Eldritch Starship
A spaceship, time machine, or interdimensional vehicle has an extremely unconventional, possibly physics-defying design


(permanent link) added: 2012-05-06 08:07:56 sponsor: fulltimeD (last reply: 2012-06-25 19:07:07)

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The polar opposite of ISO Standard Human Spaceship, these are spacecraft, time machines, and/or interdimensional vehicles whose weirdness goes beyond Living Ship and possibly into Alien Geometries or a mobile version of the Eldritch Location. We call it Eldritch Starship because these vehicles are usually either starships or interdimensional or time traveling starships. It's rare (but not unheard of) for examples of this trope to be incapable of either space travel or Faster-Than-Light Travel. The milder form of this usually begins with Bigger on the Inside or dimensionally transcendent in some way other than bog-standard Faster-Than-Light Travel, and it only grows weirder from that point on. May involve Body Horror or invoke elements of Cosmic Horror. They might be constructed from unconventional materials, powered by unconventional power sources, be dimensionally transcendent, or have an Unusual User Interface. Their interiors may even look like they were designed by MCEscher. There's no guarantee that the crew or the ship itself won't change its interiors (or even its exterior) from time to time. Frequently they are a Genius Loci or function as a Setting as a Character. They are always surreal in some way that a typical spaceship in fiction just isn't.

This trope does not cover examples of Living Ship or Space Whale unless those examples also include other surreal qualities not covered by those tropes.

The trope has three major variations (with a lot of overlap), but beyond these three archetypes there is much, much variety:

  • "Starfish" Spaceship - as in Starfish Alien, only for technology. These are spacecraft whose very conceptual design, let alone its performance, seems to defy not only the laws of physics in both Real Life and in-universe.

  • "Lobster" Spaceship - spacecraft that is physically possible, and probably has engines, a bridge, etc., but much of the ship seems to be a Lovecraftian mass of antennae, spines, blades, metallic tentacles and other parts of uncertain function.

  • "Changeling" Spaceship - spacecraft that is physically possible, but transforms radically (not just extendable wings and the like). The interior, exterior, or both could transform.

Sub-Trope of Cool Starship, but also covers other fantastic types of vehicles such as time machines, interdimensional vehicles, etc. However, in the rare instance that a conventional vehicle built by aliens such as an analog of a boat, airplane, car or other such craft appears in media, which otherwise fits the parameters of this trope, it should be considered a valid example of an "Eldritch" vehicle. This is because a car or a boat built, or an airplane by radically alien life forms, incorporating a radically different design philosophy and/or Alien Geometries, would by definition still be a "fantastic" vehicle. Closely related to Bizarrchitecture

Please try to avoid listing ships that only look weird or are of an unusual size. To be a true Eldritch Starship, a ship (or other fantastic vehicle) must be conceptually weirder than what is generally covered under The Aesthetics of Technology. Radically different design philosophies utilizing mind-bending concepts in their construction, form or function are what defines this trope.


Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • The Anti-Spirals of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann utilize very odd kinds of ships. In-universe, their strangeness was due largely to the fact that they didn't have faces, but they were designed quite oddly regardless.

