Absent Aliens

"I remember telling my college professor I wanted to study Xenoarcheology. He laughed right in my face. 'Thereís nothing to study,' he said. 'Itís all dead space. No alien life exists out in the universe.' In a way, I guess he was right..."
Doctor Earl Serrano, Dead Space 3

Humanity has explored the galaxy, and in some stories the universe, and it turns out the truth isn't out there. There are no aliens, or at least, no intelligent ones.

Done for a variety of reasons:
  • Not every sci-fi plot requires aliens.
  • Avoids Rubber-Forehead Aliens, and saves having to think up decent Starfish Aliens.
  • Isolates humanity in the depressing void of space.
  • Makes humans even more special.
  • Saves on the effects budget.
  • Makes it easier to make characters relatable and believable.
  • Is consistent with the fact that no aliens have yet been found. (See Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.)
  • In an attempt to be different and appeal to those who "don't like sci-fi".
  • Even if aliens did theoretically exist, in settings where the population is confined to a single star system and there is no FTL, neither humanity nor the aliens would be in any position to encounter the other.
  • Theoretically, intelligence could be a rare evolutionary fluke, rare at least elsewhere in the Milky Way. Even if intelligence evolves on other planets, it may be extinct by the time humans leave the Solar System, or alternatively, humanity could be extinct by the time aliens leave their home system. Thus, even interstellar civilizations may be separated by immense distances or timescales, and unlikely to interact.
  • The focus of the Sci-Fi in question is a political struggle between human populations, and aliens could either help them resolve their differences or serve as a threat encouraging them to do so themselves.

There may be a few cursory alien plants and rodents or perhaps a Monster of the Week, which is generally filled by humans, genetically engineered monsters, and robots. An ongoing work does not have to stay this way; it can provide a Game Changer with First Contact when the writers need to shake things up.

One of two standard solutions to the Fermi Paradox; the other is Invisible Aliens, in which aliens exist but are being hidden or removed by Applied Phlebotinum.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Cowboy Bebop: There was passing reference to life on Ganymede, but nothing intelligent, and it may have only been there after terraforming. And the freaky monster thing from "Toys in the Attic" is a mutant, or possibly a dream.
  • The "aliens" in Crest of the Stars, known as the Abh, are really genetically-engineered humans. The novels elaborate a little further in that while there are a few, exceptionally rare planets with their own native plant and animal life (protagonist Jinto's homeplanet of Martine is one such) there is nothing approaching intelligent life other than humans and their descendants.
  • Armored Trooper VOTOMS is a hard scifi mecha series which deals exclusively with a human based conflict between two space nations.
  • Kiddy Grade, set within one galaxy, and not only no sentient species, no other life at all has been found so far.
  • Legend of Galactic Heroes also avoids aliens, focusing mostly on human-to-human interaction and history.
  • There might not be any aliens in Vandread, but that doesn't stop Dita from trying to find them. It's also played with; the people of Ma-Ger and Tarak consider each other to be hostile aliens, even though they're really just male and female humans trying their damndest to be One Gender Races through gene manipulation.
  • Gundam:
    • One of the things which initially made Mobile Suit Gundam stand out from the pack of sci-fi mech series of its day was the total lack of space aliens. This was primarily done because the writers felt that having alien villains would make them too hard to relate to; they wanted the show's central conflict to be one in which both factions had understandable motives. Subsequent series carried on this tradition, with all the major conflicts being between humans. Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has some fossilized remains of Space Whales, but that's about it. It helps that every series to date has been entirely confined to Earth's solar system, and indeed none of have ever included travel further out than Jupiter.
    • The 00 movie is the one exception, introducing liquid metal funnel/bit shaped aliens as the antagonists.
    • Played with Gundam AGE, with the UE calling humans "Earthlings," and Federation characters speculating that they are aliens for the first third of the show... until The Reveal that they're the descendants of a Mars colonization project that was abandoned when disease struck.

  • The Dark Crystal: Inverted. No humans on Thra, although there are multiple humanoids.
