Created By: Carnildo on April 21, 2014 Last Edited By: Carnildo on May 8, 2014
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Metal-Poor Planet

People settle on a planet with little to no available metal.

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Metals, especially iron and copper, are a critical part of a typical human civilization. A common setting in science fiction and fantasy is a world that is lacking in these materials. This lack can be used to drive the plot, or simply to provide an unusual background for the story.

This can be a reason for a Medieval Stasis or the driving force behind the development of Magitek or Organic Technology. Bamboo Technology is a possible (but uncommon) outcome.

Examples

    Literature 
  • The Riftwar Cycle starts when magicians from metal-poor Kelewan develop a way to create rifts leading to other worlds. Scouts report that the world of Midkemia has unimaginable wealth in metal just lying around; a Midkemian viewing a magical recording of the events recognizes the "wealth" as being trash heaps and slag piles.
  • A Planet Called Treason. In the backstory, a group of families attempted to overthrow the government of an interstellar republic and as punishment were banished to a planet without any accessible iron. Each family is given a teleportation device with the understanding that if they place something of sufficient value in it, they will be rewarded with iron. The story starts off when one of the families, now grown into a nation, starts conquering their neighbors using improbable numbers of iron weapons.
  • Dragonriders of Pern. The planet Pern has limited amounts of available metal, meaning it is of little interest to the large corporations that normally colonize worlds, but perfect for a group of people who want to create a low-tech agrarian society.
  • Ringworld, an unimaginably large artificial world, has no mineral ores: if you dig into a mountain, you'll hit the scrith underlying the sculpted landscape after a few hundred meters. After the civilization that built the Ring collapses, a space-faring civilization can't rise again because there's no ore and you can only recover so much metal from ruined cities.
  • In Foundation, the planet of Terminus has so few mineral resources that its coinage is made of steel. As a result, they push miniaturization to levels that scientists of the Galactic Empire believed impossible.
  • In the Seekers of the Sky, Earth itself was miraculously stripped of most of its minable iron in the backstory, leading to a civilization that is still struggling with industrialization around 2000 CE and where bronze swords are still common weapons.
  • The titular planet in the Majipoor Series is ten times the size of Earth, and only habitable thanks to this trope. The lack of metal leads to Schizo Tech, with draft animals and Vibroweapons existing side by side.
  • Spinneret involves humans colonizing an Earthlike planet with absolutely no surface metal, not even metal salts in the oceans, because it's the only world available. As a result, anything metallic — even fertilizer for crops — needs to be brought in from Earth. They very quickly discover why: there's an alien device that leeches metal out of the soil (or even merely in contact with the soil) and turns it into kilometers-long strands of super-strong cable.
  • In Eater-Of-Bone, set in the Great Ship universe, a colony ship was catastrophically damaged and flung off of its trajectory, sending it towards one of the lone stars at the periphery of the Milky Way. The nigh-immortal Trans Human colonists are forced to settle on a world which is extremely metal-poor (particularly in salts and iron), making any kind of machinery precious beyond belief and every drop of blood lost a tragedy. One character laments that there's metal in the world, but so far below the ground that it is unreachable to the damaged machinery of the starship. The colonists cooperated with each other for a short time, but the strains of resource shortages fractured them into dozens of small groups, who often fight each other for resources. "Eater-of-bone" isn't meaningless, either, because even bone and marrow hold the metals required for metabolism.
  • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, the planet Darkover (Cottman IV) has a lack of metals compared to most Earth-type planets. The novel Darkover Landfall said that the planet didn't have a nickel/iron core, that the rock was low in metallic ores and that metals were very rare. The locals have developed Psychic Powers to a level verging on Magitek.
     Live Action TV 
  • The Doctor Who classic serial "The Creature from the Pit" takes place on the planet Chloris which has an over-abundance of plant life and virtually no metal; the local dictator's power comes from having control of the only mine.
     Tabletop Games 
  • The Dark Sun setting in Dungeons & Dragons is very poor in metals, which is why obsidian is commonly used for swords, armor, and such.
  • Eclipse Phase takes it a step further with Solemn, which is infested with a bacterium that eats exposed metal, making it a bit of a Death World to Synthetic characters or those with external cyberware.
     Webcomics 
     Real Life 
  • Some cultures developed this way thanks to a lack of access to metal. One of the more well know examples being Japan's lack of iron deposits (which lead to the traditional metal folding technique used in katanas - and other swords - to compensate).
Community Feedback Replies: 24
  • April 21, 2014
    Omeganian
    The titular planet in the Majipoor Series is ten times the size of Earth, and only habitable thanks to this trope.
  • April 21, 2014
    Koveras
    • In the Seekers Of The Sky, Earth itself was miraculously stripped of most of its minable iron in the backstory, leading to a civilization that is still struggling with industrialization around 2000 CE and where bronze swords are still common weapons.
  • April 21, 2014
    DAN004
  • April 21, 2014
    robinjohnson
    What's Hilarity Ensues doing in the laconic?

