I am building a Dieselpunk-ish science fantasy setting and for aesthetic reasons, I decided to make the aether a real phenomena in the setting. Later I realized that aether could be a tool to justify space combat as commonly portrayed in space opera, that is taking place at relatively slow speed and close range with big slow ships and small fast ones.

I established the properties of the aether in order to create the conditions for space opera style space combat.

The Aether is an omnipresent field of exotic-particles giving space a faint silvery hue. Aether particles flow from the aethereal plane into the material plane and back in an unending cycle.

Aether particles disrupt radar and radio/microwave communication, they also diffuse coherent beams making lasers and charged particle beam weapons useless.

Aether particles can also be used for levitation, through aethereal buoyancy, as well as propulsion. Aethereal propulsion differs slightly from levitation, the act of pushing against the aether generates potentially destructive feedback that must be compensated for; because it could potentially tear a ship apart. An idea I had was that the aethereal feedback compensators scale up poorly leading to a prevalence of small nimble craft.

The Aether field behaves like a fluid (which is air technically) so aether-engine craft maneuver as though they were in atmosphere, and must deal with shifts, currents, up- and down-drafts.

All of the above works, at the very least it doesn't give me any more conceptual headaches; I am however always open to ideas.

However I ran into a problem, if there were other forms of propulsion available no one would use aether-engines, they have far too many complications. The solution that I devised was that people had no choice but to use aether-engines.

The aether-field clings to matter, unless you're using an aether-engine trying to move through it; it is like driving through quick sand, the more you fight the tighter it clings to you. While this works out just fine for slowing down it causes all manner of cosmological problems. So the solution to that was to have the gravity of high mass objects, planetoid-mass and up cause the aether-field to diffuse enough for stellar bodies to move at least somewhat normally.

Before I have to cut the aether from my setting, I ask how to resolve the issues with the aether and it's effect on objects. The solution that I have only opens up more questions. That is that gravity displaces aether for planetoid mass objects and greater. However if that is true then shouldn't a star's mass displace most of the aether in a solar system?

I find my self asking similar question of any sci-fi setting where planetary gravity wells inhibit FTL travel but the Sun's doesn't?

  • $\begingroup$ Usually the FTL works so long as the gravity well is not too steep at that point, too steep being a magic number that stops you getting too close to the sun or planets but still lets you get as close as the plot requires. For example maybe you can't FTL to the sun closer than the orbit of Mercury, to Earth closer than the orbit of the moon, etc. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Dec 20, 2015 at 22:20
  • $\begingroup$ I recommend looking at the "Spelljammer" setting, that had some really interesting ideas. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Dec 20, 2015 at 22:23
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB I am familiar with Spelljammer and The Phlogiston. However from what I've read the mechanics Phlogiston are not delved into deeply enough for it to help with my question. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2015 at 15:31
  • $\begingroup$ @TimB I see what your saying about the deepth of the gravity well. I tend to think of the sun's gravity being as acting equally upon everything in the system. Instead of their being gradient , that gets stronger the closer that you get to the source. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2015 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, if you think about it there must be a gradient as otherwise planets in other solar systems would be pulled towards our sun as strongly as their own. $\endgroup$
    – Tim B
    Dec 21, 2015 at 16:46

2 Answers 2


I don't think that you have to modify the aether in any way past your first idea. People may prefer non-aether engines over aether engines for many applications, however they would need to invent those other engines first: and in most cases it would just be better to use an aether engine over inventing a whole new field of engineering. Lets have a look at the pros/cons in some situations:

In space travel: Your Aether engines are the only way to go. Seriously. They're effectively reactionless, you don't have to carry reaction mass for them and they can be used anywhere. To stress how important this is: Rocket launch pads require a huge clear zone around them, even modern rockets are prone to exploding, and they have to carry so much fuel to lift their own fuel that launching to space (to say nothing of manoeuvring in space) is exorbitantly expensive. I can't think of any reason aside from raw power that you'd want to go with rockets, and if the aether engines were developed before safe rocket technology (Don't be fooled into thinking rocket development was simple. 'It's not rocket science' is a phrase for a reason), I can't even think of a reason rockets would be invented.