  • Forbidden Planet: The Krell, the ancient race that once inhabited the planet, have been extinct for millennia. Only their technology remains. Which, it turns out, ain't a good thing.
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey may, or may not, contain aliens; the beings who set up the monoliths, receive Dave Bowman in the pseudo-hotel room and are heard only as high-pitched, rapid chittering noises may, or may not be evolved humans. The "Star Child" is presumably the hyper-evolved Bowman, but how this transformation takes place is not specified.
  • Amongst other things in Dark Star, the characters display absolutely no interest in their computer calculating a 95% chance of intelligent life in a nearby system, with the implication that previous pursuits of such readings had brought disappointing results. The only alien we see resembles a beach ball with webbed feat which even the guy who brought it aboard has gotten extremely fed up with, and that ends up being only a small (though memorable) part of the overall film. From what is indicated in the film, there is life out there, just nothing that makes the trouble first contact worthwhile.

  • Inverted in The Alien Chronicles: it's the humans who are absent.
  • The classic prose example is Isaac Asimov's Foundation series. There were no aliens in it because of a meta-reason: Astounding Science Fiction editor John W. Campbell wanted stories with human supremacy over aliens and Asimov decided to bypass this demand by not having aliens in the series at all.
    • Foundation and Earth, the last Foundation novel which was written years later (and not long before Asimov's death in 1992), brings up the rather good question of, regardless of their apparent absence here, whether or not species from galaxies other than the Milky Way might perhaps not only exist, but be a potential threat if humanity doesn't band together enough - which is the reason, albeit only subconsciously realized, that the protagonist chose the "Gaia"-style path for humanity. Further, Foundation and Earth also brings up the point that genetically engineered humans who have been so radically changed from baseline humanity could sufficiently meet the requirements of being called "aliens", e.g. the Solarians.
    • In the Second Foundation Trilogy (written by Bear, Benford, and Brin), it's tangentially revealed that Asimovian robots (designed to protect humans, and only humans) are responsible for the situation, having been required by their programming to carry out innumerable genocides, since the aliens might have been a threat.
  • Stephen Baxter's Manifold series of (mostly) so-hard-it-hurts Science Fiction revolves around the Fermi Paradox, with each (Alternate Continuity) book providing a different resolution. In Manifold: Time, there really is no other intelligent life in the entire universe. Manifold: Origin is similar, except it's set in a multiverse with an intelligent species in each universe. Manifold: Space does have aliens, but recurring natural disasters on a galactic scale keep wiping them out before they can meet.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is a roughly 30th-century Milky Way with no sentient aliens to speak of (though there are alien plants and animals); however, after nine or ten centuries of diaspora, many of which involved various genetic engineering concepts, humanity has undergone speciation to the point that "the aliens [are] us."
  • The Vattas War series has humanity spread out to such an extent that Earth isn't even mentioned. Humanity is still the same species, but there is a fair amount of augmentation, both organic and technological, being done and baseline improvements are made to genetic code.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune series alien plants and animals exist (including the iconic sandworms), but nothing sentient. Rather, the closest to "aliens" are genetically modified humans and animals. These creatures take a variety of shapes, some almost unrecognizable.
  • Within the CoDominium universe by Jerry Pournelle, the Falkenberg Legions features no intelligent aliens. The setting in general is largely lacking aliens until The Mote in God's Eye, which is set far into the future of the series and involves First Contact.
  • Author David Brin has argued that the galaxy is so large, and the history of the galaxy is so long, that its actually likely that only one sentient species arises in the galaxy at a time. They live for a few million years, then die out, and as they are dying out, the next species is arising on some far-distant planet. Brin's other treatments of this idea range from exultant (Crystal Spheres) to mild fearsome (Lungfish). This also turns out to be the case in Existence, while the artifact contains the uploaded personalities of dozens of alien emissaries, their species are now extinct.
