Space warfare in fiction

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Space warfare has served as a central theme within the science-fiction genre. One can trace its roots back to classical times, and to the "future war" novels of the nineteenth century. [1] An interplanetary, or more often an interstellar or intergalactic war, has become a staple plot device in space operas. Space warfare has a predominant role in military science fiction but is not believed[ by whom? ] to be a realistic possibility because of the distances involved and the logistical impracticalities. [2]

Space warfare is combat that takes place in outer space. The scope of space warfare therefore includes ground-to-space warfare, such as attacking satellites from the Earth, as well as space-to-space warfare, such as satellites attacking satellites.

Genre is any form or type of communication in any mode with socially-agreed upon conventions developed over time. Genre is most popularly known as a category of literature, music, or other forms of art or entertainment, whether written or spoken, audio or visual, based on some set of stylistic criteria, yet genres can be aesthetic, rhetorical, communicative, or functional. Genres form by conventions that change over time as cultures invent new genres and discontinue the use of old ones. Often, works fit into multiple genres by way of borrowing and recombining these conventions. Stand-alone texts, works, or pieces of communication may have individual styles, but genres are amalgams of these texts based on agreed-upon or socially inferred conventions. Some genres may have rigid, strictly adhered-to guidelines, while others may show great flexibility.

An interstellar war involves a warfare between combatants from different planetary systems. The concept provides a common plot device in science fiction, especially in the space opera subgenre. In contrast, the term intergalactic war refers to war between combatants from different galaxies; interplanetary war refers to war between combatants from different planets of the same solar system.




In his second-century satire True History , Lucian of Samosata depicts an imperial war between the king of the Sun and the king of the Moon over the right to colonise the Morning Star. It is the earliest known work of fiction to address the concept. [3]

Venus Second planet from the Sun in the Solar System

Venus is the second planet from the Sun, orbiting it every 224.7 Earth days. It has the longest rotation period of any planet in the Solar System and rotates in the opposite direction to most other planets. It does not have any natural satellites. It is named after the Roman goddess of love and beauty. It is the second-brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon, reaching an apparent magnitude of −4.6 – bright enough to cast shadows at night and, rarely, visible to the naked eye in broad daylight. Orbiting within Earth's orbit, Venus is an inferior planet and never appears to venture far from the Sun; its maximum angular distance from the Sun (elongation) is 47.8°.

Future war: the precursor to space warfare

The first "future war" story was George T. Chesney's "The Battle of Dorking," a story about a British defeat after a German invasion of Britain, published in 1871 in Blackwood's Magazine . Many such stories were written prior to the outbreak of World War I. George Griffith's The Angel of the Revolution (1892) featured self-styled "Terrorists" armed with then-nonexistent arms and armour such as airships, submarines, and high explosives. The inclusion of yet-nonexistent technology became a standard part of the genre. Griffith's last "future war" story was The Lord of Labour, written in 1906 and published in 1911, which included such technology as disintegrator rays and missiles. [4]

George Tomkyns Chesney British Army general

Sir George Tomkyns Chesney, was a British Army general, politician, and writer of fiction. He is remembered as the author of the novella The Battle of Dorking (1871), a founding work in the genre of invasion literature.

<i>Blackwoods Magazine</i> British magazine

Blackwood's Magazine was a British magazine and miscellany printed between 1817 and 1980. It was founded by the publisher William Blackwood and was originally called the Edinburgh Monthly Magazine. The first number appeared in April 1817 under the editorship of Thomas Pringle and James Cleghorn. The journal was unsuccessful and Blackwood fired Pringle and Cleghorn and relaunched the journal as Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine under his own editorship. The journal eventually adopted the shorter name and from the relaunch often referred to itself as Maga. The title page bore the image of George Buchanan, a 16th-century Scottish historian.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

H. G. Wells' novel The War of the Worlds inspired many other writers to write stories of alien incursions and wars between Earth and other planets, and encouraged writers of "future war" fiction to employ wider settings than had been available for "naturalistic" fiction. Wells' several other "future war" stories included the atomic war novel The World Set Free (1914) [4] and "The Land Ironclads," which featured a prophetic description of the tank, albeit of an unfeasibly large scale. [5]

H. G. Wells Science fiction writer from England

Herbert George Wells was an English writer. He was prolific in many genres, writing dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, satire, biography, and autobiography, and even including two books on recreational war games. He is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called a "father of science fiction", along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.

