5 World Building Tips (Vol 2, #8): Space Travel
Here are today’s world building tips! The theme is travel in space. You can read more in Chapter 9, “Travel in Space”, from Creating Places, (The Art of World Building, #2).
Tip #1: “Distance Changes”
Remember that everything in space is orbiting something else, and at different speeds, and therefore the distance between two objects is ever-changing. Two planets would be on the same side of the sun at one point in the year but on opposite sides half a year later. This gives us leeway to decide how long a trip between them would take at a given moment in our story.
Tip #2: “Know Your Engine Types”
Our ship might need air breathing engines if it’s going to enter an atmosphere, and those are typically rear-facing even if located on the side or elsewhere. Space engines are either jump, hyper, or warp drives, all being public domain options we can use. Each has expected properties and effects, such as time-dilation. Including all three in your story world gives you the most options.
Tip #3: “Be Consistent”
With invented technologies, try to be consistent with the level of tech people have. A Star Trek teleporter and food replicator are equally unbelievable, but this is good. Would it make sense to have a teleporter but no artificial gravity? Probably not, because the latter is easier to achieve at least with rotating designs. It would be a mistake to do something like have a flame thrower but not have a fire stove capability.
Tip #4: “Decide on Internal Structure”
Unless your ship has only one room, you should map out where important rooms are, like the bridge, propulsion, and crew quarters. This lets plan how long it takes for people to move about the ship. The large the vessel, the more useful this becomes because damage or an intrusion in one area might mean a lot of time could pass before your heroes arrive to deal with it. You could do this to avoid everything being too convenient for them.
Tip #5: “Does Your External Structure Matter?”
Aerodynamics don’t matter in space. We’ve seen and accepted Borg cubes in Star Trek. Anything goes. Just decide that your ship isn’t planning to enter an atmosphere before going this route. Be aware that there is still a stellar wind, but most readers won’t be thinking about this sort of thing.
Summary of Chapter 9—Travel in Space
Science fiction features invented technologies for traveling the cosmos, but that doesn’t free us from attempts to be realistic about life in space or how to maneuver. Modern engines operate on the principle of thrust, which requires rear-facing engines, and we’ll need this for slower-than-light travel within a solar system. Imaginary propulsions, like warp, hyper, or jump drives can benefit from believable limitations. We should also remember that locations in space are ever changing positions so that how long it takes to travel between two points is seldom the same—or convenient for our characters. The need to enter a planet’s atmosphere affects the structure of our ship, but world builders will be most interested in the internal organization and the effect we can make this have on people and story.