  • Robert J Sawyer's Quintaglio Ascension trilogy : Although there are several planets with intelligent life, there is no life in the universe that can't have its origin traced back to Earth - at least not in this iteration of reality.
  • Sort of happens in K. A. Applegate's Remnants series: there are aliens, the Shipwrights, and three other species, at least two of which the Shipwrights created. However, these three species are apparently exterminated by the Troika, and it is implied the Shipwrights may be dying too. The penultimate book involves Tate, Amelia and Yago spending the rest of their lives looking for some other form of life but never finding anything more than bugs.
  • Everything in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos is more or less a result of human works. Slightly averted as the books sometimes mention aliens, even intelligent ones, although all of those have been driven to extinction or were simply wiped out by humanity. More aversion in the sequel-series Endymion as the main character encounters a few of the said-to-be-extinct intelligent species multiple times, on unknown planets and on a living Dyson Sphere constructed by 'alien' humans.
  • Played straight initially, then subverted in The Stainless Steel Rat series. Aliens are completely absent throughout the galaxy up until one book where every kind of grotesque alien monster pops up out of the woodwork, who were just hiding all that time. Played with in The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues, where Slippery Jim Di Griz, the eponymous Stainless Steel Rat, is send undercover to find the first recorded alien artifact. Turns out that it was an artifact left by human time travelers from the future.
  • In Embedded, humanity has colonized hundreds of worlds but found no sign of intelligent alien life anywhere. Until they get to Eighty-Six....
  • Zig-zagged in The Golden Age by John C. Wright. Biological engineering has reached the point where (formerly) human beings are able to turn themselves into what amounts to Starfish Aliens as compared to "traditional" humans (amorphous blobs, Hive Minds, a sub-culture of living biological Squick, and sentient ecosystems, to name a few) but no humans have ever encountered actual extraterrestrial life and have given up looking, until something from the outside starts to cause trouble for the main character which ultimately turns out to be the evolved cybernetic remnants of a human spacecraft that had been sent out thousands of years earlier, when humanity was still interested in exploring space.
  • Used as a pot point in the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. There is various odd alien fauna and flora, but there are no living alien races comparable in intelligence to humans. However, human archaeologists continue to find the remains of several highly advanced civilizations all the time. More worrying is how they all seemingly became extinct shortly after they discovered interstellar flight and started exploring deeper space. There turns out to be a reason for that - and the author uses it to cleverly explain why the Fermi paradox seems to be in effect in the first place, the driving mystery behind the events of the series.
  • The In Death series. There is space travel in Robb's 21st century, but it's mostly background, and there's no mention of non-human life. (Aside from the monsters Eve chases.)
  • Last Legionary: Although there are a wide variety of humanoid forms, they're all genetically human, just mutated by the effects of their respective environments. High-gravity worlds get shorter, heavier humans and so on. The only genuine alien is Glr, and her species isn't from the same galaxy.
  • There are many planets in The Diving Universe, but they're all populated by humans. Not even the nomadic Fleet, in all its travel across known space, ever found an alien intelligence.
  • In the Matador Series humanity has colonized most of the galaxy's Earthlike planets and found nothing sapient. There is a race of precursors called the Zonn that left interesting ruins on multiple worlds, but they've been gone for tens of thousands of years.
  • In the Cassandra Kresnov series by Joel Shepherd, other sentient species besides humans do exist, but they are barely mentioned in the story and have no bearing on the plot, which mainly concerns politics within the human Federation, and between the Federation and the other human faction, the smaller and more technologically progressive League.
  • The Hour Before Morning has intelligent humanoids genetically engineered from humans, but no aliens per se.
  • Glen Cook's Black Company novels provide a fantasy version. The first three books take place in a Standard Fantasy Setting, except that the entire series is populated solely by humans. The only exception is the Plane of Fear, where a handful of nonhuman beings are intelligent, but none of them have anything resembling a culture or civilization.
