We asked our respondents about taking a jaunt in a spacecraft.
This is what they said…
If I could hitch a ride on any spaceship, I’d choose the Ares from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars. Why? Well, first of all, it reaches Mars in one piece. Many spaceships in literature get blown up or taken over by some crazy AI or invaded by an alien race, so I like that this is a safe ride. It’s a long journey, yes, and there is that solar flare incident, but for the most part, the journey on the Ares is relatively pleasant. There are about a hundred people on board, a mix of races, so the conversation shouldn’t run out too soon, and there would be plenty of opportunity for ‘people watching’ to pass the time. I’d like to sit there in the dining hall while hummingbirds and finches, etc, flew overhead. I’d take a walk to the farm, or to one of the seven park rooms and wander through the forest biome. Then there is the swimming pool, sauna and whirlpool bath of Torus E. And more than anything, I’d like to kick back in the bubble dome and just look out upon the vast expanse of space. Yep, as far as space travel goes, the Ares is the way to do it – a spaceship that provides some home comforts for the long, safe ride.
Spaceships! A spaceship of my very own … Well, I once owned an ex-police Crown Vic named the Soyokaze, but do I want to consign myself to the Demotion Sector? Not really. Sometimes feels like I’m already there. Lex, my Spouse suggests, not, I hope, seriously. Despite my fondness for undead assassins, too nihilistic. I consider Moya. Maybe. But …
Where do I think I’d really feel at home?
The Bebop isn’t one of those big, glamourous, epic-space-battle, world-destroying sorts of ships. It doesn’t attract the attention of those sorts, either. Doesn’t even have starburst. It isn’t a character with its own story, as Moya is (which is why italicizing her as a ship-name doesn’t seem right) — the Bebop is purely a vessel. It’s a place, and yet it’s a place with a spirit, a place that feels real. It muddles along. It makes do. It endures. That’s my life. The crew aren’t under military discipline, to which I would not take happily. They are a conglomeration of loners, all doing their own thing, who happen, for a time, to be heading in the same direction. There’s friendship there, a bit off hand, but solid. There’s trust — even when it’s trust in precisely how far someone is going to be untrustworthy, and knowing that there’s a line of betrayal they won’t cross. (Might as well say ‘she’, as we all know we’re talking about Faye.) The Bebop rather reminds me both of cars I’ve owned and a house I’ve rented — clunky, but mostly functional; it gets you there; jury-rigged and repurposed; it has weird dangerous mouldy things happening just out of sight. The Bebop leaves you space to get on with doing what you need to do and being who you need to be, but the rest of the gang is there when you really need them; they assume you will be there for them, too. I’d feel I fit, on the Bebop.
It even has a bonsai arboretum.
What it doesn’t have is a non-smoking area.
That’d be a problem.
* I get Spike’s wardrobe, not Faye’s.
* * Funny how very few literary, as opposed to visual-media, spacecraft crossed my mind as possibilities. Most literary ships turn out to be places I would not actually want to spend time, no matter how much I enjoy reading about them.
There are a number of pragmatic answers here that my rational mind would argue for. The Heart of Gold from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, with its Infinite Improbability Drive that can go anywhere instantly, is tempting for the sheer potential. Similar arguments can be made for Dr. Who’s TARDIS, which is just as capable but can also traverse time. Or, in my more macho moments, I figure I could get pretty much anything I want with a Death Star of my own, provided I pay a technician to cover that one stupid exhaust port.
But, in my heart of hearts, what I really want is a Galaxy-class starship similar to the USS Enterprise 1701-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation. (For the very specific Trekkers, I want the post-refit version from “All Good Things” with the cloaking device, main phaser battery and transwarp capabilities.) This is a ship designed to be enjoyed.
