Help me design a (possibly steampunk) spaceship
March 12, 2014 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I am writing a short story in which an unmanned spaceship crashes in a field, and I've gotten stuck when it comes to visualizing/describing the spaceship. I like the idea of a steampunk craft, though it will have lights. In case you are wondering, the overall tone I am going for is magic with a hint of sadness. Got any ideas for what it looks like on the outside or inside? What might my characters find when they explore?
posted by mermaidcafe to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
My go-to for ship inspiration is Concept Ships, though the "magic with a hint of sadness" reminds me of Manchu's work, especially Le Sceptre du Hasard.
posted by jetlagaddict at 7:21 PM on March 12, 2014

You wouldn't necessarily have to describe the whole ship. Since the ship has crashed, whatever it looks like properly, one infers it's damaged now, or partially buried perhaps - it could be a beautiful ship, or could like like it had been beautiful once. Which would be a source of visual sadness. People notice various details (beautiful materials... harmonious lines... decorative etching!) but here it is, crashed, maybe twisted, broken, dirty.
posted by tomboko at 7:32 PM on March 12, 2014

This has been done, but perhaps an organic form ship like a tree with ornate wood carving and rose windows.

Or something inspired by a woodwind instrument like a saxaphone or clarinet. Lots of brass and valves.
posted by greptile at 9:25 PM on March 12, 2014

How about something that looks like a mechanical Chinese dragon, that undulated as it moved when it flew. The inside could be hollow, one long tunnel, so that your characters are always suspensefully wondering what they'll see around the next bend.

For some "magic with a hint of sadness" maybe you could tap into the angst of the final message (as read by Patrick Stewart near 4:30 in that video) from China's Jade Rabbit rover: the unmanned ship as heroic fallen explorer.
posted by XMLicious at 10:57 PM on March 12, 2014

(Yeah - actually, come to think of it, I've come across that device put to good effect in multiple science fiction stories: a narration from the alien probe's point of view following its travels leading up to the point when it's wrecked or encounters the human characters.)
posted by XMLicious at 11:03 PM on March 12, 2014

Many years ago TSR released a game called Space: 1889 that was set in an alternate reality where Thomas Edison invented the ether propeller that could propel spacecraft through the Luminiferous aether. Maybe some resources for that game could help you with your steampunk spacecraft design.

It would also be helpful if you/we knew the scientific objectives of your spacecraft because that would have a great deal of influence on the design. Also, nerd rage: you're killing me putting lights on your spacecraft unless they serve some purpose.
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:20 AM on March 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


The exterior of your craft is made of riveted steel plates. It's is shiny brass, except where it is scorched from re-entry. Periodically along the exterior are quartz glass portholes illuminated from within. Also present are 2 sets of 2 radio aerials, one set mounted on top, and one set on the bottom. The bottom set has been damaged due the impact. Also present are 4 boxes spaces 90 degrees apart along the "equator" of the spacecraft with 5 small nozzles on each, on on each face of the box.

Inside your characters find a large steel propellant tank with pipeage leading to each box, and a magic-based power source. the tank and power source are mounted on an I-beam that forms the central spines of the spacecraft. Smaller I-beams radiate out from the central I-beam to exterior shell and serve as points of attachment for the other interior components.

An electronic brain consisting of a lot of vacuum tubes combined with the gears of a difference engine control everything, with wiring harnesses leading to the other components. There's also a couple of centrifugal governors because steampunk.
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:22 AM on March 13, 2014

Magical melancholy always says "Myst" to me.

Remember: Good artists borrow, great artists steal.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:48 AM on March 13, 2014

Not that you have to tell the reader, but how is it propelled? Brute force? You've got a heavy, riveted together brute. Gentle one-way pressure? You've got something with gossamer-thin walls that you can deform with your muscles.
posted by codswallop at 1:42 PM on March 13, 2014

Oooh. I like the Myst idea. Google images "Myst spaceship" turned up some nice interior shots.

But also, H G Wells and Jules Verne have done this work for you. The visuals for the ship used in the movie adaptation for The First Men in the Moon has some great ideas, from the netting that acts as both ladder and seating, to the plushly upholstered walls. Google image searches also pull up other designs for the ships/projectiles described in both books.

If you want something more oriented to the fantastic, I would suggest by starting with the spaceship's point of origin/destination. For instance, you could suppose that the spaceship has come to our planet from Fae-space, home of the Fey Folk, and that it was not designed for our Reality at all, and could not withstand the hard vacuum of Real-space. Your ship design is then governed by how their "space" differs from our space. Maybe it's a giant insect that flits through the aether from planet-sized spore to planet-sized spore, or world-tree to world-tree. Just a for-instance. Your own design will depend largely on the specifics of your story.

Have fun with it...
posted by zueod at 6:01 PM on March 13, 2014

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