  • In Earth Girl, settling dozens of star systems humanity has not yet encountered another intelligent space-faring species. They have, however, encountered lots of alien plant and animal life and so far two species of primitive tool-using neo-intelligent aliens they leave alone until they develop further. But they do have the elaborate Alien Contact Programme set up should this situation ever arise. Which happens in the next book Earth Star, with an mysterious unmanned alien probe spurring the First Contact Crisis.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov and Christopher Nicholas Gilmore's Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, by the 22nd millennium, humanity has colonized thousands of worlds and scouted out tens of thousands of more in three spiral arms of the galaxy. While many of the settled planets have their own flora and fauna, no intelligent alien beings have been discovered. The only non-humans (besides those who have genetically-altered themselves) are a Servant Race created on one planet. They later rebel, and the resulting war devastates the planet.
  • Initially played straight in Andrei Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series, as humanity is expanding and colonizing hundreds of star systems. Subverted about halfway through when three alien races and the remains of a fourth are discovered in short order. More are discovered later. It's pointed out that, while the aliens tend to be more advanced in some areas (especially those who have been around for billions of years), there are a few areas where humans have made great strides, leaving most discovered alien races far behind. This is mostly because the aliens haven't been doing much the last several million years, following a devastating galactic cataclysm. Meanwhile, humanity has been steadily expanding and advancing for the last thousand or so years, with wars and labour shortages necessitating great strides in cybernetics and FTL technology.
  • The Lost Fleet series takes place some time in the 27th century, with humanity spread across hundreds of star systems and no sentient aliens in sight... up until about halfway through the first series, at least. Turns out that there are at least three, two of them decidedly unfriendly.
  • The Quantum Thief-trilogy takes place entirely within the Solar System and no true aliens are to be seen, although Transhuman Aliens come in all shapes and sizes. In the final novel, The Causal Angel, the issue is brought up. Though not outright stated, it's implied that any sapient life that doesn't destroy itself will learn how to break the Planc Locks and create a new, perfect universe for themselves to inhabit.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 2000s Battlestar Galactica has no aliensnote : just robots, clones, and the occasional 'angel'. However, the "humans" turn out to be Human Aliens, and there is absolutely some kind of intelligent god-like being served by messengers.
  • Firefly, ostensibly because humans make more interesting foils for humans. Lampshaded when a "genuine alien" at a sideshow in one episode turns out to be a mutant cow fetus in a jar, with some creepy lighting thrown in for good measure. Word of God confirms the nonexistence of aliens in this particular universe, which is also set in a single star system.
    Inara: Do aliens live among us?
    Kaylee: Yep. One of them's a doctor.
  • The Red Dwarf verse contains no multicellular alien life, and in the novels it's explicitly stated that Earth has been proven to be the only place in the universe where life appeared. In the early seasons this added to the isolation and paranoia of the main characters. Later series introduced other life forms, but most of them are leftovers of human genetic engineering projects, or otherwise artificially created (i.e. robots or holograms) and on a very rare occasion they're descended from some form of Earth creature (the Cat being the best example). This still didn't stop them from poking fun at it though; a running gag in the first two seasons involved Rimmer constantly suspecting aliens to have something to do with whatever problem has just befallen the crew, including one instance where he suspected aliens were trying to communicate by breaking Lister and Cat's legs, and then finishing a jigsaw puzzle. Another episode played it for laughs when Rimmer was convinced that a mysterious pod that they recovered contained an alien life form. It was actually just one of Red Dwarf's garbage pods.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The BattleTech Universe is renowned for its lack of intelligent aliens. The lack of aliens allows its Black and Grey Morality of interstellar politics between human groups to thrive. There are primitive aliens, but they were discovered in a unknown system by a JumpShip misjump (read: they'll never interact with the rest of the universe), and they only appear in one novel, Far Country.
  • Attack Vector: Tactical features only humans fighting other humans. These humans have only explored and colonized a relatively local part of interstellar space, though.

