On Looking to the Past

My interests in science fiction have usually ran to space opera. There’s enjoyment to be had in cyberpunk or more transhumanist tales, or even in just classic, near-future type stories. But my heart belongs to rockets and starships and thousands of worlds and tramp freighters and mighty fleets. C-beams off the Tannhauser Gate and all that.

Further Reading

Of course, if you’re looking at writing anything remotely realistic in science fiction – and space opera can be realistic, to a point – you will find yourself drawn to Atomic Rockets, Winchell Chung’s amazing reference site for realistic rockets to space warfare to future money to remembering to respect science. There’s a few sections primarily for authors which pull out the idea of looking to the past to find ideas and story seeds for science fiction. The biggest one on the site is regarding Faster Than Light communication, referencing the birth of the telegraph and the wonderful book The Victorian Internet. That section got me thinking on avoiding the super common Navy In Space and Free Market Capitalism In Space tropes for space opera. The trick is to be close to original when presenting vastly different expectations while not coming across as preachy.

Let’s Call It A Spacy

In terms of Space Navy, I was leaning toward Space Force, but that’s A. becoming an actual thing and B. becoming a massive joke. The other direction is to just refer to the Fleet, and the various branches: Guard, Patrol, Scout, espatier, gropo. It’s just askew enough to work. Battles would be one on one or small unit, due to other considerations, and resemble more galley warfare or naval conflicts of the Imjin War than Jutland or Leyte Gulf. That’s the framework; it will inevitably be either more 3D in nature (lots of maneuver) or 1D (range uber alles, strategic maneuver over tactical positioning).

Economics and Government

For economics and trade, my interest has been sparked by the idea of Minoan palace economies writ large – think planetary center economy. Wealth goes into Earth, say, and then back out to Mars, the belt, Jupiter. I like this for not being a typical model while also being fraught with issues, downsides and peril, ripe for stories and conflict. Combine that with a interstellar polity, and that led me to the madala system from Southeast Asia, with complex webs of tributary agreements and zones of control.

Already I have some worldbuilding done, just by combining those two ideas. Here’s the Fleet, an organization that can’t be everywhere at once in force, maintaining control and exchange of “gifts” and tribute from client states. Would the fleet be involved between a war of two clients? Is there another polity willing to exploit the thin-ness of Fleet coverage in these ares? Something, maybe, like a Sea Peoples (Space Peoples?) invading systems, spreading panic that this polity of worlds just can’t live up to the vassal/lord arrangement anymore?

Eli Jones avatar
Eli Jones
Eli Jones is a spectulative fiction writer and data analyst living in the Cascadia Bioregion.