Created By: ssfsx17 on November 22, 2011 Last Edited By: lakingsif on January 1, 2018
Troped

Space Isolation Horror

You are alone in the cold of space and you are going to die.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
link to this on the following pages: Horror, Survival Horror, Sci-Fi Horror, Cosmic Horror Story

"Just for once I'd like to see a spaceship in a horror game that actually seems like it might have been a nice place to live. You know, tasteful light-fittings, eloquent lacquered wood panels, or, at the very least, throw a fucking carpet down now and then. At least that way it would almost be a surprise when it gets invaded by a horde of flesh-eating mutants. Frankly, if you paint your spaceship gun-metal gray and fit it with about half as many flickery-ass fluorescent lights than are necessary, then you might as well rename it the USS Kill Beast Buffet."

There are a number of challenges associated with surviving in outer space: the current human need for oxygen, water, food, waste management, heating, as well as space's lack of gravity, being unable to hear what is going on outside, and other issues all make space life a difficult proposition. Any Casual Interstellar Travel drive requires an hour to "warm up" and is the most fragile thing on the ship. A single pebble travelling sufficiently quickly could kill you, or at least destroy one of those important life-support systems; these systems are either very-high-maintenance or require the use of an AI to keep everything under control. If you were to send a Distress Call, the nearest help would be a week away. And the interior of your spacecraft is designed to look as cold, clunky, mechanical, and minimalistic as possible — it might as well be a flashy Haunted House.

And that's when things are working correctly.

Now throw in a malevolent or malfunctioning AI that controls all of the above, or hostile aliens that you have never seen before trying to use you for breeding. But you can't go outside without taking on even more risks, such as getting a puncture in your space suit or the doors locking. Everyone but you has died, and realistically your problems cannot be solved by simply shooting them.

There aren't any other sentient beings within years of your location, but it doesn't matter since In Space Nobody Can Hear You Scream. Perhaps you can start an Apocalyptic Log so that when people do arrive, they know what you've been through and how to prevent the situation from happening again — it also allows you to talk to, and fill your days with, something, which might help prevent you from going mad from the isolation. Still, you will likely consider your slow, lonely death by maybe starvation, maybe suffocation, but probably not suicide as you don't even have the implements to end it all.

You're alone, in the cold depths of space, without hope of even seeing another human or your home before you die. You may not know if you die, because space already looks like oblivion.

For story purposes (especially in the past when hard sci-fi wasn't prevalent based on lack of knowledge) the deep sea works just as well, since it has similar conditions for survival and similarly-severe risks for going outside. In some ways it is worse, given how humanity that could help are no more than a few miles away, but usually cannot be contacted.

Sub-Trope of Sci-Fi Horror, and a form of Closed Circle Cosmic Horror Story.

Functions by means of Enclosed Space.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey: Thousands of miles away from any help, two men and several frozen passengers and an artificial intelligence that is nowadays one of the Trope Codifiers for A.I. Is a Crapshoot.
  • Alien: The whole franchise is about people stuck in a Closed Circle courtesy of being far away in space with little to no chance of people coming to the rescue at all (and if they do, it will take them weeks to months to get to you) with the titular hostile species lurking on the dark and dreary corners of the ship or the planet trying to get you.
  • Event Horizon: A rescue mission in deep space that runs into a ship that is not only vile in terms of following No OSHA Compliance, but also because it's become a literal demon from Hell.
  • Moon: The protagonist is stuck on the dark side of the Moon all by himself, with very little communication with the world and the claustrophobia starting to drive him loopy... this is before finding out just how horrifying the Corrupt Corporate Executive cabal he works for truly is (without going into spoilers, suffice to say he's more expendable that he expected to be).
  • Dr. 'Bones' McCoy has a healthy fear of this, as he mentions in the beginning of the 2009 Star Trek (2009) movie. He goes on a lengthy diatribe of how dangerous it is to fly around in spaceships like shuttles and what may happen if they malfunction, how alien diseases are horrifying and how space in general is a collection of Death World s with an equally dangerous nothing in between them.
  • Pandorum: A crewman awaking from suspended animation to find the ship he's on in dire straits, and trying to puzzle out exactly what the hell happened. Bonus points for occurring on a spaceship that landed in the ocean and sank, making it an example of both types.
  • Deep Blue Sea: A character mentions early in the film that "living underwater is like living in space, you don't get many mistakes." The bulk of the film involves genetically-engineered super-intelligent sharks systematically flooding the mostly-submerged research lab with the intent to damage the fences enough to escape, while chowing down on any of the humans they come across.