    Video Games 
  • In the original Armored Core universe during the events of the second game, it's a big reveal when humanity discovers that Phobos, the moon of mars, is actually a ancient martian construct capable of mass destruction. In the third game however (which may or may not be related to the original), backstory materials released only in Japan reveal that humanity had warred against an alien race which caused a godly alien power to intervene, the resulting conflict leaving humanity living in an isolated machine controlled society in order to protect them from the wrath of the godly alien power.
  • When Anarchy Online was first released, humanity was thought to be it for intelligent life in the galaxy, though the backstory novel Prophet Without Honour did include at least one being that was not at all human. The Shadowlands expansion introduces the Xan — a race of Precursors who created humanity, all but destroyed in a terrible cataclysm eons ago. One of the surviving factions (the Redeemed) launched great space-arks that were meant to seed life across the galaxy, but the other faction (the Unredeemed) destroyed every ark except the one that landed on Earth. Alien Invasion wiped that out by revealing the Kyr'Ozch aliens, who invaded Rubi-Ka due to actions taken by the players in Shadowlands — like humans they're children of the Xan, but have evolved radically differently compared to humans.
  • In the Killzone games, it's 2360, humans have colonized dozens of worlds, but haven't found any alien lifeforms whatsoever. The conflict itself is between humans and altered humans.
  • This trope is played to the letter (to great effect) in Starlancer, which is ostensibly a retelling of World War II IN SPACE.
  • Xenosaga: despite a significant portion of the galaxy being colonized, there are no real aliens. The apparently alien Gnosis are actually altered humans and supernatural beings such as U-DO and chaos were created or at least given their present form by humanity's collective will.
    • The alien planet Xenogears takes place on, meanwhile, has some native life but didn't have any intelligent lifeforms before the human colony ship Eldridge crashed there.
  • Imperium Nova has this by default, but some players choose to role-play their houses as aliens and, in one case, a game administrator orchestrated an alien invasion of a galaxy.
  • In Infinity: The Quest for Earth, there are several hundred worlds grouped in clusters in several parts of the galaxy, and no other races have appeared; according to the developers, this is mostly to avoid what they think is the overused idea of a plethora of races.
  • In Dead Space, humanity has no qualms about cracking apart planets (and thereby destroying entire solar systems) for resources, since there are no aliens around to protest. At least until the game begins, and that's a bit of a cop out, since although the original Marker may have been created by aliens, the one in the game is a reverse-engineered human copy, and the Necromorphs are reanimated human corpses. Justified in Dead Space 3, as intelligent alien life did happen to exist and was rather abundant at some point millions of years ago, but they -ó like humanity, fell prey to the Marker's influence and were all wiped out by the Brethren Moons.
  • Elite:
    • Elite 2: Frontier has flying saucers in secret military bases, but the game play plays this trope perfectly straight because the only inhabitants of the whole galaxy are humans. However, the sequel (Frontier: First Encounters) averts this and reintroduces the Thargoids (they first appeared in the first game as a random encounter), an actual alien race which inhabits the systems of Polaris, Pleione and Miackce. The player's experiences with the Thargoids are the "first encounters" referred in the subtitle.
    • Elite: Dangerous (the fourth game) Enforces this by dismissing the Thargoids as legends, though GalNet has mentioned an auction of supposedly authentic Thargoid artifacts, combined with some systems being blocked off by permits when theoretically they shouldn't be (like, for example, systems on the far side of the galaxy from Human space).
  • In some Super Robot Wars timelines, all the Human Aliens are actually descendants of a lost civilization from Earth. Even the Einsts have some connection to Earth, though they mostly hang out in a parallel universe.
  • In the MMO EVE Online there are five distinct sentient races (only four are playable) and several non-playable races within the game, however they are all descendants of Human beings who traveled through a wormhole in to the space of New Eden 25,000 years before. Even newer races introduced such as the Sleepers are believed to be of human origin. The only non-human life are flora and fauna.
  • In Total Annihilation, the Galaxy has already been thoroughly explored and colonized by humanity thousands of years ago, and no hints of intelligent alien life are mentioned in the backstory (though there are alien plants on some of the planets battles are fought on). Both Core and Arm factions are derived from Earth human stock.