<i>The War of the Worlds</i> novel by H. G. Wells

The War of the Worlds is a science fiction novel by English author H. G. Wells, first serialised in 1897 by Pearson's Magazine in the UK and by Cosmopolitan magazine in the US. The novel's first appearance in hardcover was in 1898 from publisher William Heinemann of London. Written between 1895 and 1897, it is one of the earliest stories to detail a conflict between mankind and an extraterrestrial race. The novel is the first-person narrative of both an unnamed protagonist in Surrey and of his younger brother in London as southern England is invaded by Martians. The novel is one of the most commented-on works in the science fiction canon.

Alien invasion common theme in science fiction stories and film

The alien invasion or space invasion is a common feature in science fiction stories and film, in which extraterrestrials invade the Earth either to exterminate and supplant human life, enslave it under an intense state, harvest people for food, steal the planet's resources, or destroy the planet altogether.

Space opera

The modern form of space warfare in science fiction, in which mobile spaceships battle both planets and one another with destructive superweapons, appeared with the advent of space opera. Garrett P. Serviss' 1898 newspaper serial "Edison's Conquest of Mars" was inspired by Wells and intended as a sequel to "Fighters from Mars," an un-authorized and heavily altered Edisonade version of The War of the Worlds [6] [ full citation needed ] in which the human race, led by Thomas Edison, pursues the invading Martians back to their home planet. David Pringle considers Serviss' story to be the very first space opera, although the work most widely regarded as the first space opera is E. E. "Doc" Smith's The Skylark of Space . It and its three successor novels exemplify the present form of space warfare in science fiction, as giant spaceships employ great ray guns that send bolts of energy across space to shatter planets in a war between humans and alien species. [7] [8]

Space opera subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes romantic, often focused on adventures

Space opera is a subgenre of science fiction that emphasizes space warfare, melodramatic adventure, interplanetary battles, chivalric romance, and risk-taking. Set mainly or entirely in outer space, it usually involves conflict between opponents possessing advanced abilities, futuristic weapons, and other sophisticated technology. The term has no relation to music, but is instead a play on the terms "soap opera" and "horse opera", the latter of which was coined during the 1930s to indicate clichéd and formulaic Western movies. Space operas emerged in the 1930s and continue to be produced in literature, film, comics, television and video games.

<i>Edisons Conquest of Mars</i> book by Garrett P. Serviss

Edison's Conquest of Mars is an 1898 science fiction novel by American astronomer and writer Garrett P. Serviss. It was written as a sequel to Fighters from Mars, an unauthorized and heavily altered version of H. G. Wells's The War of the Worlds. It has a place in the history of science fiction for its early employment of themes and motifs that later became staples of the genre.

"Edisonade" is a term, coined in 1993 by John Clute in his and Peter Nicholls' The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, for fictional stories about a brilliant young inventor and his inventions, many of which would now be classified as science fiction. This subgenre started in the Victorian and Edwardian eras and had its apex of popularity during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other related terms for fiction of this type include scientific romances. The term is an eponym, named after famous inventor Thomas Edison, formed in the same way the term "Robinsonade" was formed from Robinson Crusoe.

David Weber's Honorverse novels present a view of space warfare that simply transplants the naval warfare of Horatio Nelson and Horatio Hornblower into space. The space navy battle tactics in the Honorverse are much like those of Nelson, with the simple addition of a third dimension. [9]

David Weber 20th and 21st-century American science fiction and fantasy author

David Mark Weber is an American science fiction and fantasy author. He has written several science-fiction and fantasy books series, the best known of which is the Honor Harrington science-fiction series. His first novel, which he worked on with Steve White, sold in 1989 to Baen books. Baen remains Weber's major publisher.

Honorverse fictional universe

The Honorverse refers to the military science fiction book series, its two sub-series, two prequel series, and anthologies created by David Weber and published by Baen Books. They are centered on the space navy career of the principal protagonist Honor Harrington. The books have made The New York Times Best Seller list.

Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson Royal Navy Admiral

Vice Admiral Horatio Nelson, 1st Viscount Nelson, 1st Duke of Bronté, was a British flag officer in the Royal Navy. He was noted for his inspirational leadership, grasp of strategy, and unconventional tactics, which together resulted in a number of decisive British naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He was wounded several times in combat, losing the sight in one eye in Corsica and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He was shot and killed during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the port city of Cádiz in 1805.

Late 20th century depictions

More recent depictions of space warfare departed from the jingoism of the pulp science fiction of the 1930s and 1940s. Joe Haldeman's The Forever War , was partly a response to or a rebuttal of Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers , wherein space warfare involved the effects of time dilation and resulted in the alienation of the protagonists from the human civilization on whose behalf they were fighting. [10] [11] [ clarification needed ] Both novels have in the past been required reading at the United States Military Academy.[ citation needed ]

Science fiction writers from the end of World War II onwards have examined the morality and consequences of space warfare. With Heinlein's Starship Troopers are A. E. van Vogt's "War against the Rull" (1959) and Fredric Brown's "Arena" (1944). Opposing them are Murray Leinster's "First Contact" (1945), Barry Longyear's "Enemy Mine," Kim Stanley Robinson's "The Lucky Strike," Connie Willis' "Schwarzchild Radius," and John Kessel's "Invaders." [11] [ clarification needed ] In Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game , the protagonist wages war remotely, with no realization that he is doing so.

Several writers in the 1980s were accused of writing fiction as part of a propaganda campaign in favour of the Strategic Defense Initiative. Ben Bova's 1985 novel Privateers has been given as an example. [11] [12]

Television and film

Early television productions such as Captain Video and His Video Rangers (1949) were severely constrained by the available special effects technology, and effect sequences were typically difficult to set up. This, combined with the fact that early shows were often live productions, meant that space action sequences were usually short and simple. [13]

Production techniques improved throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and most programming moved to pre-recorded productions. This allowed more complex effects to be used, and increased the ability of producers to show action sequences such as space warfare. Star Trek is from this period. While the future presented in the original Star Trek series was not one of open warfare, the machinery of war was ever present, and was used in many episodes. Ships carried missiles armed with antimatter warheads, known as "photon torpedoes", and deflector shields for defense. Battles were shown on screen, but the expense and difficulty of advanced special effects meant that most battles were short and involved few craft. The costs of special effects dropped dramatically over the years, but remained high enough that larger battles showed relatively few ships firing and/or being hit.[ citation needed ] Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993) used computer graphics developed in part by Industrial Light & Magic, and could show battles between numerous classes of ships using tactics developed by military strategists.

George Lucas' 1977 film Star Wars broke new ground in its depiction of space warfare. Advances in technology, combined with the film's comparatively high budget, allowed Lucas to create long, complex space action sequences. The battle sequences were modeled after World War II-era dogfighting from films such as The Dam Busters , and were a major milestone in fictional space combat.

A number of more ambitious films and television series soon followed, including ABC's Battlestar Galactica (1978). Battlestar Galactica used expensive effects influenced by those of Lucas' film and followed his lead in concentrating on battles between starfighters. It, and contemporary shows such as Buck Rogers in the 25th Century , set new standards in television space battles. [14] The series primarily used laser-type energy weapons in defense and offence on battleships, [15] although analogues to ballistic weaponry are present in several episodes. [16] The 2003 "re-imagining" of Battlestar Galactica uses more conventional weaponry, such as guns and missiles mounted on the primary capital ships and starfighters, and use pure Newtonian physics to achieve a more realistic representation of how space warfare would actually appear. [17]

James Cameron's Aliens , the 1986 sequel to the 1979 film Alien , used Starship Troopers as the basis for its futuristic military.[ citation needed ] The movie involves a small unit of the United States Colonial Marine Corps who provide emergency response to a planetary colony in 2179. The film showed futuristic twists on many modern types of military vehicle and gear, including a dropship, 10x25mm caseless "Pulse" M41A1 rifles, flamethrowers and machine guns, and realistic body armor and tactical equipment.