First, the semi-sentient computer is the voice-activated AI everyone actually wants, and that Google and Apple and Amazon are actually trying to build because it makes our lives measurably better. (Fun fact: The Google project that paralleled Siri was code-named “Majel” after Majel Barret, who voiced the computer on NextGen.) And it has the sum of human art and literature available for consumption at a moment’s notice, and an endless supply of tablet PADDs to enjoy said entertainment upon. So, infinite Netflix plus Spotify plus an eBook or (thanks to replicators) paper book version of anything every written, for free.
Second, this ship has a holodeck, which is everything that we kinda hope Occulus Rift is someday, only infinitely better. Every concert you ever wanted to hear, sports game you wanted to attend, or movie or book or comic you wanted to be a literal part of is there, for the asking, at a moment’s notice. Cosplay to the infinite power, refracted through every sing-a-long movie viewing that stole your heart.
Oh, and this ship has food replicators that can make anything (perfect takeout), transporters that can move anything (no traffic or heavy lifting), its own little park (outside, but no weather) and the comfiest crew quarters 1987 could possibly imagine (and I don’t really mind taupe).
And all that before we get to the whole flies in space faster than light and has weapons and shields and lots of little shuttles for personal excursions goodness.
And if I’m Captain, I get my own yacht and a swanky jacket.
Commanding Enterprise D is like exploring the cosmos that Carl Sagan always told us about from the comfort of the perfect living room, backed by the wealth of Bill Gates. I can’t imagine anything more nerd-utopian than that.
I choose the Rocinante, of The Expanse fame. I do not choose to be captain, since part of the point of being on the Roci is watching James Holden in action. And in fact, it’s quite a small ship, and watching the interactions between the four crew members is part of the joy (NOT IN A CREEPY STALKER WAY EW), so… maybe I could just be in the computer or something? Rather than having to actually be ON the ship and potentially getting blown up every other Thursday? I think that would be for the best.
Anyway, the Roci. Stolen Requisitioned Borrowed Originally owned by the Martian navy, so it’s got awesome specs, and then with some modifications from the Outer Planet Alliance and thus made even awesomer, this is one mean little beast. Excellent weaponry, good guidance computer, and a coffee machine that only occasionally breaks down (I don’t drink coffee so I don’t care, personally, but it seems to make Holden a better person to live with). A totally hot machine shop for dealing with all those niggling issues that come up when a planetary navy or rogue fighting machine starts firing at you. The galley is big enough for four to eat in comfortably, except when there’s awkward personal stuff going down and then it’s not so comfortable, but that’s not the Roci’s fault.
Of course, one of the major drawcards is the crew. I’d love to hang out with this crew. Naomi would be amazing and terrifying to meet; she’s one of those uber-competent, totally cool and self-confident people that make me feel like a gangly awkward teen all over again (and I didn’t love it the first time). I can only hope that she would see past my Earther upbringing and not hold it against me. Amos would be even more terrifying to meet, given what he’s capable of in terms of violence, but I also know that he’s a gentle man and fiercely loyal to his friends, so I like to think that we could have some interesting discussions. As long as there were no weapons around. And Alex – well, we’d bond over names, of course, and a southern drawl is always hilarious to an Australian. Which just leaves James Holden. That man. Uncompromisingly committed to the idea of truths being known, no matter the cost. Passionate about his ship and his crew and their independence. Again, terrifying to meet, but probably fun to hang around with. As long as there’s no shooting.
Plus, if I’m really lucky, they’ll introduce me to Bobbie Draper (Martian marine) and Chrisjen Avasarala (eminence grise of the Earth United Nations), and that would DEFINITELY be worthwhile.
So, I’m in. There are windmills to be tilting at; I’m sure there’s someone who wants to shoot at Holden, somewhere in the solar system…
I’m not really of the mechanical mindset, so I don’t really take a lot of notice of spacecraft in general. Which means there is only one ship that comes to mind for this question, and that is the RG 132 from The Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold. Not because of the ship, I’m afraid – it’s solely due to the captain, who happens to be Miles Naismith Vorkosigan. If I’m going to go gallivanting about the galaxy, I want to do it in the company of the smartest, most resourceful fellow out there. He has a habit of survival, and of gathering good people about him, so I reckon I’ll be in excellent company.
