GorT has a number of favorite genres for fiction which include mysteries (particularly British characters such as P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh series, Sarah Caudwell’s Hilary Tamar series and Deborah Crombie’s Kincaid/James series, but also some other sub-genres), British naval historical fiction (Hornblower, Ramage, Bolitho, etc.) and various science fiction (Orson Scott Card, Asimov, Niven, Zelazny). It is impressive when you see authors borrow from one genre and successfully carry over into another. A recent article I was reading reminded me of this.
First, the article. Michael Peck in Foreign Policy spoke with Chris Weuve, a naval analyst, former U.S. Naval War College research professor, and an ardent science fiction fan about space warfare and its similarities an differences from Earth-based combat. The interview is interesting (at least to me) with notables like:
Science fiction authors and moviemakers tend to gravitate towards historical models they — and their audience — understand. So, sometimes you end up with “submarines in space” — but a submarine is a vessel designed to hide under the water, which obscures your vision and forces you to use capricious sensors like sonar. Space, on the other hand, is wide open, and any ship putting out enough heat to keep its crew alive stands out from the background, if you have enough time to look. Other times we get “dreadnoughts in space,” with gunnery duels like Jutland — but again, hiding is hard, so this battle should take place at extreme range. Or you get “airplanes in space,” which largely ignores that airplanes work in the real world because they take advantage of the fact that air and sea have different attributes.
All of these models are fun, and some work better than others, but they all present space combat in a way that doesn’t really fit with the salient attributes of space.
and he does touch on which movies and TV shows translate well and not so well:
Babylon 5 was closer [to handling the physics of changing directions in space] in that it understood that there is no air in space and you don’t bank. But even on that show, the ships would be under thrust, and then they decide to go back the way they come, they would spin around and almost immediately start going in the opposite direction. That doesn’t work. They ignored the fact that acceleration is cumulative. But I do like that they can rotate in flight and fire sideways. Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galactica are far and away the best in trying to portray vector physics. There are a lot of problems with the way they do it, but I’m willing to give them an A for effort.
… the new Battlestar Galactica is probably the best at depicting life on board a ship. That ship is very spacious compared to a U.S. Navy warship, but the inside of it looks correct.
There are so many that are so bad. Star Warsis probably the worst. There is no explanation for why X-Wings [fighters] do what they do, other than the source material is really Zeroes [Japanese fighter planes] from World War II. Lucas quite consciously copied World War II fighter combat. He basically has said they analyzed World War II movies and gun camera footage and recreated those shots.
I recommend reading the whole interview – it’s not too long and it brings up some interesting points.
Now back to the fiction. There is a series that, if Chris Weuve hasn’t read, I would strongly encourage it, as I think it portrays space combat, including logistics, physics, ship-board life, and general military politics pretty darn well. That series is the Honor Harrington series by David Weber. He consciously patterned the female main character, Honor Harrington, after C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower. The combat translates as realistic, nasty, and deadly as was 18th century naval combat in the ocean. It would be interesting to see someone attempt a movie based on the books as, if it stayed true to the books, it would represent a departure from the mainstream SciFi space wars that we’re all used to seeing.