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Website / Atomic Rockets

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Atomic Rockets is a website by Winchell Chung, intended as a resource for science fiction writers. The site contains information on a large number of science fiction tropes, as well as reams of technical data on the scientific basis (or lack of it) for those tropes.

Tropes discussed and analysed:

  • Applied Phlebotinum: The introduction discusses this in various flavours:
    • Handwavium: Defined as anything that outright breaks physics.
    • Unobtainium: Used in the classic sense; i.e. something that's beyond modern technology but still obeys real-world physics.
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    • Macguffinite: The reason you're out in space in the first place. Usually some form of mineable resource.
  • Artificial Gravity: Various methods are discussed, including Centrifugal Gravity and classic handwavium.
  • Cool Starship: Most of the technical information is focused around creating these. As is pointed out in the introduction, the ship is usually the centre of attention in Space Opera.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Discouraged, as are many soft-SF tropes, but Chung's advice if you have to have it is to follow consistent rules.
  • Generation Ship: Plausible, but fraught with problems.
  • Most Writers Are Human: As are most readers, to which Chung attributes the difficulties in writing convincing aliens and artificial intelligences.
  • Reactionless Drive: Strongly discouraged, but for less obvious reasons: According to Chung, even a weak reactionless drive is more than capable of shattering planets.
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  • See the Whites of Their Eyes: Chung loves debunking this one. He and others have pointed out that a space warship wouldn't have windows as there is nothing to see, especially the ship you're shooting at. See that dot? That's a star, the ship is dot you can't see with your Mark I eyeballs.
  • Standard Sci-Fi History: Several pages about how authors can play with this model.
  • Starship Luxurious: Not even. Most "Scifi" ships in movies and on television, (we're looking at you Star Trek.), have massive hallways and large open spaces more in line with ocean going vessels, particularly passenger ships. (Military vessel hallways are in fact narrow and not so big. Especially on submarines.)
  • Stealth in Space: Chung is of the school that believes this is highly unrealistic, if not outright impossible, as all that waste heat from the ship's power source and crew has to go somewhere.
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  • Technobabble: Chung naturally warns against this, but advises readers to A) keep it consistent and B) include just enough real science that an untrained reader would 'stub their toe' into thinking that it's plausible.
  • Time Dilation: The site includes relativistic equations, for writers who want to depict this trope.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: averting this is the entire point of the site.

Tropes used:

  • Cute Kitten: RocketCat, the site's mascot.
  • Quote Overdosed: An estimated half of the text on the site is inside a quotation. This is mainly due to the writer repeating parts of books as examples or copying a discussion others had about the topic.
  • Raygun Gothic/Atom Punk: Referred to as 'rocketpunk', to go with Steam Punk and Cyber Punk. The whole site is decorated with classic SF art, mostly of this era.
  • Retro Rocket: The Polaris, featured heavily throughout the site.
  • Shown Their Work: The technical information, including mathematical formulae, is (mostly) accurate.
    • Although the writer himself admits that he isn't a real rocket scientist or anything and is NOT a good source, so everyone should probably check something else as well.
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