A setting in which societies with futuristic technology have reverted to patterns from earlier time periods (e.g., medieval Europe, feudal Japan, nineteenth-century America) while remaining at a futuristic technological level (e.g., starships, Humongous Mecha, Energy Weapons). This can be either the result of relating historical metaphors to a future society, or an excuse to do a period piece IN SPACE.
This may also be an attempt to market a fantasy story as Science Fiction during a period where the latter is considered more fashionable. Just add Applied Phlebotinum which would pretty much be magic if not for the Techno Babble explaining it away as advanced science or Psychic Powers.
There are many variations on this trope (mainly because it makes making the Fantasy Counterpart Cultures easier), but most can be broken down into just a few categories:
Feudal Future: In the future, human society will resemble a cross between medieval and early modern Europe, possibly with elements of Imperial Rome, Imperial China, and feudal Japan. Expect The Empire, although it will likely have elements of The Kingdom. Humanity may be united, in which case the parallel is to the Roman or British Empire and you can expect the ruler of humanity to be titled appropriately, or it may have been united in the past and is now descending into barbarism, in which case the parallel is with medieval Europe. Aliens are unlikely, but if present they will probably be a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for the Mongol Horde.
Space Western: Society in the future will look like nineteenth-century America, with brave pioneers leaving a civilized homeland to settle a lawless frontier. If aliens are present, they will be a Fantasy Counterpart Culture for Native Americans.
Trinity Blood is a Renaissance Future, with Vatican States = Italy, Methuselah Empire = Ottoman Empire, and Albion = England.
Code Geass has this, complete with knights in giant robots, an Emperor, princes, and castles. It also has a Feudal Future for the Chinese Federation, which takes up most of Asia.
Code Geass is Alternate History - society never advanced beyond a Feudal stage in this timeline, except in parts of Europe and elsewhere, and even then these were constanty outdone by the Brittanians. To be this trope they would have to have abandoned feudalism and imperialism at some point, but most of the world never did.
The Gundam works set later on in the Universal Century shows an Earth Sphere that's increasingly reminiscent of Japan's Sengoku period as European-style aristocracy makes a comeback. By Victory Gundam, the situation's reached the point where the Sides are independent nations in all but name, with the Earth Federation seemingly inept to do anything about it.
Fantastic Children Has this trope. The Greecians bodies are capable of assimilating technology, they can even locate the souls of dead Greecians and humans and beam them back into their respective bodies. What do they fight with? Swords. What do they wear? just about anything medieval. Also, the planet of Greecia is a monarchy. King's word is law, even if it leads to the main problems in the series and makes everybody suffer in the long run. Yep.
Sort of. It is somewhat understood that the cause for the establishment of the system is due to The Machine War in the distant past.
Safehold series has last humans settle on the eponymous planet without memories of their history and no space technology. Nine hundred years later world is close parallel of 15th-16th century world, with dominative Church of The God Awaiting (medieval catholicism IN SPACE!). Charis takes place of Great Britain, Emerald is Ireland, Siddarmark is the young United States, Raven Lands are Germanies, Harchong mixes China with some Russian details and Desnair is Poland. Later it begins to emulate 30 Years War IN SPACE!, although in more 18th - early 19th century setting.
The Foundation Series: The Galactic Empire is Imperial Rome, the Foundation-era galaxy is Medieval Europe. The entire arc is explicitly modeled on The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
The Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne MacCaffrey. Pern was settled in Earth's future, but reverted to a technologically inferior mostly feudal society, partly due to the intent of the colonists, and partly due to the scourge of Thread. Most people live in natural and man-made cave systems carved out of cliffsnote Thread can't consume non-living material, and they had neither the resources nor the infrastructure to build metal buildings called Holds. The Lord Holders are in charge of protecting and caring for the people under them, and the position is hereditary. Skilled workers live separately, in Crafthalls, similar to Guilds. The eponymous Dragonriders also live apart from Holders, and have their own system of governing themselves.
Several societies in S.M. Stirling's Emberverse fulfill this trope although it also has a foot in Fantasy Counterpart Culture as supernatural elements creep in during the second trilogy. The Clan MacKenzie is based on a New Age interpretation (much against the liking of its founder) of a Celtic clan, while the Portland Protective Association was deliberately created by an SCA member as a copy of a medieval feudal society with trappings of Mordor. The oddest example are the Dķnedain Rangers founded by a mildly insane Tolkien fangirl who has a quasi-religious reverence for his books. There are also several "Indian" tribes many of whose members have, at best, only nominal amounts of First Nations ancestry and Norrheim, a Viking style nation founded by Asatru. The Republic of Boise claims to be the successor to the original United States but it's setup is much more like the Roman Republic, especially it's military. Meanwhile over in England "Mad King Charlie" tried to turn what remained of his nation into something of a vast Rennaisance Faire, although his subjects drew the line at Morris dancing.
