For some time I have been playing with the idea of writing my own futuristic fantasy stories. This grew from my disappointment in how the stories from a popular sci-fi franchise are written and, in fact, how space operas in general are written. I’d like them to be a bit harder. Not necessarily in the sense of rocket science hard, which is what you may be thinking, but with other plot elements, from warfare, exploration, pacing, economy, the spatial and time span of these stories, the fact that in most you don’t even feel like the vastness of space matters, etc.
I don’t mind FTL travel; if you want to get anywhere in the galaxy you’ll need that. It’s that even when such a plot convenience isn’t necessary or not used, a lot of realistic elements, I would say that even more important than those magical engines, are thrown out of the window too. To give you an example, I don’t mind if ships in Star Wars zip through the galaxy at the speed of the plot using hyperspace, although a bit more consistency would be nice. It puts me off that, when doing non-FTL maneuvers, things still travel at the speed of the plot and writers seem to forget that even in our nearest surrounding space, distances are measured in millions and billions of km. There should be some feeling that crossing those distances is a hard, ponderous effort.
I’m thinking of that scene in The Empire Strikes Back when the first transport ship leaves Hoth: it starts flying and, in what apparently is just a few seconds of time, it’s already in orbit with the planet clearly way below, something that would require an awesome speed (and Star Wars’ ships are notoriously slow since you can watch them fly past you all the time.) It’s a minor issue perhaps, a cinematic license needed to make movies, but still, it’s something that nags at me when I see it in print. And I also wonder if the entire conflict wouldn’t have been better, with greater tension, if the ships had needed minutes, or the entire span of the battle, to flee.
Now, this began as an experiment in how I would deal with military science fiction stories. I realized I would probably write everything differently. And then I thought about other things, like planet ecology, the daily life of people, communications, and… I realized the same thing. So the scope has grown a bit.
Since I’m doing an a-post-a-day-mathon and I have been thinking about basically writing a novel here, I might do that. I might begin to write chapters or scenes, perhaps short stories, connected or not. I already have one in mind, sort of a prequel, pre-warp, in the last years before humanity starts leaving the solar system.
Concerning extrasolar travel, FTL engines, and other characteristics of the setting, a few rules would be followed (although some I’m making them up as I go and this is all in pre-alpha stage):
There will probably be no way to miniaturize the whole warp-drive thing outside precise (and useless) laboratory conditions, so only moderately-sized or big ships will have that capability. Or perhaps it’s doable but it’s seen as an outrageous waste of money.
I still haven’t narrowed down the precise limitations, and perhaps I shouldn’t, but I believe the general idea will be to make warp-travel practically impossible through a body’s Hill Sphere. And the closer you get to that, the worse things will become, perhaps following some sort of inverse-square law. Only the best ships or those with the best “charts” (and that means state-sponsored or members of a merchantile monopoly) would be able to appear, let’s say, near the Lagrangian points 1 & 2, the rest of schmucks will have to warp out way farther.
I still haven’t thought how to justify it, although more likely it will be an expansion of the previous point, but FTL won’t be able to be weaponized. So no warp-boosted suicide bombers, sorry.
Most likely, the fuel & energy for those “jump” would only last long enough for a round trip. The same would apply to conventional fuel sources, so no landing in planet A, then B, then go to the market to buy some apples, jump in the ship and wander around the solar system like you have nothing better to do. As much as possible, and without killing the romance of space adventure if possible, I’d like to keep logistics grounded and restricted.
Private freighters or private ships for the common man? Probably not… but perhaps, and I already have a plot for a story around that issue.
I probably won’t allow antigravity, or it will be severely restricted.
I’m actually not against “magic,” weird dimensions, or space demons coming to rape you through your malfunctioning FTL engine. It won’t be the central plot element of the setting either but a layer of weirdness added on top. As much as possible I’d like to avoid that tendency to make some plot element, technology, or character the center of everything.
I may or may not add Navigator-like characters like in Dune or WH40K. I’m on the fence about that.
Lasers are fine, and other exotic weapons may be considered, but no shafts of light or semi-solid “blasters” that you can see unless that makes sense and seems plausible.
No instantaneous messaging across the galaxy, at least not through conventional means (‘cough’ secret black-ops psychic project ‘cough’)
No boring humans, which means that reckless genetic engineering, subspecies, and mutants should be expected, especially as the timeline advances and humanity disperses and drifts away and apart. Speaking of which, I don’t think there will be human-like aliens. That’s a conceit from sci-fi shows to save on makeup. I’m a writer, not a TV producer; I can make aliens as weird and expensive-looking as I want.
Despite my interest in making the setting feel vast, I don’t like epic quests and plots. I have no plans for “Evil Ones” bent on destroying the galaxy or similar plots that make everything else that is happening secondary and superfluous, and, if I end up doing that (after all, I do like some swarms of space bugs/locusts,) stopping that evil certainly won’t depend on a Chosen One.
Most space operas tend to focus on a single galaxy, as if it where the entire universe, but I wonder if intergalactic travel could be possible somehow…
Little to no hand-to-hand combat unless some strange shield technology is invented. Why charge at someone when you can debrain him from a mile away with you occipital-lobe-linked rail gun?
Invading a planet seems like a waste of resources, setting up a siege seems more logical. Still, if you do invade a planet, the scope of that gargantuan effort should be felt. I have read many stories where invading a planet feels like moving a few regiments across the country to smash a minor revolt.
Speaking of invading planets, unless it’s a recent colony, there won’t be single-city planets, conveniently easy to conquer. Any moderately old and successful colonization effort (centuries-old or millennia-old) should have produced dozens of cities, perhaps even multiple nations, just like Earth. Conquering that, unless one is very efficient (and lucky) or simply uses the old tactic of throwing asteroids at the enemy until they give up, would probably take decades of long, protracted struggle and pacification.
Most people aren’t actually that keen to go into space and those that go there is mostly just to make money and become filthy rich. It’s quite a hostile place, with all that radiation and rumors of giant space slugs.
Highly advanced “ancient” aliens or space elves? Eh, perhaps, but probably not.
Of course, the first story I have come up with happens before warp travel, so… probably most of those points won’t be relevant. Still, here they are.