SPACESHIPS
   The suggestion that people might one day travel to the MOON inside a flying machine was first put forward seriously by John WILKINS in 1638. There had been cosmic voyages prior to that date, and there were to bemany more thereafter (FANTASTIC VOYAGES; SPACE FLIGHT), but few took the mechanics of the journey seriously enough to invest much imaginative effort in the design of credible vehicles. Edgar Allan POE's "The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall" (1835) has an afterwordcomplaining about the failure of other writers to achieve verisimilitude, but Pfaall makes his journey by BALLOON, and Poe's assumption of the continuity of the atmosphere - a full 2 centuries after Torricelli had concluded that the Earth's atmosphere could extend upwards for only a few miles - is hardly scientific.Jules VERNE's travellers in De la terre a la lune (1865; trans J.K. Hoyte as From the Earth to the Moon 1869 US) and its sequel, Autour de la lune (1870, both trans as From the Earth to the Moon 1873 UK) use a projectile fired from a gun rather than a vessel, andmost of those who followed in his footsteps treated their vessels as facilitating devices, inventing various jargon terms to signify mysterious forces of propulsion. Percy GREG's spaceship in Across the Zodiac (1880) is powered by "apergy"; H.G. WELLS invented the antigravitic "Cavorite" for THE FIRST MEN IN THE MOON (1901); John MASTIN's "airship" is borne into space by a "new gas" in The Stolen Planet (1905); and Garrett P. SERVISS's A Columbus of Space (1909; rev 1911) employed an atomic powered"space-car". Because their means of propulsion were so often mysterious, spaceships in this period could easily assume the "perfect" spheroid shape of the heavenly bodies themselves; a notable example is in Robert CROMIE's A Plunge into Space (1890). When not round or bullet-shaped they tended toresemble flying submarines.Spaceships were taken up in a big way by the early sf PULP MAGAZINES, and their visual image was dramatically changed. Frank R. PAUL and other contemporary illustrators (ILLUSTRATION) showed astrong preference for bulbous machines like enormously bloated aeroplanes or rounded-off oceangoing liners with long rows of portholes. These were often shown with jets of flame or vapour gushing out behind, but this was as much to suggest speed as to indicate that the means of propulsion involved might be one or more ROCKETS; similarly, the slow process whereby hulls became streamlined and elegant fins appeared corresponded less to any realization of the importance of rocket-power than to the development of sleeker automobiles in the real world. Two of the more convincing early pulp-sf spaceships are featured in Otto Willi GAIL's The Shot into Infinity (1925; trans 1929; 1975) and Laurence MANNING's "The Voyage ofthe Asteroid" (1932), but such stories were overshadowed by extravagant SPACE OPERAS which thrived on fantastic machines with limitlesscapabilities, fighting interstellar WARS with all manner of exotic WEAPONS - the ultimate fulfilment of childhood fantasies. Classic examples includethe various Skylarks employed by E.E. "Doc" SMITH's Richard Seaton and friends. Many pulp-sf writers still regarded spaceships as mere facilitating devices - Edgar Rice BURROUGHS was prepared to do without them in many of his interplanetary romances - but the pioneers of space opera exploited the fantasies of unlimited opportunity and luxurious seclusion which had hitherto been attached to such Earthly vessels as Captain Nemo's Nautilus, the Crystal Boat in Gordon STABLES's The Cruiseof the Crystal Boat (1891) and the Golden Ship used in Max PEMBERTON's The Iron Pirate (1897). Outside the pulps, the hero of Friedrich W. MADER'sDistant Worlds (1921; trans 1932) declared that his spacefaring vessel was no mere "airship" but a world-ship with the freedom of the Universe.By the 1930s writers of HARD SF had become convinced that the first realspaceships would be rockets, and stories about the large-scale projects required to build them were being written as early as Lester DEL REY's "The Stars Look Down" (1940); other notable examples include Arthur C.CLARKE's Prelude to Space (1951) and Gordon R. DICKSON's The Far Call (1973; exp 1978). But dominance was always retained by naive fantasies in which spaceships could be casually built in anyone's back yard, or in which their familiarity was simply taken for granted. Realistic stories of the building and launching of spaceships can still be written - Manna (1984) by Lee Correy (G. Harry STINE) is noteworthy - but we have nowbecome so blase about the spectacle of Saturn rockets blasting off from Cape Canaveral and space shuttles gliding down to land at Edwards AirForce Base that modern sf rarely bothers with matters of construction or with maiden voyages. Tense NEAR FUTURE melodramas involving moderately advanced hardware can still be very suspenseful - The Descent of Anansi (1982) by Larry NIVEN and Steven BARNES is a good example - but the vastmajority of sf stories look towards further horizons.A different kind of realism was introduced into spaceship stories by Robert A. HEINLEIN in "Universe" (1941), which scorned the convenience of FASTER-THAN-LIGHTtravel and established the archetypal image of the GENERATION STARSHIP. This notion - an ironic embodiment of the motto per ardua ad astra -quickly took over the sf version of the myth of the Ark, earlier displayed in such novels as When Worlds Collide (1933) by Philip WYLIE and Edwin BALMER. Notable later examples include Leigh BRACKETT's Alpha Centauri -or Die! (1953 as "The Ark of Mars"; exp 1963) and Roger DIXON's Noah II (1970). The spaceship became a powerful symbol of permanent escape,invoked continually throughout the 1950s in stories of future tyranny and the struggles of oppressed minorities. The myth of escape is taken to