In fact space is so big that trying to express it in any units of distance that you as an individual can have personal experience of, will rapidly result in a figure with an unworkable large number of zeros at the end. On a day to day basis this isn’t too much of a worry but if you are a science fiction writer or scriptwriter, then in presents something of a problem. Unless you’re prepared to limit the story to a single solar system or spend years or centuries getting between stars, you need to have some kind of Faster Than Light (FTL) travel system. While not completely impossible, trade, warfare or even exploration become a damn-sight more difficult without an FTL system. The problem however is that currently as far as we know traveling faster or even at light speed, is flat out impossible. While real world science has offered some small crumbs of comfort – wormholes, quantum tunneling, the recent EMDrive, etc – basically crossing interstellar distance in anything less than years is off the table. So FTL is often given a pass within stories that otherwise are attempting to be Hard Science Fiction, a fact that can often leaves the most dedicated Hard SF writers guilt-ridden.

There are basically two forms of FTL in science fiction, the Star Trek style, where ships fly through… something and can change course, speed and even potentially fight other vessels. The alternative is the Jump model, where a ship jumps from point A to point B, not interacting with the space in between the two points. Sometimes this is due to the engines carried by the ship, in other settings it is fixed ‘jump points’ through which the ship travels. The important thing to remember about both models is that scientifically they are both baloney, basically they run pure Handwavium – a substance obtained when the writer waves their hands and says ‘don’t ask awkward questions, just accept it and move on’.

Establishing limits

Okay so if we’re willing to break the laws of reality once, we might as well not worry, the FTL drive will do whatever the plot needs it to do any any given moment. That’s okay right? No, no, it is not. Breaking internal consistency will break any story, even one outside the genre of science fiction or fantasy. Imagine watching a police drama where the lead character is established as overweight, over-the-hill, smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. Where early in the episode he attempts to chase a suspect and wheezes to a halt after twenty yards. But when the plot requires can suddenly run like a cheetah. That lack of consistency will see the viewer reaching for the remote.  Within fiction internal consistency is sacred, figure out what can and can not be done then once the rules are established keep to them!

But more insidiously, the writer needs to consider the implications of those rules.

Now viewers of New Battlestar Gallactica might well remember this scene from season three episode four. To get around the enemy ships guarding New Caprica, Galactica jumps into the upper atmosphere launching fighters during free fall to destroy the enemy positions, before jumping back into space.

INCOMING!

INCOMING!

Visually there is no doubt that this is really, really cool. However it also blasts a massive hole in the internal logic by making planets completely impossible defend. Think about it for a moment, if this is possible then why not strap an FTL drive onto a nuclear bomb or even a big rock? Orbiting starships can provide no defence when a projectile only appears a few hundred meters above the target. A few scenes later we see human ships jump out after lifting off only a few hundred meters from the surface, which begs the question why do these ships need space engines? Why not an interstellar helicopter, one that can take off from the ground, then jump into space, jump to where it wants to go, then jump into the atmosphere there and lower itself back to the ground.

Elsewhere in science fiction new Star Trek invented transporters capable of beaming an individual from one solar system to another, again rendering the central premise of the setting un-workable. While during the recent Force Awakens film we saw the Millennium Falcon being used to penetrate the shields of the Starkiller base by only emerging from FTL within the atmosphere of the planet. Which again begs the question if this is possible why not simply pound the target with nuclear ( or whatever ) weapons until the problem goes away? Sure a percentage, maybe even a large one, will fail but if one got through, then others will also manage it.

Now to a certain extent film and television has the advantage that the narrative keeps moving, the viewer doesn’t have the time stop and immediately think about what has been shown and the possible implications. Literature doesn’t have that advantage.

Those of you who have read my Nameless War Trilogy will be aware of something I called the Mass Shadow, an area of gravitational effect around planets or other large space bodies. Within a Mass Shadow a ship could neither jump in or out and would instead have to travel to the edge at sub-light speeds. Now I didn’t invent this just to torture my characters ( not just ) I did it to make it possible to have a war in space. Without it the basic setting would not work, because enemy ships would be able to appear above a planet and nuke it vigorously before anyone of the ground could say Whoops Apocalypses. With it ships were forced to jump well clear of a planet and with that I was able to explore all kinds of tactical difficulties and options. Most space based science fiction literature that I have come across makes use of similar mechanisms for the same reasons. The only one that I have come across without a limiting factor is John Scalzi‘s Old Man’s War setting; in this it is possible for space vessels and armed drones to jump in above a planet and immediately be able to fire on the surface. In essence it is possible for a planet nuked out of existence before it knows it is under attack. However Scalzi has made this workable, the life supporting planets are the prize being fought over, rendering weapons of mass destruction unusable.

