One gets the impression Star Trek
's production designers would have rather made a Warhammer 40K
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
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.
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.
- "Changeling" Spaceship - spacecraft that is physically possible, but transforms radically (not just extendable wings and the like). The interior, exterior, or both could transform.
- "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.
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Anime and Manga
- In Geneshaft, alien constructs called 'rings' appear in space. From a distance they look like giant golden wedding rings, but this is just a protective barrier of quantum coherent matter. Underneath they are made of a gray material that is like smooth stone, but it 'seems organic' to the astronauts landing on it.
- 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, being animated in 3D rather than the 2D style of the rest of the show and appearing like artificial Energy Beings. They also explode into pixels when destroyed.
- In Guyver, it turns out that the relics beneath the various Chronos headqarters are bizarre starships operable by Guyver-unit-wearing pilots. Oh, and their escape pods give the attached Guyver a Super Mode.
- 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.
- 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 "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 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.
- Dune: In the 1984 adaptation, the Guild Heighliner, as in the book, is a gigantic mostly hollow FTL-capable starship piloted by spice-mutated psychic Guild Navigators that carries other ships within it for a fee.
- Here◊ is the Guild Heighliner from the film. Here◊ is one from the mini-series. The latter has two counter-rotating hulls joined in the middle.
- 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.
- Doctor Who:
- The TARDIS, being a shapeshifting living sentient 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.
- In The Edge of Destruction there is an Unbuilt Trope in how unsettling it can be living inside the TARDIS. It was this story that introduced the idea the TARDIS is alive.
- In the 40th anniversary audio story Zagreus the TARDIS is infected with Anti-Time and goes insane at the Doctor.
- The Void Ship from "Army of Ghosts" is a multidimensional vessel that resembles a solid gold sphere, but weighs nothing, radiates no heat, casts no shadow, etc., until it folds open to reveal its occupants. It is said to be a ship designed to explore the void between the universes; it is also thought by the Doctor to be impossible. It is never stated who built the Void Ship, but it even gives the TARDIS a run for its money in the "conceptually weird" category.
- Farscape loves this trope, in addition to its famous use of a Living Ship, Moya, as the main setting:
- An extradimensional alien research vessel in the 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. It "studied" Crichton by extracting his DNA and growing primitive and hyper-evolved versions of him.
- The Lukythian Protector ship from "Promises" is actually a fairly small ship with a very unusual interior design, but it projects a massive holographic image to fool other ships.
- The Pathfinders' ship appeared to dematerialize and rematerialize while traveling through wormholes- hence the reason why it ended up accidentally fusing with Moya. Quite apart from the fact that the exterior of the ship resembled a giant corkscrew made up of white capsules, what we saw of its interior was very stark and minimalistic, with the walls and engines made up of seemingly random clusters of diagonal-facing pillars. It had unusual capabilities related to its Phaztillon generator, such as turning members of its crew invisible (though this exposed them to fatal radiation), and the entire ship was also a giant computer for recording wormhole data.
- Biomechanoid Leviathan technology in general, given that Living Ships like Moya can not only contract diseases, but even become pregnant. Moya even had Steam Punk elements such as Pilot's controls and the air cycling room. She also had two means of FTL: Hetch Drive, which is basically warp speed, plus Starburst, a defense mechanism where the ship entered an interdimensional rift and rode an energy wave to a random destination. The series featured other members of her species of Living Ships, one of which had gone senile, another was diseased, and yet another had gone insane.
- A Prowler piloted by Aeryn once appeared to fade away, ghost-like, as she said goodbye to John. It's not clear whether this was actually the (never before seen) effect of a Prowler's FTL drive, or an abstract effect meant to emphasize John's sense of loss and isolation. If it was the former, it was quite unlike the usual depictions of Faster-Than-Light Travel in science fiction. Notably, ships in Farscape usually just accelerate to FTL, unless they're traveling through a wormhole, or the ship is a Leviathan using Starbust.
- 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 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. Whether this is a Retcon or an in-universe example of Science Marches On is unclear. Though even with the retcon/in-universe marching on, the Borg cubes still look really weird from the in-universe perspective, with nothing even resembling the relatively rounded shapes and nacelles of 'normal' ships.
- 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.
- They also, apparently, don't appear to consume water and don't really know what it is. When they synthesize some for Trip, they get the temperature wrong and give him a bowl full of ice cubes.
- 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.
- The Planet Killer from "The Doomsday Machine"; a giant, robotic, planet-consuming starship; it eats planets for fuel, is armored with solid neutronium and fires a pure anti-proton beam. It looks like an enormous metallic cone with a burning maw where it pulls in the rubble of planets it destroys with its weapon.
- 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 (according to sources regarding a deleted scene), whereas Sixes project a forest. Doral's project a night club, of all things. One can only imagine how bizarre Cavil's or Simon's would be, or how creepily Leoben envisions his environment.
- 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:
- All the ships of the First Ones are millions of years ahead of the ships of the younger races. They are so advanced that the younger races can't even begin to understand the technology that went into building them.
- Shadow ships are alive, and require a sentient being to be integrated as their central processor. They constantly scream into the minds of their foes, and "phase" into hyperspace instead of opening a portal like other ships. The effect looks much like a cloaking device, but is in fact their method of FTL travel.
