Guest Post: The Limits of an Analogy, or How Billy Mitchell might not be right INNN SPAAACE…

29 Oct

By Matthew W. Quinn

One rule of Internet discourse that it’s wise to follow is to avoid reading the comments. There, protected by anonymity, all sorts of ugly commentary tends to flourish. If you value having a positive view of humanity, by all means stay away.

However, occasionally one can learn from the comments section. Awhile back, Chris was so gracious as to host a guest post promoting my Kindle Worlds novella "Ten Davids, Two Goliaths," set in Lindsay Buroker’s Fallen Empire universe. I related the Alliance strategy depicted in that story to Billy Mitchell’s thesis on air power trumping capital ships and cited the case of Operation Ten-Go in which dozens of American carrier aircraft sank the Japanese super-battleship Yamato and several of its escorts, killing thousands of Japanese at a cost of a dozen or so of their own.

Well, not everybody agreed with my argument. The gentleman (or lady) whose handle was Pyo pointed out that the distances involved in space battle are vastly larger than those in an oceanic battle. A space-opera setting will also feature vastly more advanced sensory technology to track incoming enemies and combat in space lacks the drag imposed by water or even air that contribute to a capital ship being less maneuverable than a fighter. Pyo also pointed other variables like energy shields, rapid-firing point-defense weapons, etc. that wouldn’t have been a factor in WWII naval battles. The user whose handle is Tim pointed out that PT boats are the same size as aircraft and were much less maneuverable on the water. In a space battle all vessels are maneuvering in the same medium, depriving aircraft of that advantage.

Pyo in particular made a very good point, which I responded to by citing the example of Battlestar Galactica. Multiple capital ships bunched together could create a very effective flak barrier, while energy shields make it so you’d need many torpedo hits, not just one or two, to actually inflict damage. That’s one reason the Cylons resorted to trickery (human-appearing infiltrators, hacking and disabling ships) as much as they did in the Second Cylon War–disrupting the flak barrier, even for a moment, would be necessary for their missile-spam strategy to bear fruit. And in an environment without drag, a capital ship’s much larger power-plant could make it far more faster and maneuverable in relationship to attacking fighter-craft than an earthbound battleship would be against torpedo bombers.

All those factors come into play in my newest Fallen Empire Kindle Worlds novella, "Discovery and Flight." The story takes place before and after Buroker’s short story "Remnants," which you can find in the You Are Here short-story collection. "Remnants" describes the Alliance having to evacuate one of its bases after fending off an Imperial assault that devastates its fleet. "Discovery" tells the tale of that battle and how much more difficult the Alliance’s fighter-heavy space force would find multiple Imperial capital ships supporting each other against torpedo barrages instead of the two Imperial cruisers they managed to separate in "Ten Davids."

So if you want to see more of Lieutenants Geun Choi and Tamara Watson–along with the canon characters Alisa Marchenko and Bradford Tomich–or just want a fun military scifi/space-opera story, check out "Discovery and Flight."

20 Responses to “Guest Post: The Limits of an Analogy, or How Billy Mitchell might not be right INNN SPAAACE…”

  1. allyk October 29, 2017 at 11:44 am #

    big ships aren’t less maneuverable because of air/water resistance but because of momentum

    • gfyork October 29, 2017 at 2:42 pm #

      This! (Although I was thinking, “What about inertia?” ) G.

      • sam57l0 October 30, 2017 at 2:12 am #

        A battleship will require MUCH more energy to change course and velocity.

    • Thomas Tomiczek October 30, 2017 at 9:11 am #

      Actually no. You will find that Mass is a constant in many elements – including power plant output. As long as you keep power/weight identical, momentum does not come into play as differentiating factor. That said, short term attack craft naturally have a better ratio than long term “floating bases”.

      • allyk October 30, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

        > As long as you keep power/weight identical

        which of course is impossible due to the various scaling laws

        even if you somehow did manage that, it would have the range, armor and ammunition capacity of a fighter

        i guess if you had ultra carriers to carry your battleships to the fight . . . .