Film

  • The bubble-like spacecraft in The Fountain, which contained an island-like structure centered around the roots of a tree.
  • In the movie Explorers, the kids build a spaceship based around a force field bubble, similar to the above.
  • Carl Sagan's minimalistic, surreal spaceship from Cosmos, with its Crystal Spires and Togas and Everything Is An I Pod In The Future aesthetic.
  • The spherical, iPod-like starships used by Garry Shandling's character (and the other humanoid Ditto Aliens) in What Planet Are You From? The simple, striking design of these small ships perfectly reflected the stagnant, conformist culture on the main character's home planet.
  • V'Ger from Star Trek: The Motion Picture: an enormous, self-aware machine that literally absorbs ships, space stations, entire planets and even spatial phenomenon and stores them inside its complex memory, and is surrounded by an energy cloud that is 2 Astronomical Units across (or 82 AUs, depending on which version of the movie you watch).
  • The Narada of the 2009 film Star Trek is a marginal example. It was originally a mining ship, but looks like it came out of a Lovecraftian story, with the firepower to match. Expanded Universe has explained it was once a more humble looking ship, but took on its new horrifying appearance and capabilities after its crew stole reverse-engineered Borg technology. It's also a Genius Loci, though this, like the reverse-engineered Borg tech and its kinship with V'Ger, is referenced only in supplementary materials.
  • The "Whale Probe" in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: an unmanned, gigantic textured cylinder with a smaller spherical section held in an energy beam. Comes to 23rd Century Earth and sends a communications signal that threatens to destroy Earth's environment until it's finally able to talk to two temporally-displaced Humpback Whales. It's implied that an intelligent Cetacean species built the Probe.
  • A mild example is the ship from Flight of the Navigator. The landing gear consists of a section of the ship that melts to form a door and steps, as seen here. Also, the front of the ship similarly melts to form a more aerodynamic shape for supersonic flight.
  • The Event Horizon from the movie of the same name, in its mutated, Eldritch Abomination form, definitely counts. A vessel warped into a tortured consciousness by exposure to a hellish extradimensional realm. It should be noted though that the interior design of the ship, with its odd cybergothic architecture, including its extremely strange "central core" and the "meat grinder corridor" leading to it, as well as the numerous spikes and other elements of its rather terrifying aesthetic (some of which, like the "meat grinder corridor," are handwaved as being essential to the ship's operation). It's definitely one of the weirdest human-designed ships on this list, even before being possessed by extradimensional evil. It's also one of the closest examples on this list to an ISO Standard Human Spaceship, despite being simultaneously this trope.
  • The horseshoe-shaped alien "derelict" ship seen in Alien and Prometheus would qualify; in addition to its apparently organic technological design, its massive, nonhumanoid pilot appears literally grown into the ship, as if merged with it in the pilot's seat. Being designed by H. R. Giger, one of the premier surrealist artists of the 20th and 21st centuries, also pushes it up to "Eldritch" levels.

Folklore

  • Some descriptions of purported UFO sightings are really, really weird.

Literature

  • Practically a Running Gag in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
    • Any ship with the Infinite Improbability Drive becomes one of these while it's active.
    • A later book in the series features a ship which runs on "Bistromathics" (i.e. takes advantage of the strange way numbers work on a restaurant bill) and is thus set up like a restaurant, complete with robotic patrons and waiters.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • In the William Shatner "Shatnerverse" Star Trek novel "The Return," Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher explore a Borg hypercube (tesseract) space station that is dimensionally transcendent.
    • Also from the Star Trek Expanded Universe, there are the Cosmozoa, fully living, sometimes sentient space-dwelling creatures such as the crystalline entity, and various other Space Whale-like lifeforms, like the species that "Mother" and "Junior" from "Galaxy's Child", and at least two species of Living Ship, both capable (though to different degrees) of shapeshifting in order to rearrange their internal structure (and in the case of the Farpoint Entity, its external structure as well) to resemble spacecraft rather than their natural Jellyfish-like form. The other Living Ship example, Gomtuu, was basically a Space Whale-like sentient entity that could alter its interior for different forms of life. Though structurally they are largely conventional, some, perhaps most notably the "star jellies", have remarkable shapeshifting abilities, changing external shape and "growing" corridors, control rooms, and other facilities as the need arises.
  • Rama and her sister-ships, from Rendezvous with Rama and its sequels, were giant hollow cylinders with alien technology and entire transplanted ecologies of Starfish Aliens inside, with several sentient species as well as biomechanical servitor robots manufactured within a city like structure on an island within an artificial, ring-shaped (due to the artificial gravity inside the enormous cylindrical structure) sea.
  • Thank to reality warping technologies, all spaceships are a little weird in the Literature/{{Uplift}} series. Even those species that don't care for the technology need to employ a means of defense. Those who enjoy the technology get really weird. Everything is, at the core, the same design. However, everybody has their own variants, depending on their design philosophy and most especially their liking for probability technology. Some species' ships are pretty much ISO Standard. Others, like the maniac Tandu, have ships are "Lobster Spaceship"- style bizarre spidery things, and probably have their hull alloys or even their configuration altered all the time due to the all the ill-shielded probability tech in their drives and weapons.

