As previously mentioned, my lovely wife and in-laws gave me a wonderful present for Christmas: the chance to dip into Fiverr and have someone do a proper rendering of my design for the X5 spacecraft. As some of you may know, the X5 is the ship that carries Paul Armstrong, Temperance Finch, Ashana Kaur and all the others on their journey to Tau Ceti in my book: The Crossing. I sent off some sketches that I had done to a gentleman in Europe who came up with a picture for me. These are the sketches:
The X5 is composed of three interlinked cylinders rotating at differing speeds in order to create artificial gravity inside. There are three large solar sails which also collect hydrogen. It measures roughly 600m in length and has a crew of 200.
Here are the pictures. I’m very happy with the overall look of the ship. It’s just how I imagined it.
I added the registration CFF1216 as a little tribute to the late Carrie Fisher. You can see alongside that the four green “windows” that admit light to the garden area; this will be a very important place in Book 2 which I am currently working on. I’d love to know what you think. It’s a simple design, I know, without much in the way of flair. I tried to keep it true to my initial aim of being as close to what is scientifically plausible as possible.
So, in designing the ship, I started thinking about some of the best designs out there in a range of media, from RPGs and video games to TV and film. I put together a list of ships that had influenced me, designs that excited my imagination, and thought it would be fun to put them in some kind of order. This would prove to be quite troublesome in that there are different types that do not really bear close comparison. I mean, how do you compare the Death Star with a TiE fighter? They’re two completely different things. I thought about sorting them into groups and selecting a winner from each one but that seemed way too time consuming (I do have a full time job, a two-year-old and a book to write after all). So, I opted for the most divisive, “likely to get me hateful comments on Facebook,” unbelievably subjective way available. I would just list them from 50 to 1 in order of how much I like them. Then I thought of two more I couldn’t leave out, so it’s 52. Call me glutton for punishment, and I can already hear the devotees of various fandoms sharpening their knives in the background, but if nothing else it should provoke some discussion on the topic. Plus, it will let you into my mind a little, which was the point of this website in the first place. It was always going to be a place where I share with the world what I think of things. I never used to do that. I used to keep it all to myself, worried that people would not agree. Now I don’t mind about any of that, so here it is. Argue away!
And, in advance, I’ll warn you up front: there is no Flash Gordon (ship reminds me of something else) and no Cavorite Sphere from First Men in the Moon (it’s just a diving bell, I mean come on!!).
52 – Nostromo (Alien)
A hulking, ungainly beast, like an oil rig floating in space. Fits in perfectly with the ‘Space truckers’ feel of the original film.
51 – Borg Cube (Star Trek: the Next Generation)
The geometric idea of this seems to fit with the concept of the Borg as a race. It gives a very imposing sense of order and complexity.
50 – TFCT Rodger Young (Starship Troopers)
A design obviously influenced by Battlestar Galactica, still quite an impressive vessel in its own right. I haven’t read the original book so can’t say if the ship is in it or how it is described.
49 – USSC Discovery 1 (2001: A Space Odyssey)
There’s quite a few examples of this type of ship scattered throughout the list. Living quarters separated by a long tunnel from the engine is now quite a well-worn staple. Credit to this for being the precursor.
48 – Omega Class Destroyer Agamemnon (Babylon 5)
You may notice that the rotating central section bears a close resemblance to the Leonov in the 1984 film, 2010. That’s because the idea was borrowed from there. This is a much more imposing ship, however, not to be messed with.
47 – Atlantis City Ship (Stargate Atlantis)
Beautiful design, like the ultimate mobile home of space.
46 – Cheyenne Drop Ship (Aliens)
Like someone took an Apache helicopter and an A-10 tankbuster and mixed them together, then added even more missiles. Goin’ down!!!
45 – Engineers’ Spacecraft (Alien / Aliens / Prometheus)
Looking like a giant pair of ominous horns rising out of the ground, you would think people would know better than to go anywhere near this thing if they found it.
