The Terrible Truth About Starship Bridge Crews

It makes no sense for an advanced starship to have a human bridge crew. We need a captain, because because we didn’t go to all the bother of inventing hypertech computers and warp drives just to let them go off and have fun without us. But intelligence isn’t a zero sum game: we won’t advance physics into punching past the light barrier by devolving user interfaces to the point where you need a full-time secretary to translate your commands into switches at each station. The Enterprise has vending machines which can instantly understand and obey every order. Captain Picard could stand naked in a holodeck and make it so wherever he wanted.

There’s no such thing as “experience” – the computer can plot a course faster than a fleshbrain, and you sure as hell don’t don’t need someone to press the little button which tells the ship to raise shields when that ship detected the incoming fire. You’ve got warp drives and energy weapons. By the time your “tactical offer” has started saying “Sir”, your ship could have punched out the enemy shield emitters, scanned the Captain’s psychological history, and carved a pleasing abstract shape through the opposing hull so that the foe died as prettily as possible.

You don’t need human help to run a ship. What you need is human faces on those all-powerful functions so that one day you don’t just fuck it and start firing photon torpedoes at an alien race because they don’t pick up their commlink fast enough. The real function of a bridge crew is to stand between the captain and their power. To put faces on how the captain interacts with the outside universe, and to say “hell no” if he starts getting stupid. They’re fleshy circuit-breakers in the Total Perspective Vortex, sentient fuses connecting a single mind to existence on a scale and power level which would otherwise utterly destroy it.

That’s why the bridge is built like an inwards-pointing firework display. There is no possible reason for the bridge systems to explode unless they’re specifically built to do that. It’s on purpose. The captain is kept in the center, because they have to stay functioning, but any damage to the ship causes explosions on the bridge to send real people flying in pain. Adding emotional weight to what is otherwise just a lot of pretty lights and loud noises, humanifying the utterly unimaginable scale of space combat. “Real people are dying”, this tells the captain. “This matters. Pay attention.” Otherwise you end up with a naked lunatic trolling the universe with photon torpedoes.


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4 thoughts on “The Terrible Truth About Starship Bridge Crews

  1. Nice Article … but you’re missing the importance of Red Shirts! C’mon, how many Red Shirts need to die so the Bridge Crew can survive?

  2. You, sir, are a genius. Well reasoned and excellently stated. This is going in my archive of “things I will keep forever because they’re clever”.

  3. According to the movie: “The Right Stuff” which was about our early space program, the initial space cabins for the astronauts were to NOT HAVE ANY windows. According to the movie, this was a deal breaker for the astronauts. They already knew that most of the flying was going to be done by computers and scientists on the ground, but with a window, the astronauts argued, they could at least pretend to be doing the actual flying. And since most of them were test pilots, flying was essential to their being there. Even if it their actual flying was just pretend.

    So I guess the bridge of the Enterprise was there just because it was a movie. Who would have thought?

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