Live-Action Television

  • Doctor Who:
    • The TARDIS, being a shapeshifting living timeship (internally, anyway, the pilot can change "desktop skins," but the external appearance is permanently stuck in its current form as the blue callbox); it is also dimensionally transcendent, being bigger on the inside than on the outside. Other TARDIS ships and TARDIS-like vehicles from the various series and movies count as well.
    • The Voidship from "Army of Ghosts" was a multidimensional vessel that resembled a solid gold sphere, but weighed nothing, radiated no heat, cast no shadow, etc, until it folded open to reveal its occupants. It was said to be a ship designed to explore the void between the universes; it was also thought by the Doctor to be impossible. It was never stated who built the Voidship, but it even gave the TARDIS a run for its money in the "conceptually weird" category.
  • An extradimensional alien research vessel in the Farscape episode "My Three Crichtons" resembled an energy globe that expanded into a solid (well, solid-appearing) glowing green sphere with hints of alien movement inside.
  • Various Star Trek series:
    • The Edo "God" orbiting Rubicun III in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Justice" appeared like a strange, ghostly space-station that was only partially materialized in normal space, and was always referred to as a dimensionally transcendent entity. At one point it sent a probe or scout (its exact nature uncertain) which resembled a ball of light that shook the entire Enterprise when it "spoke."
    • Q's energy grid from the pilot episode, which folds up into a warp-capable energy sphere for the purpose of chasing the Enterprise.
    • The Tarellian Plague Shop from "Haven": It looks like a conventional Star Trek guest spaceship of the week, except that in its middle is a ring filled by a giant marble-like glowing ball of energy that is actually the ship's power source contained in a force field.
    • In its first appearance, the Borg Cube is definitely one of these. It is said to be completely decentralized with no distinct command areas or engineering section. When scanned, they don't even register as possessing weapons (though this is untrue, they are quite well armed). And when their crew of drones is all linked, the cube functions with something like a will, and sensors can't pick up the drones' individual life signs. The Borg Alcove is, of course, an Unusual User Interface.
      • Later Cubes and other Borg ships in Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Voyager display a more centralized internal appearance and distribution of functions, with talk of "central plexes" and other terms that contradicted the ships' original on-screen depiction.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Founders, or at least Laas (a "lost" Changeling like Odo, who grew up among an obscure humanoid race), can shapeshift into living starships capable of warp speeds.
    • Star Trek: Voyager: The crew encountered a "photonic lattice" in one episode which was theorized to be the equivalent of a spacecraft for photonic life forms.
    • Another Voyager episode featured a species called the Swarm, who were humanoid but with a Starfish Language that proved extremely difficult to translate. They were very mysterious, and got their name from the ships they used- swarms of thousands of tiny, networked shuttle-sized vessels that worked together to drain energy from ships that invaded their space. Each little ship looked like a cross between a trilobite and a Horseshoe crab.
    • Time travel pods discovered by the NX-01 crew in Star Trek: Enterprise were bigger on the inside than on the outside.
    • The Xyrillians piloted an ambiguous case of a Living Ship (it looked organic but it was never made clear if the exterior was bio-engineered or just designed to look that way), however, its interior was... something else of, of a surreal quality never seen before in a Star Trek spaceship. It had grass-covered floors, food growing from the walls, and the ship was filled with aquarium-like chambers containing edible aquatic creatures. The episode in which this ship appeared focused on some of the details of First Contact usually ignored by Star Trek, and featured a human character having to adjust to a slightly different atmosphere and pressure than he was used to while he worked aboard the alien ship to help the aliens fix their warp drive. To emphasize the alien nature of the environment, the lighting and camera angles used to film the interior were also quite unusual. The result was a spaceship with a suitably alien environment quite unlike the ISO Standard Rubber Forehead Spaceships usually favored by the series.
    • In Star Trek: The Original Series, the Thasians' ship in "Charlie X" resembles a nebulous mobile cloud of glowing green gas (in the original version); in the Remastered episode, it is similar looking, but with some kind of lighted tubes inside the gas cloud. The Thasians themselves are noncorporeal aliens who appeared to the Enterprise crew as floating, ghostly green humanoid heads.