    • Ringworld gives us an example based on an artificial world: after the civilisation that built the Ring collapses, technological civilisation can't rise again because there's no ore.
  • April 21, 2014
    Arivne
  • April 21, 2014
    TrustBen
    Tabletop Games
  • April 21, 2014
    Prfnoff
    • In Foundation, the planet of Terminus has so few mineral resources that its coinage is made of steel.
  • April 21, 2014
    StarSword
    Video Games:
    • Knights Of The Old Republic: "Metal-poor" isn't exactly an accurate description for Tatooine, but a miner in Anchorhead tells you that for some bizarre reason, Tatooinian metals turn out to be far more brittle than they ought to be and therefore are basically useless. This is indicated by a number of clues to be the result of an ancient Orbital Bombardment carried out by Abusive Precursors in retaliation for a slave revolt, which is also the main reason Tatooine is a global desert.
  • April 21, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    ^^ and their science is forced to develop miniaturization of all technology, just to maintain their growth.
  • April 21, 2014
    Bisected8
    • In Real Life, some cultures developed this way thanks to a lack of access to metal. One of the more well know examples being Japan's lack of iron deposits (which lead to the traditional metal folding technique used in katanas -and other swords- to compensate).

    Compare/contrast Not Rare Over There.
  • April 21, 2014
    Lakija
    Oh! I got a good one for this!

    • In the book Half Way Home by Hugh Howey, a group kids are dropped on a new planet to colonize it; the AI almost terminated all of them because it could not decide if the planet was viable or not. A problem with metal on the planet arises: the computer wanted to terminate them because the planet was hostile, but the only metal that is plentiful on this planet is gold, which is extremely poor for building. But good for money way back on Earth...
  • April 22, 2014
    Carnildo
    @DAN 004: Neither of those is this trope. Bamboo Technology is a possible but very rare outcome; Flintstones Theming is totally unrelated.

    @Star Sword: Does the poor-quality metal actually have some sort of impact, or is it an informed attribute/plot Mc Guffin?

    @Omeganian: Is the only effect of the lack of metal that the planet is low-density enough to be habitable, or are there effects on the society/plot/etc.?
  • April 22, 2014
    StarSword
    ^No, no impact on the plot other than explaining where the Jawas got their sandcrawlers from (they were mining equipment that was abandoned after the miners packed up and left).
  • April 22, 2014
    CrypticMirror
  • April 22, 2014
    DAN004
    Often a reason for Medieval Stasis. Happens often in Fantasy, but may exist outside it.
  • April 23, 2014
    Omeganian
    ^^^^ While advanced machines exist and there is apparent technological progress, they are rather rare. Draft animals and Vibroweapons exist side by side. There are also plenty of magicians. It's a backwater with few starships visiting.
  • April 23, 2014
    SKJAM
    Sadly, I am blanking on the name, but a 1980s RPG module in a series about worlds linked by dimensional gates featured a swampy world of reptile people with almost no accessible metal. It was specifically noted that if the player characters can link up its gate with the previous module's world, one where metal was abundant, but the soil was useless for agriculture, they could become insanely wealthy in trade.
  • April 23, 2014
    zarpaulus
    • Eclipse Phase takes it a step further with Solemn, which is infested with a bacterium that eats exposed metal. Making it a bit of a Death World to Synthetic characters or those with external cyberware.
  • April 24, 2014
    Omeganian
    This example from the Lost Colony page:

  • April 24, 2014
    Arivne
    Literature
    • In Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover series, the planet Darkover (Cottman IV) has a lack of metals compared to most Earth-type planets. The novel Darkover Landfall said that the planet didn't have a nickel/iron core, that the rock was low in metallic ores and that metals were very rare.
  • April 26, 2014
    Carnildo
    More examples? Improvements to the description? Hats? Identification of SKJAM's RPG module?
  • April 27, 2014
    Lakija
    ^^^Is that a book? I need that.
  • May 8, 2014
    reub2000
    Note: In astronomy "metal" refers to elements heavier then helium.
  • May 8, 2014
    bitemytail
    ^ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metal

    This is the more common definition.

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