  2. Pyo October 29, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

    Goals in life:
    [x] Get a Christmas card that simultaneously congratulatory, but also criticizing
    [_] Eat ice cream until throwing up
    [X] Get personal mention in a blog post


    Joking aside, I totally coincidentally got in another “how would space fights be?” discussion elsewhere, and was pointed to this Space Warfare video (assuming utub links are allowed):

    It’s a nice summary. Makes a lot of points discussed here, too.

    And of course also a similar conclusion: we can’t really know.

    • Matthew W Quinn October 29, 2017 at 2:23 pm #

      Thanks for the post. I’ve got a lot of teacher work to do today, so I’ll need to check it out later.

    • Paul W October 29, 2017 at 6:36 pm #

      Micro black hole bullets . Don’t think I have every read anyone using those in fiction.

      • Pyo October 29, 2017 at 7:11 pm #

        The problematic thing with stuff like that – I mean it just sounds so implausible. Even if it makes sense.

        As an anecdote: I recently read some adventure sort-of story that took place about ~5000BC. So everybody was just kinda figuring out this entire agrarian society thing and such in Europe.

        Now, the here’s two things: the heroine encountered darker skinned people in the North, and lighter skinned people in the South. This seemed counter-intuitive to me, and I would have assumed the author accidentally mixed up something.

        Likewise, she crosses the English Channel in a holed-out tree (can’t even call that a boat, really). Again, I thought, that’s crazy. Surely that wouldn’t work (unless you are exceptionally lucky).

        Luckily, in this case the story was well-commented by the author (I think it was more meant as some type of education/fiction mix). So, they explained that the change in diet and going from hunting to farming probably caused Europeans to lose their darker skin, and since agrarian practices spread from the South, it stood to reason that people there would go pale sooner.

        Likewise, at the time the plot took place, the Dogger Bank had just sunk, which worked as some type of underwater wave-breaker and most likely the Channel at that time was much calmer than it’s nowadays (also different shores).

        So, the author did everything right, and I would have been wrong. Maybe other readers would have known that stuff, I don’t know. But I would have wondered about it while reading, distracting myself from the story. And unlike in that case huge explanations aren’t always an option.

        And I think that’s another challenge when caring about doing scifi (in general or battles) right: you might do all the research in the world and get all the facts straight insofar as they are available, and you might still fail to convince the reader because maybe a meson beam killing people inside armored ships sounds too crazy, too much like space-magic and not enough like science. Even if maybe it isn’t.

        Very troublesome, all around, this entire business ^^

      • utabintarbo October 30, 2017 at 3:12 pm #

        See The Legacy Fleet Series by Nick Webb. Not exactly “micro black hole bullets”, but pretty similar.

      • Stuart the Viking November 2, 2017 at 8:51 pm #

        Pyo: “So, the author did everything right, and I would have been wrong.”

        Precisely the reason I prefer not to think too hard when reading, and just enjoy the story. Maybe I’m smarter than the author, maybe I’m not. I have no way to know which. So instead of ruining the experience for myself, I allow for artistic license / possibility of greater knowledge and just enjoy.

        That said, I have read a few books that were so stupid that they completely destroyed suspension of disbelief to a point that I have just had to say “NO”. Hey, nobody’s perfect.

      • Pyo November 3, 2017 at 8:19 am #

        Yeah, I try the same. Not just for scifi, but also mysteries and so on. I don’t sit down at chapter 7 and make some chart on the clues etc and decide whether this all makes sense or not.

        But, like you say, sometimes – I recently read a novel where some aliens from three galaxies! away came to earth to kill the human heroine. Apparently they have some type of seers who had a vision of humans killing them all. So to prevent this, this pacifistic people decided to kill one human.

        Alright, fine, but how was humanity going to kill them? Apparently, the heroine was going to become President of the US, put all nuclear weapons on Earth on some space ship, and send it into space. And it would have crashed into the alien planet killing everybody.

        This is ridiculous on so many levels I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s current tech earth, by the way. And even if I buy into the entire ship-somehow-flies-three-galaxies-and-hits-precisely-that-planet argument, and that an US president somehow convinces everyone on Earth to abandon nuclear weapons, the aliens are supposedly super-pacifistic. So maybe just ask the humans to point their ship somewhere else, like into the nearest sun?

