Funky Funky Fiziks: Galaxy Railways

Sometimes in here I get to have great fun stripping something down to its individual parts to take a look at what makes it tick. So very Clockwork Planet, eh?

But sometimes I just gots to get something off my chest. This is one of those times. Lucky you.

Galaxy Railways is something I picked up on sale because I write science fiction and I like rail travel (I enormously prefer it to travel by air or car), so I thought I’d like a sci-fi show about railroads.

Well, the best I can say is that it’s watchable. Manabu is a likable young man, it’s cute to watch him and Louise pretending they aren’t totally crushing on each other, Yuki’s development from sexaroid toward humanity can be sympathetic at times, and the ensemble cast is pretty well defined as characters. If you ask me what the strength of the series is, I’d say the character development. It’s populated by good, likable, honest people.

Galaxy Railways

Louise Drake (center) and Manabu (right), with their boss, Layla Destiny Shura

Flip side: Um. Is there a plot here? WHO KILLED BRUCE? FOR WHAT REASON? I mean, seriously, does this show actually go anywhere, except for reuniting Manabu with his long-lost pop for no reason that makes sense to anyone?

But what killed me about Galaxy Railways was how dreadful the physics was. I mean, they call it SCIENCE fiction because it’s supposed to be based in SCIENCE.

Science is something I know a little about, apart from writing science fiction. I was an actual, real live, chemist for a couple years, studied some physics, too. Still have my first year physics book from college; still use it from time to time. Accelerations, speed of light lag times; I figure this stuff out routinely.

Not that anime gives a crap about actual, real live science. There’s a great moment in the first episode of Cowboy Bebop where Jet is smoking a cigarette and Spike asks him for a hit. Jet floats it to him weightlessly, and that’s the only event in the entire run of the series that suggests the Bebop is weightless! All the rest of the time they walk on her decks, remain oriented head up and feet down, have to stand up out of chairs, eat food from plates set in front of them, etc.

But Galactic Railways is a new low.

For one thing, the long, thin profile of a railroad train is defined by the fact that a railroad train runs on rails a set distance apart and can’t overlap that by much. But the trains in Galactic Railways DON’T RUN ON RAILS.

Um. Oops.

In the absence of rails or air friction, i.e. in space, the optimal shape of a vessel is not long and thin. Long and thin works for shipping on the surface of a planet because it slices through air nicely. But long sides = increased potential for air leaks. Long sides = high construction costs. Long sides = increased potential for structural failure.

In space, there’s no air, so there’s no air friction, so there’s no need for a long, thin shape; in space the sphere is the simplest and cheapest shape, and a sphere minimizes all the other problems, too.

Um. Oops.

The trains in GR are often steam engines, with streams of smoke from the engine trailing back in their wakes. But in space there’s no air to run a steam engine, and no air friction to force the exhaust to stream back along the carriages. If there is some kind of exhaust…and any kind of engine that doesn’t use exhaust as a propulsion source is really, really inefficient for a space craft…in the absence of air, it should stream away from the train, forming a triangle (because the engine is moving forward) rather than a stream.

Um. Oops.

In GR the trains are sometimes attacked by bad guys for bad guy reasons. They defend themselves with giant cannon firing out of either side of the train.

Now, if you’re firing at enemies approaching from the side, a long, thin broadside is actually optimal, since it allows you to line up a whole bunch of cannon. But in space combat is not two dimensional. If you’re attacking a long, thin ship with cannons sticking out of the sides, for the love of mike attack it from the top or the bottom where there are no cannon! Der.

Um. Oops.

We can leave aside what actually powers the trains of Galaxy Railways since they are driven by pure handwavium so far as I can figure out. Elsewhere there are attempts to pay lip service to the laws of physics, as when they have to wear spacesuits to survive in hostile atmospheres, or when they react reasonably when they are shot or stabbed or punched. And the show works, to the extent that it works, because it develops a strong ensemble cast, not because it’s got a strong plot or is very realistic.

But seriously: railways without rails, in space, pulled by steam engines without air. It’s a pretty pretty picture, but it’s funky, funky fiziks.

I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.

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