    Literature 
  • The Michael Moorcock sci-fi novel about escaping from a lunatic dying Earth, The Black Corridor, uses this trope repeatedly, in the isolation felt by a crew-member on the escape ship who is doing his twenty-five year solo stint at flying the ship, attending to emergencies, and seeing nobody dies in suspended animation. This gives him time to brood and go quietly insane.
  • The short story "The Cold Equations" and its various adaptations could count as this: they are about a pilot of a small spacecraft with limited capabilities facing a difficult decision to space a human stowaway whose presence endangers his mission. The different adaptations feature somewhat different endings.
  • Another example occurs in "The Nothing Equation", written by the same author who wrote "The Cold Equations." A scientist named Green is left alone in a one-man observation bubble that has had catastrophic effects on his predecessors. Over time, he becomes paranoid as the realization weighs on him that it's just him in a relatively thin-skinned pod miles from anywhere with the "nothing" of space all around.
  • This happens briefly to Gully Foyle at the beginning of The Stars My Destination. The trauma of the experience is so pivotal to his character development and his main motivation for the rest of the book.
  • An entire chapter of How to Survive a Horror Movie is devoted to teaching the reader how to survive the more common tropes of the genre if trapped in one.
    "This isn't science fiction. Strange new worlds aren't inhabited by talking monkeys or technologically gifted, sexy utopian women. They're cold, dark rocks harboring terrible secrets— secrets that gobble your crew up one by one."

    Live-Action Television 
  • Played straight in the Firefly episode Out of Gas. The titular gas is oxygen, and running low (with a ship that is dead in the water) means sitting around waiting for a slow and painful death or, in a degree of scary that is hard to argue whether is lesser or higher, risking whoever finds you decides murdering you is more profitable (or more fun) than saving your life.
  • Star Trek: Voyager had a couple of episodes where Seven of Nine and/or the Doctor were the only crew members immune to the Stellar Anomaly of the Week and thus had to command the ship by themselves for long periods of time when the rest of the crew hibernated in stasis pods or were under the mental control of aliens.
  • Subverted in Red Dwarf, where Lister's main reaction at looking out of the cabin porthole into the awesome and terrifying infinity of Deep Space is how bloody arse-achingly dull and boring it all gets after a while....

    Music 
  • The repeated line about Space is dark/And it's so endless/When you're lost it's so relentless from one of Michael Moorcock's books was later set to music by space-rockers Hawkwind, who also mined Moorcock's book for another bleak song on the same theme, The Golden Void (Golden Void/Speaks to me/Denying my reality/Lose my body, lose my mind/Solar wind, I flow like wine...)
  • Brave Saint Saturn's Saturn 5 Trilogy is about a spaceship that gets stuck in a geosynchronous orbit with the dark side of Saturn's moon Titan, leaving the crew trapped in the darkness of the planet's shadow for three years. Many of the lyrics are about the loneliness of space, especially Space Robot Five.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Starfinder, getting abandoned in space with no hope of rescue can cause your body to reanimate as a Marooned One, an undead bent of causing as much anguish as possible by getting other space travelers marooned like they were.

    Video Games 
  • 7 Days a Skeptic - Zero-Context Example
  • Dead Space series - Zero-Context Example
  • Doom 3 - Zero-Context Example
  • Deliberately, the entire Metroid franchise is an example of this trope. The developers of the first game stated that it was their intention to make the player feel trapped and alone in a very hostile and alien world. The visuals and audio work to built the atmosphere of isolation.
  • System Shock series - Zero-Context Example
  • Axiom Verge is an other-dimensional version, with many of the H.R. Giger-esque art styles, haunting music, and a deliberate homage to lots of Franchise.Metroid's style and gameplay.
  • The third Don't Escape game takes place on a spaceship whose crew have all been horribly murdered save the protagonist, who starts the game about to be jettisoned out the airlock. Since he murdered them while possessed by a sentient crystal, it was trying to kill him before he could solve the mystery and warn the incoming rescue ship. Unlike most examples, the ship actually seems quite pleasant to live in.
  • The Breach: The game apparently takes inspiration from every space horror franchise from Event Horizon to Space Hulk, so naturally it takes place on a derelict space ship whose crew are either dead, zombified, or fused with insectoid lifeforms. And as the game progresses the ship starts merging with the alternate dimension responsible for everything.
  • Subnautica leaves you stranded on an ocean planet full of large, terrifying sea monsters who want to eat you.

