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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).