Having got a little more time in with this game, and having won it a total of two times by now, I have to say, I think I have this game figured out. Which is not quite the same as saying I'm good at it, but I think I understand the ways in which I am bad and the basic path I need to take to get better.
And the essence of the game, near as I can tell, is that it doesn't give you enough information to make good decisions. Or, more accurately, there's a tradeoff - the less information you have about your weapons effects, the more damage that weapon will do. Railguns give you no control over your attacks besides the initial trajectory, and thus do the most damage. Missiles are aimed much like railguns, but you can choose where they land if they connect, so they do middle damage, and lasers allow you to select your targets precisely and reliably, but do the least damage.
It's an interesting mechanic, especially considering that the game lies to you. When you plot the trajectory of your railguns and missiles, it draws a line on the map that is supposedly a preview of where the projectile will go when launched . . . except that the preview line bends according to the gravity of the planets at the moment of launch, rather than where they will be when the projectile passes through their orbit. So, if there is a planet between you and your target (and there usually is) and the preview line gives you a clear shot, it may turn out that orbit of the intermediary planet is such that it will move near the line of fire and deflect your projectile to god knows where.
Now, I know for a fact (mostly thanks to my time with Kerbal Space Program, but also because I still technically have a math degree) that it is possible to approximate these interactions to a reasonable degree of confidence (though, funnily enough, effectively impossible to calculate exactly, except for a limited number of precisely set up special cases). It's an open question, then, why the game insists on withholding that information from you.
The obvious answer is that it simply wants to challenge you. The designers of Interstellar knew that any sort of quick and dirty orbital mechanics would quickly turn into a chaotic nightmare and thus intended for the player's ability to intuit their way through the tangled mess of potential orbits to be the main avenue of skillful play. It makes sense, and in PvP contests, is a fair enough challenge. Except that you can also play against an AI opponent, which must certainly use the calculations the game refuses to show you to be able to hit anything at all.
This is kind of distressing, when I stop to think about it. It means that the AI must be purposefully flubbing attacks in order to make the game equitable. Presumably, the main difference between difficulty levels is how often it does so. And I'm not entirely sure how I feel about that.
I'm glad I'm able to play the game. I imagine it would be very frustrating to go up against an opponent that could effortlessly destroy me with robotic precision. On the other hand, I feel kind of like a doofus playing this, as if the game is patronizing my soft and squishy human brain by giving me a bunch of free charity shots.
The logical solution would be to play only against other humans, but since the only other person I know who plays the game is way better than me . . .
Maybe I'll just get used to accepting the computer's charity.