Conclusion

Science Fiction allows us to break the rule if we are unwise but what we should seek to do is change them but only once and consider the implications. Whatever the rules, they offer both limitations and opportunity and we must consider both. If the question is asked ‘why don’t they simply do X’ then a solid answer has to be given, ‘because I say so’ is not going to cut it. There can be the great temptation break or bend the rules to get characters out of an difficult situation but to do so leaves a setting with no substance and if you find yourself writing you way into such a scene, then time to step back and be responsible in your use of FTL.

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Warships – Classes and Categories PART TWO

So first off I hope everyone had a good Christmas and New Year, time now to carry on where we left off last year. We left off with cruiser so it is time to move onto the big stuff!

Battlecruiser

The term battlecruiser (or battle cruiser) is one the turns up a lot and there is no doubt that it is one that still carries a certain glamour. Historically the battlecruiser is a type that first appeared at the start of the twentieth century having evolved from an earlier category ship called the armoured cruiser. The armoured cruiser was a vessel as large as a contemporary battleship, while having smaller guns, thinner armour but longer range and greater speed. As combatants they were considered second only to the battleships and would often serve as flagships on more distant postings. The battlecruiser was envisioned as a vessel carrying battleship sized guns with the then new steam turbine engines, giving them a marked advantage in both speed and firepower over their predecessors.

HMS Invincible, the first battlecruiser, although for the first few years of her existence she was referred to as a Large Armoured Cruiser.

HMS Invincible, the first battlecruiser, although for the first few years of her existence she was referred to as a Large Armoured Cruiser.

So marked that in fact that when during World War One battlecruisers came up against contemporary armoured cruisers, the result was utterly one sided. In the run up to the Great War, with the expectation of mass fleet actions, the battlecruiser was envisioned as a kind of heavy scout, one that would brush aside the enemy’s forward screen and identify the location of the main force. With their lighter armour they were not expected to engage comparably armed ships. Unfortunately in practice commanders couldn’t resist the opportunity to add extra heavy guns to the main battle line. The battle cruisers’ reputation never entirely recovered from the loss of four battlecruisers at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 (while only one elderly battleship was sunk) and in certain academic quarters it is questioned whether as an idea the battlecruiser was bad one from the outset. Between the two World Wars the largest warship afloat was in fact a battlecruiser – HMS Hood. The type ultimately was superseded by the last generation of battleships which could match their speed with compromising protection, I’ll cover that later.

In science fiction portrayals of the type vary mostly in terms of where it stands in the overall hierarchy. Star Trek – with the odd exception – has mostly chosen to use the term battlecruiser for the peak combatants of the Federation and other major races. Given that within the Star Trek setting speed expressed as a high warp figure is usually the measure of a vessels’ power, combined with long range these ships seem to have, the term is fairly appropriate.

A Romulan D'deridex class Warbird or battlecruiser

A Romulan D’deridex class Warbird or battlecruiser, fast, powerful and apparently the most powerful Romulan warship until the film Nemesis.

In other setting the battlecruiser is very much more of an intermediate step between cruiser and battleship.

From the board game Battlefleet Gothic

The Mar Class from the board game Battlefleet Gothic is a good example of this type.

Which in a lot of setting seems to leave the type without a clear role; is it a big cruiser or a small fast battleship? A question that mirrors the problems that bedeviled the real battlecruiser. Personally I’ve made only limited use of the term but it is one that is useful for science fiction writers giving as it does a sense of a vessel with both enhanced fighting ability but sufficient mobility for all sorts of other roles, including that of a flagship for postings further from home.

Battleship

Of all the naval terms used by SF battleship is probably the best known. Historically the battleship began in the age of sail as ‘The Line of Battle Ship’; equipped with cannons firing out of the sides of the hull. Also known as ships of the line this arrangement meant that logically squadrons and fleets of these ships fought in long lines, where each ship could bring its guns to bear unhampered by friendly ships. Ships of the Line are generally classes according to the number of guns they carried, HMS Victory in Portsmouth, with her hundred plus guns is an example of a First Rate, the most powerful ships of the age. During the 19th century The Line of Battle Ship changed from wooden walls and black powder cannons to steel hulls and steam power. The fleet with the most battleships (The United Kingdom for really all of the century) was the one that ruled the waves.

Nelson's former flagship, by curious coincidence Victory was laid down the same year Nelson was born.

Nelson’s former flagship, by curious coincidence Victory was laid down the same year Nelson was born.

