I’ve been reading a lot of Science Fiction recently, which should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me at all. I’ve found myself reading quite a bit of a particular genre of military SF .. I’m sure this sub-genre has a name, but I’ve no idea what it might be.
Generally, it seems to require 19th century naval traditions, except that they’re IN SPACE now.
It will contain some, most, or all of the following elements:
The protagonist will be a plucky junior officer or cadet. They will be very smart, focussed, steely-eyed, and have a higher order of tactical thinking or ability than other cadets, but also be of a lower social order (or more provincial background) than others. These elements will set up a rivalry with another cadet or junior officer, and that antagonist will inevitably be rich and of a good bloodline and well connected within the SPACE NAVY, but will be venal and sneering and whatnot.
There will be constant reference to the smartness and crispness and colour and decoration of uniforms. These uniforms may, if you actually picture them fully in your head, be awful. “She looked at herself, steely-eyed, in the holo-mirror. She carefully adjusted the bright gold epaulettes on her crisp cerulean dress uniform with it’s chartreuse piping and accents. It would do. She deactivated the mirror with a brisk voice command and made her way to the formal dinner.”
There will be formal dinners. Oh, how there will be formal dinners.
There will be strange stilted nomenclature for all spacecraft and equipment. “The USS Gloryblazer was a Mark II Cruiser, with a Class 4 Macpherson Drive, 15 banks of missile launchers and three banks of older, but still perfectly serviceable, Chomodley-Smythe Type 4 deflector screens.”
The protagonist may, as they are (of course) rapidly promoted, gain servants in the form of valets and cooks (see above re: Formal Dinners) and bodyguards and suchlike. At least one of them will be both wry and arch. They will all be very loyal to the protagonist, because the protagonist is so noble and clever and brave, etc.
There will be a considerable level of alcoholic consumption by everyone from every level of the SPACE NAVY. But weirdly, no other drugs, not even in the year three million or whatever. Oh, except maybe for some “Stimpaks” or something, that improve concentration. Those are allowed. I presume they offset the alcohol.
There will be a lot, and I mean a shitload, of weird military protocols about lines of control, officer seniority, and who exactly is in command of what at any given time. It may come down to who started at Cadet School Academy Space Hogwarts (“Spogwarts”) College Navy Institute Academy (not it’s actual name) on what date.
Despite the fact that there will be the trappings of hard SF (warp drives, laser guns, even AI) all the protocols used to maneuver the ship and/or squadron of ships will rely on humans yelling shit at each other. Shit like “Cut engines at my mark! … MARK!” and “Set course for three point one seven elliptical!” “Aye Sir, Course laid in!” and “Activate Macpherson Drive! I say again, activate Macpherson drive!” Presumably in the time it’s taken to yell and acknowledge those orders, the ships AI has simulated the entire battle in advance, written a symphony orchestra to provide suitable background music for the fight, and shitposted on the GalactiNet about the enemy AI’s are secretly furries before getting bored and going into low-power mode until the desperately slow humans finish flapping their disgusting meat tongues.
There will be a weird class structure in place, where despite the fact that it’s the year three-million-or-whatever, all the officers will be straight out of the upstairs section of Downton Abbey, and all the “crew” will talk like Tolkien orcs: “Cor blimey, the captain’ll ‘ave yer flogged, if’n yer don’t get to polishing that there Macpherson drive quick smart!”
There will be constant references to the posture of everyone involved. Needless to say, the protagonist always stands straight-backed while looking steely-eyed at things. Low-class crew members may slouch. Antagonists will both slouch AND constantly look about nervously, because they are non-steely-eyed cowards.
The protagonist will have a torrid affair with someone around their own rank. That someone will, of course, be killed in combat. The protagonist will be crushed by their death, but will nobly continue their duties because of their nobility, etc. Weirdly, they may have a massive breakdown about it IN PRIVATE ONLY but the crew must never, never see this. It’s just not done.
At some point, despite their youth and lower social standing, the protagonist will take command of a ship, or a squadron, or a whole fleet. They will win a great victory with it because they are so clever and noble and so damn steely-eyed. This victory will end up saving a planet or galactic civilisation or the all-encompassing universe itself, and will make a lot of people of higher rank in the SPACE NAVY very, very angry.
The cover of the book will definitely have a spaceship on it.