One of my current projects is a military SF involving a unit of "mechs" or "mecha" (in the anime sense). One of the problems I'm having is laying out the operational structure in this environment. I was just curious if anyone has dealt with this, or has read anything where an operational structure is explained well.
To be more specific...
In the armed forces, the fundamental infantry unit is the soldier. Two (or three or four) soldiers fit together to form a "fire team." Two or three of these fit together to form a "squad" (or "section" if you're in Canada.) Three sections make a "platoon," three platoons make a "company" etc.
If I were writing about modern infantry the problem would be solved. But in my story the soldiers of the future are encased in a seven-hundred pound mechanical exoskeleton that allows them to fly and carry enough firepower to level a small town. (I never said I was trying to be original).
As a result, these soldiers are generally thought of as armoured units - which for example have "troops" instead of platoons. And because they fly, I've been referring to a company as a "wing" - derived from the air force. The structure is fairly rigid in my mind, but how can this be conveyed to a reader without spending five pages explaining it all? (It's rather important to the story).
I believe Heinlein actually drew out a flow chart in "Starship Troopers."
March 14th, 2003, 04:03 AM
I'd avoid doing a huge info dump as they can be a drag (to read) at the best of times.
I (And I'm no expert here) usually try and make reference to things like that in a natural way throughout the story, possibly even think about including something in a glossary at the back. As long as it's straight in your mind it will probably come across in the finished draft.
March 14th, 2003, 07:49 AM
I would also avoid the info dump. Mention it, as in 'The 5 other troopers of Carl's flight...", or something like that, but there's no real reason to spell out the whole thing up front.
March 14th, 2003, 12:31 PM
I agree and realistically, does it matter? Unless you've got so many named individuals in your Wing that the reader needs to keep track of them all, I don't think it's important that they explicitely know. All of the SF military books I read DID mention the structure in passing, but they were all based on a single squad or maybe a single company and even so, only on a handful of people. There are a lot of 'redshirts' in a Military novel and I personally don't like limiting myself to the rigid structure upfront.
March 14th, 2003, 01:53 PM
Not trying to sound like a jerk, but why not make a flow chart? If it works for one of the best it can't hurt to try...
I'd imagine that you can do some of the clarifying just with the names... Also when you do a char. intro you could give a little of the requisite info in there...
March 14th, 2003, 02:05 PM
Originally posted by Lucky Joe
As long as it's straight in your mind it will probably come across in the finished draft.
Yes, I agree with Joe. I think the flow chart, etc. is usually done mainly for the author so that they can get it straight and not have inconsistencies in their writing. As long as you have it straight it will come out right. Don't worry about the reader in the one area, they will catch on if it sounds natural to them and you seem to know what you are talking about.
March 14th, 2003, 04:42 PM
I'd go with a flow chart - at the start probably is best. Although I also think it can be slipped into the story fairly easily, simply by having a commander review his army when in a battle or by introducing key players in each position and state who's boss they are, like:
Private Lugnut stood sharply to attention as the formidable Captain Mean eyeballed him, Captain Mean was known as a tough wing-commander who demanded a no-fear attitude from his ten subordinates in the wing. Private Lugnut waited until the staring contest had satisfied Captain Mean before drifting into thoughts about how different the Captain was from the affable Staff-Sargeant Getyouanything or the cool, calm Colonel Iceman. Of course it was a given that somewhere way up in the hierarchy, maybe Major-General SteelBalls, someone liked Captain Mean and how he ran the We'reCRazy wing of the twenty wing divisions, and so this pysche up strategy was accepted.
Its only a small paragraph, a bit of an info dump but already you know the general (sic) layout of the army, who fits where and roughly what size army we're talking about. As long as its made interesting, as you said its very important, dump a little bit - its not as if its going to kill the story.
*Apologies for the lame writing ability by-the-by :D *
March 18th, 2003, 10:42 AM
Why mechs anyway? (always thought they were pretty useless as weapons of war, supposedly dominating the battlefield. Just the 2 legs concept seems like a recipe for disaster. OK may be good if a pilot was connected up so one human arm movement equated to one mech arm movement etc, but apart from that, I'd settle for the many platoons of tanks and aircraft that could be built instead)
March 18th, 2003, 02:31 PM
Well, I use that term loosely. In never actually call the machines "mechs" or "mecca" in any of the stories. I just used it here because that's a term people are familiar with. And for the record, I agree that the traditional way in which such machines are portayed is more a reflection of poetic imagery than speculative realism.
In this universe, infantry soldiers are encased in exoskelton-like armour. The armour amplifies a soldier's stength, allows him to carry heavy loads and isolates him from nasty things in the atmosphere, like radioactive fallout, chemical sprays, etc. The armour allows him to leap large distances and even fly, as well as carry a payload of weapons no regular person could ever lift. These units are also small (~ 8 feet tall), making them easy to hide and difficult to strike.
As technology advances, it will become more easy to track and shoot down aircraft, because there's nothing to hide behind in the sky. It is also well known that no matter how much you bomb a place, you can't actually occupy it until you put soliders in on the ground. The machines in this world have evolved out of necessity.
Further in this universe there is a significant deal of combat that occurs on unpopulated worlds where there aren't any roads or trails, so wheeled vehicles are only deployable on a limited basis.
The "platoons" of tanks and aicraft do exist as well in this world - many of them even function remotely. The story however, focuses on the men and women of the armoured corps.
March 18th, 2003, 02:37 PM
Oh and I just wanted to say thanks for all the input guys.