One thing that does tend to be overlooked in regards to the battleship is its symbolic status. During the nineteen and early twentieth century, a battleship – for those that could afford them – was symbol of a countries economic prowess. While for those nations that could actually build them, they were a very tangible demonstration of that nation’s technological abilities. When in the eighteen nineties the USA made the decision to rebuild its navy – which by that stage was little more than a collection of antiques left over from the civil war – a very deliberate decision was made to have them designed and built in America, thereby demonstrating the USA’s arrival as a major power. The battleship’s usefulness in combat came from the fact that it was bigger, better armed and better protected than anything else bar another battleship. In theory anyway. Between the end of the Napoleonic Wars and World War One, a period when ship design radically changed, there was only one serious battleship clash –  Battle of Tsushima in 1905. It was also until the coming of the aircraft carrier the most expensive thing afloat. This years we are going to see the centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the largest battleship battle ever fought and one that ended inconclusively because battleships, with their vast price tag and build time of years, were too precious to be idly risked. Ultimately the battleship was replaced as the main combat unit by the aircraft carrier. A lot of sources will say that this was due to the destruction of the American battleships at Pearl Harbour but in fact it was the sinking of the British battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse off Singapore a few days latter that confirmed that power had shifted. Still the battleship remained useful until beyond the end of World War Two, not least because once equipped with suitable anti aircraft guns they were capable of shielding other ships are part of a layered defence from enemy aircraft. The last generation of battleships are often referred to as fast battleships as these vessels were as fast as the earlier battlecruisers, but without the weaker protection.

In SF probably the best example of a space battleship (in the West anyway) comes from New Battlestar Galatica, a vessel a vessel that this really more of a battlecarrier than a pure battleship but during the course of the series it was shown that a battlestar was a very capable combatant even without its fighters being able to hand out a beating.

Galactica_fights_off_missile_salvos

As well as take one.

Taking fireThe battlecarrier idea with a vessel capable of directly engaging a target but also to launch fighters. In reality the battlecarrier idea never gained much traction mainly because the flight deck large turrets both needed to occupy the same space and if aircraft were to be able to operate, they needed to be kept well clear of the water, which would make the battlecarrier a large target in a gun battle.

Which didn't stop people from dreaming.

Which didn’t stop people from dreaming.

Dreadnought

This one really isn’t a true warship class and within SF something of a personal hate. In 1906 Great Britain launched the first of a new series of battleship – HMS Dreadnought. Up to that battleships had been powered by machinery called reciprocating engines,  while their armament was a small number of large guns and larger number of smaller pieces. Dreadnought was equipped with steam turbine engines, which allowed her to go faster for longer and dispensed with the smaller guns in favour of a larger number of heavy guns. Dreadnought set the pattern that would be followed up to the end of the battleship age but up to the end of World War One a substantial number of the older type remained in service. To distinguish between the new and the old, the term dreadnought and pre-dreadnought came into use. The terms dropped out of use once the pre-dreadnoughts were retired but the term dreadnought has remained to be used in SF as a gunship even larger than a battleship.

Aircraft Carriers

The aircraft carrier is probably the most self explanatory warship class and recognizable type of warship, with its long clear fight deck and offset bridge structure, a vessel that carries a substantial number of aircraft which represent its main offensive capacity. Armament of the carrier itself is limited to self defence. The early carriers were usually conversions of battleships or battlecruisers, with the full length deck and offset bridge structure (usually called the island) developed through trial and quite a lot of error. The main advantage of a carrier is the aircraft that represented its teeth could be changed or replaced comparatively easily. A battleship with three quarters of its guns shot away is going to have to head home for repairs, a carrier that’s lost three quarters of its planes could fly on replacements within hours.

Dauntless in her post war colour scheme.

Yes, one of my own

In SF the pure aircraft or fighter carrier seems to be something of a rarity with the battlecarrier a more popular choice, likely because from a storytelling point of view a vessel that has to keep well clear of enemy ships is less exciting than one that gets in close. To a certain extent this makes some sense as a lot of setting with space fighters don’t give these craft any faster than light capability, meaning the carrier has to get into harms way to deliver its fighters. There are also possible variants to the concept, carriers for landing troops or depending on the technology level of the setting, fighters for fighting in an planet’s atmosphere is ground bases haven’t been established ( for such ships I used the term drop fighter carrier )

Other Misc terms

Monitor  

A term originating from the American Civil War, this type was low freeboard vessel (not much hull above the waterline) with turret mounted armament. During World War One the term changed to refer to a shallow draft vessel ( not much hull below the waterline ) designed for shore bombardment.

Landing craft

Ranging from small boats to medium sized ships, these vessels are designed to deliver troops and materials without needing a proper dock.

 

Conclusion

So there we have it, my rough guide to ship classifications but as I said on this topic where there is no such thing as one single right answer. Perhaps if we ever get out there – and still need warships – we will indeed reuse many of these terms. Or perhaps we won’t but as the old writing advice goes, you have to know the rules before you break them and now you know them. Until next time.

