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Shiny-Looking Spaceships

"...now this is my idea of a spaceship - gleaming metal, flashing lights..."

Older and more idealistic Speculative Fiction Series feature spacecraft that are shiny, pristine and bright in almost all conditions. This trope was pretty much the standard before the 1970s with films like Silent Running (1972), Dark Star (1974), Star Wars (1977) and Alien (1979), which depicted many space vessels as a heavily lived-in, industrial or pragmatic; i.e. function over form, whereas Shiny Looking Spaceships are more form over function.

For ships that never enter the atmosphere of a planet, this is actually (semi-)realistic. There is no mud or dust in interstellar space that would leave grit or dirt on the outsides of passing spaceships, though there are micrometeorites that gradually erode the surface, so older vessels would have more of a matte hull. Also, having a reflective surface means that Frickin' Laser Beams will have a harder time burning a hole in your hull, and you have some degree of innate heat-shielding.

The interiors of said ships are also often curiously spotless considering how many people are crammed into them for extended periods of time. This can be hand waved away by having very efficient air filtering systems, or micro/nanoscopic cleaner robots (or just really good visible-scale robots offcamera). It can also be answered with very dedicated crews (as aboard military vessels with many enlisted men and women to keep occupied), or — as in the case of Andromeda's early seasons — the simple fact that the ship is mostly deserted. Or simply by saying that The Bridge is a place where only the Command Roster goes and the Redshirts quarters are less pleasant.

Contrast Used Future, Zeerust. See also Ascetic Aesthetic. Compare with ISO Standard Human Spaceship for the built-for-function style.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  

    Film 

  • In 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Discovery and other spacecraft in the film are nice and shiny looking. Averted in the sequel, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, where the Discovery is entirely covered with a thin layer of fine yellow dust having spent 9 years in orbit around Io, and the Russian ship Leonov looks significantly more practical and "used".
  • Any ship from the planet Naboo seen in the Star Wars prequels, which were not just shiny, but chromed. This was intentional, to contrast with the Used Future of the original trilogy. See the picture above.
    • Expanded Universe materials establish that this was once a radiation-shielding measure but is now purely traditional; the full chrome paint job was reserved for the Royal Yachts, whilst the fighters have it applied to the nosecone and the leading edge of the wings.
  • The ginormous glowy flying saucers from Close Encounters of the Third Kind are surely the brightest, shiniest spaceships ever put on film.
  • This is lampshaded in Galaxy Quest, with Fred Kwan commenting "Wow, the floors are so clean!"
  • The perfectly shiny ship in Flight of the Navigator qualifies. Hell, if the starship had been named in the movie, it could well have been the Trope Namer.
    • It's a Trimaxian droneship, though of course that's strictly a model rather than a name.
  • The Icarus II in Sunshine, which has a big shiny sunshield out in front. This is for purely practical purposes, to prevent the ship, and more importantly, its payload, from getting destroyed by heat as it approaches the Sun.
  • The Endurance from Interstellar adheres to this esthetic particularly on the outside, though her interiors are also well-lit and decorated in mostly lighter colours.

    Literature 
  • In Wraith Squadron, twelve factory-new X-Wings are delivered to the hangar. One of the pilots stands among them, happily looking over their shiny new surfaces. Then the squadron mechanic comes in and says he hates new snubfighters. They're untested, and there's always some idiot at the factory deciding to either skimp on materials or try something new without telling anyone, and you never know if there's a horrific fatal flaw until you've opened up every single one and examined everything.
    • Before too much longer, the squadron finds out he was right—only it wasn't anybody at the factory, it was an Imperial plot to attach hidden tracking device droids to starfighters and have them jump from ship to ship and map the New Republic's military bases.
    • That was actually unrelated to the fighters being new, though the main character noticing a weird addition to one of the fighters eventually leads to them finding out about the plot. The fighters did have other problems though.
  • Galaxy of Fear has, similarly, a stop at an Honest John's Dealership, where the pushy dealer tries to sell off a shiny new ship that a tech-minded character knows doesn't have much going for it beyond the shine. He's more interested in What a Piece of Junk that has seen heavy use.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • The Heart Of Gold, justified in that it's brand new (with some controls still wrapped in cellophane). Arthur favorably compares it to the "dingy Vogon crate" he and Ford have just left.
    • Averted by the Vogons, and the Dendrassi who do the in-flight catering; their ships are foul inside because they like them that way
    • The blacker-than-black spaceship they stole from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe's parking lot was even shinier — an amazing feat for a surface that absorbed all incident light.
      • Actually, Hotblack Desiato's ship was perfectly frictionless. The light just sort of... slid off it.
  • The Dancer/Spider-Wolf ships in The Lost Fleet books are beautiful to look at. While the creatures themselves are ugly as sin (imagine an unholy union of a giant spider and a wolf), their concept of beauty is actually pretty similar to that of humanity. Everything they do screams it, including the way their ships move (hence their other nickname "Dancers").