44 – Phoenix (Battle of the Planets)
I’m sure I used to have a toy one of these. Not afraid to take a break from the standard, uniform grey of spacecraft, this one’s jazzed up with red and blue and a very nasty pointy bit at the front. It also turns into fire if that isn’t enough.
43 – Boron Skate (X3 Terran Conflict)
There’s some impressive ship design running throughout the X Universe. I love the organic nature of the Boron ships and this one in particular is beautifully done.
42 – Montressor Space port (Treasure Planet)
A lovely piece of design that hangs like a crescent moon. Some of the buildings are beautiful, bringing to mind the feeling of a kind of Jerusalem in space.
41 – Vorlon Star Fighter (Babylon 5)
Another organic design, like the petals of a flower around something that looks particularly dangerous. I love the unconventional, truly alien look of some of the spacecraft from Babylon 5. Plus, lightning gun!
40 – J-Type 327 Nubian Royal Starship (Star Wars)
Lovely lines, modelled on the Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird. If it’s anything like the taps in my bathroom, however, you’d have a hard job keeping it this shiny.
39 – Prawn Mothership (District 9)
A great example of a flying saucer design with lots of added bits that make it seem absolutely plausible. It looks like junk, another oil rig aesthetic, but very functional junk.
38 – ISV Venture Star (Dances With W.. I mean Avatar)
This has the look of what an actual interstellar ship might turn out like. It’s another one of that same model: the long, thin ISS feel with lots of interesting little bits attached to it, leading me perfectly into…
37 – Icarus 2 (Sunshine)
…another similar idea. I prefer this one over the Venture Star because of the massive solar shield on the front. It made for such a great dramatic tool as the ship slipped just a few degrees off course and bits of it were incinerated.
36 – Romulan Narada (Star Trek)
Just an evil looking ship. Every bit of this just reeks of malevolence, especially since it’s just a mining vessel. Kind of an evil version of Red Dwarf. Speaking of Red Dwarf…
35 – Starbug (Red Dwarf)
No better ship for drinking in the heady medieval atmosphere of pre-Renaissance deep space. Starbug replaced the crew’s original shuttle, Blue Midget with the arrival of Kryten and the need for more space. According to Wikipedia (my favourite source of plagiaristic ideas) Starbug was originally called White Midget and was going to be white. One of the episodes involved it crashing into a snow covered planet however, so it was changed to Green Midget before someone finally realised how much like a bug it looked.
34 – G’Quan-class Heavy Cruiser (Babylon 5)
The Narn do build such colourful ships. This always reminds me of tribal designs and warpaint combined with the danger colours of snakes and insects. Two immensely powerful forward laser cannons are what you need to beware of.
33 – Hatak (Stargate)
A heavily-armed capital ship of the Goa’uld race, comprised of a large golden tetrahedron surrounded by a massive superstructure bristling with weaponry. I love this design and how it incorporates the Egyptian theme.
32 – SA-23E Starfury (Babylon 5)
A nice riff on the X-Wing design (which might be featured further down), this has the look of something extremely manoeuvrable and good for close quarters fighting. it can turn 180 degrees in less than a second. The design, by Rob Thornton and Steve Burg, is a nod to the Gunstar in The Last Starfighter but I actually prefer the way this looks.
31 – Klaatu’s saucer (The Day the Earth Stood Still)
The original flying saucer of the 1950s. Famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright was called in to advise on the design of the interiors and exteriors of the ship. The idea was the outside surface would be like living tissue – any opening or cut in the surface would heal itself leaving no trace or scar. hence, when the doors close, there is no clue that they were ever there in the first place.
30 – RMS Titanic (Doctor Who: Voyage of the Damned)
There’s just something so serene and fitting about this idea: that the Titanic would be re-envisaged as a space bound liner. It’s beautifully designed inside and out, and the additions fit in really well with the overall aesthetic.