This seems like an easy question with lots of good answers. I love a good space opera! But then when I start to think about things I like to read and watch, I realize that they really don’t at all match up with places I might really like to spend time. Space opera by its very nature means a smidge more… excitement… than I typically want to experience in my travels.
Things I have enjoyed with lots of spaceships include: The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey, Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series, John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War Series, Elizabeth Bear’s Jacob’s Ladder series, the Frontlines Series by Marko Kloos, Star Wars, Star Trek, Alien, Doctor Who… I could go on, but every single one of these has problems, mainly stemming from the fact that riding in one of the ships means risking imminent death and/or dismemberment in one way or another. I mean, sure, the TARDIS sounds fun (bigger on the inside!), but how much time does anyone actually spend in there? Not much, as far as I can tell. It’s mostly all about stepping in and then immediately stepping out into some kind of hostile environment.
Spaceships: fun to read about, maybe not so great to be on?
But! The one I keep coming back to is The USS Enterprise from Star Trek. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Star Trek: The Next Generation every week, but if (and this is important!) the Enterprise could take me on a short trip without any forays into hostile territory, That could be pretty sweet. I mean, hanging out in Ten Forward and having a chat with Guinan sounds awesome, right? Plus, the holodeck! I mean, assuming it doesn’t go rogue and send me into an adventure I can’t escape, or unleash Moriarty on me… And, hey, replication means I can get food that tastes like my favorites from home (or experiment with new cuisines), and teleportation is a pretty convenient way to get down to a paradise planet and back. Let’s just make sure it’s a peaceful paradise, okay?
These ships, they have no names. As a general rule, they no longer fly. Their purpose is generally lost to all who encounter them. But if I could ride any ship in genre literature, it would be to ride along on for the final ride of any of the various ships that Severian encounters as he wanders along in his Urth. Long before Star Wars: The Force Awakens, with the ghostly wreckage of Imperial ships as a backdrop of life on Jakku, Severian the Torturer adventured across a landscape full of rich relics of a distant past, encountering things left behind on ships and from places of long ago. And some 35 years after I first read these books, those places still loom in my consciousness. I still see Severian standing at the gate at the start of The Shadow of the Torturer, and I want to be there, standing at his side. I still see him on the Sanguinary Field, and I see him leaving the city behind thereafter. And if I want to spend more time with this character, in his world, the only way I can get there is to be on one of the ships that somehow got there and never left. These were the books so rich that I’d read the immediately previous book in the series before moving on to the new. I know that a ride on one of these spaceships will almost certainly be a one way trip, and I know that the world Severian lives in isn’t a pleasant one. He, after all, is an apprentice in the torturer’s guild, and the devices and methods of the torture he wields sometimes quite well described. It is a violent world. But I’d rather pay to be stranded alongside Severian than be photographed outside the Coliseum in Rome.
Author and editor Josh Vogt’s work covers fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel is Pathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes, alongside the launch of his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor and The Maids of Wrath. He’s an editor at Paizo, a Scribe Award finalist, and a member of both SFWA and the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers. Find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt.
My choice would be either the Potent Voyager or the Kite, both of which come from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. Why? Well, primarily, it’d mean getting to be in Discworld, which is the setting for some of my most favorite fantasy stories and characters in existence. Seriously, Pratchett is the only author ever to make me laugh so hard I cried. For those not in-the-know, the flat Discworld rests on the backs of four giant elephants, who stand upon the shell of the interstellar turtle, the Great A’Tuin. The Potent Voyager was built to go over the edge of the disc in order to determine the Great A’Tuin’s gender. The Kite was built to slingshot several concerned citizens beneath Discworld in order to stop a group of elderly war heroes from blowing up the mountain where the gods dwell, potentially destroying all of Discworld in the process. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds, which is what makes it so amazing. Joining the crew of the Kite would also mean being able to meet the Librarian (an orangutan), Captain Carrot (likely a king in disguise), and Rincewind, the world’s worst wizard. That’d make for some remarkable memories…assuming I survived the experience, of course.
