I had a thought strike me, when then expanded for a possible setting detail, involving the use of starfighters in science fiction. Starfighters tend to fill in the role of air superiority fighter planes in the real world, but the ranges involved in space are far greater than on a planet. Even now, ranges in dogfight or in naval battles are beyond visual, sometimes beyond the horizon. Radar can provide targeting for missiles, and the use of cannons on a jet fighter is getting rarer.
In space, barring a large body to hide behind such as a moon, radar contact will be made long before visual contact. Missiles and other weapons will cross the distance faster than any starfighter, leaving launched pilots either verifying hits or wondering if there's a home to return to. The only reason to launch starfighters is to provide a screen against the opposition's starfighter screen.
At shorter ranges, where there are bodies like a moon blocking sensors, starfighters become a bit more useful. Bodies that block sensors also block direct fire weapons like lasers and rail guns, and missiles need a target lock before homing. Starfighters can get in the way of a proper lock depending on the abilties of the gunner and sensor operator of the opposition, and they can make strafing runs in the hopes of taking out weapons and sensors. Countering the smaller, more maneuverable ships require smaller, more maneuverable ships, so starfighter vs starfighter again happens.
Part of the problem, at least in film and television, is that screen space is the limitation. Long range attacks, the hundreds and thousands of kilometres between ships, doesn't look impressive on screen. When that long a range is involved, the focus is on the crew on board the ship, not on what's happening outside. A good example is the Star Trek episode "Balance of Terror", which was, essentially, a naval battle between a cruiser and a submarine in space. The episode never showed the Enterprise and the Bird-of-Prey on screen at the same time.
Why have starfighters when starfighters are almost superfluous? In fiction, drama and conflict. The focus comes down to something more personal, with the audience ideally on the side of the protagonist fighter pilots. The next question is, who are these pilots.
This is where the spark happened. I connected starfighter pilots to feudal knights, the cavalry that charged forward while the raised rabble looked on nervously before being sent into the breach. The knightly charge would hit the opposition knightly charge first, then as units sorted themselves out, the survivors would look for another noble unit to go after, charge towards the enemy's troops with the goal of getting to the support wagons for looting, or go after the Poor, Bloody Infantry.
Now to translate this into a SF setting. Societies are going to need a feudal background, even if they have gone democratic at some point. The knights that used to make up the cavalry become starfighter pilots, much like cavalry in our world became aerial fighters in World War I when trench warfare turned out to be deadly for horse-mounted troops. In democracies, starfighter pilots will have the cachet that fighter pilots have today. In a future feudal system, lower ranking nobles will go into the starfighter program, but higher levels, like the offspring of counts and dukes, will get into the command line of the space navy. Survival is more important and the potential prestige of commanding a warship is greater than the immediate prestige of being a starfighter pilot.
Now that I have this setting tidbit, what will I do with it? No idea. While I can incorporate some of the ideas into Mecha Academy, and thus Rhiannon is very unusual being in the infantry, but the concept deserves a greater look on its own. However, getting the idea worked out in words does help.
Friday, Lost in Translation continues at Psycho Drive-In.
Saturday, Lost in Translation can be found at The Seventh Sanctum.