29 – Destiny (Stargate Universe)
A beautiful ship, spearhead-shaped which fits perfectly with its function. The idea of Destiny was one of my inspirations when thinking up The Crossing along with the book, Tau Zero by Poul Anderson. The visual of this ship seems to echo what I had in my imagination about the Leonora Christine when I read that book.
28 – Fireball XL5 (Fireball XL5)
Another colourful entry to the list. I always loved just how many fins had been added. If the Fast and Furious series was about spaceships instead of cars, this would be in it for sure. This played no part in my naming of my own spaceship.
27 – Klingon D7 Class Battlecruiser
I always loved these when I was growing up. They were so different from the Federation ships and yet with some of the same touches. Matt Jefferies designed it to look vicious, basing it on a manta ray.
26 – Red Dwarf (Red Dwarf)
Designed by the late Peter Wragg, who was responsible for painting it red, the idea was to have a spaceship that looked like it had been around for years and years, even before the events of the series.
25 – Covenant Assault Carrier (Halo)
I love the look of this craft, the way it hags in the air. It’s quite massive and holds a menacing, alien quality. I also like the way it veers away from the usual by having lots of curved lines and an ethereal quality about it.
24 – Eagle Transporter (Space 1999)
Another one I used to have a toy version of when I was young, I always loved just how functional this was: chunky, no nonsense, real. It made the idea of taking stuff from one place to another actually interesting. It was designed by Brian Johnson, who worked with Gerry Anderson on Thunderbirds. This design was an early inspiration for the Millennium Falcon before its final look.
23 – Slave 1 (Star Wars)
I must admit that, when I was young, I always thought this looked like an iron. I remember having an argument with my brother over the way it flew, being convinced that it did so in the same way as it is pictured above. As usual, he knew a lot more about it than I did. It’s a great design in terms of its originality. Credit for the design goes to Ralph McQuarrie, Joe Johnston and Nilo Rodis-Jamero.
22 – Thunderfighter (Buck Rogers in the 25th Century)
This is a great interpretation of what would happen if someone took the principles of a fighter jet and translated it into a spacecraft. It’s not my favourite example, as you’ll see, but it’s got a really exciting look nonetheless.
21 – Sovereign Class Reaper (Mass Effect)
The first time you see one of these things in the first game, it looks very impressive. Nothing prepares you for seeing it up close, clinging on to the Citadel at the end of the game. Truly a huge, monstrous creation.
20 – Shadow Battle Cruiser (Babylon 5)
This spider-like monstrosity holds an undeniable menace. Of all the more organic designs on the list, this is the one that, I think, demonstrates the largest ability to conjure childhood fears in us.
19 – TARDIS (Dr. Who)
You have to credit the writers with figuring out a way to have something so futuristic and fantastic essentially be so cheap to produce for the show. The beauty of this design, and the reason it features on this list, is its simplicity. The blue box has become an icon when so few other ships have, even many that occupy higher positions on this list.
18 – Thunderbird 3 (Thunderbirds)
Hands down my favourite Thunderbird. It takes all the best aspects of a traditional rocket shape and adds a good degree of flair as long with a fire-engine red colour scheme. It reminds me a little of a V2 rocket. Every time I watched Thunderbirds as a child, I would always hope to see Thunderbird 3 being used.
17 – Klingon Bird of Prey (Star Trek)
This is a very graceful design, done by the good people of ILM for Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It appeared in five of the films and was the first Klingon ship to feature a cloaking device. I love the configuration and overall look of it.
16 – Imperial Star Destroyer (Star Wars)
The opening scene of Star Wars features a stunning piece of visual effects work as we see the Tantive IV craft pursued by one of these giants. The sheer scale of it introduces the size and power of the Empire and this scene is a landmark in science fiction films. You can see this below.
15 – Eldar Craftworlds (Warhammer 40K)
The Craftworlds are immense, self-contained ships that travel across space carrying the Eldar. Each world has its own society and culture and each is unique. The image above is just an example and you can see how intricate it is. I’ve never seen anything else like it.