    Live Action TV 
  • Every Federation ship in all of the Star Trek series.
    • Especially egregious for Voyager since the ship was far, far away from support facilities and starbases. Outside of a few special episodes, the ship spent most of the series looking fresh out of drydock. Glad to know they're using their replicator rations for paint.
    • Was averted in the Xindi arc of Enterprise, where the ship keeps (most of) its battlescars from episode to episode.
      • The paintjob scratch made by Trip in the pilot receives a nod later as well ("I thought I told you to fix that"), although we don't get to see it.
    • Also averted between Wrath of Khan and Search for Spock, as the Enterprise pulls into Spacedock with the scars the Reliant gave it still black (including the damage to the bridge).
  • Andromeda
    • The titular ship, as well as, pretty much, any High Guard ship from the tiny but sleek slipfighters to the massive Siege Perilous-class fleet killers. Also the ships of the Knights of Genetic Purity that are deliberately all-white (i.e. angelic). Most others tend to be of the Used Future kind. The Eureka Maru being the best example. Nietzschean ships also don't fit this trope, but the background material mentions that the original Nietzschean armada was mostly made up of converted cargo ships, and the later ships fit the same pattern.
    • This can be explained by the Old Commonwealth not being at war (or any sufficiently large conflict) for nearly 1000 years. When most of your warships are just there to patrol space, might as well make them look nice to show off your greatness.
  • The Minbari in Babylon 5, in keeping with their Crystal Spires and Togas/Space Elves characteristic. The Centauri, in keeping with their pompous Bling of War, has elements of this. Narns have exotic looking ships to make them look more advanced than they really are. Human vessels on the other hand, are rather more functional-looking (unless it's the rare luxury liner or the president's ship).
    • The Humans' preference for Used Future starships (despite being one of the most powerful races in the galaxy) is lampshaded by one dry-witted Minbari, who claims that if humans had their way, everything would be depressingly grey and green.
    • Despite being jetblack in coloration, Shadow ships glisten when hit by light. The Whitestar, a Vorlon-Minbari hybrid, is also quite shiny. And of course, Babylon 5 itself (specifically the rotating sections) are probably sprayed with chrome as they also sparkle when lit.
  • The Liberator in Blake's 7. Averted in Season 4 with the broken-down cargo ship Scorpio.
  • Space: 1999
    • The Eagle, workhorse spacecraft of Moonbase: Alpha, was eminently functional in form, but it was also usually squeaky-clean. This seems incredible considering the amount of moondust kicked up by its engines every time it takes off. The real Apollo astronauts had to frequently wipe the moon dust from their helmets just to maintain visibility.
      • In behind-the-scenes photographs it's obvious that the miniatures were heavily weathered. Unfortunately, it just didn't show up very well on TV.
  • An odd juxtaposition of Shiny-Looking Spaceships and Used Future can be seen in the Mystery Science Theater 3000, episode 820 - Space Mutiny. The control room of the Southern Sun seems white, pristine and shiny (like a movie set), and the action scenes in the rest of the ship look as though they were filmed in a grungy, 50-year old bottling plant. (With brightly lit exterior windows to boot. Hmmmm....)
  • Cylon basestars in the new Battlestar Galactica are very shiny indeed. This contrasts with the titular ship, an obsolete old bucket which gets more and more damaged as the series goes on (though notably it still outperforms a shiny basestar one on one — someone had their priorities wrong among the Cylon designers). The battlestar Pegasus has a cleaner look to it, as it's a newer model, but still looks more utilitarian.
    • That would be because the Cylons meant for the Basestars to be more straight-up aircraft carriers (IN SPACE!!), relying on their Raider wings and long-range missiles to attack their enemies, while the Colonials with their less sophisticated technology preferred to built their Battlestars as... well... Battlestars, using their Vipers to protect the mothership while she pressed the attack at closer ranges with heavy cannons.
  • The Ship of the Imagination in 2014's revival of Cosmos is shiny enough that it acts as a mirror for the starfields, nebulae, and other wonders of the cosmos that Neil deGrasse Tyson travels to. (The original series with Carl Sagan has an Eldritch Starship.)