    Western Animation 
  • Implied in Disney's Lilo & Stitch as the fate of Experiment 626: he's to be taken by prison transport to a barren asteroid, and abandoned there. Perhaps, the authorities forbid capital punishment, or the condemned is too indestructible to be executed. It's still marooning on a cold, lonely rock in the void of space.

    Real Life 
  • The astronauts on the Apollo 13 discovered midway to the moon that a malfunction had occurred, requiring them to return to Earth immediately, through a terrifyingly narrow re-entry window. If the re-entry attempt had gone wrong, the astronauts would have been either burned alive or stranded in space.

Examples of the undersea version:

Potential other trope
     Literature 
  • Sphere: The whole book is a constant discussion about how being stranded in the bottom of the ocean is asking for horrible trouble — the enclosed spaces are surrounded by a deadly atmosphere, the isolation will drive people insane, the mere act of living involves an awful lot of juggling with dangerous elements and relying on machines that can fail, communication is very hard (when it's possible)... and then there's the little fact about the titular artifact and how it includes "Reality Warping Is Not a Toy" into the list.

     Video Games 
  • Bioshock: The city of Rapture was just asking to fail. A utopia built on Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke (and, oh yeah, what makes it possible is addictive and can drive people mad) and Objectivism (which meant a lot of people would eventually try to do anything, including bloody murder, to get whatever they wanted), and by the time the games start collateral damage from battles and lack of maintenance means that everything's falling apart.
  • SOMA is an underwater version of this, with the protagonist trapped in a post-apocalyptic underwater base filled with KIller Robots and other dangers.

     Real Life 

Community Feedback Replies: 50
  • November 22, 2011
    Fanra
    Needs A Better Description. Or really, just any description at all...
  • November 23, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Agreed the description needs work but ssfxs17 might have something here: it seems like this genre is limited to settings without Casual Interstellar Travel.
  • November 23, 2011
    PacificState
    I like this.
  • November 23, 2011
    Folamh3
    Portal isn't set in space.
  • November 23, 2011
    ssfsx17
    Portal 1 still has the isolation and the oppressive cold environment... at least for the first half of the game.
  • November 23, 2011
    Shnakepup
    Yeah, take out Portal, that doesn't belong in this category. Sphere as well, since that takes place in the deep sea, not in space.

    Also, I'd recommend changing to laconic to actually, you know, describe the trope you're going for here (rather than citing a few examples).
  • November 23, 2011
    ssfsx17
    The deep sea can be part of the genre because... well... read the trope description. It requires carefully controlled conditions for living, it is dangerous to go outside, any leakage in the walls or suits can be lethal, the nearest help will take a long time to arrive, and so on.
  • November 23, 2011
    TwoGunAngel
    In space, no one can hear you scream...
  • November 23, 2011
    Earnest
    You can crosslink this with Horror and Survival Horror, two of the more common related genres. Usually involves a Closed Circle and Distress Call.
  • November 25, 2011
    ssfsx17
    ^^ Is that a suggestion for a quote? It can be the page quote if it is sufficiently-popular.
  • November 25, 2011
    SharleeD
    I think undersea examples probably ought to be listed separately, set apart as an alternative version of the same trope.
  • November 25, 2011
    condottiera
    It's Deserted Island in SPACE! Maybe not-technically-in-space isolation could qualify, as anything adapted for speculative fiction might be.
  • November 26, 2011
    Duncan
    Space Is An Ocean is most likely why spacecraft seem like submarines.