 

 

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Warships – Classes and Categories PART ONE

It’s no secret that science fiction tends to borrow pretty vigorously from history, this goes double for any SF that makes even the most casual contact with military affairs. Battleships, battlecruisers, frigates, destroyers, all of these terms are merrily thrown around but to what do most of them refer? Well I thought I might instead take more of an overview examination of some of the terms I’ve been throwing around in my Ships of the Fleet series and provide something of a quick primer for anyone considering writing science fiction.

First off to what is meant by the term ‘Class’? Quite simply this refers a number of ships built to the same or very similar design, the name of a class is usually either the name of the first to be built or the theme along which they have been named – an example of this being the British C Class light cruisers where the names of individual ships as might be expected all started with the letter C.

Yes I took this photograph in Ireland, no I did not photoshop the sky.

The Battle of Jutland veteran HMS Caroline, yes I took this photograph in Ireland, no I did not photoshop the sky.

Classes of ships that have been built in large number may be broken down into sub-classes as experience with the earlier ships or improvement in technology results in changes to the design. As ships get further into their service career then individual ships of a class will often begin to diverge, as some receive upgrades or are re-purposed for different roles. An example of this in science fiction can be found in David Webers On Basilisk Station with the hero commanding a ship with non-standard and experimental armament. On a final note often a class could receive a overall nickname, there was a class of British battleships that went by the nickname The Wobbly Eight due to their slightly questionable ability to sail in a straight line!

Now moving onto categories, my own area of interest is military vessels from about the mid eighteen hundreds to the mid nineteen hundreds and in my own work, it’s from this period I took inspiration. The first thing to realise it that there is no right or wrong answer, historically categories have been decidedly fluid. Terms have come and gone, with ships re-catagorized. Some category names were chosen because they sounds impressive, while other to sound cheaper to a fleet’s political master. The running order is going to be roughly smallest to largest with some historical and science fiction examples followed by thoughts on how it might be used in a science fiction.

Corvette

The first and smallest of types I intend to cover, during the age of sail the corvette was the smallest type of regular warship. Used for inshore work (meaning close to the coast) and general patrolling. During the late nineteenth century the term dropped out of use to be revived during World War Two and applied to small, easy to build patrol ships that could be produced in large numbers. The armament of these vessels was extremely limited – usually whatever was available – and in practical terms the only opponents against which they stood a fair chance were submarines or single aircraft. Certainly these were far from ideal vessels but were a demonstration that in the real world a balance has to be sought between quantity and quality or to put it another way – quantity is a quality all of its own. These vessels had no place in fleet actions and instead were used as convoy escorts. Often only marginally faster than the ships they escorted, this was their main flaw as surfaced submarines could often outrun them. Post war the corvette has mostly remained a inshore vessel although some are used as a fast attack type.

The science fiction view of the corvette has retained the idea of it being a small ship but often as a more front line combatant. That said the most famous corvette in SF-

tantiveivfinal

The CR90 corvette or possibly questionably named ‘blockade runner’

ended up demonstrating the inherent limitation of the corvette concept as it was chased down and crippled with relative ease by a more combat focused vessel. The Homeworld video game series presented the corvette as a small strike vessel – a missing link – larger than one man fighters but smaller than capital ships and unable to travel faster than light on their own. While in literature some books of David Drake’s RCN series were based upon a corvette class ship and for the would be writer this last point is worth considering. If you are planning story which will see a young officer gain their first command, it is worth remembering most fleets tend to start people off with something small and cheap like a corvette, in case they bend it. Command of something big and expensive is definitely not given to someone because they made the previous captain loose their sh*t – yes JJ Abrams Trek, I am looking at you. In a science fiction setting a corvette type ship could be presented at something used primarily within a single system, not really capable of deep space work but useful for various internal security duties.

Frigate

The term frigate in the age of sail was a fast maneuverable vessel that could serve with the main fleet, acting as its eyes and ears. Away from the fleet frigates performed long distance patrolling, escorts and raiding. to use later terminology the frigate might be thought of as a cruiser, although at that point in time the term was applied to any warship that was operating on its own. The armament was carried on a single deck and at least during the Napoleonic Wars there was something of a convention that ships of the line didn’t shoot at frigates unless provoked. Arguably during the late nineteenth century the frigate  evolved into the battleship

The ironclad HMS Warrior 1860, officially classed as a frigate because of her single gundeck but in practice probably capable of slugging it out with anything else afloat.

The ironclad HMS Warrior 1860, officially classed as a frigate because of her single gundeck but in practice probably capable of slugging it out with anything else afloat.

During World War Two the term frigate would be revived and applied to a category of vessel that could loosely be described as a larger, faster, more deep water capable version of the corvette. While more combat capable than corvettes these were still primarily patrol and convoy escort vessels, not really fast enough for fleet deployments. The recognition of this limitation resulted in later frigates being designed for greater speed, sufficient to keep up with the fleet, while their role remain the defence of other ships.

