Science Fiction Concepts – The Space Age Command Structure

One aspect of science fiction that I think really needs looking at in many different stories and universes is the command structure. What do I mean by this? Surely any advanced space faring species would have a command structure that would reflect the society that they come from?

Sure, but why does it have to be the military structure that is duplicated time and again? Let me explain what I mean:

Scenario 1: Battle

The starship Enterprise (or whatever becasue it’s not just confined to that now) had got three Klingon warships attacking it from different angles. To defend itself, the Enterprise is covered in weapons and yet becasue the captain is human pile of walking mush that can only handle a certain amount of things going on at one time only a fraction of the defence capability is being used.

Let’s get real here. One man or woman / being cannot process an influx of data about damage control, position of attacking craft and how / what to shoot first. Even in this day and age computer warfare systems are able to identify multiple (by this I mean many) threats, prioritise them and take them out accordingly.
It’s fair to say that in the future things will have moved on (likely on both sides which kind of means war is a bit pointless but that’s another topic) so the commander will actually say “Computer. See those nasty Cylons or Borg or whatever – can you please kindly take them out for me. Thanks a lot.”

That will be it. Job done. The computers will be assigning the right things to do the right job and the human brain will not explode from stress.

Scenario 2: Landing Party

A small group of the starship Enterprise have landed on a planet and the Captain needs to be informed of anything before a decision is to be made. But as always some alien interference is stopping this so the landing part are lost and confused. It seems that being detached from the command structure is a big problem.

This point here can also be transferred across the other three points. I think it’s safe to say that mission and function leads will be autonomous. They will have to be trusted to do their jobs as one commander cannot possibly be all over the place. So this means a much flatter structure and probably a less authoritarian one. The commander is there to guide and give very high level strategic instructions like:

1) Take out that annoying alien base.
2) Find the glowing swirling thing that we want.
3) Have a chat with these locals – but I really don’t want to annoy them.

That kind of thing. How the team does this is down to the mission lead.

Scenario 3: Ship / Base / Facility Functions

Here we have a ship of facility of some kind with maybe hundreds or thousands of people on board and the commander has to authorise every little thing that’s going on. Thi si often seen by the commander being given a pad to give authority by a junior rate. 

As in the bit above it’s safe to say that key function will be handled by function leads running their own sections. Whether it’s authorising engine maintenance, or security details or… whatever. Most of it the commander won’t see and will only hear about. They don’t want to know becasue they would have told everyone how they want the job done.

Don’t bore them while we’re exploring Orion’s nebula or working out how to stop an asteroid crashing into a planet or something. 

So that’s my take on sci-fi command structures. The old style military thing of know every detail micromanaging can’t be handled by one person. It can’t, not when you have so many more systems just to stay alive  – let alone do anything. How this comes across is a little hard becasue even I know that it’s easy to use this blueprint.

What are your thoughts?

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12 thoughts on “Science Fiction Concepts – The Space Age Command Structure

  1. I can accept it from forbidden planet and Star Trek, of course, because it was a much fresher concept when they implemented it, but now….ZZZZZZZZ. I’ve actually thought about this a lot, how stale a trope it’s become when used by currently emerging franchises.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Good points raised here Simon.
    Whereas I used enjoy Star Trek with Jim, Spocks, Bones & Scotty. Here was my problem….
    The senior officers always went down on the planet.
    Put this in a WWII Pacific War context.
    Along comes the battleship, an island hoves into view. Out comes a little row boat; and the Captain, his Senior Medical Officer and his Executive officer with two ordinary naval rating row out to a possibly hostile piece of land…..
    And there’s another problem, with the Naval analogy. Big Warships do not ‘footle’ about the place by themselves in possible hostile territory, they go in groups or at least with a few lighter vessels as escorts/scouts (OK I know Captain Cooke didn’t, but he got stabbed by natives didn’t he?….See my problem).

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, it is a problem when writing military action into SF or Fantasy.
        I am wrestling with this problem at the present; three strong leads, women in a still male-dominated society. Also way down the chain of command of any organisation.
        The trap not to fall into is for any of them having that ‘Kirk’ moment where their three or four minute frenetic explanation changes the whole way of thinking of a civilisation. Then I have to make sure for no good reason other than a burst of emotion they take over and lead an entire army to sweeping victory.
        Having read accounts by soldiers or ’embedded’ journalists, I like to put an element of confusion, with the characters having ‘What the ******’ reactions to orders or absence of orders.
        Also, no sudden brilliant plans or insights, just messy, dogged perseverance. (And in some cases a lot of strong language…..mostly of my own invention).

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I think the best you can do here is define how this world of yours works and then write the story around it so that it fits nicely. Consistency and realistic is the path to take to make it plausible and engaging.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Quite so Simon. Currently I’m taking themes I encountered in reading the confusions and mis-readings during WWI & WWII and the myriad of complexities which faced the USA when they were mired in Vietnam, in particular the ‘grunts’.
        Added to this a world on the brink of chaos from careless mis-use of a powerful source of energy (not magic, although some folk make that mistake).
        In short as in many situations, the lessons from History is no one is truly in control.
        It is hoped the reader will have the experience of sitting back and thinking about those in command ‘Will you stop doing that!’
        While of the central characters ‘Glad it’s not me, down there’ but still cheering them on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. So much of modern Sci-Fi seems to imitate the model set by Star Trek, which in turn is based on the U.S. Navy. That’s not a terrible thing, but I think it’s good to start looking for other sources of inspiration.

    Liked by 2 people

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