Reading period week 7

It’s been a slow week at Rocket Science mission control, and the total number of submissions now stands at 38 short stories and 5 non-fiction pieces. So please send in more of each, please.

Having said that, I have also purchased another short story and two non-fiction pieces. However, there’s still plenty of room left. I haven’t decided yet exactly how big Rocket Science will be, but I’m intending it to be a good substantial read – though nowhere near the size of The Hard SF Renaissance, edited by David G Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer; or one of Gardner Dozois’ The Year’s Best Science Fiction collections.

And on the subject of submissions… when I read manuscripts, there are a couple of keywords I consider good indicators that the story may not be entirely suitable for Rocket Science. One of those words is “ship”. If a story uses the word “ship” to refer to spacecraft, then I suspect it may not really be hard sf – and almost certainly not authentic or realistic. Because spacecraft are not ships. They don’t have bridges, they don’t have helms, and travelling through space is nothing like travelling across a sea. “Ship” is a genre trope, a shorthand for travel between the various locations in which a story takes place. And it completely undermines the vastness of the real universe. There are far more differences than similarities between space travel and sea travel. I want to see stories featuring spacecraft – vessels designed specifically for travel in space, or for travelling to and from a world’s surface into space. And no “shuttle craft” – that term was only ever used in Star Trek. It’s meaningless. A shuttle is a form of transport which travels back and forth between two places, because the word itself originally referred – and still does – to the part of a loom that did just that. As for the Space Shuttle… Well, that was its name.

Now for this week’s statistics. The submissions to date now breakdown by gender and nationality of writer as follows:



Filed under submissions

5 responses to “Reading period week 7

  1. Regarding “ship”, I’d say that space travel bears more in common with old time sea travel than it does with anything else. Cramped quarters, out of sight of land for weeks and months at a time, total voyage durations in years, with a risk of death in all sorts of unpleasant ways. Would “spaceship” make you happier? After all, “spacecraft” is just a space-going craft — and those small craft warnings when a storm’s blowing up aren’t directed at Gemini capsules. 😉 I’ll agree, though, they they don’t have helms or bridges. Flight decks, perhaps, or control rooms.

    I’m with Arthur C. Clarke, who said (and I fear I must paraphrase, not having the reference — I think it was his Profiles of the Future — handy), that if civilization survives beyond the next century, then but for a brief period at the dawn of history, the word “ship” will mean only “spaceship”.

    • They only get called “spaceships” in science fiction, and I see no reason why NASA et al would stop using “spacecraft” and start using it. And I’m looking for realistic and authentic sf for Rocket Science. Sea travel is not a realistic analogue for space travel.

  2. I’ve been thinking about this point back and forth since you posted this, it’s certainly an interesting one. I take the point that use of stock terms like ‘ship’ is often a sign of lazy thinking, but overall I’ve come to think you’re wrong about this.

    ‘Spacecraft’ is kindof lumpen, it’s clearly a word from the dawn of something, when people still haven’t come up with good colloquial names for the things around them. says:

    Use for “small boat” is first recorded 1670s, probably from a phrase resembling vessels of small craft and referring either to the trade they did or the seamanship they required,

    And if it’s right about that, it would imply that the use of ‘craft’ in ‘spacecraft’ is also a misnomer, as the occupants tend to be payload, with little seamanship required!

    As craft itself clearly comes from sea travel the same argument that can be levelled at ‘ship’ can clearly be levelled at it too. ‘Craft’ has traditionally referred to small vessels, and its use in regard to spacecraft makes sense in that, by and large, small vessels are all we’ve so far managed to make. But one day we will (probably) make large vessels, I don’t know that ‘craft’ will fit them. If a space agency goes on to make something big, perhaps they will name it a ship?

    Indeed this naming problem is everywhere in space. Consider ‘space-station’. Station is:

    station, from L. stationem (nom. statio) “a standing, post, job, position,” related to stare “to stand,”

    But space-stations aren’t really stationary, even if they’re in geosynchronus, so is this a misnomer?

    ‘Vessel’ itself comes from ‘vascellum: small vase or urn’, so the question of whether sea travel is a realistic analogy is surely even more of a problem for ‘urns in SPAAAAACCCEE!!’

    In the end, when spaceflight becomes a commonplace (I’m in optimistic mode here) the objects of daily life won’t be named by NASA or ESA, but rather by the people who use them. This will result in all manner of crazy and ridiculous names for things (consider ‘twitter’ and other modern names for electronic communications). WWII pilots called their planes ‘kites’, and I agree that it would be nice to see more stories that tried to add this element of verisimilitude and gave new, inventive names to things, but if you’re not careful you can wind up leaving the reader behind, because the characters are speaking their own language.

    Overall, once we build things big enough to be deserving of the name, I think it’s quite likely they will be called ‘ships’. Particularly if they’re using solar or magnetic sails (as in this latter case the analogue to sea travel will be stronger, as tactics like ‘beating into the wind’ may be possible (not sure if you need the secondary force of water resistance on the keel to do such things, but in space the secondary force would be gravity. Whatever, some nautical tactics may become applicable)).

    What, for instance, would you call a large comet that someone has turned into a spacegoing vessel by using huge mirrors to burn reaction mass off it’s surface? Surely ‘craft’ would be inadequate.

    So, overall, I feel it’s unfair to penalise people for using ‘ship’, when really ‘craft’ and ‘station’ are just as bad (‘probe’, it turns out, fits pretty well to the task that probes do).


    • I think the sea travel analogue is misleading – and I am, after all, looking for “realistic” sf – and the use of “ship” plays into that. Consider the early days of air travel. A flying boat trip to Australia would take almost a week – certainly much faster than a ship – but they were still called aeroplanes. If and when humanity comes to build and use routinely large space-going vessels, I still suspect they will not be known as “ships”. Some other term will have arisen by then – perhaps resulting from the technology, or commercialisation, or a crucial invention.

      Incidentally, the spacecraft from the early days of spaceflight were originally known as “capsules” – the term is still used sometimes – but the astronauts objected to the term as it implied they were not in control. Hence, “spacecraft”. And while I suspect future spacecraft will not be controlled per se by a human pilot, I think the term still holds.

  3. # A flying boat trip to Australia
    # would take almost a week – certainly
    # much faster than a ship – but they
    # were still called aeroplanes.

    Only because ‘airship’ was already taken. We used to call airship ‘dirigibles’, but that was a lumpen technical term used when they were still in prototype stage, (much like ‘flying machine’) once they were seeing regular usage, we called them ‘airships’.

    I agree though that it would be interesting to see some new terms invented for such things.


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