Idle Thought …

5 Nov

One of the problems with space opera, particularly books like Ark Royal, is that almost all Great Powers are spacefaring powers by definition. There’s no easy way to represent the differences between – say – the Britain and France of the Napoleonic Wars . A land-based power in space opera would be easy to smash flat, so they are all naval powers. However …

Imagine a universe where many systems are linked together by wormholes (or warp points, whatever.) Maybe some of those wormholes are artificial. Space warfare is based around the warp points, as in the starfire universe … unless you are prepared to spend lots of money on giant FTL ships. On one hand, these ships are staggeringly expensive; on the other, they give you a degree of tactical flexibility no non-FTL ships can match.

How does that sound for a setting?


29 Responses to “Idle Thought …”

  1. Mark November 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    It sound very similar to your Learning Experience setting. If you want land wars then you need some kind of planet to planet gate technology. You can make it restrictive by saying that the first gate to any planet punches through in a random geographic location and all subsequent gate attempts are pulled to that location (path of least resistance).

  2. Rob Godfrey November 5, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    it sounds interesting, hyperspace gates to set destinations or warp speed, taking linger buy arriving without warning anywhere you please.

  3. gregory November 5, 2015 at 5:34 pm #

    Walter Jon Williams solved this in The Praxis Trilogy by making it so that the fleets couldn’t bomb the planet for basically religious reasons. Bombing the centre of power means losing the seat as a symbol of power and that meant a boots on the ground land invasion.

    Philip Richards approach was by taking the fighting subterranean with tunnels that were too deep for orbital strikes.

    Star Wars/ Star Trek solve this by having planetary defence batteries and shields which are orders of magnitude more powerful than those that can be equipped on ships.

    The idea that jump points are economical while FTL ships are expensive makes sense. A minor power might control several lucrative points but lack the resources for FTL ships. Destroying those FTL Warships might prove expensive and as such act as a counter balance to deploying them.

  4. Brad November 5, 2015 at 6:07 pm #

    The FTL vs. stargate/wormhole/warp point has been covered, but I like the expense and artificial warp gate angle. I don’t remember seeing as much of that. I suppose the FTL ships would have to be “Ark Royal” armored and armed to protect the advantage they carried.

    • chrishanger November 5, 2015 at 9:22 pm #


      Thing is, in the real world as it stands, naval powers like the UK (and to some extent the US) were limited in what they could do against land powers like France, Germany, etc. They both needed allies during various wars. However, in a space opera, every Great Power is a naval power by definition. I started wondering what would happen if the universe allowed the growth of FTL ships that played the roles of aircraft carriers.


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      • Duncan Cairncross November 5, 2015 at 9:45 pm #

        Hi Chris

        As I see it if you want “Aircraft carriers” you need
        Offensive power much greater than defensive – so a big “armoured” ship can be killed by an “aircraft”
        The FTL or something requiring that the long distance ships be large

        Given those two an “Aircraft Carrier” is the obvious choice

        In the “Honorverse” it was the change from energy weapons to missiles that allowed the carrier concept

  5. Jack Boone November 5, 2015 at 6:43 pm #


    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Duncan Cairncross November 5, 2015 at 7:36 pm #

    Larry Niven wrote a “paper” a few years (decades?) ago talking about the requirement for limits in SF spaceship abilities
    If a ship can go anywhere it is impossible to defend against it –

    If you want land warfare you need something to prevent somebody from owning the orbitals and simple destroying from orbit

    How about a Dune type shield that only works on the surface of a planet?

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard November 5, 2015 at 7:43 pm #

      The “paper” that I remember was by Jerry Pournelle. [Smile]

      Of course, in Jerry Pournelle’s Co-Dominion universe FTL was across “tram-lines” and the defenders of a Star System always knew *where* a FTL war-ship would appear.

  7. Dennis the Menace November 5, 2015 at 8:33 pm #

    You might want to checkout this book:

    Politics by Other Means
    by Trevor Marsh

    He develops his universe in quite detail about the ramifications you mentioned. Reminded me a lot of your LE series, but on steroids.

  8. Charles Anderson November 5, 2015 at 8:39 pm #

    Have you read Michael McCollums Gibraltar Earth series?

  9. Glen Romero November 5, 2015 at 8:59 pm #

    In the battletech universe there was a treaty that prevented planetary bombardment. There first few interstellar wars killed off most of the scientist and industry base so they almost bombed themselves into the stone age.

  10. George Phillies November 5, 2015 at 10:19 pm #

    Commando Cody, Sky marshal of the universe. Early 50s TV show. A planetary force field “cosmic dust blanket”, though which almost nothing could pass. And spaceships not up to towing rocks.

    In one of my very slowly being written novels, the invaders from another world do not have space travel. They have surface to surface. They do not even have real aircraft, just something more like dirigibles.

    In my Minutegirls novel, you have a choice of slow FTL, natural warp gates that often are intergalactic, or (for one side) surface to surface tunnels that must be towed into position using slow FTL and are no longer the 8LY or so.

  11. Bob G November 5, 2015 at 10:31 pm #

    Wouldn’t fabbers cause a price deflation in all manufactured items including expensive FTL ships? So a real constraint is building fabbers.

