May 26, 2017, 10:10:54 AM

Author Topic: Space battles: Realistic or light show?  (Read 1295 times)

Online Eli_Freysson

Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« on: October 21, 2015, 06:50:35 PM »
I'm starting my space opera serial, but I'm still wondering what to do about space combat. I was originally just going to go with lasers and missiles for that retro feel, but apparently nothing has the destructive power of a solid object if it is just launched hard enough.

I would appreciate some opinions here. Personally, I just LIKE seeing beams and missiles. I WANT my silly space soldiers to have ray guns. What about you?
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Offline Mr.J

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Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2015, 07:53:49 PM »
I like a stormtrooper pew pew as much as anyone, but there's something quite cool about the way Battlestar Galactica and Firefly/Serenity did space fights. They got a healthy mix of space shit and proper engineering type fighting.
I know they're not books so a completely different medium and therefore not very helpful but hey, that's what I'm here for.  ;)

Offline tebakutis

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Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2015, 07:54:29 PM »
Even hard SF writers will admit that "true to science" space battles are boring and difficult to dramatize in fiction. The fact is, any species that has sufficiently advanced technology to launch warships into space is also going to have sufficiently advanced technology to make battles a fairly boring affair.

Space:
- has no cover (unless you're constantly setting battles in asteroid belts)
- lasers actually suck as weapons (they require enormous power, dissipate over distance, and must focus on a specific location for a period of time to even think about carving through armor - almost impossible)
- allows engagement from massive distances (far beyond visual range, with salvos of missiles or other projecties possibly taking days to reach their targets... assuming that target doesn't move)
- must consider Newtonian physics, especially for larger ships (watch the anime series Knights of Sydonia for some great dramatizations of the sheer chaos unleashed inside a spaceship when you do nothing more than TURN the ship)
- almost certainly *won't* have fighters or fighter pilots (if they have any sort of small craft other than the big ships, they would be drones, which have a vast advantage over any piloted craft in G-forces alone)

And so on. The sad thing is, actual space battle using actual physics is very, very boring. That's why Star Wars has fighters (because fighters are awesome) and those fighters dogfight like WW II airplanes in atmosphere (because that looks cool). Babylon 5 did a slightly better job in envisioning space battles, but even then they made a number of concessions to drama - fighter pilots, engagement within visual range, etc.

If you want a videogame comparison, compare Elite: Dangerous, Star Citizen, Wing Commander, X-Wing, or any of those to something like EVE Online. EVE Online is far closer to "hard SF", while the other games are space opera. You can gauge for yourself which has the more dramatic and interesting space battles.

In my opinion (since you did ask) how you write your space battles depends entirely on whether you want to pitch your book as space opera or hard SF.

If hard SF, do read up on all the physics and theories involved (protip: piloted fighter craft are right out) and focus on making your drama/conflict take place on the bridge, between the officers, so you get great drama based on how people interact with each other, since the space battles will be boring as heck.

If you do space opera, then go nuts with it. Whatever makes it fun - space aircraft carriers, battleships with turrets shooting laser beams at each other broadside, warp drive, aerodynamic fighter craft zipping around in loops, and lasers lasers lasers. In short, anime rules such as "in space, constant thrust = constant velocity".

Once you figure out what type of book you want to write, go with the appropriate space combat drama.
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Offline Raptori

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Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2015, 08:23:33 PM »
What @tebakutis said.

Personally I think I'd enjoy either. The Star Wars style would make the battles themselves more interesting, but a strategic approach could be good.

From what I remember of Shogun, there was very little fighting - even though it was about feudal Japan - and a lot of maneuvering and attempting to out-think the enemy. Having the generals follow the kind of instructions seen in The Art of War (which is short and well worth a read for this) could make for an interesting book imo, even though 90% of the time they'll just be dancing around and maneuvering for position unless they can engage the enemy in a situation where they're guaranteed victory.
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Online Eli_Freysson

Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2015, 08:28:05 PM »
Once you figure out what type of book you want to write, go with the appropriate space combat drama.

Oh, space opera, definitely. I mean, several characters carry swords to battle, after all. :)

Yeah, I'll definitely go with "fun".
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Offline Rostum

Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2015, 08:36:43 PM »
No noise in a vaccuum so no pew pew for you. Combustion is tricky, but not impossible without oxygen.
If you want to get scary research how fires burn in zero G. Not what you want to be trapped on a ship with while it uses up your air supply.

Offline Raptori

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Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2015, 08:38:25 PM »
No noise in a vaccuum so no pew pew for you. Combustion is tricky, but not impossible without oxygen.
If you want to get scary research how fires burn in zero G. Not what you want to be trapped on a ship with while it uses up your air supply.
Of course you can have pew pew battle noises in a vacuum. You just have to use a gun that fires magic.  :P
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Offline Yora

Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2015, 09:03:44 PM »
I really would love to see a movie with realistic space battles. Ships that get hit don't explode but instead keep on drifting in their last direction once the power goes out, with jets of flames coming out of holes for many minutes or even hours, depending on the holes.

But I think generally, Space Opera doesn't care about physics. It's high tech fantasy.
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Offline Elfy

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Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2015, 09:38:43 PM »
No noise in a vaccuum so no pew pew for you. Combustion is tricky, but not impossible without oxygen.
If you want to get scary research how fires burn in zero G. Not what you want to be trapped on a ship with while it uses up your air supply.
Depends on where the battle is taking place. If like in Star Wars it's inside a space station or something with an atmosphere then the sound will exist.
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Offline Yora

Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #9 on: October 21, 2015, 09:58:15 PM »
Inside a space ship would probably be very noisy. Especially when firing railguns or getting hit by anything. Even close by explosions, but they would have to be extremely close in space terms, for the shockwave reaching a ship before the gas thins out to much.
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Offline ClintACK

Re: Space battles: Realistic or light show?
« Reply #10 on: October 21, 2015, 10:43:03 PM »
Going into massive detail about the technology of what's going on is boring.

Warfare using that technology doesn't have to be.

See the early Honor Harrington books (like Honor of the Queen and Short Victorious War) for David Weber managing to make it interesting even with detailed technology and calculating intercept distances and staggering waves of missiles to overwhelm point defenses and yadda, yadda.

But you don't *have* to do that.

Combat with swords and bows can be dramatic and engaging.  So can combat with rifles and bayonets.  Or with a wizard's staff and a ring of flame.  Or with missiles that take twenty hours to reach engagement distances.  Or wooden sailing ships and canons.

Battle is always going to have people in extreme conflict.

A few tech thoughts:

Want that "fighter pilot" feel -- use AI "soldiers" that download copies of themselves into missiles.
Want to justify swords or ray guns?  "Invent" portable defense forcefields that deflect or block bullets.
If you're using rail guns -- remember that the ship that's firing the railgun has the same recoil (action-reaction) as the ship that's hit by the projectile.  Imagine the havoc the gun could cause if the braces and shocks attaching it to the ship fail.  :)

But mostly... Rule of Cool wins.  Tell a cool story.  Don't break the rules you establish within your story, but don't worry too much about explaining *why* microwave ovens can boil water really well but turn a chicken breast into chewy rubber.  Unless that's what your story is about.

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