I’m a multi-genre author with a passion for science fiction. Sooner or later this kind of interest drives to space, to what a spaceship can do and to what I want to tell to my audience when it comes to describing what’s going on. So we can imagine our wonderful spaceships, use them to travel from planet to planet and make room for epic fights. Well, we can. With a bit of respect for reality.
Do you remember the first movie of the “Alien” franchise? The blurb was “In space, nobody can hear you scream”. That was a very nice movie, one of my all-time favorite. The blurb was set right, with no atmosphere there is no possible sound transmission. No screams, no engine noise, no “whoooosh” from missiles, no “zot!” from energy-based weapons. This little fact kills a lot of movies, isn’t it? There’s more on the line, with no atmosphere of sort there is no need for control surfaces. No flaps, ailerons, rudders at all. And this kills a lot of spaceship design.
Our imaginary spaceship can change its course, just like our real space vehicles do. By thrust. You have to consider that the output of your engines should be oriented in a variable way moving the nozzles and/or you have to think about a multiple engine system, some for maneuvers and some for the main thrust. And what about two main engines with adjustable nozzles? With the different level of output between the two engines and different thrust directions, you can achieve a lot in terms of maneuverability. What you can’t get is arcade-style ninety-degrees changes, inertia is something you can’t deny. Remember that every change in direction could add torsion stress and g-forces to your spaceship, not to mention its crew.
Our imaginary spaceship can fight, of course. C’mon, that’s the main reason you want to show it to your readers. So, what can we use to destroy our enemies in space? Laser beams? Afraid not, to get a real damage you have to get’em focused on the target for a time and your targets will not cooperate. Particle-beam shots? That’s far better. Accelerate a small bit of matter close to a tenth of light speed is one Hell of a way to hit an opponent. Very difficult to avoid, too. What more? Masers? That will be good for destroy enemy sensors and/or to interfere with communications but it will not work as a direct weapon. Missiles? Yes, that will be better. But you will have to equip them a lot to get some results. So, it’s better to think about drones – small-scale spaceships with an awful lot of explosives aboard. What about nukes? They will work too but they’re far more dangerous. So it could be considered to use a peculiar type of nukes, something designed to maximize their EMP effect.
What more? Oh, yes. Explosions! It’s a common scene in movies, the damaged spaceship that explode in deep space with clouds of smoke and fire (once again, NO SOUND) or with a bright flash of light that disintegrates almost everything all around. Well, time to reconsider all that stuff. A spaceship can explode, that’s right. The explosion (or the explosions) can destroy its structure but the loss of inner atmosphere will stop any fire almost immediately and a smoke cloud (i.e. from an internal fire) will be dispersed with great speed. So, what you will have to show? A structure that falls apart, here and there illuminated by small flashes of light and surrounded by a cloud of debris that expanded itself slowly. Not so spectacular, right? Well, you can add a bit more to the show with the choice of multiple impacts (with other spaceships or asteroids) or be showing the slow descent of fragments in the atmosphere of a planet, with meteor-like effects.