The second thing I’ve been doing since finishing my novel is I’ve been preparing for a science fiction series starring Astrea Alexandra by doing a lot of world building. Not much of my recent work has been on character backgrounds or the like, but on the development of the universe of the stories itself.
My ideas have evolved significantly. My original concept (I have a scene for it written out, which I might post someday) looked a lot like a cross between Andromeda Ascendant and Star Trek. The series was set in the Andromeda Galaxy and ships flew in classic space opera style (that is, they got to speed instantly and had to run their nuclear reaction-based engines all the time in order to maintain speed in the presence of space friction). However, since then I’ve made the decision to set the story in the Milky Way, with human controlled space centered on Earth. This forced me to find a way to link our history with the history of interstellar civilization in the story. It’s also forced me to use real stars. Fortunately, I’ve found a program called AstroSynthesis which is just perfect for this. I can plug known stellar data into it and have it randomly generate scientifically plausible star systems, which I can modify at will, creating a map of the story’s universe.
I’ve also decided to go with a reactionless drive based on artificial gravitation (basically the ship and everything in it accelerates by “freefalling” through space in a desired direction) and have ships obey Newtonian physics during spaceflight rather than fiddling around with space friction. Both of these have introduced significant changes.
Now that the ships use “grav drives”–and the properties of grav drives have been worked out–they look very different. All ships are basically cigar shaped now and only use their propulsion systems to accelerate or change orientation instead using them constantly. Since ships can accelerate in many different directions freely, they have no hard-and-fast “front” and “rear”–though convention still gives them a bow and stern and has them traveling with one of these pointed in the direction of flight most of the time. Decks are arranged to be perpendicular to the length of the ship (so that it’s like a giant cigar-shaped tower) to resolve any imbalance of forces from artificial gravity (ex: everyone is on the upper decks, and their combined weight creates a net force on the structure of the ship) along the vessel’s flight path rather than across it (where such forces would deflect the vessel from its course–and in space even a deflection of a few degrees could mean a miss of millions of miles). Due to the working out of what environmental artificial gravity (keeping the crew’s feet on the ground, separate device from the grav drive) looks like, decks are arranged in alternating pairs with Deck 1’s “up” being “down” on Deck 2, etc (which also balances the weight of the crew).
Warships in combat however will engage each other flying sideways through space, as this broadside-facing allows them to employ the maximum number of weapons at once and allows sensors mounted in the bow and aft sections to be used to triangulate targets. By tradition the best armor, shielding, and weapons are mounted on the dorsal broadside and the more sensitive systems (cooling systems, magazines, fuel storage, hanger bays, etc) are mounted on the ventral broadside. All of this has vastly changed my concept of what the Astrea Alexandra will look like and how she will fight. They will definitely still employ antimatter warheads over obscene ranges of a light minute or more (but then again, space is big–why shoot the other guy from a few meters away, a la DS9, when you could hit him with guided missiles from a few million kilometers away?), though due to the increasing efficiency of point-defense lasers over the last few thousand kilometers (where missiles going for a hit must become less evasive and the lag time is increasingly small) a direct hit on a modern warship will be very rare. All warheads will instead be designed to focus the gamma radiation of their blasts forward into a beam fired from stand-off range. Ships will use loose formations to concentrate and coordinate their defensive fire and increase the number of offensive missiles coming at a target from the same vector, with several classes of ship (the frigate and especially the missile-destroyer and destroyer escort) existing exclusively for that purpose. Macross Missile Massacres are the order of the day, but are modest in size, even in universe, prevailing military thought being that higher quality missiles with longer range and greater firepower are better than swarms of lower quality missiles.
Though the vision needs much fleshing out, my current thought is that the story will look a lot more like a dystopian Honor Harrington novel than an episode of Star Trek–and also that the warships in this universe will be able to easily take on warships from most other space opera (I like to compare their military performance to that of other ships and try to figure out how they would have handled the various combat situations in science fiction–and mostly they would win hands down due to being able to stand-off most other ships in scifi, which engage each other at ranges of 1 light second or less: knife-edge fighting for ships in this universe).