The 1993 television series Babylon 5 chronicled a turbulent time in galactic politics, which involved several inter-species wars. Political and humanitarian aspects were explored, such as atrocities against civilian populations, and telepathy was used as a weapon. The series made an attempt to faithfully depict the physics of combat in a vacuum, instead of using motion modelled on aeroplanes within our atmosphere.[ citation needed ]

The 1995 American TV series Space: Above and Beyond centered around the "Wildcards", a group of marines in the 2060s who serve as both infantry and fighter pilots. The show attempted to depict technology that was near-future, but based on research. It also explored the alienation of deep space warfare, the horrors of loss and survival on the battefield, the bonds that form in combat, and a fight against an enemy of which they knew little. Space: Above and Beyond differs from many other military science fiction works in that its soldiers use weapons that fire bullets, and fight in space suits in alien environments.[ citation needed ]

The British TV series Doctor Who , has numerous instances of this. Frontier in Space , set in 2540, mentions a war between Earth and Draconia, fought 20 years earlier. This story involves renegade Time Lord the Master trying to start another war on behalf of the Daleks, who plan to conquer the Galaxy. The Time War is a major plot point in the revived series, during which the Time Lords, the species of the Doctor, fought the Daleks. This war seems to have ended with the destruction of the Time Lord planet Gallifrey, which the Doctor did hoping the Daleks would also be destroyed.



Usually, lasers are used rather than bullets. An August 1939 Astounding Science-Fiction issue consisted of an article written by Willy Ley claimed that bullets would be a more effective weapon in a real space battle.

Destruction of planets and stars

Destruction of planets and stars has been a frequently used aspect of interstellar warfare since the Lensman series. [18] [ better source needed ] This is not a realistic capability, as it has been calculated that a force on the order of 1032 joules of energy, or roughly the total output of the sun in a week, would be required to overcome the gravity that holds together an Earth-sized planet. [19] [20] The destruction of Alderaan in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope is estimated to require 1.0 × 1038 joules of energy, millions of times more than would be necessary to break the planet apart at a slower rate. [21]

Fictional space warfare tends to borrow elements from naval warfare. David Weber's Honorverse series of novels portrays several "space navies" such as the Royal Manticoran Navy, which imitate themes from Napoleonic-era naval warfare. [22] [ better source needed ] [23] [ better source needed ] [24] [ better source needed ] The Federation Starfleet (Star Trek), Imperial Navy (Star Wars) Alliance Navy (Mass Effect) and Earthforce (Babylon 5) also use a naval-style rank-structure and hierarchy. The former is based on the United States Navy and the Royal Navy. [25] The United Nations Space Command in Halo fully echoes all ranks of the United States armed forces, even the pay-grade system. Naval ship-classes such as frigate or destroyer sometimes serve as marker to show how the craft are assembled and their designed purpose.

Some fictional universes have different implementations. The Colonial Fleet in Battlestar Galactica uses a mixture of army and navy ranks, and the Stargate universe has military spacecraft under the control of modern air forces, and uses air-force ranks. In the Andromeda universe, officers of Systems Commonwealth ships follow naval ranking, but Lancers (soldiers analogous to Marines) use army ranks.

See also

Related Research Articles

Battlestar Galactica is an American science fiction media franchise created by Glen A. Larson. The franchise began with the original television series in 1978 and was followed by a short-run sequel series, a line of book adaptations, original novels, comic books, a board game, and video games. A re-imagined version of Battlestar Galactica aired as a two-part, three-hour miniseries developed by Ronald D. Moore and David Eick in 2003. That miniseries led to a weekly television series, which aired until 2009. A prequel series, Caprica, aired in 2010.

Resistance may refer to:

Military science fiction science fiction subgenre

Military science fiction is a subgenre of science fiction that features the use of science fiction technology, mainly weapons, for military purposes and usually principal characters that are members of a military organization involved in military activity; occurring sometimes in outer space or on a different planet or planets. It exists in literature, comics, film, and video games.

Weapons in science fiction

Strange and exotic weapons are a recurring feature or theme in science fiction. In some cases, weapons first introduced in science fiction have now been made a reality. Other science fiction weapons remain purely fictional, and are often beyond the realms of known physical possibility.

Richard Hatch (actor) American actor

Richard Lawrence Hatch was an American actor, writer and producer. Hatch began his career as a stage actor, before moving on to television work in the 1970s. Hatch is best known for his role as Captain Apollo in the original Battlestar Galactica television series. He is also widely known for his role as Tom Zarek in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica.

