Thursday, March 22, 2012

Never heard of a Surge Protector?

I am blessed with many friends who are willing to be subjected to test reading my works in progress.  I am currently agonizing over the first chapter of my Sci Fi Epic for which I not only want to nail down Chapter 1 but I'd like to spend some time working on character sketches and short stories related to it.  I very much would like to get a teaser up to show off the world I'm building as well as get some buzz going even though publication is, at the least, a year or two, or three away.

While reading through the first 10 pages he sent me back a message:

Grin, and I'll get over the exploding console trope.. that has always seemed like such a design flaw  why are there no surge protectors in space? 

And honestly that's a rather fair complaint.  Why is it that in all space fictions, we seem rather okay with star ships coming without basic 20th century safety technology?

In the most immediate, I accredit it to the fact that the energy used by 30th century weapons is so great that if we were to put in sufficient surge protectors we would be unable to operate the equipment.   Yes it will cut out if too much current flows one way, but we have such large amounts of current spiking and dissipating, that the protection could be tripped accidentally.   It's a bit of hand waving to be sure, and I'm torn how much I want to work an explanation of this into the prose.

But it also brings to light the common tropes of Sci Fi as well as the rationale behind them.  One thing that the Exploding Console Trope does, is to provide a way for a star ship to suffer casualties without the need to destroy the entire ship.  If there's a hull breech, for example, entire decks or cabins would be vented to space and you'd lose quite a few people.  One good exploding console and you're just down that crewman.

And lastly it's a trope we know.  We almost expect it when we see a star ship taking damage to see sparks flying from somewhere.  The advantage of using a trope that is not yet a cliche is that it provides a familiarity with what is possible in that fictional world.  For me, I intend to keep my exploding consoles to, at the very least, the plausible.  A massive hit on the shields could cause the shield station to explode.  A back current surge from the plasma reactor?  Say buh-bye to the Engineering station.  Helm is at risk if the navigational arrays are overloaded.

What always did bug me with this trope was that it was always the nameless ensign at "universal station #2" that was injured.  What was it about that particular station that made it so unstable?  What was so dangerous about the wiring there? Was that why they never assigned a full ranked bridge officer to work there?  And once assigned to it, what was the appeal process?

Now a little bit of good news for this trope.  A friend of mine who is a contractor did confirm that with a modern fuse you can still get a charge to jump the gap if there is sufficient punch behind it.  He suggested currents in excess of three times the fuse's rating.  So, maybe, the danger of those consoles is when they have just plain So Much current coming through them from a phaser hit, or a missile strike or some other energy surge, that the protections are overridden.  Good enough for me, honestly.

And now to end with a question:  What sci fi trope would you prefer to see retired?

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