For reasons totally unrelated to a massively popular online indie multiplayer game that takes place in space and requires players to have an intimate knowledge of a spacecraft’s different rooms in order to report and solve (or commit) murder most foul, the interior design of spaceships has become a fascination of mine in the past month or so. It’s interesting that despite having no knowledge of what a spaceship would actually need in terms of square footage and technical components, I have a very clear idea in my mind of what the interior of a spaceship looks like.
In fact, there are two main versions of what the interior of a spaceship looks like, in my mind. First, there’s the 2001: A Space Odyssey / Star Trek / Apple Store version, which favors luminous ceiling panels, glossy surfaces, and enormous opaque wall, floor, and ceiling panels. It’s pretty and clean, but also a little… too clean.
The other version is what I’d categorize as the Alien franchise / Millennium Falcon / electronics warehouse style, which is not only poorly lit, but which has flickering lights for dramatic effect, interior greeble, and buttons. Lots of multi-colored, flashing buttons. It looks like the kind of ship where duct tape is still a viable repair method for most problems.
Interestingly, these two styles aren’t wildly different, when you look at them side-by-side. The most obvious factor influencing the moods of both interiors is the lighting and the designer’s attempts to either cover up or showcase the “guts” of the ships using exposed tubes, wires, and compartments. Other than that, both styles favor drab neutral tones, narrow corridors flanked by automatic sliding doors, panel or tube lighting, and uniform floors, walls, and ceilings.
It’s taken me until writing this to realize that they are both very boring-looking, brutalist-modern interior styles. They are the airport waiting areas of spaceship interiors. Obviously, a spaceship not only doesn’t need wall hangings or rugs or track lighting—those accoutrements very much belong to interiors that don’t do barrel-rolls. And it also makes sense that more organic interiors don’t exist in sci-fi movies or TV shows—what visual media has the time to explain to an audience why a spaceship has hardwood floors?
But books and graphic novels do have that kind of time, and it’s always a pleasure to read or look at a new take on the spaceship that isn’t so obviously affected by the functional, militaristic style favored in film and TV (and real life). A great example is the treeship in Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples’ Saga graphic novels—a space vessel with an incredible natural interior that seems to be lit by bioluminescent fungi. Does it “make sense” that this ship moves through the vacuum of space as a living entity, full of other living entities? Sure! In the world of Saga, magic is as fundamental a rule of the universe as science. In fact, the series centers itself on the concept of inorganic, machine beings and organic, magic-using beings warring. A spaceship that introduces non-machine technology is a great concept. After all, even in the real world, technology can be grown as well as built. Also, this is speculative fiction—why limit a spaceship to what is ultimately a trope based on interior design trends from last millennium?
In some senses, having an interior that looks a bit more natural, or a bit less uniform, does make sense when speculating about what interstellar travelers might need. If passengers are undertaking a voyage that takes years, or making their living traveling on spacecrafts, doesn’t it make sense that they’d spruce the place up a bit? Even the ISS makes use of stickers and projectors–truly the wall-hangings of a zero-G future.