  12. Bill Sullivan November 5, 2015 at 11:47 pm #

    Steve White,Michael McCollum, and a few others have done series using this theme. Ships are developed that can bypass warp points at the expense of time. Warp points become fortresses that need to be taken out. Methods of bypassing the points become a holy grail. As to planetary defences perhaps make life bearing worlds rare and covenants have been made to prohibit bombardments.
    Whatever you come up with I am sure it will be interesting.

  13. patdailey November 6, 2015 at 2:42 am #

    I was an Army officer for a long time. All war strategies are based on chock points. Your premise is very valid. Now, look for a way around the chock points like the Germans did in the Ardiennes in WWII. That will make the story.

  14. Anarchymedes November 6, 2015 at 9:25 am #

    It’s an interesting idea for the settings, but… it’s not a story, is it? It’s about how to fight a war — not about who is going to fight it, and why. If I were the author, I’d match the settings to the story, not the other way around (sorry Chris, this was unwarranted: you don’t teach me how to program computers, so I shouldn’t tell you how to write books).
    But while I’m at it, how about trying to find a fresh idea for a conflict? We’ve had a lot of Empire vs. Federation (inspired by the Cold War, no doubt); we’ve had some struggle for independence (Halo, Serenity, and what not); finally, thanks to your very own Angel in the Whirlwind series, Chris, we’ve got pragmatics vs. fanatics. What else is there? How about the creative vs. the thick-headed (The End of Eternity, by Isaac Asimov, comes to mind?) Or the honest vs. the sly? The sincere vs. the hypocrites? That’s not a story either, but a slightly different approach, I hope. After all, someone has said in one of his earlier posts that he’d never stop listening to feedback. 🙂

    • Rob Godfrey November 6, 2015 at 11:43 am #

      how about pragmatist vs pragmatist, give them something that is worth going to war over, and have neither side be that virtuous, or that terrible, and see where that leads.

      • Anarchymedes November 7, 2015 at 4:10 am #

        Yes, that would work, too – although corporate wars have been around in sci-fi for quite a while now as well. Personally, I’m keen to see a work that thinks outside of the box in as many areas as possible: the science, the social dynamics (national states and aristocrats still around in, say, 25th century?), and of course, the fighting: the motives and the means.

        P. S. Should I sit down and write that stuff, instead of, sort of, placing an order for someone else to do it? 🙂

    • Rob Godfrey November 7, 2015 at 10:12 am #

      on the writing it idea: It would make an interesting Role Play Game setting, so maybe getting a system like GURPS and a few players and hammer out the details, if the world holds together for a campaign, it holds together full stop, This btw is how the Malazan series got started Steven Erikson built the world, played it with friends ,and the write ups became the basis for the first few books.

      • Anarchymedes November 7, 2015 at 11:01 am #

        Excellent idea (the RPG trial, I mean). It’s just if I really was to write something, it would not be so much a grand, epic space opera but something a lot more close and personal, so to speak. Think Chronicles of Riddick, or Serenity the movie – or The Stars My Destination, a.k.a. Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester. 🙂 This is my problem with a lot of military sci-fi: they sacrifice the individual and the personal in favour of the ‘big picture.’ So far, Marko Kloos is the only one I know not to be like that. In his books, the politics never leaves the background.

    • Rob Godfrey November 7, 2015 at 11:21 am #

      Look at Eclipse Phase then (If you love small scale stories against a grand background) it is awesome, and they give the PDFs of the books away for free under creative commons.

  15. Mr. T November 6, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    Space craft will allways be staggering expensive. Just think of what an Airbus 380 costs and start multiplying.

    Space craft is to aircraft what a fusion powerplant is to a petrol station as far as cost is concerned.

    The cheap and cheerful spacecraft in SF will never exist. The likelyhood of space pirates is ludicrus. They would never be able to afford parts and the insurance companies and governments would ensure that any attempt on such a career would be brief in the extreme. Any defensive shield would need vast distances to work. Once up close, the one that fires first wins.

    Anything that is armoured would be prohibitively expensive to move. In reality a heavy machine gun would be more than enough for defence. Lasers? Too expensive to fuel for anything but governments.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard November 6, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

      I find the various versions of “will always be” humorous.

      We can find various examples of “will always be” that turned out to be wrong.

      “Battleships will always be unbeatable by aircraft”.

      “The mounted knight will always be unbeatable by infantry”.

      And so on. [Smile]

      • Rob Godfrey November 6, 2015 at 3:35 pm #

        Exactly. The resource base of a star system is insane, add in the great grand children of 3D printing, matter manipulation on a nscale we can’t even properly imagine imho, and a lot of ‘impossible’ becomes trivial.

      • Duncan Cairncross November 6, 2015 at 8:52 pm #

        Re – expensive spacecraft
        Agatha Christie once said
        “I never expected to be so poor that I couldn’t afford a servant, or so rich that I could afford a motor car”

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard November 6, 2015 at 9:02 pm #

        Nod. “Cars will always be too expensive for the common folk to own”. [Wink]

  16. shavenwookiee November 7, 2015 at 9:21 am #

    This is essentially my Nineteen Galaxies universe in a nutshell, where the Linkways are connected to every star system, some near planets, others at the edge of the system depending on the age of the star. Most of the 41st Century era races are relatively new to spacefaring so the Linkways are their interstellar travel, whereas some like the Terrans and the Alliance of Independent Worlds still build FTL into every ship bigger than a fighter as a tactical advantage….

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