In science fiction once again the video game Homeworld has made use of the term as the smallest capital ship with a number of specialist designs.

The always fun multibeam frigate and embodiment of 'if you're going to do it you may as well over do it'

The always fun multibeam frigate and embodiment of ‘if you’re going to do it you may as well over do it’

While the Mass Effect prefers to present the type as a fast moving and maneuverable strike vessel able to redeploy quickly around the battlefield

Mass_Effect_Normandy_SR2

and look good while doing it

In literature David Weber’s Honorverse setting which borrows heavily from the Napoleonic Wars period but only briefly mentions as a type being phased out of service. For would be science fiction writers the frigate is possibly another type with which to start of their wet behind the ears hero. Capable of more deep space operations, with a frigate the hero can boldly go that bit further.

Destroyer

The first main fleet type we’ve examined so far, unlike the corvette and frigate the destroyer’s genesis is a good deal more recent. In the late nineteenth century the first self propelled torpedoes were invented (prior to this any weapon designed to strike underwater was called a torpedo) which was a potential game changer in naval warfare. A very small vessel equipped with torpedoes could in theory sink even the biggest warship; the French in particular seized upon this much to the concern of Britain – the leading owner of big warships. In theory large expensive battleships could be swarmed under by large numbers of small, fast, inexpensive torpedo boats. In practice these small torpedo boats never really lived up to the billing but their existence demanded a remedy. The solution to and ultimately replacement for the torpedo boat was the torpedo boat destroyer, later shortened to the destroyer. Unlike the frigate and corvette, the destroyer was always intended as a fleet vessel, with the pace to keep up with the main battle fleet. Although not much larger than contemporary frigates, destroyers usually had much shorter range as much internal space was given over to engines rather than fuel supply. The early destroyers were still pretty small, boats rather than ships, so operated in groups often lead by a small cruiser. By World War Two destroyers had grown large enough to dispense with the cruiser but still operated in groups. Their role was generally to mount torpedo attacks against larger enemy ships while at the same time screening against enemy destroyers and later submarines. The other rather brutal truth about destroyers of the world wars, is that they were still small and quick enough to build that they could be viewed by commanders as somewhat expendable, if in doing so they absorbed a hit intended for something more expensive.  The modern destroyer is really the primary surface combatant and unlike their predecessors really too expensive and large to be fielded in groups.

The term destroyer is probably where science fiction most drastically diverges from the historical use of the term.

You're hearing the Imperial March aren't you?

You’re hearing the Imperial March aren’t you?

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

In practical terms the Star Destroyer and the Omega class destroyer seem to operate very much more like battleships or battlecruisers. In my experience literature tends to stick closer to the idea of the destroyer as a smaller vessel that serves in groups. This can be viewed as either TV and film getting it ‘wrong’ or possibly an indication that while authors are more versed in the historical use of the term, those making film and television are more familiar with the modern reality. Which can also be taken as an example that ship classifications are not set in stone.

Cruiser

As previously mentioned the term cruiser originally referred to role rather than an actual ship type, this was to change during the nineteenth century with the coming of steam. The problem with the early steam engines was that their fuel efficiency was pretty dire and the infrastructure for fueling stations hadn’t been developed. So if you wanted to have a warship that could go anywhere you needed it, then you had to keep the masts and sails. Unfortunately those same masts and sails were heavy, required large crews and took up a lot of space. Long story short, a ship could have first class fighting ability or first class cruising ability, but not both. By World War One the cruiser had stabilized into a swift, mid-sized armoured vessel, that’s primary firepower came from guns larger than those carried on destroyers but smaller than battleship’s and yet still small enough to be built in numbers. There were exceptions to this mostly in the form of specialist designs like minelayers and anti-aircraft designs, as well as a few large and ultimately unaffordable monsters. They were used for various roles like raiding against enemy merchant ships, defending against raiders, scouting, long distance patrolling and leading smaller vessels like destroyers. By World War Two with battleships thinner on the ground, cruisers were often the major surface combatants, with the Mediterranean and the Fast East seeing a number of cruiser vs cruiser encounters. One final note is the distinction between Heavy and Light cruisers. Between the two world wars a number of arms limitation treaties defined a heavy cruiser as a vessel of up to ten thousand tons displacement with eight inch guns, while a light cruiser was a vessel of up to ten thousand tons displacement with six inch guns. Which resulted in situations even within the same navy of there being light cruisers that were heavier than some heavy cruisers!

