Space is Just Another Sea: A Narrative Media Top 15

The distinctive 4 liquid booster rockets of a Russian Soyuz launcher, in equally characteristic, quite beautiful tones of orange & grey. The original Soyuz structure is half a century old: in 1953 Sergey Korolev (see item 12 below) championed the use of a military ICBM, the R-7, for space transport. It is this basic heritage, in ever improved & upgraded versions, which lives on in the modern Soyuz launcher. With over 1700 launches manned & unmanned, the Soyuz class is by far the most employed rocket in history, as well as one of the cheapest & most reliable. It became positively vital during the years when the US Space Shuttle was grounded. (Photo credit ESA.)

To make the idea of a single, unified ocean of sea & space (see earlier posting here) just a little more definite to the imagination, here’s a mixed media list – suggesting inspiration from multiple narrative media channels, in this case books, films, games, several simulated worlds – all on the topic of navigation & discovery through water & ether.

1. Mahan, AT. The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783. New York: Dover Publications, 1987 (1890). After more than a century, still the beginning & end of everything about oceanic expansion. Captain Mahan, USN, studied the success of the British Royal Navy in unsurpassable depth, and inspired thereby the modern US Navy – as well as the extremely destructive German battle Navies of both World Wars. Page on LibraryThing. See also my post “To Command the Ocean is to Command All”.

2. Markoe, Glenn E. The Phoenicians. London: British Museum Press, 2000. The Phoenicians, originating from what is now Lebanon, were among the very first truly organized naval traders. They notably founded Rome’s single true rival, Carthage. The book is fairly recent, based on the most modern & ambitious archaeology, & is as compelling a study of contemporary historical methods as a study of sea trade & power in “the true cradle of civilization”, the Mediterranean-Mesopotamian circuit, or Greater Levant. Even if the subject seems slightly recondite, it isn’t, & the book is really as foundational as Mahan’s, dealing with the forces that already prevailed long before modern navies. Page on LibraryThing.

3. Lane, Frederic C. Venice: A Maritime Republic. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 1973. Still the fundamental work on the secrets of Venice as the dominant organized sea power between the time of the Phoenicians & the rise of Atlantic exploration. Page on LibraryThing.

4. Russell, Peter. Prince Henry the Navigator. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2000. Prince Henry of Portugal initiated modern world exploration & trade – including organized oceanic slave trade. The Portuguese were later superseded by the Dutch, and more durably the British, but the organized founder of globalization was Portugal. Page on LibraryThing.

5. Kennedy, Paul. The Rise & Fall of British Naval Mastery. London: Allen Lane Penguin, 2004 (1976). This book justifiably launched the star career of a former teacher of mine, Yale historian Paul Kennedy. A modernized, streamlined, & perhaps more readable Mahan. Page on LibraryThing.

6. Darwin, Charles.The Voyage of the Beagle. Penguin Classics. London: Penguin, 1989 (1839). Early oceanic expansion was not only military & economic, but intellectual & scientific. Page on LibraryThing.

7. Master & Commander. Dir Peter Weir. 2003. DVD. Fox Home Entertainment, 2004. Fans of ocean navigation need little introduction to Aubrey & Maturin, heroes of Patrick O’Brian’s enormously popular maritime novels. Personally I’ve read considerably more CS Forester than O’Brian, but this film is beautifully detailed – & gripping all through its solid length. Page on IMDb.

8. War Galley. Designers Richard Berg & Mark Herman. Board Game. GMT 2006 (1997). Traditional hex & counter wargame on naval conflict in Greek-Roman antiquity, in a modern version with many interesting details, & with game mechanics that seem adaptable to many other galley settings (eg Venice?). Page on BoardGameGeek.

9. Struggle of Empires. Designer Martin Wallace. Board Game. Warfrog, 2004. Perhaps on its way to become a modern classic, this popular board game simulates, quite well, the basic mechanisms of early oceanic globalization, c1700-1800. Page on BoardGameGeek.

10. Europa Universalis III. Video/computer game. Paradox Interactive, 2007. Something as remarkable as a mass-market, Swedish computer game with a palpable respect for History. Play a European oceanic power & watch the cannonballs fly. Page on Steam.

11. Freeport. Designers Chris Pramas et al. RPG setting. Green Ronin Publishing, 2000. A simulated world if ever there was one, among the most popular maritime city settings, now a classic. Many publications, supporting several RPG systems. Page at Green Ronin Publishing.

12. Harford, James. Korolev: How One Man Masterminded the Soviet Drive to Beat America to the Moon. London: Wiley & Sons, 1997. The single book on spacefaring you cannot avoid. A tale of the man behind the Sputnik & Soyuz, & of the powerful Russian tradition of space exploration. Only after Korolev’s death did the Russians fall behind. Page on LibraryThing.

13. Simmons, Dan. Hyperion. New York: Doubleday, 2005 (1989). In science fiction (SF), everything seems to be about ships – space ships. Hyperion & its sequel The Fall of Hyperion stand out by their explosive imaginative strength & by a rarely surpassed concrete description of ships that are sentient, intelligent & self-aware. Page on LibraryThing.

14. Lem, Stanislaw. Solaris. London: Faber & Faber, 2003 (Warsaw, 1961). The translation is grossly unsatisfactory (not from the original Polish, but translated to English from the French version, which possibly even went via Russian), but the book is perhaps the best SF story ever written, certainly the most “intellectual” & literary. No wonder Philip K Dick & Lem (whose other works are equally brilliant) were such hostile rivals. Page on LibraryThing.

15. Solyaris. Dir Andrei Tarkovsky. 1972. DVD. Artificial Eye, 2002. One of very few perfect SF films, based on the above novel, & again tacitly honouring the Russian tradition of spacefaring. (Not to be confused with the much weaker, but by no means hopeless 2002 Soderbergh version Solaris.) Page on IMDb.

Categories: Sea & Space, Simulated Worlds

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