Upside down starships

January 29, 2011 | By | 16 Replies More

Here’s some important information on upside down starships.

I’m reminded of “upside down” earth photos,  and  maps.


Category: Whimsy

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (16)

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  1. Dan Klarmann says:

    It isn't so much the upside-down issue that irked me in Trekky and later Star-this-or-that-ian portrayals of space encounters. But why do they always seem to approach from and stay in the same plane? The local galaxy is relatively flat, on the scale of thousands of light years. But on the scale of light seconds or closer (hailing distance), it is essentially spherical.

    If I remember (from when I saw it on opening day) in Wrath of Khan, the "he's thinking in two dimensions" line led Kirk to shift his ship slightly out of the plane to move to another position back into the same plane, and he always kept the parallel orientation. Very unlikely.

  2. The real reason for the very earthbound orientation of Star Trek ships is that these aren't stores about science. They are allegories as ancient as a Greek drama, dressed up in sci-fi clothing.

    None of the truly memorable ST stories needed any of the ST technology in order for them to be meaningful. They could just as easily been set on sailing ships in the 1700's, which in fact, the show was partly modeled upon. Trying to sell the concept to the TV execs Gene Roddenbery called it both "Horatio Hornblower in space" and "Wagon Train to the Stars."

    Substitue a six-shooter for a phaser, a ten-gallon hat for a form fitting velour shirt and you could tell the same stories. To get hung up on the details of the science is to lose your sense of what ST was really about.

  3. Miles K says:

    Mike: Boy that's sure true. Your observation is the real mind blowing revelation here.

  4. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    guys, the original series was more science fantasy than science fiction, but the series plot elements were often grounded in the soft sciences of sociology, psychology, and even economics.

    Roddenberry realized the constraints of the TV programming format made the story more important than scientific accuracy. The program's framework allowed Star Trek to th4e social issues of the day in the least offensive way

    Star Trek: The Next Generation (STTNG) tried to bring more science to the series, and the stories suffered as the result.

    Deep Space 9, and Voyager seemed to find a balance between the science and the story-telling aspects.

  5. Stacy Kennedy says:

    The fact that one ship meeting another in outer space would as likely as not be "upside down" in relation to the first had never occurred to me.

    I am deeply pleased to have learned this.

  6. The scene that made me howl with laughter, especially since I realized it was done intentionally to be satirical, was the destruction of the invasion fleet in Starship Troopers, where the ships were actually sinking, "going down", in orbit.

    Niklaus—with regards to whether or not it was science fantasy or science fiction, it was science fiction in the way that almost ALL science fiction is—aesthetically. Even written SF often plays fast and loose with science. Story is always more important. But there is an aesthetic to a universe that is supposedly accessible to science within these fictive frameworks, and as long as you hold to the aesthetics, it qualifies as science fiction. Maybe bad SF, but SF just the same. Star Trek did this better than any other show up to that time and it has not especially dated. You can still watch the original series with the full sense that it is SCIENCE fiction.

    Star Wars qualifies as science fantasy because it mixes in liberal chunks of both aesthetics. (Thematically, it is full blown quest fantasy, albeit it in SF drag).

    The orientation of things in space is done for the convenience of the audience, because this is what we expect and feel comfortable with. Consider—the (very bad) Disney film, Black Hole, opened with a scene aboard a spaceship that took advantage of the zero-g reality, but the action shifted fairly quickly to a horizontal plane for the balance of the film. Even 2001 did this—a few scenes to show that this was not Earth and it was "different" but mostly the camera shots maintained a positive G perspective.

  7. Dan Klarmann says:

    There is a distinction between space opera and hard science fiction. But fandom creates innumerable bridges. Media marketers seek the largest demographics, so create artificial bridges by blurring the distinctions. Mass audiences don't want accurate science in space or time because it does make the human-centric plot less accessible.

    Phil Plait recently wrote 5 outrageous astronomical goofs from great sci-fi movies for a geek audience (as opposed to a general (scientifically illiterate) group).

  8. Dan: I'm going to click that link but before I do I will guess at the number one goof…ships (and explosions) in space making a sound.

    Every sci-fi filmmaker quickly learns that if you go for scientific accuracy in this regard, your spaceship looks like what it is, a scale model. Put a rumbling whoosh on the soundtrack and human being then will buy the image as powerful and large.

    Both Gene Roddenberry and George Lucas have recounted this discovery.

    The only person to solve the problem was Stanley Kubrick. While making 2001 he fought the studios insistence that he add a rocket sound to his ships floating serenely in space. While trying to decide what to do he put some temporary music over the sequences in question.

    It worked so well that he kept it and created one of the most beautiful sequences in sci-fi film, transforming a mundane space docking into an elegant dance.

  9. An incredible coincidence! When I went to check Dan's link, I found on that same site, an article about Gene Roddenberry's pitch for the original Star Trek in which he describes it as a "Wagon Train" concept.

    (For those of you too young to remember, Wagon Train was a TV western in which a group of settlers head west in a never ending trek. Well, never ending until it was cancelled in 1965!)

    For fans of of ST, it is very interesting to read the seeds of what would become an iconic show.

  10. Erich Vieth says:

    Another understandable technique in the many Star Trek series (which I enjoyed over the years –especially Voyager), is that the battles between space ships occur with the ships so close that they can fit on one screen. They are usually only a few hundred yards apart when they blast each other with their sophisticated weapons. You would think that they were throwing water balloons at each other based on the close distance.

    I also wonder why they don't just make a copy of each crew member in the transporter memory. That way, if someone gets killed down on the planet, you merely reassemble them based on the transporter memory. But then again, I'm not an expert on transporter technology.

  11. Dan Klarmann says:

    Keeping copies of each crewman in the transporter would be as absurd as keeping a "Sent" folder in your email program.

  12. Mike writes:—"The only person to solve the problem was Stanley Kubrick."

    No, Joss Whedon figured it out. Watch Firefly, you will see the amazing sight of a spaceship in space making no sound. Often.

    But you're right about the cinematic reasons—which Kubrick proved to be groundless, but…

  13. Erich,

    You need to check out a short story called "Think Like A Dinosaur" (John Kessel, I believe) on your teleporter copy.

  14. Niklaus Pfirsig says:

    Interesting idea, Erich.

    Of course, the "Backup" copy of the of the crewman would have no memory of events that occurred after the backup, including the events that lead to his/her demise.

    Now I understand why they have an endless supply of red-shirts that seem to look alike.

  15. Jim Razinha says:

    Multiple many years ago (30 or so) I happened to be walking behind two gents when at UConn and laughing to myself as I heard them quite animatedly discuss the optimum windshield angle so as to provide maximum visibility while minimum presentation for bugs to splatter. Now, the laughing wasn't at the engineering geeks so much (little did I know then that nine years later I would go on to become one) as it conjured a memory of two high school friends arguing on the merits of a phaser over a Space 1999 stun gun. And a third friend finally burst in with, "They're both not real!"

    So this nice string of comments has me chuckling again.

    Trivia: Shatner and Nimoy came up with the Vulcan neck pinch. Spock was supposed to club some alien over the head with a phaser and Nimoy thought it undignified for a Vulcan. He and Shatner asked a (director? can't remember who) why Spock wouldn't use the neck pinch. Questioned look…Nimoy makes the move…Shatner collapses…and the canon grew.

    Until Abrams ruined it in 2009.

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