    • In an example of an Evolving Trope, the original Starship Enterprise was an unprecedented design when it first debuted, being neither a Flying Saucer nor a Retro Rocket, as most spaceships in fiction had been up until that point. It also makes no sense from an engineering standpoint, but that is true of most spaceships in anything but diamond-hard sci-fi.
    • Balok's starship Fesarius from "The Corbomite Maneuver" was a gigantic starship the size of a small moon, composed of a sphere made up of smaller spheres of various sizes and colors. At least one part of this ship could break off as a smaller command vessel. It's possible that the ship was composed entirely of smaller vessels to the aforementioned one, clustered together and sharing power.
  • Battlestar Galactica:
    • Cylon Basestars in the reimagined series are not straight examples of this trope (a Basestar is a Living Ship), but are perceived as such by humanoid Cylons who project over their environment as they operate the ships' Unusual User Interface, the datastream, or when walking through its corridors: because of their "Projection" ability, every Cylon sees the ship as what he or she wants it to look like, or wherever he or she feels most comfortable or at peace. For example, Threes project a cathedral-like environment, whereas Sixes project a forest.
      • The Hybrid's abstract perspective and surreal utterances push the Cylon Basestars that they control purely into this territory. These organic compuoters, which literally "are" the Basestar, ramble about quantum physics, philosophy and religion between verbalizing systems checks and protocols. They even experience something like an orgasm when they perform an FTL jump, and their verbalizations have been shown to be prophetic. Some Cylons, especially the Leobens (the Twos), believe the Hybrids have seen the face of God. Sam Anders, suffering from brain damage and connected by life support to the crippled Galactica also served as a hybrid-like being.
    • The Ship of Lights from the original series was another dimensionally transcendent craft shaped like a giant flying city that moved faster than anything the colonials flew, and sent out "ball-of-glowing-light" probes similar to other examples on this list, which had a habit of emitting a loud noise (presumably over radio channels) which humans couldn't tolerate, and also a habit of making Viper pilots disappear on patrol. Inside it resembled a techno-heaven, full of ascended beings, draped entirely in white.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The ships of the First Ones were mostly just very advanced looking spacecraft, and some or most of them may have been Living Ships, but one was stated in supplementary materials to have been the core of an Earth-like planet, mined out and re-engineered for interplanetary travel, with smaller, unattached segments orbiting in a ring-like field of artificial gravity.
    • In the B5 movie Thirdspace, the smaller fighters of the Thirdspace aliens look like Living Ships similar to the ones used by the Vorlons, but their larger cruisers, glimpsed just before the interdimensional portal to Thirdspace was closed, were made up of separate parts that floated in what looked like artificial gravity fields around a big glowing ball of light.
  • Threshold: Fourth-dimensional probes programmed to bioform humans into a new type of alien with a triple-helix genetic structure.
  • Fringe: In "White Tulip," Alister Peck built a time machine which included a Faraday Cage as part of its design... into his own flesh.
  • Earth: Final Conflict had some weird ones...
    • The Kimera research vessel encountered in the 2nd season was a highly unusual spacecraft, designed as a labyrinthine laboratory to test the higher reasoning abilities of other species. Its obstacle-course like interior design included pits of fluid that contained predatory creatures as well as other seemingly nonsensical additions to a spaceship.
    • Taelon vessels were generally of the slightly more conventional Living Ship category, but the Taelon mothership was certainly unusual, extremely powerful, and mysterious, with a mind of its own and occasionally its own, separate motivations. It was capable of assimilating humans into its systems by turning them into augmented protectors, something it did without the knowledge of its Taelon owners.
  • The Zarn's spaceship from "Land of the Lost" resembled an invisible shape like a dirigible (or a tennis shoe) covered in a grid of white lights. Inside is similar, with long, dark featureless void-like halls and rooms. Its pilot, the Zarn, also looks similar, being invisible except for a grid of bright lights shaped like a humanoid. Whether this means the ship is made out of the same basic material as its pilot or whether the similarity is only superficial is not clear.
  • The Seeker's weird semi-invisible ship from Odyssey 5. Seen from the outside, it looks like a shimmering semi-invisible distortion. The interior is a White Void Room. Its pilot is a synthetic life form from a post-singularity civilization.