Obviously when it come cruisers in science fiction the big name is Star Trek, with the original Enterprise usually described as a cruiser or heavy cruiser. In the rest of science fiction then depending on the setting the cruiser as either presented as the peak combatant or as something a good deal more cannon fodder-sh

I'm sure that will polish out

I’m sure that will polish out

As reader of my Nameless War series will know I use cruisers a lot, personally I find it a useful size category, big enough to be presented as a major combatant, while still small enough to be risked. It depends on the setting  but in one where resources are finite, getting from A to B takes time and your fleet needs to have ships in several places at once, then in my opinion a cruiser fits the bill. It is also possible for cruiser within your setting to be optimised for a number of specialist roles.

That’s enough for now, next time I’ll be moving onto the big stuff.

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Ships of the Fleet – Glorious Class Fighter Carrier

Glorious profiles

Introduction

In the decades leading up to First Contact and the Contact War the concept of the spacefighter was one that had seen repeated use in the popular media. Such fictional craft allowed for the narrative to focus on a single (usually young and attractive) character who could drive the story. However in reality the idea of a manned spacefighter was technologically even more impractical than that of a starship. It was only with the arrival of the first Aèllr ship that serious work began to turn science fiction into science fact. The landing of the alien ship in the West of Ireland proved two things, that humanity was not alone in the universe and that Earth was utterly exposed. While reverse engineering of the Aèllr ship and crash development would result in first generation of human starships in less than a decade1* it was clear that Earth faced a window of vulnerability.

While unmanned either satellites or drones initially appeared to be the logical choice, on closer examination such platforms had their own problems. To begin with they would have to designed and built from the ground up. Weapons platforms were rejected because the missiles systems that might have the performance to catch powered spacecraft were unsuitable for spending months in orbit without maintenance. This reduced the options to drones or manned fighters. While a drone would not suffer the mass and volume penalties of a human pilot and their attendant life support, it would have limitations of its own. Light speed communications even over the modest distances between a control centre and high orbit would introduce lags. The further a drone was required to operate from Earth the more severe these lags would become, ruling out direct control. The only alternative would be allowing a drone significant autonomy, including weapons release authority. This was felt to be an unacceptable risk, quite simply a human had to be kept in the decision making loop. With the private sector developments in sub and low orbital flights for so called space tourism, as well as the American experimental X series, a manned space fighter was judged to be just about possible.

Raced through development and construction, Earth’s first spacefighter, the Phoenix, was available in numbers when the Aèllr’s Expeditionary Force arrived in the solar system. With the first of the Defender Class cruisers still incomplete, it fell to the fighters to be Earth’s only line of defence. The events of the First Battle of Earth scarcely need repeating, but while the fighters had succeeded in defending the planet, initially it was not believed spacefighters had any deep space role. The Bernards Star campaign forced a re-think; while the Aèllr deployed only a handful of fighters, these caused significant difficulties for the Defender Class cruisers and all but the most dogmatic big gun advocates had to admit that the fleet needed fighters.

During the First Battle of Earth the Phoenix fighters had enjoyed huge numerical advantage over their Aèllr opposite numbers, despite this the human squadrons had suffered a minimum of fifty percent losses. With the Phoenix so vastly outclassed, there were serious questions whether a carrier with a limited number of fighter represented the best use of available construction assets. In some quarters it was felt that rather than build carriers, the fleet would be better to field a point defence cruiser, along the lines of the much later Lunar Class Flak cruisers. This idea did have some attraction but would have required a high performance vessel able to react quickly to tactical developments, therefore failed to find much traction for largely production related reasons. All available torus fusion reactors and plasma cannons were already earmarked for the cruiser program, carriers could accept the performance penalties of the heavier less powerful laser focus reactors. In essence the construction of the carriers did not come at the expense of additional cruisers. The final suggestion mounting a pair of hangars on each cruiser in an arrangement referred to as a ‘battlestar’ was never seriously considered. Hangars would almost certainly be shredded by gunfire  and if hit before the fighter could be launched, the detonation of its fuel and munitions could present a significant risk to the mother ship.

Design

By the time design work began on the Glorious class work on the Commander class cruisers was already well advanced and it was felt that there was little advantage to be had from reinventing the wheel. As such the class would use a modified version of the Commander’s spaceframe. The armament was reduced to purely the point defence guns, while forward the centrifuge was extended to provide accommodation for a larger crew. The decision was made early on to house each fighter in it own hangar which would be slung from the flanks of the hull. As well allowing for the use of the spaceframe largely as was, this system avoided weakening the hull structure with large voids and outer hatches. From the tactical standpoint the carrier’s entire compliment could be launched virtually simultaneously and offered a high degree of redundancy in the event of mechanical failure or damage. In the longer term in the event that the type of craft carried altered it would be a relatively simple matter to build and fit new hangar modules. This decision was to prove one of the better features of the design and would be followed by later Battle Fleet fighter carrier designs.