Much of the interior of North America in the Emberverse, and by implication many areas elsewhere, have types of spontaneous neofeudalism; they just don't have the self-conciously archaic vocabulary of the PPA. Instead of "barons" and "knights" they have "sheriffs" and "farmers/Ranchers"; instead of "serfs" or "peasants" they have "refugees" or "evacuees". And they have "emergency governors" or "Presidents pro-tem" (popularly known as "bossmen") instead of Lords Protector or Kings.
The Instrumentality of Mankind sequence by Cordwainer Smith is an interesting subversion, as the humans of the far future are, after living some centuries in a nondistinct, cultureless utopia, actively trying to resurrect the cultures of the past.
The Queendom of Sol in Wil Mc Carthy's "Collapsium" and its sequels.
In L. Neil Smith's Henry Martyn, Bretta Martyn and their Web Comic sequel, Phoebus Krumm the Monopolity of Hanover is based on Tudor England while itss rival, the Jendyne Empery-Cirot is based on Spain of the same period.
The Tripods trilogy is a prime example of this. It takes place about 100 years in the future, but society is largely medieval style due to the effect of the Caps on their wearers-curtailing curiosity and causing them to reject technology.
In the backstory of the Vorkosigan Saga, the planet Barrayar was cut off from the rest of the galaxy because of a disturbance in the spatial feature that allows interstellar travel. During that time, technology was lost, and the inhabitants reverted to feudalism and manorialism. The efforts to catch up with the rest of the galaxy are a major theme in the books.
BattleTech: The Star League is the Roman Empire, while the Successor States are Medieval Europe.
Though the return to feudalism is explained in some of Michael A. Stackpole's earliest BattleTech novels. The rise of independent barons and feudal-esque land titles was a pragmatic response to the difficulties of managing the economies and lives of trillions of citizens across hundreds of light-years. Except during the Star League-era, communication and especially travel between star systems is vastly time consuming and expensive (compared to real 21st Century standards), therefore downloading authority for the governing and management of a system to a local governor or baronet is far more expedient than having everything done at a central bureaucracy many light years away.
Don't forget, romance sub-plots with royals or young nobility need to happen in a universe tied together by gigantic walking tanks as per Rule of Cool.
Traveller in many ways looks more like The British Empire what with the British noble titles, the nautically derived traditions the exploration and colonization, and the wild frontier regions. Also the relation of the Imperium to it's member worlds seems more British then Roman. Traveller also has a Feudal Future and the nobles have real power.
Mutant Chronicles has some of its Mega Corps having feudal themes. Bauhaus is based of several medieval European countries, Imperial is based of Victorian Imperial British.
NieR, which takes place 1,400 years after the ending in Drakengard in which Caim and Angelus end up in Shinjuku, takes place in a dying world where humanity is on the brink of extinction and society has since devolved mostly into a pseudo-medieval hellhole, though there are Lost Technology abound.
Futurama: The episode The Late Philip J. Fry includes a Feudal Future with giraffes as feudal rulers over humans, along with Futurama relying heavily on the Days of Future Past trope in the whole series. In the pilot episode, while Fry is frozen and there's a montage of progress outside the window, there's a gag where buildings gradually build up and become more futuristic, then flying saucers fly by and destroy everything, then a castle starts to be built (only to be destroyed by flying saucers again).
The planet Prysmos, the setting for Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, also falls into this category. The opening scenes of the first episode show how all machines on the planet failed when its Three Suns aligned, though the precise reason this happened is never made clear. Within a few years, the once technologically advanced Prysmosians were living in a medieval-style society, though remnants of the Age of Technology can still be seen.
Anime and Manga
Samurai 7 combined the feudal era elements of the Kurosawa movie it was based on with Humongous Mecha. Think peasants farming rice by hand being raided by massive cyborgs aloft with anti-grav.
Afro Samurai has a culture of honour combat and sword fighting, in what looks like feudal Japan. With guns, mobile phones and robots thrown in.
The manga series Basara takes place in what at first appears to be a fantasy world inspired by feudal Japan. As it's later revealed, it's actually Japan in a post-apocalyptic future.
The Jedi robes in general were based on traditional Japanese clothing, to emphasize this.
The Force is also loosely based on Taoist teachings.
