Confession time. I have been a consumer – reader, watcher, even listener – of science fiction for most of life. I consider it my first love, even though when I write I tend to drift into fantasy more often than not. That’s not the confessional bit (not in 2016, for crying out loud!). No, the confessional bit is this:
I don’t really care that much about the scientific accuracy of my science fiction.
There, I said it!
Now, I’m not saying I completely switch off my brain when something walks into the room with “sci-fi” written all over it. We all have our flying snowmen points after all. But some of the things I see other sci-fi fans complain about – like movies with sound in space or faster-than-light travel – just don’t bother me that much. I kind of appreciate it when somebody decides to get it “right” and see where that goes, but I’m perfectly happy to nod and move on otherwise, so long as the story and characters are engaging.
All this is a way of saying I’m deeply bummed by the current state of spaceship design in visual sci-fi. Particularly, I’m disappointed that the ships in The Expanse look so damned ugly.
The Expanse is another attempt by SyFy to regain its footing as a decent home for science fiction on television. Based on the novels by James S. A. Corey (actually two authors working together), it’s set at a time in the future where humanity has expanded into the solar system, but not yet beyond it. With that caveat, it’s a space opera as you can get, with character shuttling off from planet to asteroid to space station as the plot requires. The books (at least the first two) are damned good and the TV series is doing an all right job with the adaptation.
A big part of said shuffling involves a ship called the Rocinante. Yes, it’s named after Don Quixote’s horse. It also happens to be the name of the narrator’s ship in Rush’s epics “Cygnus X-1” and “Hemispheres” in which he is “sailing through the galaxy.” When I pictured the Roci in my head (because I don’t remember a description from the text) I imagined something sleek, swoopy, and sexy. Truth is, I almost always think of space ships like the Heart of Gold:
one hundred and fifty meters long, shaped like a sleek running shoe, perfectly white and mind-bogglingly beautiful.
On TV there is no such leeway, however. The Roci looks like it looks and, depressingly, it looks like this:
This may be a very realistic conception of what such a ship would really look like. But, damn, it’s dull. Others will disagree – some folks value practicality when making an aesthetic judgment and who am I to say they’re wrong? It just bums me out a bit.
I’ve seen a similar transformation in the design of race cars over the years. When I was younger and first getting into racing, this is what a top of the line prototype sports car looked like:
Now, as the black science of aerodynamics has continued to develop and every part of the car has to produce downforce, they’ve become this:
Don’t get me wrong – the modern car would run circles around the older ones. There’s something to be said for finding beauty in performance. But at the same time, it’s hard not to see that something’s lacking in the modern era.
Same goes with the modern visual depictions of spacecraft. Realism counts for a lot and I don’t begrudge anyone who prizes that in their sci-fi. But that doesn’t keep me from being disappointed.
I want my swoopy spaceships back. And race cars, too.