What’s in a name? What if it’s Enterprise?


The now-retired U.S.S. Enterprise. For all who served aboard her over the past half-century, thank you. (Wikipedia Commons)

I noted with a bit of nostalgia and sadness that the United States Navy aircraft carrier CVN-65 was deactivated on Saturday. You may recognize her name: U.S.S. Enterprise.

Since a certain television show took to the airwaves in 1966, the name Enterprise has been synonymous with adventure and a variety of traditions, including a few hardly envisioned by the first to christen a vessel as such. Yet between the fictional and the historical, Enterprise has become an immense cultural touchstone — and for me, as an author of both science-fiction and alternate history, it raises an interesting question.

In the setting I’ve created for The Daedalus Incident, I have two separate universes: One set in a very plausible, science-based future that may be ours in a century or so, and another set in an alternate dimension in the late 18th century, where naval vessels travel both sea and space. Both of those universes would be inclined to honor the name Enterprise. 

The first HMS Enterprise I could find was a captured French frigate that entered service into the Royal Navy in 1705. Since then there have been at least nine other ships bearing that name in the Royal Navy, including today’s HMS Enterprisean oceanographic research vessel that entered service in 2002.

The United States Navy also has a long, proud tradition with the name, starting with a 12-gun sloop that served on Lake Champlain in 1775 through the highly decorated World War II aircraft carrier and the now-retired Enterprise, the Navy’s first nuclear-powered carrier. (You may recall that CVN-65 had a cameo in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. And if you do recall that, then you’re my kind of people.)

Fact follows fiction: A name chosen in science fiction to honor historical fact becomes a name to chart a new future.

Fiction follows fact, which then follows fiction again.

Speaking of Trek, the starship Enterprise is a major part of our cultural fabric. This goes well beyond geek culture: it’s no accident that the prototype space shuttle was named Enterprise. While President Ford never publicly acknowledged the massive letter-writing campaign launched by Trekkies, he had NASA change the name regardless, and the crew of the fictional ship was on hand at the unveiling of the shuttle Enterprise, now retired in New York.

I have no doubt whatsoever that another Enterprise — a real Enterprise — will one day leave Earth orbit. Both naval tradition and our cultural touchstones on space travel demand it.

For me, the question becomes: How do I incorporate this into my setting without coming off as hokey? In the late 18th century, Enterprise was considered a worthy name for a sea-going – and presumably Void-going — vessel. And by the 22nd century, surely there will have been a few real space vessels named Enterprise, with perhaps another already in service somewhere.

I sincerely doubt that I could name a key ship in any story Enterprise without my readers immediately thinking of any number of Star Trek ships. (Apparently, in Star Trek fiction, they’re up to NCC-1701-J. Who knew? My memory only went up to the Enterprise-E.) In either of the universes I’ve created, it would either be too evocative of Star Trek or way too “meta.” Knowing me and my 22nd century characters, they’d be far too many Vulcan jokes. Already The Daedalus Incident has a handful of references to Trek, Star Warsand Firefly. i

Yet in the end, in both fact and fiction, there are very few ships to have the kind of legacy that those bearing the name Enterprise have enjoyed, and I feel it appropriate to honor that…somehow.

Exactly how? I have no idea. But it’ll happen at some point — if not in The Daedalus Incident, then elsewhere in my work.

In the meantime, the tradition of the Enterprise will continue. During the deactivation ceremony of CVN-65, the Secretary of the Navy announced that a yet-to-be-built supercarrier, CVN-80, will be the ninth vessel in the U.S. Navy to bear the name Enterprise.

I find it reassuring that, at sea or in space, there will continue to be an Enterprise. The romance and honor of that name, both in the past and in the future, in fact and in fiction, are too strong to fade.

Leave a comment

Filed under Geek, Space, Technology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s