A planet mentioned in Armor by John Steakley has a feudal society with samurai trappings, deliberately founded by some guy with an enormous pile of money and a big ego. The Emperor is accompanied everywhere by a bodyguard whose duties, apart from the obvious, include beheading anybody who doesn't appear suitably impressed by the Emperor's magnificence. (Fortunately, the current Emperor is genuinely pretty darn impressive.)
The cover artwork for the Blue Oyster Cult LP Club Ninja shows an imaginatively rendered Space Samurai in predominantly red armour. Several songs on the LP perpetuate the Ninja association, ie Shadow Warrior.
The major exceptions to the above in Battletech are the Draconis Combine and Capellan Confederation, which are Japan and China, respectively.
Warhammer 40,000: Fans often accuse the Tau of being space Japanese, and, thus, anyone who plays them are called Weeaboos. This is perhaps because the costumes and vehicles of the Tau are inspired by East Asian clothing and architecture.
The Three Galaxies setting of Rifts has the Oni race, space-faring aliens based off a mixture of ancient and modern Japan. They have Samurai-inspired Cyborgs called Cyberai, their economy is almost entirely based off corporations called zaibatsu, and their empire is known as the Bushi Federation.;
The Kusari in Freelancer have reverted back to feudal Japan, complete with lords and a shogun, although no samurai battles or ceremonial swords are shown.
In Utawarerumono, the setting is far future Japan, which has reverted to a feudal system that seems to combine the Yamato and Ainu people's traditions. The rest of the world might be different, but we never see it.
Cowboy Bebop, as its name implies. The pioneering spirit is somewhat involuntary, being mostly due to the destruction of Earth's moon, scattering all those able to get away across the frontier of the solar system. If there is any "civilized homeland" left, it is on Mars, not Earth.
However, this may be due to idiomatic translation. None of the main characters are cowboys in the Western sense. In fact, the DVD extras clarify that "cowboy" in Japanese may be more like "bounty hunter" in English. Which makes sense as ALL of the protagonists are bounty hunters (or want to be). But the Old West themes are still laid on pretty thick.
Trigun, much like Firefly, has a Wild West society with advanced technology, but here it's explained as humanity doing what it has to in order to survive on the desert world it's stuck on.
GUN◊SWORD also takes place in a western-style planet with Humongous Mecha. It's more a spaghetti Western than other space-western anime.
Outlaw Star may fall more on the sci-fi side of things (with some Daoism and sufficiently advanced shenanigans thrown in) than the above examples, but the gun-slinging is plentiful, and there're enough bounty hunters and duels at binary sunset to give its narrative the Western vibe its title does.
As with Firefly, the setting of Serenity is basically just cowboys in space. With zombies.
In Ian Mc Donald's Desolation Road and Ares Express the non-urban areas of Mars are very much like the Old West.
Zack Hughes' For Texas and Zed.
Much of the third book of John Birminhaam's Dissapearance trilogy takes place in the western half of the United States whicg has once again become the Wild West only with trucker convoys instead of wagon trains and the cavalry riding Humvees and helicopters. Also no Native Americans since they died along with everyone else. Plenty of Indians from India though as imported workers.
Live Action TV
Firefly; there are reasons for the Wild West/Australian Outback aspects of the society, but they are hinted at rather than explained outright.
Though it should be known that Chinese culture is also heavily prevalent in this example, with Chinese being a second language to just about everyone.
The episode "Heart of Gold" handles it particularly well, with a local ruler forcing everyone to live out his own personal fantasy of ruling an old west town.
As with most 19th-century based westerns, a recent civil war between a federal government and break-away "states" frames the story. Incidentally, this makes the crew of the Firefly analogous to former Confederates.
The original Star Trek was described by its creator as being a space western. The show uses western-style fighting and is generally paced and acted as a western.
Most of the primary cast had performed in westerns in the past (DeForest Kelley in particular was well-known as a Bad Guy character actor before becoming Dr. McCoy) and westerns were the most popular shows on television during that period, so it's not surprising that Star Trek would follow that pattern.
If one considers the plight of the Colonial fleet as analogous to the Mormon migration to Utah (in keeping with the strong Mormon themes throughout the show), then the original Battlestar Galactica also qualifies.
Deadlands being a Wild West game, its sequels Hell on Earth and especially Lost Colony have a good deal of the Western about them. While Hell on Earth is set on Earth, but after the advent of space travel, Lost Colony is literally in space, complete with the Native American analog aliens, the Anouk.
