Monday, May 5, 2014

Five Worlds for Space Opera

Genres run on tropes (or cliches, if you're less charitable).

Planet of Amazons
Whatever strides the future will have made in terms of gender equality, there still always seems to be some place out there with warrior woman who are either hostile to men, find them fascinating and strange, or both. This is perhaps just a variant of the Woman Dominated Planet (where men are present but second class citizens, and the women aren't necessarily a warrior race) with less cool a name.
Examples: Queen of Space (1958), Star Maidens Buck Rogers "Planet of the Amazon Women," Space: 1999 "Devil's Planet," Omega 3 in Starstruck, the Femizons from Marvel Comics, Lyrane II from Second Stage Lensmen.

Casino World
If your space opera setting doesn't have a world like this, where would Lando Calrissian play sabacc? There are probably very few whole planet casinos, but there might be casino cities surrounded by wastelands or casino space stations--bonus points if it's shaped like some sort of gambling device. There may be some overlap with the Pleasure Planet.
Examples: Buck Rogers "Vegas in Space," Cowboy Bebop "Honky Tonk Women," The Wheel from Marvel's Star Wars comic, Ventura the Gambler's World in the Legion of Superheroes.

Forbidding Planet
Some planets have secrets. Dangerous secrets. These worlds are usually desolate and hard to get to. Those who have sought their secrets before may have died for them--or maybe they've somehow become their guardians. If the secret is particularly dangerous, this might be a Hellworld is disguise.
Examples: Forbidden Planet (1956), Planet of Vampires (1965), Miranda in Serenity (2005), LV-426 in Alien (1976), LV-223 from Prometheus (2015); any number of worlds in the Star Trek series fit the bill, but Talos IV is probably the most archetypal; there are a couple of these in the Deathstalker novels.

Some planets just want you dead. Maybe they've got super-hostile sapient inhabitants, a deadly biosphere, or a poisonous atmosphere, the result is the same. It's going to take something of value to attract PCs to a Hellworld; this may be a natural substance or some person stranded there. As mentioned before, there is some overlap with the Forbidding Planet.
Examples: Aliens (1986), Star Trek "Whom Gods Destroy" and "The Way to Eden," Nu-Earth in Rogue Trooper, Lythyl in Legion of Superheroes, Spatterjay in The Skinner by Neal Asher, and of course Deathworld by Harry Harrison.

Pleasure Planet
Everybody needs a little relaxation and recreation, and a Pleasure Planet is it. This may be a fairly tame resort world, a place of supreme decadence and indulgence, or seedy planet with deadly secrets.
Examples: Doctor Who "The Leisure Hive," Wrigley's Pleasure Planet and Risa from Star Trek, Delirius from Lone Sloane, Raggashoon from Omega Men.


Anonymous said...

I have no problem with the Vegas in Space/ Pleasure Planet model After all, we did it with Vegas, why not an entire asteroid/ continent/ planet? A Disney Planet for example.

Hell Worlds would exist, marginal planets with something valuable on them (and I am a big Rouge Trooper fan, so nice to see NuEarth getting a shout out).

Still, fun to read and ponder.

C.D. Gallant-King said...

Oh, the Disney Planet sounds neat. A corporate-owned, soulless theme park planet. You know there are intergalactic companies out there that could afford this. With moons shaped like their corporate logo.

Chris C. said...

Nice run down of the tropes. The Hellworld is one of my personal favorites.

I think you're okay calling them tropes. They only become clichés if we don't do anything original with them. "The fault is not in our tropes but in ourselves."

Sean Robson said...

I'm partial to pleasure worlds, myself. My favourite is Cyrille, from C.L. Moore's 1943 sci-fi novel, Judgement Night: "This little pleasure world swinging opalescent upon its orbit housed the tangible distillation of all pleasure which a hundred emperors had made possible in the Galaxy. No human desire, however fantastic, went unfulfilled upon Cyrille so long as the client paid for his fantasy. It is an unhappy commentary upon human desires that the reputation of such a place must inevitably be bad.

Sounds like the sort of place I'd like to spend shore leave, and just as rife with intrigue as with hedonism.

Trey said...

Good points, all.

@Chris - That's a good way to look at it.

@Sean - That's a good one! I'm ashamed to say, as big a Moore fan as I am, and despite having Judgement Night, I've never read it.

Chris Kutalik said...

Disney Planet to me sounds more like a variant of Hellworld.

Trey said...

But not to your children...

jdh417 said...

Starstruck is awesome, albeit impenetrable. All of the remastered comics are posted at the official site.

Malcadon said...

Great list!

Here are some other worlds:

Savage World - This is a world of jungle and dinosaur-sized animals. Native human(oid)s found on this world are usually primitive and at the bottom of the food-chain. West of Eden is a good example. This can cover any "Lost Worlds" fiction.

World of Intellectuals - This world is like the Pleasure Planet with all the crystal spires and togas, but they engage in intellectual pursuits: art, philosophy, science, etc. Like the people of the Pleasure Planet, they are usually pacifists. If you seen The Demolition Man, then you'll know what I mean.

Decadent World - This is what happens when a Pleasure Planet or World of Intellectuals that has fallen to moral decay and inhuman behavior. They engaged in cruel acts for pleasure, and treat people as an end to their means. Unlike a Faux Eden, this world does not hind their cruel nature with a utopian facade - they just don't see what they are doing is wrong. The best example is the wicked city of Sogo from Barbarella, or the green-stone cities from Conan.

Faux Eden (Dystopia) - This would look like a utopia at first, but the paradise masks a truly disturbing thing in the background. This would be like Gamma Trianguli VI (The Apple) for Star Trek, the domed cities in Logain's Run, The Eloi form The Time Machine, or Brave New World.

War World - This is a war-ravaged world inhabited by a proud warrior race. All they know and care about is fighting in duals and battles. They are basically the Klingons, as well as the Sontaran form Doctor Who.

Trey said...

All good additions! Excellent.