Friday, January 15, 2021

Exploration and Science Fiction Settings

 On a pulp science fiction reading kick lately (mostly stuff out of Planet Stories or Thrilling Wonder Stories), I've come to conclusions about something in the structure of these stories that has previously bothered me. It's not uncommon for these stories to take place on a "Io no one has ever explored" or "a seldom visited Ceres" or the like, despite the fact the story suggests fairly developed civilization or at least trade lanes around these bodies. Why is (for instance) Ganymede a thriving colony world and Callisto unexplored?

The problem is not so much with the stories as with my expectations of them. I'm used to thinking space as divided into explored and explored territory, something like Star Trek or the like: here is civilized space, there's a border, there's the hinterlands. Sure, you might have outposts in the "wilderness" or "uncharted worlds" in otherwise fairly civilized areas, but mostly the unexplored is demarcated from the known. It's model inherited, perhaps, from simplified views of the Age of Exploration and the discovery of the New World.

These pulp studies model themselves on somewhat more modern conceptions. I think we can loosely place in them in three categories:
  • The Jim Bridger Model: I'm wandering around areas others have passed through, seeing things they missed.
  • The Amundsen/Hillary Model: Let us prepare to go to this place no one has yet been able to reach.
  • The Shipwreck/Crashed Bush Pilot Model: People avoid this place because there isn't much to recommend it. I'm hear and I don't want to be, and I've found something weird.

Model Three and One mostly differ by intention, and can overlap.

These three models suggest a setting that is mostly explored, or at least explored around the edges and the primary exploration of the current age is "filling in the blank spots" to varying degrees.

Their are obvious parallels to traditional D&D style fantasy settings. The classic "wilderness exploration" game looks more like Star Trek, but the dungeoncrawl sort of game is more filling in the gaps exploration.

In making a sci-fi setting it seems to me you'd want to think about what sort of exploration you want to have (if that's going to be a focus) and the implications of the size and layout of setting "space."

1 comment:

JB said...

Worlds are really big places. Seems there's always something left to explore (even here on ol' planet Earth).