    • Like-wise with Spiritual Successor Planetary Annihilation which follows an endless war waged by the machines of humanity long after we've shuffled off this mortal coil. There are plants on some worlds but no higher lifeforms.
  • In Outpost 2 there are only humans that are trying to survive after Earth is rendered unlivable by meteorites. The conflict comes between two factions fighting over the scant resources and trying to win an evacuation race from New Terra, which is being destroyed by a terraforming project by one of the factions gone wrong.
  • Section 8: Prejudice presents a plausible explanation for the complete absence of any alien lifeforms in the galaxy, despite humanity having spread out and colonized a huge chunk of it. Long before the game, the Earth government secretly sent out an advance wave of super soldiers, whose mission was to move from planet to planet committing genocide on all potential competing lifeforms in order to pave the way for human colonization of the galaxy.
  • Zig-zagged in Escape Velocity, since each game in the trilogy takes place in a new universe:
    • The original subverted it: there were aliens in the backstory, but humanity wiped them out after they tried to do the same to us. There's one last alien cruiser floating around, however.
    • Cleanly averted in EV Override.
    • Lord-knows-what-to-call-it in EV Nova. The Wraith north of Polaris space are insular, space-living Starfish Aliens that only have a role in one storyline, and a minor one at that, so they're effectively Absent Aliens plotwise. Double Subverted with the Krypt, which are the result of the Vell-os ruling council having imbued their minds into their nanites in the backstory. This makes them human offshoots instead of actual aliens.
    • Inverted in the Polycon total conversion, in which all the races are nonhumans. Earth exists, but we're still using Soyuz capsules.
  • Hideo Kojima's Zone of the Enders features a colonized solar system with advanced space colonies, starships, Orbital Frames... and no aliens whatsoever. The mysterious substance known as "Metatron" may or may not be alive and intelligent.
  • Capcom's Lost Planet series features a conflict primarily between the NEVEC corporation and various factions of Snow Pirates. The Akrid are dangerous lifeforms native to E.D.N. III, but they're non space fairing and non sentient.
  • RayStorm sees Earth advancing in space travel enough to set up a series of human-inhabited colonies in a distant star system, known as the Star Federation. The plot sees the Star Federation attempting a revolution against Earth, with a squad of fighters fighting for Earth as the protagonists.
  • Danced with by the defunct MMO Earth And Beyond. The 3 playable races were all factions of humans that colonized different parts of Earth's solar system. When humans left the solar system thanks to Precursors Lost Technology the only life found was Space Whales Space Whales and more Space Whales. That was until the Tengu and V'rix showed up; but the Tengu came from another galaxy thanks to an experimental new gate and only their leaders (who rarely showed themselves) seemed to possess intelligence, and the V'rix were an odd case. At first they seem to be insectoid aliens hell-bent on destroying humans, but design documents revealed they were a prevented reflection of humanity sent by the same Ascended Precursors that left behind the Ancient Gate System.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe takes the player as Bruce Camp--, er, Jake Logan first in the Sol System itself, then into the outer reaches of space known as The Fringe. In spite of some serious weirdness and more than a bit of Space Madness, everything you encounter out there is human—this allows the corporation-vs.-colonists storyline to remain the core focus, with some glances aside for colorful space pirates, asteroid barons, and spectacularly unethical science.
  • In Rising Angels, there are a variety of species around, but they're derived from humans, not alien life. However, the way that some characters talk about relics of ancient civilizations suggests that true aliens may be known or conjectured to have existed historically.


    Web Original 
  • Associated Space.
  • Nexus Gate.
  • In Fine Structure, Humans are demonstratively the only intelligent species in the entire universe, because 3+1 dimensions (our universe) is apparently an extremophile environment. There was one other intelligent species, but it was destroyed (presumably) billions of years ago.

    Western Animation 
  • The BattleTech animated series has alien life but no intelligent nonhuman beings. See the Tabletop Game entry for more details.