by Judith Proctor, with editorial comments by Neil Faulkner

We only ever get to see the flight deck, a sub-control room, the teleport bay, a cargo hold, lots of corridors, part of Cally and Blake's rooms and the crew room (once). For a ship the size of the Liberator, that leaves an awful lot else. Give the fact that Liberator is significantly faster than anything the Federation has, it could be that a large part of the ship is devoted to the drive. It is quite possible that the three nacelles are nothing but drive and firepower. We have a fair idea of the ship's size from the scene with the London - the London is a tiny thing beside the Liberator (so tiny that a blooper in a later episode has them reusing the same stock footage with the London still there!). Even if only a small proportion of this space is given over to crew facilities, that still leaves a lot of space. I've seen fan stories that give Liberator everything from gourmet kitchens to a swimming pool!

What we see on screen, however, is always very utilitarian. In spite of stories that give characters incredibly exotic bedrooms with everything from silk sheets to mirrored ceilings, the reality that we see is plain walls, very basic furniture and a bunk bed that seems to lack even sheets. The crew room, apart from the minor interest of having the only window that we ever see on board ship, has nothing more than a set of recliners.

The obvious reason for what we see has to be the Altas. They appear to be totally uninterested in entertainment or decoration. Thus, presumably, they built the ship to be functional rather than decorative. This suggests in turn that Liberator's external design (which I love) is a necessity for engineering purposes rather than from any effort to create something that was beautiful as well as functional.

The crew room may well not have been in the ship's original design. Perhaps it was Blake who decided they needed a social area and converted some other room into a place where they could chat away from the pressures of the flight deck.

Understandably, this very boring approach to interior design poses problems for writers. There are several approaches.

1. "To hell with plausibility." If I say Avon's bed has black leather sheets, then it has black leather sheets. If my plot requires a Jacuzzi, then Liberator has a Jacuzzi.

2.. "Use what we don't see." A slight variation of the above. We never actually see Avon's room. You can't but a sunken bed with silk sheets in Cally's room, because we know what it looks like, but Avon, Jenna, Tarrant etc are fair game.

3. "Adapt what we see." We see Blake lying on a bunk with no sheets. He's unlikely to actually sleep like that. Let's suppose that the bunk can be unfolded in some way to make a more comfy bed. This suggests that space is actually at a premium on Liberator and would tend to go alongside such things as showers rather than bath tubs.

4. "Rationalise luxury." We know Liberator has a splendid clothes room. Whoever put that there, and for whatever reason, might well have added other luxuries. Why isn't there another room with lots of stuff for interior decorating. Maybe Cally's room is Spartan because she likes it that way - Auron culture or the guerrilla's practical attitude?

5. "Use exactly what we see." Tricky, this, given that it's unlikely that Blake actually slept in his clothes. Maybe that was just a couch and he had a proper bed elsewhere. <Ed: I'd have said this was pigging obvious. Just goes to show how literally some minds can run...> 6. "High-tech." Let's be generous. They actually sleep in null gravity bubbles (after all, Liberator has to have artificial gravity). The clothes room contains a new type of underwear that never needs changing. Avon's studs contain an array of complex detectors. The cabin walls can be changed to different colours and designs at the press of a button or a request to Zen.

7. "Altas rule UK." Everything is drab and utilitarian. This can be used to set the tone of a story, either as atmosphere or as contrast.

8. "Never actually describe anything." Too boring to contemplate. It's only conceivable advantage is that the reader cannot possibly disagree with you.

I've explored the possibilities with regard to rooms here, but the same principle could be applied to food. Do they cook from raw materials, heat up frozen concentrate, dial something on a machine, live on zero-flavour protein packs or whatever? The fun for a writer lies either in creating a self-consistent world and exploring its possibilities, or else in trying a different set of assumptions in different stories and seeing how they affect the lives of the crew.


(Hey, I just had to type all that up, and we're not exactly pushed for space this time around...)

I sometimes wonder about fan writers. I wonder what would happen if they ever got caught up in a real revolutionary struggle.

"Okay, whaddaya want - AK-47, M16, CAW, Heckler-Koch..."
"Hmm, yes... Do you have anything in pink?"

In other words , an obsession with interior design suggests a line of interest rather divergent from that depicted in the series. Nevertheless, the somewhat austere nature of the Liberator's interior does need addressing. I'm going to take the cop-out option and blame the BBC. The set designers lacked either the imagination, the inclination, or (perhaps most likely) the time and money to come up with detailed, interesting sets.

What characterises an inhabited space is not so much the quality, function or expense of its various paraphernalia as the way it reflects the inhabitant. Looking around my own room, I can see the following - several empty plastic cola bottles, a varnished fossil sea urchin, a freshwater mussel shell picked up from a lake in Wales twenty years ago, three models - the Liberator, and a Soviet night fighter and helicopter gunship (the last half- demolished by a cat), two stuffed birds, a cheap plastic Stanley knife, a pile of foreign coins, a succulent that doesn't get watered half as much as it should, a Green Party rosette from the 1987 general election, a handle-less mug full of pens... Some of it is just plain crap, the rest even less useful. Anyone else could compile a similar list of their own. Defining a fictional character like this is not necessarily easy in mundane fiction, and in futuristic fiction the problems are multiplied still further. Who knows what kind of junk Blake or Avon might have lurking in their cabins?

The luxurious trappings, I'm tempted to think, are a surrogate for this more human level of living environment. Either that, or a lot of fan writers are obscenely rich or dream of being so. Magnificence is used as a shortcut to plausibility. It also appears to fill a compensatory role, since grandeur is not confined to Liberator's interior. It is also found in older (pre-New Wave) SF/fantasy in general, as well as fanfic (often rooted in the Golden Age tradition). Spectacular scenery is common (like the diamond-studded cliffs of Mars in one John Carter saga), as is architecture (remember Minas Tirith?), costume (those old Flash Gordon serials) and props (Liberator itself for example). And language, of course - come the time we finally strike out for the stars, we'll apparently all talk like characters out of a Hollywood feudal epic of the 50s. Together these embody what might be termed the Romantic approach.

Since the 1960s, however, SF has tended to curb its more exuberant excesses, and in the process it's become more human, more immediately empathic. Outrageous costumes have given way to greasy overalls. Cities of gleaming spires have garbage on the streets. Kitsch and consumerist banality have wormed their way in - as I recall, the opening shot of Alien features one of those horrible nodding glass birds that used to make perfect Christmas presents for relatives you didn't like very much. Archaic patterns of speech have been replaced by street vernacular. All this represents a swing towards what might be called the Realistic approach.

No prizes for guessing which I prefer. I've never had much time for Romantic fanfic, much preferring the squalid and tarnished. For that reason I tens to regard the Liberator sets as generally plausible but underdressed. Where are the unwashed coffee mugs and socks that stick to the wall?

The only real area where I'd take issue with Judith is a bit unrelated - why should Liberator have to have artificial gravity? With a circular cross section couldn't spin-induced gravity be a possibility? The crew deck would then rotate around a central spindle containing all the drives, energy banks etc, and would potentially be quite large. How large depends on the envisaged size of the ship - I know we saw the tiny London nestled up against it, but in Aftermath Liberator didn't look that much bigger than a passing pursuit ship. Maybe pursuit ships are themselves pretty bulky, or - as with many other things in B7 - the actual size of the Liberator rests largely on what the fan writer wants it to be.

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Last changed on 09th of December 1997