Thanks for letting me play in this Mind Meld. You know, you only made two of the most famous space ships off-limits. Given that, I’m going to propose that I take the most famous of all and just jump on board the USS Enterprise and take her to strange new worlds. Part of that is for the Enterprise herself…who wouldn’t want to fly on a ship they know so well? It would almost be like coming home. More than that, I want to live in that world. It’s tolerant and advanced and multi-racial and full of heroes. My old childhood crush, Spock, would be nearby and logical instead of dead too young from smoking cigarettes. James T. Kirk would be a hero instead of a salesman, and Sulu would still and always be a hero just like he is today. Uhura (either one) would be brilliant and witty. I’ve always wanted to beam up and down through atmospheres in a blink of an eye. It would be fun to wonder if I was really still myself after being taken down to a mere information pattern and reassembled in a new place. Wouldn’t it e wonderful to ride throughout the galaxy at Warp Speed and help whoever needed saving?
If the Enterprise off limits as well (I can’t wait to learn how many us tried for her!) then I want to fly on the John Glenn. That’s one of the first few generation ships to leave Earth. She was designed by Larry Niven and me, with a little help from our friends. How wonderful would it be to see something you created from nothing but imagination become real? John Glenn has a great big tree in the middle of it named Ymir after the world tree, and a long ramp you can roller-skate down for exercise. I want to know what it’s like to stand at the foot of Ymir and look along its vast trunk and waving branches. John Glenn has lived to get in trouble, terraform a moon, and leave it to go on to its original destination. I want to know what it finds there. I want to know if there is a thriving civilization, or if our target planet had to be abandoned for any one of a million reasons. Even though there is no warp speed in the universe we created in Building Harlequin’s Moon, there is cold sleep, and I could see the beginning and ending of journeys.
It’s 1978. I’m sitting in the cramped cabin of my transport listening to a broadcast that will change my life. The transport rolls slowly into the dock and instead of cutting off the broadcast my co-pilot and I remain riveted to the words emanating from the speaker.
Yes, that’s right. We’ve just driven home from work, but instead of switching off the radio and going inside for a nice cup of tea, we’re riveted by the first episode of BBC’s new radio series: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
Many spaceships have come and gone since that day, some I would dearly have loved to take a trip on (the TARDIS, which also travels in time, Moya from the fascinating Farscape universe; Liberator from Blake’s Seven; any and all of the Enterprises from Star Trek), but can any fictional space ship replace the Heart of Gold with her Infinite Improbability Drive and machines equipped with GPP, Genuine People Personalities, including doors that are delighted to open and close for you and Eddie the Shipboard Computer.
There is, of course, plenty of company already on board: Marvin the Paranoid Android who is permanently depressed and depressing, the super-bright Earth girl, Trillian, and the current ship’s captain, two-headed, three-armed Zaphod Beeblebrox, former President of the Galaxy, and the only man to have survived the Total Perspective Vortex. If they aren’t already aboard when I arrive, the Infinite Improbability drive will soon pick up two fellow passengers to keep me company: the charming Ford Prefect, Zaphod’s semi-cousin, and the bewildered Arthur Dent, citizen of Earth, recently rendered homeless by the Vogon Constructor Fleet.
The Heart of Gold is largely white and is shaped like a running shoe, except when she isn’t, since the Infinite Improbability drive allows for infinite changes of appearance. No need to muck about with hyperspace, jumpgates or wormholes, either, the Infinite Improbability Drive is powered by an Infinite Improbability Generator. Once the ship’s drive reaches Infinite Improbability it passes through every point in the universe at once, thus allowing the ship to go anywhere.
Cool, or what?
