Sci Fi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale
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The introduction begins like this: "Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space. Listen …" and so on.

- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Basic Information

This trope addresses the fact that writers and special effects crews on TV shows and movies have no bloomin' idea about just how amazingly big space is. Nor do most authors understand just how short human history is compared to the greater span of time. What follows is helpful facts to help you avoid the mistakes professional authors frequently make.

Distances in Space

As Douglas Adams said, space is really big. It's also empty. Big and empty. Here's a short video that puts some of it into perspective:

The Earth is 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) away from The Sun. Neptune is 4.5 billion km away from The Sun. The earth itself is less than 13 thousand kilometers in diameter. Space is really big and empty.

A light year is about 10 trillion kilometers (nearly 6 trillion miles). The next nearest star to our own Sun is four times that distance away. Really, really big and empty.

The Milky Way Galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter. Just think about that. Even if there were thousands of inhabited planets out there, and every sentient species discovered radio about the same time, it could be thousands of years before any of them heard the radio waves transmitted from any other inhabited world.

(It's also very common for sci-fi writers to say "galaxy" when they mean "solar system" and vice-versa. Bad them.)

Now, look at the implications for starship combat. Since most spaceships have active sensors, advanced supercomputers, and really long-range weaponry (like Lasers), there's really no reason why they should ever close to visual range before engaging in a battle. They should be able to hit targets from at least miles away, and possibly even from tens of thousands of kilometers. Ramming should almost never be an option, as even friendly vessels are unlikely to be close enough to smack into. And the idea of a space-based minefield is pretty ridiculous - at least one that's dense enough to prevent travel through it and simultaneously large enough you can't just fly around it easily.

Distances in Time

The Earth is about 4.5 billion years old. For the first 30 to 55 million years of that it didn't have a moon.

Life probably first appeared on earth about 4 billion years ago. In it's earliest stages it was just protocells.

Dinosaurs dominated the land starting 230 million years ago. They went extinct 65 million years ago.

Members of the genus homo started using simple stone tools about 2.5 million years ago. The first actual homo sapiens, what we would recognize as anatomically modern humans, didn't evolve until somewhere between 160,000 to 250,000 years ago, during the paleolithic period.

Agriculture wasn't developed until about 10,000 years ago. The first domestication of animals was around that time as well.

Written language only goes back to about 3000 BC.

The Industrial Revolution started in the late 18th Century.

After The End, things will fall apart at various speeds. See Post-Apocalyptic Decay for details.


The square-cube law ensures that as things are enlarged, their mass increases at a faster rate than their surface area.

If spaceship B is twice the size of spaceship A, it'll be about eight times as massive as A.


Game and Story Use

  • Should help keeping things in scale. Avoiding mistakes will contribute to verisimilitude.
  • There have been Science Fiction TV series that deliberately used fictitious units of measurement so that they wouldn't have to worry about this kind of consistency. Of course, in a game the players will be paying more attention and will be making in-game decisions based on the information given, so you won't be able to blow them off so easily.
  • There are also a variety of "alternative" chronologies … the most common one being the Creationist idea that the world is only a few thousand years old (how many thousand depends on your religion) and/or has been created and destroyed several times since the universe began. Many other narratives have civilisation (in one form or another) being older than 10k years - either because we're currently living after the end of an earlier human world (as suggested by people like VonDaniken1 and proponents of places like Mu and Atlantis) or because non-human precursors rose and fell before us (the Cthulhu Mythos timeline may or may not be the most impressive example of this).
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