    Tabletop Games 
  • Eldar and Tau vessels in Warhammer 40,000. Just those two races.
    • Eldar, of course, have the aforementioned 'cleaner robots'(like the small 'warp spiders' that maintain each ship's Infinity Circuit-the aspect warriors were actually called after those, apparently), and goodness knows what else keeping their psychically alive spacecraft made out of a self-regenerating material clean. And tau? Well, this is the race with the caste system that makes them consider the guy that cleans out the latrines to be on par with a bureaucrat.
      • They really only stand out because by contrast the Ork "ships" are salvaged junkers called Space Hulks held together by garbage and good feelings, while the human ships are basically city-sized space-faring cathedrals.
      • Necron ships...don't shine, exactly, but have very clean lines.
    • Tau ships aren't shiny, per se, but along with the rest of their tech they have a clean, brightly-coloured aesthetic to them.
  • In Traveller one option is to give your ship a coating that allows you display screensavers on the hull. Thus your ship can be as shiny as you want. This can also be done on interior bulkheads too, though naturally that would be more for crews quarters, wardrooms, etc, then for the hold. On the other hand maintenance and cleaning are as constant a job as they would be in Real Life. Traveller averts the assumption that Big Damn Heroes are immune to mundane considerations.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • This was parodied in the Sponge Bob Square Pants episode "SB-129". Squidward gets frozen in a freezer for centuries, and is thawed out in a future were everything is chrome, including the ground and the plants. When a plant grows, a fish immediately shows up to spray paint it chrome.

    Video Games 
  • The Paranid ships in the X-Universe are basically flying mirrors, and the Earth State/Terran ships are blindingly white - typically the brightest thing in a sector. Boron fighters are sleek Living Ships with iridescent hulls.
  • The Covenant ships in Halo. Even their ground vehicles, that are built for war are very well polished. Human ships are dull, and generally follow the Used Future.
    • Averted with Brute vehicles which are essentially driver's seats attached to a rocket sled or a giant rotary saw (with guns!).
      • Those were designed by a Huragok (Engineer) based on human farming equipment with a few pieces of Covenant tech added (such as anti-gravity) in a peaceful gesture towards humans. The Brutes' first question upon seeing those... "Where are its weapons?"
  • In EVE Online, Amarrian and (to lesser extent) Gallentean design is all about this. The Minmatar and (to less extent) the Caldari opt for Used Future.
    • The Amarrian legion, in all its forms, will even reflect the environment around it.
  • In Tachyon: The Fringe, GalSpan ships all shiny with smooth lines and exotic shapes and are also colored with white and blue paint. They are shown to be less sturdy than their Bora counterparts, which are converted cargo haulers and look accordingly.
  • In keeping with the clean, futuristic aesthetic of Mass Effect, there are many ship designs that are shiny, spotless and strangely lacking in right angles. Most of these belong to the Asari or the Geth.
    • The Normandy SR-2 from the second game is probably the best example from the series — strangely enough, this was supposed to make Cerberus appear cold and clinical when compared to the original. Little hard when the first ship was both dimly lit and suffered from a terrible combination of colours. Dark blue interior with bright yellow computer displays? Most of the crew probably had chronic migraine headaches from the eye strain.
    • And true to form, it seems that the Alliance removed a few lightbulbs when they performed their refit of the SR-2. Of course, they might have intended to replace them, but were unable to do so as the refit was halfway completed when the Reapers invasion hit Earth, leaving much of the ship's interior strewn with exposed cables, conduits, open panels, crates stuffed into every corner, and tarps covering unfinished areas. A few digs are made at Cerberus's ship design as being Awesome but Impractical as well, indicating that Cerberus spent more time making the ship look good than they did making sure the design made sense.
  • The pulp fiction stylings of Red Alert 3: Paradox demanded this. Soviet spacecraft are even chromed against radiation.
  • The Thul ships in Darkstar One. Since they want to prove that they are better than the other races (especially the Terrans, who they were descended from) in every way, it's natural that they make their ships look much better than all of the rest.
  • In StarCraft the Protoss all have bright and shiny space ships that have gold-like paint jobs, and shields surrounding them.
  • In Sins of a Solar Empire the Advent has shiny ships. TEC is more ISO Standard Human Spaceship even though most vessels are repurposed civillian commercial and industrial vessels. Vasari designs are more alien-like in design but could fit somewhere between both tropes.