- Vorlon ships are sentient and at least partly organic, and have a symbiotic relationship with their operators. When Kosh dies, his ship is stated to be "mourning", and flies itself into the Epsilon system's sun as its final act.
- 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.
- The Liandra from Legend of the Rangers was apparently haunted by its former crew and had a dubious history of inexplicably disappearing. Its weapons interface was a holographic chamber where the gunner floated in zero gravity surrounded by a view of the battle, with the gunner taking on the perspective of the ship and using martial arts kicks and punches to symbolically fire the ship's energy weapons. This might be the weirdest targeting system ever seen on a fictional spaceship.
- 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 shuttle even has an Unusual User Interface based on gestures and holography. To fire the shuttle's weapons, one makes a motion rather like drawing and releasing an arrow from a bow.
- 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.
- An episode of Red Dwarf called Holo Ship, had just that: an entire ship and crew made of holograms.
- Space: Above and Beyond: The Chig bomber was alive, and probably sentient. The Wildcards had to learn how to pilot it using an organic control interface, working together in the same way that a team of alien pilots would to fly the small warship. Chig cruisers and destroyers resemble large abstract polygonal structures with hexagonal patterns on their surfaces. Their smaller fighters were also similar, but more Starfighter-like.
- Mission Genesis, the Sci-Fi original series based on the novel series Deepwater Black, featured two examples:
- The first is the alien ship that attacks Deepwater in the pilot episode and shows up in various other episodes. It is a radially symmetrical, green and black object that looks more like an abstract metal sculpture than a spaceship. Its occupants, if there are any, never show up, and their motivations are just as mysterious.
- The other one is the small asymmetrical, oddly-shaped slab that grows to massive proportions and attempts to experiment on the ship and crew in "The Siege." Whatever it was that boarded and assaulted the Deepwater looked like a vaguely humanoid figure cloaked in a radiant energy field, and was impervious to laser weapons fire. It's not clear if this was what the aliens actually looked like, if this was some specialized probe or containment suit used in alien environments. This "probe" was notable for apparently changing its shape as it rotated.
- Carl Sagan's minimalistic, surreal spaceship from Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, with its Crystal Spires and Togas and Everything Is An I Pod In The Future aesthetic.
- Warhammer 40,000:
- 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.
- And finally, the titular ship of the adventure The Soul Reaver definitely qualifies as an Eldritch Ship - it's powered by the souls of the dead and a murdered Dark Eldar lord is raised as a vengeful spectre there.
- Space Hulks are technically ships in the sense that they can still move and are used as transport by several factions but as Warp-created fusions of numerous ships of varying origin and design they are certainly Eldritch.
- 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
- It also vanishes when it arrives. Not in the novelization, though.
- 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.
- The Suul'ka◊ ships are finally shown in Sword of the Stars II and look like enormous (dwarfing anything the other races have) Space Whales with tentacles that can smash and eat starships. They're also more advanced than anything the others have. It turns out that the starships are containment suits for the enormous and crazy Liir Elders who chose to live in space instead of dying from the Square/Cube Law.
- Grineer Warships in Warframe have a bizarre exterior aesthetic - part whale, part insect, part crustacean, part submarine. The interior is made of bulging designs and organic colors clashing with cramped submarine-like sensibilities.
- Genesis Rising features all organic ships.
- Reapers in the Mass Effect trilogy. They are far, far more advanced than the ships of the Citadel races, such as not needing any fuel, or their FTL drives not suffering from the same restrictions as Citadel ships. Their shapes are reminiscent of cuttlefish; large mass of claw-like appentages on their underside function as both legs on planets and as mounting points for their WaveMotionGuns.
- They also have the ability to effect More Than Mind Control on other sentient beings near them, or foolish enough to go aboard them for extended periods of time. This even applies to disabled Reapers, as even a dead god may dream.
- Mass Effect 2 reveals that the Reapers are constructed from the processed bodies of millions of sentient beings, with each Reaper being created from a different species.
- While functioning more like regular starships in most respects, the Collector cruiser and home base appear to be made of random clusters of asteroids being held together by a metal frame and a giant engine stuck to it, and contain a giant beehive inside their cavelike interiors.
- Shivan ships in Freespace tend to take the "Lobster Ship" route, much moreso in the second game. The SD Lucifer itself bears a rather close resemblance to a giant space lobster, in fact.
- The X-Universe's Kha'ak capital ships have a whirling mass of tentacles/arms/spires for a prow, a thorax-like engine section, and no apparent thrusters, turrets, or windows anywhere. Their fighters are all combinations of dodecahedrons which warp into known space in huge, interconnected clusters of ships which break up and swarm anything that approaches. Xenon capital ships are a bit more orthodox with their visible engines and turrets, but everything else about them is odd; they have no bridges as they're ran by computers, and their hulls are made of massive segments of black metal twinkling with blood red lights that are haphazardly connected with thin sections, and across the entire hull, hundred meter tall spires jut out ready to impale fighter craft.
- 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.
- The ancient Pod Ship that the USS Enterprise encountered in the first episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series... as well as a few other ship designs from the animated version of the show. An expanded universe novel even specifically refers to this ship in mention as an "eldritch" ship.
- Shadow Raiders the spaceships used by the Beasts are made entirely of null matter.