A few days ago Linnea Sinclair, author of a series of hard SF romances, (no that's not a paradox) posed this question on the FFandP loop:
Why is the Navy the model for Science Fiction military, not the Air Force ?
I thought about this for a while and came up with the following (non exhaustive) reasons:
1. Long distances = long transit times, logically requiring self-sufficient craft with long linger times, i.e. ships. You can't explore while doing a flyover.
2. Early SF writers, notably E. E. Smith, Heinlein, Asimov, etc., grew up in an era when Naval power was supreme and airplanes had severely limited range. The paradigm stuck.
3. SF writers tend to think of space as the equivalent of the unexplored earth in the age of sail, hence ships. Which is sort of like #1
4. Space, like the ocean, is vast and mostly empty. Important events occur at choke points where adversaries have a compelling interest. (Planetary orbit, Jump points -- Trafalgar, the Tsushima straits.) Forces must go there and stay to project power. Navy business, not Air Force.
5. Ships with crews and long voyages afford more dramatic possibilities.
6. The Navy is neater. (Apologies to all my AFROTC buddies and the USMC)
The earliest writer to envision a believable galaxy spanning civilization was E. E. "Doc" Smith. His 'Lensmen' series inspired the likes of George Lucas and Babylon 5's creator (whose name I can't remember.) It also inspired the very first video game, 'Spacewar,' in which 2 ships try to shoot each other while maneuvering around a star. With gravity. They inspired me too, and I'm sure a whole lot of others.
Well, the point is Smith envisioned huge fleets of ships fighting in 3 dimensional space, (anyone remember the "Cone of Battle?") and such was his influence that the paradigm stuck.
Much SF (notably David Drake's Honor Harrington series) borrows unasamedly from C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower, and the fighting concepts of the age of sail. Others come all the way up to WWII, or as game designer Frank Chadwick commented, "Jutland or Trafalgar with a touch of Midway for spice."
And that brings up the question, with all we know now about string theory, the physics of hyperspace, the alternate world hypothesis and multi dimensional math, what should the model for Science Fiction military be?
Well the answer is obvious. The Navy, of course. It's neater!
I welcome all comments that are fit to print.
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