Real Life
  • Various species of Ants. They chain their bodies together cooperatively to create bridges, waterproof rafts, ascending ladders, etc... Being an insect superorganism similar to a Hive Mind, this probably counts as the closest thing to this trope that Real Life has to offer.

Tabletop Games

  • Warhammer40k:
    • The insides of many Chaos ships, especially ones that are possessed by Daemons, tend to have Alien Geometries and other disturbing things (bleeding walls, shadows moving in unnatural ways, etc).
    • In the Rogue Trader RPG, one of the ship upgrades is the Tenebro Maze, which turns the interior of the ship into a complex maze of hidden trap doors and secret passages, which not only hinders any would-be boarders, but also makes targeting specific systems of the ship veyr difficult as the components aren't where they should be in a typical ship.
    • Rogue Trader also features an extinct Chaos-worshipping Xeno race known as Yu'vah, whose ships were/are (although the Yu'vah themselves are dead, their drone-ships are still occasionally encountered) made out of dark crystals held together by beams of energy and powered by gravity sails.

Video Games

  • In Vega Strike, Rlaan ships all look like eerie tailless fish with big fins. They differ mostly in sizes, stretching more along some or other axis and external equipment. The reasons for this design are that Organic Technology defines Rlaan construction and aesthetics, even in cases where their technology isn't 100% organic (generally only hermetic and high-power parts are made of metals, so although their ships contain organic components, they are not technically Living Ships). The choices they make with regard to technology are reflective their "Starfish-y" psychology and sensory-motor system. The colors are "off" because their vision is different from that of humans, and they use gravitics instead of thrusters. They don't vary their design approach much because it works for them and they have very conservative mindsets.
  • In The Dig there's one of these as it turns out, it's the asteroid itself. Once it's activated the asteroid procedes to turn into a translucent dodecahedron that transports our heroes to the location were we spend the rest of the game
  • The Nomad ships in Freelancer are apparently organically grown, with lots of curving spines and smooth flowing shapes, semitransparent and glowing blue. This is a good picture of one of their fighters.
  • The ships of Sansha's Nation in EVE Online are specifically designed to evoke this, using bizarre shapes and lots of spiky structures. The decription of the "Phantasm," a craft the player can pilot, specifically mentions that the weird geometries of the ship show preternatural understanding of physics and starship design.

Web Original

  • Orion's Arm features some curious artifacts.
    • Black Angels are probably the strangest ship in the Orion's Arm universe. These fully sentient vessels look like a black sphere surrounded by a enormous cloud of particles. The cloud can shapeshift to form weapons or even arms. The function of the sphere is known only to the Archai.
    • Void Ships, which appear as a distortion of the background. This is due to their propulsion system, and they may look like ordinary ships when fully powered down, for all anyone but the Archai know.
    • Linelayer vessels are massive craft that move wormhole endpoints. Many seem to consist of multiple sections that don't seem to be connected to each other, yet they move as one.
    • The MPA's Leviathan Class Dreadnought, which morphs from a thin cylinder into an ovoid.
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