its extreme in Poul ANDERSON's time-dilatation fantasy Tau Zero (1967; exp 1970), the first of several stories in which the spaceship provides itshuman crew with a means to escape the end of the Universe. Such escape motifs are, however, opposed in stories of space disaster; two interesting stories which recast the voyage of the Titanic (1912) as sf are "The Star Lord" (1953) by Boyd Ellanby (William Boyd [1903-1983]) and "The CorianisDisaster" (1960) by Murray LEINSTER. Other stories developed the notion of far-travelling starships into the idea of a starship culture. Notable examples are Heinlein's CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY (1957) and Alexei PANSHIN's RITE OF PASSAGE (1963; exp 1968). Relativistic effects were built into theidea of a starship culture in L. Ron HUBBARD's Return to Tomorrow (1950; 1954), in which spacefarers become alienated from the course of history bythe time-dilatation effect of travelling at near-lightspeed.The UFO crazes of the post-WWII years made some impact on sf imagery in the magazines. Disc-shaped spaceships became more common in ILLUSTRATIONS, and theinterest of editors Sam MERWIN Jr - who also wrote about flying saucers in "Centaurus" (1953)-and Raymond A. PALMER was reflected in the magazines ofwhich they had charge. Ufology had far more influence on the imagery of sf CINEMA, where saucer-shaped ships became commonplace. The sleeklystreamlined ships which still dominated magazine illustration continued to hold their ground until the 1970s; when their imagery was finally challenged, it was by the bizarre and surreal hardware of artists like Eddie JONES and Christopher FOSS. This movement towards a more complicatedtopography - licensed by the knowledge that starships built in space for journeys in hard vacuum had no need of streamlining - had been foreshadowed in fiction since the 1950s. Among the more romantic spaceships featured in the later years of magazine sf are those in Cordwainer SMITH's Instrumentality stories, which include thelight-powered "sailing ships" in "The Lady who Sailed the Soul" (1960) and "Think Blue, Count Two" (1963) (SOLAR WIND). The tree-grown starships ofJack WILLIAMSON's Dragon's Island (1951; vt The Not-Men) and the animal-drawn starships of Robert Franson's The Shadow of the Ship (1983) are among the most curious in sf.The men who sail or fly in them often refer to ships and aircraft as "she", crediting them with personalities and giving them names. Much sf transplants this tendency in perfectly straightforward terms, but other stories carry it to its logical and literal extreme. Human brains are frequently transplanted into spaceship bodies to become functional CYBORGS, as in Thomas N. SCORTIA's "Sea Change" (1956; vt "The Shores of Night"), Anne MCCAFFREY's The Ship whoSang (coll of linked stories 1969), Cordwainer Smith's "Three to a Given Star" (1965) and Kevin O'DONNELL Jr's Mayflies (1979). Other spaceships acquire intelligence and personality in their own right thanks to their sophisticated COMPUTER networks; the one in Frank HERBERT's Destination: Void (1966) has delusions of godlike grandeur, and the one in Clifford D.SIMAK's Shakespeare's Planet (1976) has a multiply split personality. More often, though, the relationship between humans and spaceships maintains a traditional naval rigour, as in many novels by the Merchant Navy writer A. Bertram CHANDLER, Starman Jones (1953) by ex-US Navy officer RobertHeinlein and THE MOTE IN GOD'S EYE (1974) by Larry Niven and Jerry E. POURNELLE.Sf stories whose subject matter is the spaceship MYTHOLOGY built up by their predecessors include Stanislaw LEM's Niezwyciezony (1964; trans as The Invincible 1973) and Mark GESTON's Lords of the Starship (1967). The idea that the spaceship owes much of its charisma to phallicsymbolism has been much bandied about - as reflected in Virgil FINLAY's cover for the Oct 1963 issue of WORLDS OF TOMORROW, Kurt VONNEGUT Jr's "The Big Space Fuck" (1972) and Norman SPINRAD's The Void Captain's Tale(1983) - but a more convincing analogy would liken spaceships to the "sperms" of sea-dwelling creatures which require no intromission (and hence no phallus) but are simply released into an oceanic wilderness to seek out the object of their fertilizing mission. This is the metaphor contained in such novels as Jack Williamson's Manseed (fixup 1982). The spaceship is still commonly deployed as a straightforward facilitating device - a means to send ordinary near-contemporary characters into exotic and fabulous situations - but even in this role it can become as charismatic as STAR TREK's Starship Enterprise. The terminal decline in the plausibility of the home-made spaceship in the face of the magnitude and complexity of the actual space programme has to some extent been compensated for by the remarkable frequency with which sf characters serendipitously discover ALIEN spaceships; a notable example is Frederik POHL's GATEWAY (1977) and its sequels. Alien starships are sometimesinvested with even more mystique than those constructed by humans; notable examples include those whose one-time arrival on Earth is revealed in Ivan YEFREMOV's "Stellar Ships" (trans 1954) and the gargantuan vessel featuredin Arthur C. Clarke's RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA (1973). Awesome alien spaceships provide stirring climaxes for such films as CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND (1977) and The ABYSS (1989), but they can also perform amuch more sinister role, as in Stephen KING's novel The Tommyknockers (1988).The power of the sf mythology of the spaceship was made evident bythe decision to bow to public pressure and name one of the experimental space shuttles, constructed in 1977, the Enterprise.
BS

Science Fiction and Fantasy Encyclopedia. . 2011.

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