Tweet of the Day: So it’s Sunday
You know the drill…is that the klaxon and a midshipman saying over the ship’s comms that this is in fact not a drill? Are we not passing through a nebula like it was a fog bank? And why are ships lining up to fire at each other broadside to broadside, at point blank range I may add?
Because Space is an Ocean, or so sci-fi writers like to think. We have adopted all the ocean going tropes to space. Officers have naval ranks, spacecrafts are ships whose names come right out of Jane’s Fighting Ships (such as destroyers, carriers, corvettes, scows, yachts, tankers, etc) or the Age of Sail. There are some similarities, mostly with submarines (and those tropes get scooped up as well, such as the destroyer/sub hunt plot), in that spacecraft have to be completely sealed off from the environment they travel on, space is at a premium, movement is tridimensional and resources are tight.
We can skip over the stealth is space bit,that’s another trope.
Although sci-fi stories in print have used naval tropes almost from the beginning, in television and movies it was Star Trek (with such things as Star Fleet and Starships) that popularized this trope(s). Most TV shows and movies of the 50s and early 60s used Air Force related tropes. It was the USAF (in the West) that had control of nuclear weapons/ballistic missiles/jet technology, the three technologies that were at the bleeding edge. Which lead many to believe that the other two branches of the service (Marines been a part of the Navy although only a USMC recruiter will openly admit that, I think that is the law or something) were outdated and had no place in space. Kirk and his crew changed that even though the series creator’s former experience was as a bomber pilot in world war two (back when it was the Army Air Force).
Cultural osmosis means that trying to subvert this mega-trope will lead as many writers astray as those who follow it casually. While there are many things that flow from one set of tropes (the Ocean part) to the other set (the Space) part, unless you are running exclusively on rule of cool, a bit of research (and a lot of world building) will go a long way. It is very easy, for example to add things like fighters and have them fly in space like they do in atmosphere, or mess up naval ranks or a dozen other things that will irk a purist like me.
Either skim this trope or go full in, half way measure will not cut it.