In high altitude travel: Much the same as space travel. Scram/Ramjets require a high level of technological development, and the air is too thin to push off with jet engines at high altitudes, so again your Aether engines come out on top. No 'aether resistance' necessary.

In low altitude travel: Here you get to the point where propellers/jet engines become useful. Again: If aether engines came before jet engines (depending on the efficiencies) I can't see why research would go into inventing the hideously complex and dangerous jet engine when you could instead focus on better aether feedback damping.

Propellers could be useful for big ships but they would be far less efficient than the aether engines and have the downside of being external, and thus susceptible to enemy attacks/meteorological effects/unfixable mechanical problems etc. Not only that but they cause actual wind effects, which may be inconvenient for the people that are in the ships or on the ground. For large, planetgoing ships I can see propellers still being in use, but these vessels wouldn't be capable of high-altitude or space travel unless outfitted with aether drives, at which point you may as well just go full aether.

On the ground or in the sea: Of course they'll use other engines. Oceangoing liners with big-ol diesel engines and pistons larger than I am? Chugging, smoke belching factories? Reassuringly growly automobiles? These things are just awesome. A potential use for Aether engines in this scenario would be for all-terrain vehicles, if wheel grip can't be guaranteed to transfer engine power to the ground, but other than that I think that internal combustion engines are pretty safe, even if you introduce the aether drag. They would need more horsepower, but stopping internal combustion engines effectively would also require stopping other things, such as actual horses or fast punches.

TL:DR: In essence, at the tech level of a dieselpunk setting, if the Aether engine came before the jet engine I can't see a reason why people would invent other engines rather than focusing on making their aetherial tech better.

  • $\begingroup$ Thank you. I did imagine aether-propulsion and levitation to be both powerful,efficient and well easy to build. I don't see aether-engines as being much more complicated than an electric motor. I had imagine that aether particles rain down onto planets, they just don't form a stable aether-field. So aether engines can be used in atmosphere;though they probably are more efficient at higher altitudes. The feedback from aether-propulsion is the main limiter on ship speed, which will be overcome with time. The aethereal-plane can be used for FTL travel also reducing the need for fast ships. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2015 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ I wanted to add a quagmiric effect to the aether so that combat could not evolve away from the space opera style. $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2015 at 16:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Trismegistus: If FTL is more efficient than pushing yourself faster and faster you don't need a quagmiric effect. People will find it easier/cheaper to FTL into close range and hammer away with large cannons than they would to improve their engines and dampers to the point where they're engaging in high-speed combat. If you have to spend \$20,000,000 developing and building a rocket powered fighter, only to have it blown away by flak from your opponent's \$2,000,000 Aetheric, FTL capable, more efficient, heavily armoured space behemoth, you're quickly going to change to do what they're doing. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ Well to keep FTL from being to easy and follow the classic sci-fi trope of FTL Jumps consuming allot of power. A ship spens a charge to dive into the aethereal plane an another to surface from it. Once in the aethereal plane travel speed is partially do to the skill of your navigators,geometry in the plane is shifting and kaleidoscopic. Without the quagmire I'm not seeing how to keep space-fighter in use, $\endgroup$ Dec 21, 2015 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Trismegistus The aetheric space fighters will still be in use because no other kind of fighter will make sense (rockets will need to carry exorbitant amounts of fuel), and you need fighter support to prevent small, nimble bombers from nipping in and annihilating your larger ships. Building larger aether engines to push larger ships fast is a no-no due to the feedback, so large ships will prefer to use FTL to get from A to B and then use slow movements from there. Fighters don't have the power for FTL drives, so they rely on the FTL capable carriers to avoid long journeys with no life support. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Dec 22, 2015 at 9:07

The simplest way is just to have rockets not work or be inefficient. Anything else already doesn't work in space as there is no air to push against.

So gunpowder for example is very diesel/steampunk ish and actually doesn't have great energy density. Some gunpowder rockets strapped to a ship may be able to give it a temporary burst of speed but you'd rapidly run out of gunpowder.

Restrict access to high explosives or advanced rocket fuels and you're fine.


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