Glorious two

A more questionable decision was the one to reduce the power plant to a single laser focus reactor. Since the ship would not be carrying any plasma cannons, this power plant was equal to the task of powering propulsion and the space freed allowed for increased stores but left no redundancy in power generation. This potential vulnerability was accepted because it was expected that the carriers would be shielded from direct fire by the main gun line and the additional stores meant that despite their larger crew compliment, their endurance would match that of the cruisers.

One of the most serious limitations of the new carrier were the craft it was due to carry. When ordered the expectation was that the ship would carry at least eighteen of the newly developed Valiant Drones. With Earth now at war many of the problems that had previously rule out drones were no longer an issue.  However the specification for Valiants was ambitious and the delivery date began to slip. As a stopgap it was decided to equip the carriers with the Phoenix II. While little more than a stripped down Phoenix I it did offered some improved performance but was still out classed by its likely opponents.

Service

Glorious

Completed shortly after the conclusion of the Bernards Star campaign, Glorious’s  career was would limited to within Earth’s solar system. Glorious was in the process of being refitted with hangars able to accept the Valiant Drones when the Aèllr advance fleet arrived but when enemy forward base was detected around Pluto, the carrier and her complement of four Valiants and eight Phoenixs, was assigned to the attack. While the carrier herself received only minor damage during the battle, her entire fighter group was wiped out while attempting to cover the retreat. Designated Battle Fleet Number One squadron it was never reformed and as a mark of respect remains to this day officially listed as On Active Service.

The aftermath of the New York attack and the abandonment of the Valiant program left Glorious bereft of any fighters. When the Aèllr began what was expected to be their final assault, Glorious was forced to take a place in the main gun line as little more than a target. However the June Miracle saw the withdrawal of the Aèllr fleet and Glorious, along with her newly complete sister ship, was hurriedly adapted to accept the Vampire fighter. The second human spacefigher, the Vampire had been developed as a reserve in case the Valiant program was delayed further. With the failure of the Valiant and the stronger than expected performance of the handful of Vampires that saw action during the June Miracle, it became the fleet’s primary fighter.

By now serving as flagship of the fleet Glorious’s luck was to finally run out during the Battle of the Rim. Heavily hit by gunfire from the cruiser Rinllee, her machine spaces were badly damaged and the ship lost power during her jump to Earth. Efforts to savage the ship failed and the crew were forced to scuttle the ship to prevent capture.

Dauntless

The least known of Earth’s wartime fighter carriers but ultimately the only one to survive the Contact War, Dauntless’s wartime service largely mirrored that of her older sister, while her post war career would extend far further than expected. With the end of the conflict the fleet entered a period of refection and financial retrenchment. The loss of Glorious effectively to gunfire threw into question the whole concept of the spacefighter carrier. Experience seemed to indicate that a carrier close enough to support the gun line ran the risk of being destroyed by fire from enemy cruisers, while if kept further back, the fighters wouldn’t be able to support the cruisers in a timely manner.

The arguments between the gun and fighter lobbies within the fleet meant that for twelve years following the war Dauntless remained the fleet’s only carrier. While the original laser focus reactor and engines were replaced, the first generation jump drive was not. Although this has been criticized, with her small heat sink it is doubtful whether even a second generation drive would have resulted in any meaningful improvement in mobility. This limited Dauntless’s service to within Earth’s solar system and while still listed as part of the fleet’s  first line strength, by the beginning of the twenty forties she was an asset of questionable value and within the fleet was known as The Dubious.  It was only with the introduction of Illustrious that Dauntless was finally reassigned as the fleets training carrier, a role more in line with her capabilities. Dauntless was briefly re-hangared to accept the Balefire fighter, the larger hangars reduced the compliment to eight. The abandonment of the Balefire as the fleet’s primary fighter resulted in the hangars for the Vampires being restored. This decision was made because of the larger number of Vampires available. Although increasingly antiquated, Dauntless has remained in service, last of the first generation starships and far in excess of her projected lifespan. This has mostly been due to fleet’s prioriting cruisers and battleships over fighter carrier. However the fleet has recently announced that due the exhaustion of spare parts for both Dauntless’s machinery and the Vampire fighters, the carrier will finally be decommissioned at the end of 2066. Her replacement will be a purpose built training ship built to commercial rather than military standards to reduce cost.  Due to Dauntless’s age it is expected she will be scrapped rather than reduced to reserve. At time of writing a campaign is underway to preserve the vessel as a museum ship.

Dauntless in her post war colour scheme.

Dauntless in her post war colour scheme.

1* See Ships of the Fleet Volume Two.