14 – The Citadel (Mass Effect)
The design for the Citadel, the seat of government and power in the Mass Effect universe, was inspired by a sculpture with five sides and a ring. The five sides are each around the same size as Manhattan. NASA concepts were used in the design and the look became a centrepiece of the series’ look. There is also the ability to close up the arms for defence, creating a bullet-shaped cocoon.
13 – DS1 Orbital Battle Station or Death Star (Star Wars)
“That’s no moon. It’s a space station!”
There isn’t a better introduction to any spacecraft on this list than that one. 100 miles in diameter with a crew of over 2,000,000. It was designed by Colin Cantwell and the trench was an accidental addition.
12 – R-Type (R-Type)
Just a tiny little thing really, but one of my all time favourites. The ship itself is so small and seemingly insignificant, with a pea shooter of a primary weapon. What makes R-Type so great is the way you can build it up, adding whatever weapons you find floating around in space. If you’re lucky enough, it won’t be long before you’ve added so much that you’re a floating death machine. The range of additions was magnificent, from lasers to missiles to floaty things. According to one website, there are over 80 potential attachments.
11 – TiE Fighter (Star Wars)
Colin Cantwell was also the man responsible for the original design of the Twin Ion Engine fighter. What I love about it is that it’s such a radical departure from the normal rocket/aircraft model. It took advantage of the fact that aerodynamics was not really a factor when designing for space.
We’re into the Top Ten now. This is where we stop talking about ships and start talking about things that are on the same level as characters in their own right.
10 – SSV Normandy SR-2 (Mass Effect 2 and 3)
The Normandy is your home for a great portion of your run through the Mass Effect series. Seeing the original SR-1 blown to smithereens by the Collectors is a gut punch, but it does lead to this shiny replacement which doesn’t have the world’s slowest lift. It really is a beautiful ship, but then you wouldn’t expect any less when one of the inspirations for it was Concorde. Just make sure you’ve got a helpful Turian who will keep things calibrated.
9 – Colonial Viper Mk. II (Battlestar Galactica)
I know I liked the TiE fighter because it was different from the usual fighter jet design. This, however, is the zenith of that type of design. Peter Aleshire, in his book about US Air Force F-16 pilots, reveals that they call their aircraft ‘Vipers’ and call themselves ‘viper pilots’ in honour of this ship. A simple red and white colour scheme adds to the look but it’s the fact that it’s a relic that makes it truly memorable. The Mark VII vipers are newer and more flashy but it’s like seeing a new Mustang next to one from the 1960s. There just isn’t a comparison. The Mk II is a classic.
8 – Event Horizon (Event Horizon)
An evil ship, returned from some other dimension of nastiness in order to drift in orbit like a floating Overlook Hotel. Indeed, the film was pitched as The Shining in Space. The ship was actually modelled on Notre Dame Cathedral, the long corridor representing the nave. The Chancel and transepts are all part of the shape of this floating ghost ship. What’s on the inside is also a wonderful piece of design.
7 – Serenity (Firefly and Serenity)
Serenity is as much a character as Mal or Wash or any of the cast. Joss Whedon came up with the original concept of the ship before Carey Meyer and others added details. The ship is modelled on aspects of both birds and bugs: a long neck and head of a bird but the large abdomen and spindly legs of an insect. It’s a floating home, cozy and realistic.
6 – Liberator (Blake’s 7)
Roger Murray-Leach designed this beautiful craft. Apparently, gossips say that Ian Scoones (designer of many of the other ships in the series) was a bit put out that he didn’t get to do it, but you can’t argue with the results. Murray-Leach, who had worked extensively on Doctor Who, wanted to create something that was completely different to everything else out there, so he designed it to look like it would fly one way but actually go the other. It’s truly a masterpiece.
