Randy McDonald (rfmcdpei) wrote,
Randy McDonald

[LINK] "Save space for the pirates"

Acts of Minor Treason's Andrew Barton came up with a way to incorporate some of the traits of science fantasy into harder science fiction. Which ones?

Take, say, space pirates. A staple of the genre going back decades - ruffians for the square-jawed Interstellar Patrol to bring to heel, marauders who stand to take away everything our crew of intrepid space merchants holds dear - because they're easy villains easily understood by the audience, a transposition of Earth onto the stars. But the model that's so frequently used, that of space pirates shrieking in out of nowhere to fall upon a rich cargo, plunder the craft and disappear with the booty in their hidden base, doesn't work. All it would take is one person looking through a telescope in the right direction... and a spacefaring society wouldn't be conducting skywatches with just one person looking through a telescope. Nor could they shriek in out of nowhere; unless they have a point-to-point FTL, which brings up a raft of its own problems for organized societies, the target ship would see them coming from quite a long way off. Nor would they be able to hide; the anomalous heat signature generated by a pirate base would be easily detectable by a patrol.

This in mind, how can you keep the space pirate? Exoplanets hold the solution.

Hot Jupiters are something that science fiction never really thought of in a big way, but since the first one was discovered orbiting 51 Pegasi in 1995, they've upended our understanding of how solar systems can be built. They're gas giants that can orbit their parent star well closer than Mercury orbits Sol, and as a result they're superheated and volatile. The scientific interest alone is undeniable, assuming you have the ability to get there - preferably through an "only works at specific locations" FTL like the Alderson drive, at least in my books. What I figured is that these hot Jupiters could also provide space pirates with new Spanish Mains.

There's an important assumption here, first: that starships can refuel themselves with hydrogen, or other gases present in gas giant atmospheres, and that they are capable of entering them in order to collect them. If that's the case, space pirates don't need to be space pirates at all, technically speaking; they can be air pirates, striking at starships as they descend into the atmosphere to refuel. Inside the atmosphere, there is a horizon and stealth is possible. They could operate from aerostat habitats in a relatively calm portion of the atmosphere, if such a thing exists, and limit their attacks; in that way, a ship's disappearance could easily be put down to violent weather conditions.</span>

All this demonstrates that being ingenuous can have great results.
Tags: links, science fiction, space science
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