Author’s notes: Many moons ago I designed and put up here a version of the Dauntless, a ship that readers of the Nameless War will be familiar with. At the time I was please with it but since then my abilities with Sketchup have improved and the work I did for ships of the fleet meant that the description didn’t really work any more, so time for a re-vamp.

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TV Tropes

The Nameless War is now on TV-Tropes. Click the link at your own risk. (Edmond Barrett accepts no responsibility for loss of time and productivity that tend to be the result of trips to TV-Tropes)

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Is Military Science Fiction looked down upon and why?

As mentioned in an earlier post I recently attended Octocon 2015 and during the course of the Military Science Fiction the question was asked ‘do you think military sf is a genre that is look down upon?’

My answer was weak and forgettable, which has been bugging me.

So what is Military SF? According to Wikipedia it is:

a subgenre of science fiction in literature, comics, film and video games that features the use of science fiction technology, mainly weapons, for military purposes and usually principal characters that are members of a military organization involved in military activity; occurring sometimes in outer space or on a different planet or planets.

Which is a pretty loose definition, within which some very well known works can be grouped. One of the best known of examples of the genre is The War of the Worlds, a book which can be described as a classic by simple virtue of the fact that more than a century after its original publication, it remains well known and read. With such a wide definition we can find such varying works as the Forever War (Haldeman) to Hammer’s Slammers (Drake) to the Honorverse series (Weber), beyond literature we have cinema’s Aliens, Star Wars and Star Trek – which despite Roddenberry’s vision does have some very military features – through to tabletop gaming like Warhammer 40K. All which can be grouped under the Big Tent of Military Science Fiction.

War is probably humanities most destructive urge, one that out in the real world we have refined to the point that we could probably sterilise this planet. One of the strongest arguments I’ve heard is that Military SF glorifies war – a criticism that is also leveled at military stories set in the real world. There is no doubt that some works that fall into the genre do glorify violence but equally there are works, the Forever War being a good example, that highlight both the personal and social cost of conflict. Much of Military SF that I’ve come across even when extremely gun-ho, has at least brushed across the fact that the passage of war tends to leave devastation in its wake. Not to mention with few exceptions, stories regardless of genre are about human drama, for example Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes was a memoir of the writer’s impoverished upbringing. Would you argue that it shouldn’t read because to do so means the reader is using grinding poverty as a form of entertainment? If we’re going to say that certain parts of the human experience are off limits for fiction because they aren’t nice, well pretty soon we aren’t going to have much to write about.

It was mentioned at Octocon that the recent Hugos/Sad Puppies fuss did see a number of Military SF writers comes down on the Puppies side. I didn’t pay much attention to the Hugos fuss as what little I did hear convinced me early on that the whole thing wasn’t worthy of my time/interest/respect but did seem at the most basic level to be a bit of a political left/right thing. Military SF has a bit of a rep for the writers coming down on the right of the politician spectrum and certainly I know my own politics lean in that direction but Hugos/Sad Puppies is a recent affair while the dismissive attitude to Military SF is much older.

I’ve certainly had it said to my face that Science Fiction in general must my easy because I can make stuff up, I could go into a rant at this point but I think it would probably easier to ask you to imagine a scenario. Imagine saying to someone who’s writing setting is in the contemporary world ‘It must be easy, no imagination or creativity is needed because you can just look stuff up.’ Added to that is the popular conception that action equals dumb. Sure some action can be deeply dumb but is say Saving Private Ryan a big dumb action movie?

So given that every for every weak example of the genre there is a stronger counterpart why does Military SF have such a poor rep? Well lets look at another long disparaged genre – romance. It is huge area with all kinds of sub sections none of which are regarded with much respect. While I don’t write or read in the field, I did hear another writer say at a convention that while Mills and Boon novels are extremely formulaic, if you could write to that formula there was quite a good living to be made*. Like romance, Military SF is very mainstream, so mainstream that it could be described as one of the entry ways into science fiction in general and perhaps it is here we find the answer.

Military SF with its rayguns, space battleships and alien invasions represents the public face of science fiction, the popular perception of what science fiction is. Those of us in the genre are aware that it is much broader with ideas a good deal more subtle than does applying laser cannon A to alien forehead B solve the problem. Those who produce SF without military elements attempts to distance themselves but that I think is counter productive. As public face of science fiction Military SF is a potential entry way, a way to discover the wider world of Science Fiction. For other other branches of SF to try to distance themselves is futile, while rubbishing it becomes a case of stone throwing in glasses houses.

So I think to sum up we shouldn’t be trying to sweep Military SF under carpet, we should be saying yes there is Military SF and so much more as well…

 

 

 

 

 

* I remember being in Chapters a new and second hand bookshop here in Dublin and watching a lady trade in an entire suitcase of romance novel and what was even more amazing was the shop worker, she didn’t even blink, it was not a noteworthy event!

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