    Real Life 
  • The International Space Station, due to its reflective metal and white paint, and its prominent solar panels.
  • Solar sail craft, like Nanosail-D2 and IKAROS, are shiny by necessity since the solar sail works by reflecting sunlight to propel the craft, and their shininess is a byproduct of their reflectivity. Theoretically, any solar sail or laser-based beamrider would therefore have to be a shiny-looking spaceship.
  • NASA's fleet of Space Shuttles, while noticeably worn at points on the exterior, were spotlessly clean inside the crew space. At 400 million dollars per launch, cleaning the carpets adds a negligible cost to each mission. (That, plus the fact that any dust or dirt could drift in microgravity indefinitely.)
    • That, plus everything was taken apart, tested and refitted or replaced during the turnaround between missions. It's why the shuttle cost more than intended.
    • Initially NASA wanted to add more aesthetic appeal to the Space Shuttle (probably to please taxpayers by showing off what their dollars paid for), painting the external tank a gleaming white. After the first two missions, however, they came to the conclusion that it was a waste of money (Especially since the tank, unlike the booster rockets, wasn't recoverable for reuse after launch). It wasn't just the cost of the paint or applying it, but the hundreds of pounds of additional weight it added, making each launch more expensive in terms of fuel and limiting payload size. So in the end function won out over shininess, and ever after the external tank remained unpainted.
  • Way back in the day, airplanes were built out of wood and canvas, those being relatively strong, lightweight materials. As technology (and metallurgy) advanced, around World War II, these planes gave way to stronger metal-bodied planes. These were initially painted in drab colors to make spotting them more difficult, but towards the end of the war, the US Army Air Force (as it was then) began shipping planes overseas in a bare-metal finish, since this saved a few hours in production and made the planes slightly faster due to lower air resistance; the Navy and Marine Corps continued to paint their aircraft for corrosion-proofing reasons. Shiny chrome-looking jets would go on to be a staple of Cold War aviation for decades to come, especially as radar negated any advantage in trying to visually camouflage the planes in flight, which was probably also both an inspiration and invocation of this trope in practice.
    • One brief aversion of this trope came about during World War II, in a strange sort of Retro Upgrade was the RAF's De Havilland Mosquito a.k.a. 'The Wooden Wonder'. As the name suggests, it was almost entirely made of wood, due to rationing. It promptly proceeded to spend the rest of the war outflying everything else that took to the air, either by superior speed or superior handling while also being able to take punishment from enemy fire surprisingly well. As Goring sourly noted in 1943, it was better than anything the Germans could put out (and considering some of the planes they had, this was an impressive feat...)
    In 1940 I could at least fly as far as Glasgow in most of my aircraft, but not now! It makes me furious when I see the Mosquito. I turn green and yellow with envy. The British, who can afford aluminium better than we can, knock together a beautiful wooden aircraft that every piano factory over there is building, and they give it a speed which they have now increased yet again. What do you make of that? There is nothing the British do not have. They have the geniuses and we have the nincompoops. After the war is over I'm going to buy a British radio set - then at least I'll own something that has always worked.


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