5 – Battlestar Galactica (Battlestar Galactica)
The grand old lady, the big ‘G’. The Battlestar Galactica, one of the oldest of the vessels in the same class has an undeniable grace about her. Beyond the fact that she is bodyguard to a fleet of smaller civilian ships, and a comforting sight to see out of their windows, she carries the same threat as one of today’s huge aircraft carriers. When she appears over the skies of New Caprica, there is the warm feeling of hope combined with a devastating warning to the opposition. To quote the film Leon, “Somebody’s coming up. Somebody serious!” She’s like a huge tank, capable of withstanding an almighty battering from just about any kind of weaponry including nukes. When she makes her last FTL jump, her structure damaged beyond repair, she hangs broken in Earth’s orbit and elicits real sympathy from the audience, as I said before, the kind of sympathy we reserve for human characters.
4 – USS Cygnus (The Black Hole)
The more I thought about this one, the higher up the list it went. It’s an obvious inspiration to the Event Horizon above, a ghost ship orbiting a Black Hole with only a mad scientist directing it. This ship truly looks like a gothic cathedral with so much glass as to make you wonder how a single impact would not destroy her. Not the most realistic ship on the list, maybe even the least, it is a true work of art. Indeed, one of the models went on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York for a time after filming. the models were about 12 feet long, weighing about 170 pounds each and they took a team of 15 people about a year to build. That’s testimony to the level of detail.
3 – T-65 X-Wing Starfighter (Star Wars)
Credit to Joe Johnston and Colin Cantwell for this design, one of the most iconic ships in film history. It was designed to be more traditional than the Empire’s TiE fighters and its primary function, despite what you might think, was reconnaissance. A group of fans actually launched a model X Wing into low earth orbit with the help of a large balloon and took some video which is available online. I’ve always loved the X Wing as a piece of my childhood. The great merchandise train was only just beginning to roll back then and there was a “battle-damaged” variant which you could buy. I found it easier to just burn sections of my own. I think in the end it became an “irrevocably-battle damaged” variant.
2 – YT-1300 Freighter – Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)
I never really thought much about the practicality of the design. I just thought it was cool. I never wondered why the cockpit was on one side or why various things were where they were. After an original design for the Falcon was dismissed and turned into the Tantive IV, George Lucas gave Joe Johnston just four weeks to come up with a new one based on a flying saucer. Such a short timescale put a lot of pressure on the modelmaker, but he came up trumps, adding the offset cockpit and cargo holder at the front. It’s another iconic design like the X Wing and something that does live in our collective consciousness. Even non-Star Wars fans recognise the shape and where it comes from. The Falcon is a freighter that belongs to the same family as Serenity, and you can see the influence it had on that vessel, especially where the interiors are concerned.
1 – Constitution Class Federation Starship – USS Enterprise (Star Trek)
This was my number 1 from the beginning and I think it always has been. There is no more beautiful, graceful spaceship that I know. Star Trek Art Director Matt Jeffries is the man who designed it. He was an aviation artist, set designer and also a pilot who had experience with the big bombers of World War II. He was tasked with creating something that was nothing like any traditional idea of a rocket ship that had already been done. The saucer, the massive twin engine nacelles and the main body of the ship are so well put together that this, like the Falcon and a couple of others, is a shape that exists beyond science fiction. Above all it’s a character. It’s Captain Kirk’s other half; the thing he cannot escape and doesn’t want to all at the same time. When it’s damaged, the viewer feels the pain not on behalf of the crew and the danger in which they find themselves but on behalf of the ship itself. It combines just about all the good points that I’ve made about other ships on the list. It’s a design that just sums up everything I love about science fiction.
Here’s a video of how it gets blown to bits:
So, that’s the list. As I said, I doubt you’ll agree with me on all of these. Feel free to tell me why I’m wrong in the comments section. This is the hardest list I’ve done and the top 10 were incredibly hard to order. Thanks for reading all of this. if you enjoyed it, please take a look at my other lists, the links to which are below.
All the best,