  • November 26, 2011
    JonnyB
    Inverted in the Firefly episode, "Objects in Space." Jubal Early is set adrift in deep space, and calmly just comments, "Well... here I am."
  • November 26, 2011
    AgPrv
    Literature and music: the Michael Moorcock sci-fi novel about escaping from a lunatic dying Earth, The Black Corridor, uses this trope repeatedly, in the isolation felt by a crew-member on the escape ship who is doing his twenty-five year solo stint at flying the ship, attending to emergencies, and seeing nobody dies in suspended animation. This gives him time to brood and go quietly insane. The repeated line about Space is dark/And it's so endless/When you're lost it's so relentless was later set to music by space-rockers Hawkwind, who also mined Moorcock's book for another bleak song on the same theme, The Golden Void (Golden Void/Speaks to me/Denying my reality/Lose my body, lose my mind/Solar wind, I flow like wine...)
  • November 26, 2011
    AgPrv
    And of course, another literary example is in Douglas Adams' sci-fi parody, h2g2, as Literature, radio series and LP record. Where Zaphod Beeblebrox is flung into the Total Perspective Vortex for his crimes, a fiendish device intended to impress upon him the whole unblinking infinity of the Universe all at once, so as to show him the utter futility of existence and how utterly insignificant he is in the face of it. In trials, this was demonstrated to have burnt out the brain of the inventor's wife with shock and awe. But with Zaphod, the universe simply tells him how great he is and reinforces what was already a monstrous ego...
  • November 26, 2011
    Pyroninja42
    For sake of aesthetics, I propose that instead of Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey, we use ' '[Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey 2001: A Space Odyssey ]' ', which would look like 2001: A Space Odyssey

  • November 26, 2011
    PaulA
    ^ When the article is launched, it will display correctly automatically. It's only on discussion pages that it appears as Two Thousand One A Space Odyssey.
  • November 26, 2011
    ImaginationInterpreture
    Dr. 'Bones' Mc Coy has a healthy fear of this, as he mentions in the beginning of the newer Star Trek movie
  • November 27, 2011
    aurora369
    Played straight in the Firefly episode Out of Gas. The titular gas is oxygen.
  • November 27, 2011
    aurora369
    Real Life, undersea version: RFS Kursk.
  • November 27, 2011
    fulltimeD
    Star Trek Voyager had a couple of episodes where Seven of Nine and/or the Doctor were the only crew members immune to the Stellar Anomaly of the Week and thus had to command the ship by themselves for long periods of time when the rest of the crew hibernated in stasis pods or were under the mental control of aliens.

    I should add that the entire series should have been this genre, but since Status Quo Is God, efforts at maintaining the continuity of the existential and isolationist horror of a ship lost in deep space without any home ports or reinforcements, or even regular communication with home, were overruled by Executive Meddling.
  • November 27, 2011
    fulltimeD
    The short story "The Cold Equations" and its various Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and TV Movie adaptations could count as this: they are about a pilot of a small spacecraft with limited capabilities facing a difficult decision to space a human stowaway whose presence endangers his mission. The different adaptations feature somewhat different endings.
  • November 27, 2011
    Cider
    Human against the vastness of space is usually considered Cosmic Horror Story(no, eldritch abominations are not required for that trope) usually. If the goal is to show the human's insignificance anyway. If this is a different trope that needs to be addressed.
  • November 27, 2011
    nitrokitty
    Another common trope in this genre: No OSHA Compliance.
  • November 28, 2011
    AgPrv
    Subverted in Red Dwarf, where Lister's main reaction at looking out of the cabin porthole into the awesome and terrifying infinity of Deep Space is how bloody arse-achingly dull and boring it all gets after a while....
  • June 3, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Since it seems the OP has forgotten about this one, I'll take up sponsorship.
  • June 3, 2016
    KTera
    • Subnautica leaves you stranded on an ocean planet full of large, terrifying sea monsters who want to eat you.
  • June 3, 2016
    CaptainAmazing
    The Saturn 5 Trilogy that currently makes up all of music/BraveSaintSaturn's albums is all about this. At least on the literal level.
  • June 3, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    ^ Needs more context.
  • June 3, 2016
    CaptainAmazing
    Okay. BraveSaintSaturn's Saturn 5 Trilogy is about a spaceship that gets stuck in a geosynchronous orbit with the dark side of Saturn's moon Titan, leaving the crew trapped in the darkness of the planet's shadow for three years. Many of the lyrics are about the lonliess of space, especially Space Robot Five.
  • June 3, 2016
    Orbiting
    Literature
    • An entire chapter of How To Survive A Horror Movie is devoted to teaching the reader how to survive the more common tropes of the genre if trapped in one.
      "This isn't science fiction. Strange new worlds aren't inhabited by talking monkeys or technologically gifted, sexy utopian women. They're cold, dark rocks harboring terrible secrets— secrets that gobble your crew up one by one."
  • June 3, 2016
    ErikModi
    • Deep Blue Sea: A character mentions early in the film that "living underwater is like living in space, you don't get many mistakes." The bulk of the film involves genetically-engineered super-intelligent sharks systematically flooding the mostly-submerged research lab with the intent to damage the fences enough to escape, while chowing down on any of the humans they come across.

