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December 18th, 2002, 11:55 AM
In space no one can hear you scream, or fire a weapon, or hear the sound of the momentous explosion that comes when a laser barrage causes a starship to buckle and come apart at the seams. But when writing a hectic battle scene is it really wise to leave out sound?
I'v read many military SF's where the authors are sticklers to the rule of no sound in space and usually I find that that particular realism degrades the quality of the book.
Take Return of the Jedi as an example. That final battle scene where the Rebel and Imperial fleets take each other on at close range is probably the most awesome space battle scene in the history of movies. The roar of Tie's as they swoop in for the kill, the sound of laser cannons firing off the tips of an X-Wings wings or the thousands of explosions that littered space like fireflies.
Well, what would have happened if the director (who contrary to uneducated belief was not George Lucas) decided he would follow the rules and not have any sound involved? When Babylon 5 first came out it's space scenes had no sound and they were downright boring compared to the battles of laters episodes.
Are these examples relevant to books? Absolutely! Sound has been accepted as a key part of war on Earth and when reading a novel I find that it's distracting to read the sentence the author has to occassionally put in to remind everyone there's no sound.
Any thoughts?

I, Brian
December 18th, 2002, 03:40 PM
Writers who refuse to go with even the basics of realism really have to ask why they are writing at all. In sci-fi and fantasy there is far more of a remit to define an original sense of realism - flaming swords and/or sentient robots, etc, and that's fine enough. But having sound in space is just silly - unless a fictional universe is created where sound can propagate through a vacuum.

Your protests point to film media, which is essentially an audio-visual experience in the first place (nowadays, at least). Reading is a mental experience. There is no need to have external space views described as noisy by a writer in such an idiom. It's pointless.

However, if a writer really wants sound, then they should be aware that they are generally writing through the experiences of their characters, which themselves will be subject to a whole range of sounds within a spaceship - especially if struck, ie, during a battle.

December 18th, 2002, 03:53 PM
Let me put it this way then....

The pilot veered towards the gigantic starship, his engines roaring loudly with speed and power. He dodged the explosions dotting space, they pounded against his eardrums violently. An enemy fighter screamed passed and with guns blazing wrought destruction.

Now try this...

The pilot veered towards the gigantic starhsip. He dodged the the explosions dotting space and watched as an enemy flew passed reaking destruction.

Which one is more exciting, which one seems more chaotic? Sound whether it is realistic or not can be a powerful tool in creating dramatic, exciting scenes.

December 18th, 2002, 04:43 PM
Stewart, using your own example.

The pilot veered towards the gigantic starship. He sensed the change in the ship's engines as they strained to make the manoeuvre

A bead of sweat trickled down his forehead as his eyes told him the enemy's attacks were close. Each small fading blip on the screen before him was a protential death.

There are other senses you can use....;)

December 18th, 2002, 04:59 PM
True, but how many of those senses can outmatch sound? The sense of touch, a good one yes but in a large novel it came become repetive to continually describe the sweat that trickles down the pilots face. The only way to keep it interesting would be to occasionally wound the pilot and that too can become repetetive. Sounds can keep changing but pain can only and fear can only be so extreme. Besides how many people here can honeslty say they would enjoy having to pop sentences in here and there about how silent it is. Whenever I try that it always seems awkward, of course this may be a lack of skill on my part but I have always found things to flow much better when I leave in sound. And unless you're a Nasa engineer or consider anything unrealistic in a fiction novel a heresy against the fine art of writing then it shouldn't really be a big problem.

December 18th, 2002, 06:34 PM
Okay nitpickers here's my two cents.

There are sounds you would hear in "space" - they're just different from what you would hear otherwise. You would for example hear the rumble of your own engines in some form. Impacts could also send pressure waves through the inside of your ship. You would of course, not hear another vessel firing its rockets. If you work at it, you could make things really rather eerie.

December 19th, 2002, 01:54 PM
Think creatively. You can still use sound in your writing without having lasers zinging and spaceships whooshing about.

How about this?

The pilot veered towards the gigantic starship and, as he approached its pockmarked surface, his proximity alarm began to screech out a warning.

He ignored the sound and accelerated. The engines whined and rumbled beneath his feet as they were forced into accelerating more than they were designed to do.

The pilot swallowed painfully; his throat was beginning to feel sore from the hot air in the cockpit. He blinked away a bead of sweat that trickled into his eye. He could taste chemicals. Another shrill alarm added its voice to the wail of the proximity alarm. It was familiar to him, but not a sound that he had heard before. All pilots learned to recognize its cry - and to dread the day they heard it. It indicated that the ship's environmental systems were failing.


Ok, so that's not too hot - I'm not a Science Fiction writer - but you see what I mean?

Aik Haw
December 20th, 2002, 10:12 AM
If you cannot use sound for images in space, use something else. Like this:-

The dark heavens watches mutely as all around him, small pinpricks of globulus flame flared, than died in the void. Shihjye flicked his eyes back at the control module. The usually black panel glared at him with a kaleidescope of clashing colours as the invisible rays rushed from the dark looming craft towards his friends.

No choice, he tilted his head forward as he a translucent droplet floated away from his eye. A harsh radiance spilled over the small cockpit, tainting it bright red briefly. One more comrade gone, one more hope lost. Soon, he will follow them in their wailing dance in this metal strewn space.

"Brother, forgive me for failing you. Ancestors, I have never lived to your virtue," he croaked as he depressed a red button.

In silence, the craft lurched backwards as streams of white missiles impelled by bright flames spread forward. My final gift to the cause, he thought as the fusillade brightened the dark hull of the enemy craft. His screen gouted into a singular shade of red. My turn now, he notes. He closed his eyes, his hands circling the bobbing pendant of the Eight Immortals as the world around him erupted in silent flame.

I, Brian
December 20th, 2002, 03:04 PM
Stewart -

The pilot veered towards the gigantic starship, his engines roaring loudly with speed and power. He dodged the explosions dotting space, they pounded against his eardrums violently.

An enemy fighter screamed passed and with guns blazing wrought destruction.

Please note that the first two sentences are written according the the character's POV (point of view). As humans don't survive well in a vacuum, it would be reasonable to assume that the pilot is situated in some form of medium that would allow the propagation of longitudinal waves ;)

(oh - do especially note choppy's answer - I wasn't going to tell you about pressure waves otherwise).

The second sentence, if from a limited omniscient POV, would only require a single word changing - "screamed". A simple substitution would be "streaked" (or anything similar). Note that "to blaze" can be primarily taken as a visual action, so can remain.

In conclusion - simply changing one word would render the paragraph quitre acceptable with regards the realistic use of sound in space.

Now, where's the great pain and effort involved with that?


December 20th, 2002, 05:22 PM
Sounds may not be heard in space, but if you specify that the pilot is hearing the sounds of his own ship and/or weaponry that can happen.

Kilroy Was Here