Given this multitude of options, there’s no good reason why my first thought was a bobble from Vernor Vinge’s Realtime Series: The Peace War and Marooned in Realtime, except maybe because the books are so amazing. Bobbles are stasis spheres. Only rarely are they used to travel through space.
Though they are really cool.
When I think SPACESHIP, the most obvious one is the Heart of Gold from Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide series. It even looks just like you’d expect! But really, for all the gleaming control panels and video screens, the Infinite Improbability Drive is not at all reliable. An important attribute in any spacecraft is that it goes where I want it to.
So finally, I settled on a spacecraft that has no name. It’s from Gene Wolfe’s Urth of the New Sun, the fifth and final book of his New Sun series. Severian the protagonist only refers to the vessel by its owner’s name: “the ship of Tzadkiel.” It resembles a terrifyingly massive sailing ship, with black masts and silver sails, and the deck open to the vacuum. It travels via a kind of hyperspace that leads to strange shifts in time. The sailors are criminals who have had their memories wiped. And Tzadkiel is some kind of shape-shifting angelic being.
Yeah. That’s the spacecraft I want to travel in. Nevermind the gleaming control panels.
It’s entirely possible I might have spent a not inconsiderable amount of time pondering which spacecraft I would like for my own, if I was a science fiction hero. It’s one of those things you do when so many of your favourite things are connected to outer space. Of course, being a Doctor Who fan before all other fannishness, it’s a TARDIS. Which, rather handily, also travels in time. I wouldn’t want the Doctor’s TARDIS though, since that would be stealing, and I’m not River Song, and I’m also be quite keen on a time travel vehicle that is fairly reliable, unlike the Doctor’s. And it’d be quite nice to get a pilot too. One of the more well-balanced Time Lords, no-one on a quest for immortality or universal destruction. As for the interior, I wouldn’t mind the very stylish console room that the Rani has in the classic Doctor Who story The Mark of the Rani, or maybe a copy of the one we see in the tv movie…or, no, actually, my very favourite is the one we get in the BBCi animated story The Scream of the Shalka. I’m almost certain I absolutely love that console room design, and I wasn’t just tricked into it by the amusing banter between its occupants (a Doctor played by Richard E. Grant, and a Derek Jacobi voiced Master.)
If it’s considered a smidgen of a cheat to go with what is totally a real spaceship, but also perhaps better known for its time travelling abilities, I’d still cheat a bit and say the Ebon Hawk. Which is the starship you and your crew journey about in saving the galaxy in the superb Bioware RPG Knights of the Old Republic, and its sequel. I’ve an emotional attachment to that particular ship outweighed only by the TARDIS, thanks to it being such an important part of a glorious adventure, as well as introducing me to Bioware, and to modern RPG video games. It also bears an ever so slight resemblance to the Millennium Falcon, which I’m sure is entirely co-incidental, and certainly doesn’t hurt.
My answer, if I don’t want to feel like I’m cheating even a little bit, is a Romulan D’deridex-class warbird. Those are the really big green Romulan ships most often seen in Star Trek: The Next Generation, and they are gorgeous. And roomy. Picard’s Enterprise is hardly stuffy and yet the Romulan warbirds dwarf the Galaxy-class starship. And they just look so cool. Which is surely the best way to judge any sort of spaceship.
A Fragile Bubble in a Sea of Stars
Why I’d want to go journeying on the weird little spherical craft from Out of the Silent Planet
-By Angela D. Mitchell
When I was fourteen years old, I spent nearly two months exploring the Atlantic Basin and Caribbean on a 37-foot sailboat with my Dad, stepmother, younger sister, and two baby brothers – along with the family cat. The journey took us completely out of the stream of busy day-to-day life, and for the first time, we had nothing to rush to and nowhere to be. My only obligations were the three two-hour stints I took at the wheel each day, which I usually accomplished sitting on top of the aft cabin and steering with my feet. Other than that, I had nowhere to be, and nothing to do but look around. I should have been bored, but I wasn’t – I delighted in just looking. Listening. Thinking. Delighting in the feel of the wind, the scent of the sea, in the movement and gentle incline of the boat.