        Urk. So, there, a case where both the science and the character motivations make zero sense. And that’s just bad, frankly. The rest of the story wasn’t actually so bad, but with something like that hanging over it?! I can’t turn off my brain that much 😉

    • Paul W October 29, 2017 at 7:10 pm #

      What I also found interesting that he didn’t mention is that if you fire any projectile with any real mass in relation to the space vessel you are in effect lighting off a maneuvering engine that is pushing the ship in the opposite direction. Newtons Third Law. So how practical is any form of gun? And if you where able to make guns work by firing off a counter thrust in opposite direction any missed bullets would be a hazard to navigation for the foreseeable future.

      Magic in “Science Fiction”:
      -Shields: No know path to creating them.
      -Field effect Gravity: No know way to flip a switch to create gravity. Centrifugal force and strait line acceleration is it.
      -Field effect anti-gravity: same as above.
      -FTL Drive: maybe alcubierre-white drive but most FTL drives do not come close to being this.

      So in many ways Emily’s world has a better chance of exploring their stars than we do.

      • Big Ben October 29, 2017 at 11:24 pm #

        Years ago I read one of those great phrases that have stuck with me long after I forgot where I read it …
        “Science is simply magic that can be reliably duplicated.”

        You’re absolutely right that Emily could travel and work in space much easier than most.
        Teleportation (possibly boosted by her magical batteries to increase distance) … isn’t teleportation in the SIM universe pretty close to FTL travel?
        A combat-style impermeable shield bubble could let you walk around on the moon in your street clothes.
        I forget the details about the pocket dimension traveling trunk, but they seemed to cancel out all those pesky details of mass, inertia, etc. Pack a years worth of supplies and consumables into one, hoist it on your shoulder and you’re off on your next adventure.

        Fun stuff to ponder …

      • Vapori October 31, 2017 at 12:16 pm #

        I would certainly go for a SIM in space kind of book.

      • Matthew W Quinn November 1, 2017 at 12:03 am #

        In an unfinished space opera project, I have magnets in the floors and ceilings being used to simulate gravity. It can also be turned off and on.

  3. Bob October 29, 2017 at 7:52 pm #

    I found the debate on capital ships versus fighters both amusing and inciteful. But I found the thought that capital ships could negate some of the maneuvering potential of smaller craft to be of wishful thinking. Admittantly friction would no longer play a part but mass versus power would. The mass to weight ratio of fighters are significantly higher than say a bomber. Cost versus firepower, quantity, and time to design and build will also play roles. I could bring up a host of other reasons but the point of all this is to put a facade of believability with what we know now into a good story without pinning the author down too much.

    • Thomas Tomiczek October 30, 2017 at 9:15 am #

      it is also about specialization. A fighter will be “limited duration, no spare parts”. Optimized for compat potential. A base ship needs a lot more “non combat” weight. Long term supplies, spare parts, repair parts, lot more fuel (endurance) than a fighter that will go home after dropping the weapons.

  4. Vapori October 31, 2017 at 1:44 pm #

    I think a it’s a kinda stupid concept anyway, of course you usually have some focus point in your military.. Like fleet carriers and air superiority for the USA today. Tank Spearheads for the german in WW2 .. large batteries of heavy artillery in ww1 etc in but usually you would use many kins of weapon not just the one you focus on. Different ships for different tasks.

    For example one wouldn’t patrol the small mining operations in the asteroid belt with capital ships. (one dragon can not hold down a 1000 snakes as the Chinese say.)

    But guarding the periphery of a denslie populated planet or a cloud scope or any other form of mega structure and you would sure as hell want capital ships packing a lot of fire power to guard them.

    Space is big and still there are only a few structures to that have to be guarded. and sealth works purly in space.

    • Matthew W Quinn November 1, 2017 at 12:06 am #

      Pretty sure stealth actually doesn’t work in space, since it’s very cold and your drive signature could be seen a long ways off. Buroker’s world has got some kind of stealth-tech that works in space, but I’ve written that off as something that gives the Imperial admiral headaches.

      (AKA I can’t think of a plausible explanation right now and it’d probably be very complicated anyway.)

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