    I'd also relate this to Haunted House / Haunted Castle, since Alien was very much the stereotypical locked-in-the-haunted-house story, with the haunted house being a spaceship. The Nostromo was even redesigned (in large part by Ridley Scott himself) to evoke the feel of an old castle or Gothic cathedral.
  • June 3, 2016
    ErikModi
    Also:

    • Pandorum: A crewman awaking from suspended animation to find the ship he's on in dire straits, and trying to puzzle out exactly what the hell happened. Bonus points for occurring on a spaceship that landed in the ocean and sank, making it an example of both types.
  • June 3, 2016
    LondonKdS
    This happens briefly to Gully Foyle at the beginning of The Stars My Destination. Still deserves to be included, because the trauma of the experience is so pivotal to his character development and his main motivation for the rest of the book.
  • June 3, 2016
    DAN004
    I think the undersea variant needs to be a separate trope.

    Compare Closed Circle and Space Madness
  • June 4, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    Note also that there is already a trope for Sci Fi Horror. This is definitely a subtrope of that, where the emptiness of space is a source of terror.
  • June 10, 2016
    Morgenthaler
    I also came across the trope Enclosed Space, which is definitely related.
  • June 10, 2016
    Chabal2
    • The third Dont Escape game takes place on a spaceship whose crew have all been horribly murdered save the protagonist, who starts the game about to be jettisoned out the airlock. Since he murdered them while possessed by a sentient crystal, it was trying to kill him before he could solve the mystery and warn the incoming rescue ship. Unlike most examples, the ship actually seems quite pleasant to live in.
    • The Breach: The game apparently takes inspiration from every space horror franchise from Event Horizon to Space Hulk, so naturally it takes place on a derelict space ship whose crew are either dead, zombified, or fused with insectoid lifeforms. And as the game progresses the ship starts merging with the alternate dimension responsible for everything.

  • June 10, 2016
    NubianSatyress
    I would say that that the entire Metroid franchise is an example of this trope. The developers of the first game stated that it was their intention to make the player feel trapped and alone in a very hostile and alien world. The visuals and audio work to built the atmosphere of isolation.

    SOMA is another underwater version of this, with the protagonist trapped in a post-apocalyptic underwater base filled with KIller Robots and other dangers.

    Axiom Verge is an other-dimensional version, with many of the H.R. Giger-esque art styles, haunting music, and a deliberate homage to lots of Franchise.Metroid's style and gameplay.
  • June 10, 2016
    zarpaulus
  • November 20, 2017
    GirlofMassDeconstruction
    Bumping
  • November 20, 2017
    Generality
  • November 20, 2017
    eroock
    There are still ZC Es in OP.
  • November 21, 2017
    Arivne

    Zero Context Examples have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.
  • December 8, 2017
    HeroGal2347
    ^ 5x Not all examples of being trapped in space and about to die are caused by psychological illness.

    Another example occurs in "The Nothing Equation", written by the same author who wrote "The Cold Equations." A scientist named Green is left alone in a one-man observation bubble that has had catastrophic effects on his predecessors. Over time, he becomes paranoid as the realization weighs on him that it's just him in a relatively thin-skinned pod miles from anywhere with the "nothing" of space all around.
  • December 13, 2017
    IronicMouse
    • In Starfinder, getting abandoned in space with no hope of rescue can cause your body to reanimate as a Marooned One, an undead bent of causing as much anguish as possible by getting other space travelers marooned like they were.
  • December 23, 2017
    HeroGal2347
    Context on the Apollo 13 example — the astronauts on the Apollo 13 discovered midway to the moon that a malfunction had occurred, requiring them to return to Earth immediately, through a terrifyingly narrow re-entry window. If the re-entry attempt had gone wrong, the astronauts would have been either burned alive or stranded in space.
  • December 24, 2017
    oneuglybunny
    Film
    • Implied in Disney's Lilo And Stitch as the fate of Experiment 626: he's to be taken by prison transport to a barren asteroid, and abandoned there. Perhaps, the authorities forbid capital punishment, or the condemned is too indestructible to be executed. It's still marooning on a cold, lonely rock in the void of space.
  • January 1, 2018
    lakingsif
    needs a new sponsor, I'll take it
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