That was it. And yet, not a day goes by that I haven’t thought of that trip and those simple moments.
And that experience is what comes to mind for me when I think of the spaceship in C.S. Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet. While science fiction has given us a wide array of fantastic and varied spacecraft over the years — some more realistic than others — I’ve always remained strangely fascinated by the book’s strange and quiet vessel – the simple sphere that that carries the hapless Dr. Elwin Ransom to and from the planet Malacandra.
First published in 1938, my favorite thing about the spacecraft in Lewis’s story is that it is a purely imaginary construct. Mankind was still decades from real space travel at this point, so, like H.G. Wells and others before him, Lewis had little more than his own imagination to rely on for what such a craft might look or feel like, or how it might behave. Yet, while the scientific aspects of the book may range from far-fetched to frankly absurd, Lewis’s powers of description make all of this forgivable and oddly charming, and the ship that carries Ransom, as well as the evil Devine and Weston (his kidnappers) has a rich and palpable presence.
Even after a few re-reads, what I took away from the book wasn’t the greedy conspirators who kidnap Ransom and force him on the journey, or even the fascinating creatures on Malacandra, but the delight of Ransom’s quietly beautiful journey through space itself. In a weird way, I understood it. I’d even kind of lived it once (the journeying, not the kidnapping) – after all, there’s no night sky I’ve ever seen that would rival the view I had in the mid-Atlantic. The stars were so clear and close that I could have sworn I could’ve identified every satellite, every pinpoint of light, every little bit of brilliance in the careless scatter of the Milky Way across the night.
This is what’s so fascinating about Ransom for me — once he realizes there is nothing he can do about his situation, he does this truly interesting and terrific thing: He relaxes. He basically shrugs, then allows himself to sit back and simply enjoy the fact that he’s in space, and that (thanks to a large, clear ‘skylight’ of sorts), he has the best view in the universe in which to simply lie back and look at the wonder of that universe. And, darn it, that’s what I would want to do, as well. Just lie back and watch the stars go by in my own private Hubble display.
Lewis’s spaceship is a wonderful thing, and satisfyingly physical, with the author handwaving any actual scientific explanation for the craft’s locomotion through a vague reference to “the less observed properties of solar radiation” (a phrase I’d imagine to have sent both Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson into gales of good-natured laughter). Otherwise, the craft is a simple silver sphere, built around a hollow core for storage, and with living quarters and various rooms encircling that core in the levels above. Delightfully, as the ship begins to be pulled in toward its destination, the floors then become ceilings (and vice versa). It wouldn’t exactly be quite so comfortable at that point, but that’s a small price to pay for the journey itself.
In Lewis’s book, as for me in the middle of the Atlantic once upon a time, there is very little for any of the ship’s three inhabitants to do upon their journey but to eat, sleep, or watch the stars, and Ransom really embraces this, glorying in his chance to experience the cosmos up close. He doesn’t turn away from his situation but embraces it instead, and he spends hours each ‘day’ simply lying below his skylight, watching the shining lights of stars, planets and galaxies and simply reveling in his unusual opportunity for perspective.
I love this, and it’s the journey, not the wonders of Malacandra, that stays with me to this day. Besides, let’s face it — getting away from the world for awhile like that sounds pretty good when compared with the incessant hustle and chatter of life on our own not-so-silent planet today. I got to do it once before, and if I ever got to go into space, especially on my own little silver sphere (hopefully, of course, with nicer crewmates than Ransom was stuck with), I’d love nothing better than to lie or float beneath that window just as Ransom once did, dazzled by the stars, planets, galaxies, nebulae, and more, and soaking in the calm, cold, infinite beauty of starstuff.
It’s certainly a very odd ship. But what better way to delight in a sea of stars?