Sierra Foxtrot, Again

Oh, I like that, I think I'll call it "Sierra Foxtrot" (SF) from now on. I had still more thoughts on that field of literary endeavor. I will show you the true horror of my bulleted lists!
  • So, here's a thought: if you're going to plagiarize history for your SF, why not, you know, learn the history? Asimov based his Foundation books on Gibbon, apparently not knowing that when Gibbon wasn't simply wrong, he actively lied (the folklorist Andrew Lang, best known for the "color fairy" books, famously proved that Gibbon had not read most of his cited sources). History-in-spacesuits SF suffers from the same flaw as most historical fiction: the people who write it never know any history.

  • So, solar sails, and similar. Basically the way it works is, there's more radiation pressure on one side of the sail—closer to the star—than there is on the other. This produces a force propelling the sail away from the star.

    If that sounds familiar, it should—it's the Bernoulli effect. A solar "sail" is not a sail at all, it's a wing. Everything in a star system actually hangs suspended in the star's atmosphere—you could argue that, if you're not orbiting any planet in the system, "down" actually means "closer to the sun" and "up" means "farther from it." You say "orbital distance", and I say "altitude."

    No, I'm not gonna be one of those asshats who corrects people when they say "sucked out into space" ("blown out" isn't even actually any more correct, anyway; "removed along with the air that rushed into the area of lower pressure" is how suction works, isn't it?), but it's an interesting thought experiment. Space isn't an ocean, but it is a little bit like a sky.

  • I said this in response to a comment from my sister, but it bears repeating: some of the Dicta Boelcke actually works in space combat. "If possible attack with the sun behind you," for instance, would actually allow a half-assed version of stealth in space, since the sun is almost certainly a bigger radiation source than you are. You'll be harder to spot if you stay between your enemy and the sun. "Always continue with an attack you have begun" is a sound principle, as is "Only fire when the opponent is properly in your sights" (accounting for the difference in technology, that means make sure you have a good target-lock).

    "It is essential to assail your opponent from behind", though, yeah, not so much.

  • So all those people who say you wouldn't have starfighters? Yeah, well, almost certainly not anything like fighter planes, no, but small missile ships with 1- or 2-man crews aren't exactly a bad idea, dude. What's funny to me is how many of the people who say there's no reason for starfighters, then go on to say there's no reason for the Air Force. It's the same kind of stupidity that said we wouldn't have to put guns on jet fighters (guess what, we did).

    I think these yahoos actually think we don't need manned air forces because they have a simplistic conception of what an air force's role is. No, we don't need manned bombing runs anymore, we've got guided missiles now, but for a precision air-strike you do in fact need the Air Force (close air support, the kind provided by attack craft, is adequately provided by the aviation branches of the Marines and Army). But seriously, how many military-aviation missions can you name? Did you remember spying? How about infantry support? Tank-busting?

    I'm with Chesterton: you're allowed to abolish something only when you can adequately tell me what it's good for.

  • It's fascinating how Stargate doesn't know how good of science fiction it wants to be, isn't it? That whole "ancient astronauts" thing, the "Ascension" nonsense—very soft. The ZPM is a very frequently-invoked form of nonsensoleum, as well. But then you have McKay's reason for disbelieving in prophecy:
    Look, in a mechanical, Newtonian universe, not a problem. I mean, you know enough variables, you can predict the outcome; but quantum physics blows that out of the water.
    Um...Yeah, that's just plain old awesome, right there.

  • I realized one thing I hate about Avatar is, nobody that can get into space bothers fighting over resources, other than naturally-habitable planets as such. Unobtainium is called that because it has very specific properties, not one of which you are remotely likely to find in nature—you'd no more get naturally-occurring hot superconductors than you'd get "skrith", the stuff Ringworlds are made of. I know Cameron actually thinks he was saying something when he vomited out this hackneyed Marxist narrative a la Howard Zinn, but it simply will not happen in space.

    Of course, it never really applied to planetary history, either. The fact, fact fans, is that wars, colonialism, imperialism are never about mere resources. If you think anything humans do is that simple, well, I should certainly have thought your middle school would block this blog. Let's deploy another Chesterton quote:
    It is putting it too feebly to say that the history of man is not only economic. Man would not have any history if he were only economic. The need for food is certainly universal, so universal that it is not even human. Cows have an economic motive, and apparently (I dare not say what ethereal delicacies may be in a cow) only an economic motive. The cow eats grass anywhere and never eats anything else. In short, the cow does fulfill the materialist theory of history: that is why the cow has no history. "A History of Cows" would be one of the simplest and briefest of standard works. But if some cows thought it wicked to eat long grass and persecuted all who did so; if the cow with the crumpled horn were worshipped by some cows and gored to death by others; if cows began to have obvious moral preferences over and above a desire for grass, then cows would begin to have a history. They would also begin to have a highly unpleasant time, which is perhaps the same thing.
  • I just found out the Japanese launched a solar sail spacecraft...and named it Ikaros. Uh, what? Or rather, nan de yan nen?! Where's a paper fan when you need it?

    I've heard of ill-omened names, but damn.

  • So, something occurs to me. Magnetosphere sails (more formally "mini-magnetosphere plasma propulsion", though one always calls it "Maggy" in the family) are "inflated" bags of plasma, that essentially artificially increase the size of a sail-type propulsion. But if solar "sails" are wings, doesn't that make a ship propelled by a magnetosphere sail...a zeppelin?

    Only this zeppelin's gasbag is made of ever-shifting plasma, as though it was sewn together from the Aurora Borealis. Nice.

1 comment:

penny farthing said...

You know why we need an air force? No American soldier has been killed by enemy air power since the Korean War - and it wasn't as though those Mig pilots in Vietnam weren't trying. Likewise, our F-15s made such short work of the Iraqi air force in the Gulf War that Saddam Hussein's pilots actually refused to take off in when we invaded Iraq. It's nice to able to force your enemy to only fight you on the ground. Also, killing tanks - it's very important. Now if only we had lots and lots of F-22s....