U.S. television science fiction is a popular genre of television in the United States that has produced many of the best-known and most popular science fiction shows in the world. Most famous of all, and one of the most influential science-fiction series in history, is the iconic Star Trek and its various spin-off shows, which comprise the Star Trek franchise. Other hugely influential programs have included the 1960s anthology series The Twilight Zone, the internationally successful The X-Files, and a wide variety of television movies and continuing series for more than half a century.

Ronald D. Moore Screenwriter and television producer

Ronald Dowl Moore is an American screenwriter and television producer. He is best known for his work on Star Trek; on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica television series, for which he won a Peabody Award; and on Outlander, based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon.

Battlestar (fictional spacecraft) fictional spacecraft

Battlestars are capital ships from the science fiction universe of Battlestar Galactica, depicted in the original Battlestar Galactica movie and series, the Galactica 1980 spinoff, and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series.

Battlestar Galactica is a space battleship in the original and re-imagined science fiction television series Battlestar Galactica. In the series, the Twelve Colonies built approximately 120 Battlestars during their thousand-year war with the Cylons, whose own battleships are known as Basestars.

Battlestar and similar may refer to:

<i>Battlestar Galactica</i> (1978 TV series) American science fiction television series of the 1970s

Battlestar Galactica is an American science fiction television series, created by Glen A. Larson, that began the Battlestar Galactica franchise. Starring Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict, it ran for the 1978–79 season before being canceled. Afterward, a write-in campaign revived the show as Galactica 1980 with 10 episodes in 1980.

Commander Adama is a fictional character in the 1978 movie and subsequent ABC television series Battlestar Galactica and its continuation series, Galactica 1980.

The Colonial Viper is a spacecraft in the Battlestar Galactica science-fiction franchise. It is the primary fighter spacecraft type used by the human protagonists in this fictional universe. Appearing in both the 1978 original series and the 2003 reimagined series, as well as various derivative works, the single-pilot spacecraft are carried aboard Battlestar Galactica and are the humans' main tools of defense against the universe's antagonists - the cybernetic Cylon race.

Cylon (1978)

Cylons are a fictional race of robots in the original Battlestar Galactica TV series. They are the primary antagonists of the series and are at war with the Twelve Colonies of humanity. The Cylons also appeared in the short-lived 1980 spin-off series Galactica 1980.

Supernovae in works of fiction often serve as plot devices.


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  9. Jas Elsner, Joan-Pau Ribiés (1999). Voyages and Visions: Towards a Cultural History of Travel. Reaktion Books. p. 264. ISBN   1-86189-020-6.
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  11. 1 2 3 Brooks Landon (2002). "From the Steam Man to the Stars". Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars. Routledge (UK). p. 70. ISBN   0-415-93888-0.
  12. H. Bruce Franklin (1990). War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination. Oxford University Press. p. 200. ISBN   0-19-506692-8.
  13. "Captain Video and his Video Rangers". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2007-02-15.
  14. "Science Fiction Programs". The Museum of Broadcast Communications. Retrieved 2007-03-07.
  15. "The Living Legend, Part 2". Battlestar Galactica 1978 .
  16. "Experiment in Terra". Battlestar Galactica 1978 .
  17. "Miniseries". Battlestar Galactica: The miniseries .
  18. See (e.g.) E. E. "Doc" Smith (1951), Grey Lensman, chapter 23
  19. Uses the Death Star as an exercise in calculus
  20. A page on "How to Destroy the Earth."
  21. Star Wars Technical Commentaries on the Death Stars Archived November 28, 2006, at the Wayback Machine .
  22. On Basilisk Station (© 1993 Mass market paperback, © 1999 Hardcover)
  23. The Honor of the Queen ( ISBN   0-671-57864-2, Copyright © 1993 by David Weber, First hardcover printing, March ©2000)
  24. The Short Victorious War (1994)
  25. Okuda, Michael & Denise (1997). The Star Trek Encyclopedia. New York City: Pocket Books. ISBN   0-671-53607-9. Images accessible at 2265-2370 Ranks. Spike's Star Trek Page Rank Chart.

Further reading