It may seem strange to talk about making corrections to a work of fiction, but as big and complex as world building can often get, it’s easy to loose track of details and let little things slip through, especially when you’re playing against type.
In yesterday’s story, Captain Rainer tells Elizabeth to avoid using the term “space navy”. This is because The United States Combined Orbital and Deep Space Forces didn’t start as an outgrowth of the United States Navy.
Many sci-fi settings adopt a naval theme for their space forces because they envision large fleets of ships moving through interplanetary or even interstellar space, their massive crews working to keep the juggernaut of galactic space power moving forward. However, this overlooks the fact that military activity in space is likely to start with small ships, probably crewed by no more than a dozen people and much similar to the heavy bombers of yesteryear than the much larger ships of the Navy. Their mandate will likely have more to do with ensuring that hostile forces stay clear of strategic orbitals than forming large platforms for spaceborn firepower. The USAF handles many of those tasks already and, while it’s true that the Navy does similar things using carrier air power, the fact that the Air Force only deals with those situations makes them more likely to take the lead in developing space power. Once that development begins, bureaucratic inertia suggest they’ll keep it until the Orbital Force break free of the Air Force just as the Air Force once did from the Army.
What does all that have to do with yesterday’s short story?
It has to do with rank. You see, the Air Force was once a part of the Army, and thus uses Army nomenclature when referring to it’s enlisted men and officers. Among other things, this means that Captain Rainer is an O-3 like an Army captain, not an O-6 like a Naval captain, which is why he’s in charge of recruiting at an aging space station rather than commanding a larger garrison somewhere. But more importantly, it means there are no Chief Petty Officers. Rather, ComODS has Master Sergeants, the equivalent to Chiefs in Army, Air Force and Marine ranks. So Elizabeth didn’t get insider information on the application requirements from a Chief Computer Technician’s Mate, she got it from a Master Sergeant.
Naval Chiefs are handy for sci-fi writers for a number of reasons. One is that their rating is right there in the title, which is part of the reason why I accidentally used it in yesterday’s story. The rank also sounds very authoritative, which is nice. But most of all, it’s a naval rank, and space navies are the default for sci-fi writers.
I debated about going back and making the change. However, since my intended history for the Extrasolar Age has the U.S. space military tradition (and several others) founded in the Air Force, I have ultimately decided to go back and edit the story rather than letting it stand as is.
Now, I’m going to pause to consider whether effort expended was worth time invested. I’ve used over five hundred words to explain why I’m changing four. We must as we must, I suppose…