If you don’t have artificial gravity, science fiction starts to look more like the age of schooners. To get from place to place in the solar system it’d be necessary to accelerate halfway, turn around and decelerate for the rest of the trip. Accelerating or decelerating at more than the equivalent rate of Earth gravity (9.8m/s) would be difficult for the crew to withstand for long. Jupiter is about 983 million km from Earth at its nearest point. If I’m doing the math right (and I’m probably not) accelerating halfway at 9.8m/s would take 158 hours — about 6½ days. The full trip would take two weeks.

Laser weapons are a must. You’d only be able to see them when they shoot through gas or dust, but when it comes to shooting from one moving platform and hitting another on a logarithmic scale you won’t get much time to aim. A projectile would deliver more energy with less expended, but a powerful lazer would be able to vaporize or nudge it out of the way. Opponents would basically joust on a split-second timeframe, trying to pass momentarily close enough for their computers to shoot. Ships would be no more than specks to one another, usually less. Forget about human combat.

Until someone tells me what exactly an “energy shield” would be, we’ll have to assume that surviving a lazer attack means thick, dense plating all over the ship. If a lazer can vaporize a few cubic meters of hull in one shot, you’d better have a lot of hull to spare. It should be shiny too. Getting hit with a lazer might lead to some pretty refractions.

One last thought: Get used to the solar system. It takes light from the sun (which doesn’t have to accelerate) eight minutes to reach Earth, four hours to reach Neptune, and four years to reach the nearest star — itself a burnt-out red dwarf, Proxima Centauri.

Blowing some of the cobwebs out of scifi tropes, fiction begins to slip into unfamiliar grooves.


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