The Terrans never escaped from the UED. The UED didn't exist then anyway. The United Powers League was going through a "cleansing" period, and anyone who didn't fit their idea of a perfect human (e.g. people with implants, psychics, criminals) was turned into a Human Popsicle and sent on giant ships to another system. Of course, the original idea was to kill them all, so it may count as an escape.
Borderlands presents this theme through a desert planet inhabited by bandits and many guns, of which Jakobs brand guns fit the aesthetic. ''Borderlands 2 even presents a Western-themed area with a vigilante sheriff, trains running through and even a showdown.
Although ARIA takes place on Mars in the distant future, the city of Neo-Venezia was built explicitly as a recreation of classical Venice. Other recreations of Earth include a Japanese temple on a nearby island.
Some locales in the different Gundam universes evoke the past 100 years to a certain extent. This is more blatant in Gundam Wing, and even more obvious (though justified) in ∀ Gundam.
In Avenger, the civilization on Mars seems an awful lot like the city-states of ancient Greece.
Coming back to Cowboy Bebop again, the cities on Mars almost look indistinguishable from current terrestrial ones. They borrow from many examples such as New York and Hong Kong.
CrossGen's Myth Arc spanned many series and worlds, some futuristic and some seemingly archaic, but all with humans. Meanwhile, back on Earth in Crux, Geromi explains that humanity spread through the universe and colonized a lot of worlds. Which means that every other world we see, from steampunk-Victorian Ruse to medieval-fantasy Sojourn to feudal-Japanese The Path to Roaring-Twenties Mystic (to the ones that actually are sci-fi-ish), is actually in the distant future and was once colonized by spacefaring humans.
Star Wars counts as all three. The western influence comes in location. Young Luke lives in the middle of a desert on a farmnote A moisture farm, but a farm nonetheless., later meeting up with gunslinger Han Solo in a saloon-style cantina. The designs of the Jedi and Sith are heavily-samurai based, clothes resembling kimono and swords like katana. However, their behavior is medieval-basednote As well as their monk-like robes. having a monastic lifestyle and parallels to wizards, especially in Palpatine and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The Jedi Code is a combination of both Bushido and Chivalry, both being similar to each other.
The space dogfights were explicitly based on the real thing from WWI, the Death Star could arguably be compared to things like the impossibly big tank projects Germany had running during both world wars (the K-wagen during the first, the Maus, Ratte and Monster during the second) or the atom bomb or both.
Piers Anthony's Cluster series had, as a rule of space colonization, that civilizations would regress in proportion to their distance from the original home planet. It Makes Sense in Context, up to a point, except that they regressed exactly back into the history books; X light years away, you had atomic-age planets; further away than that, you had industrial revolution planets; further away than that, you had medieval planets; all the way out to the edge, where you have caveman planets.
The culture of Nostrilia, from the Cordwainer Smith novel of the same name, takes its name, language and many of its customs from the North Australia of the 19th and early 20th Centuries.
In Charles Stross' Singularity Sky the planet it takes place on is very similar to Tsarist Russia including a smoldering revolutionary movement.
Queztalia in James Morrow's Wine of Violence is an idealized take on the Meso-American Toltec civilization.
The Space Captain Smith series by Toby Frost is about a hero of the British Space Empire. On the covers he's shown in a red uniform, circa 1880, carrying a rifle that looks like a 19th century weapon with a futuristic scope attached.
Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age takes place on a future earth where people have segregated themselves into several large "phyles," unified not by geography but by shared culture and beliefs. One of these phyles, New Atlantis, has based its laws and cultural practices on those of the American and English Victorian period, with the addition of zeppelins. The underlying idea is that nanotechnology has given everyone the tools to live more or less as they please, and broken the control of territorial governments over their citizens. So people wind up forming factions based on whatever culture they choose to live in. The neo-Victorians just happen to be the ones who adopt the main viewpoint character.
Timothy Zahn's Quadrail series is a take on the Golden Age of Railroad, only the railroad is built and maintained by mysterious aliens and stretches between star systems.
This trope isn't too heavily used in Honor Harrington, but several of the societies described have specific historical parallels. The People's Republic of Haven takes on some of the characteristics of revolutionary and Napoleonic France, while the Star Kingdom of Manticore's society and military parallels the United Kingdom during the same era. There's also the emperor of an overwhelmingly ethnic Chinese interstellar polity who nonetheless modeled his empire after Prussia and the German Empire. Before the time period of the novels, Grayson was a moderately-backwards colony akin to feudal Japan, changing to pseudo-Meiji Japan during their first appearance. Other "neobarb" colonies that have lost contact with the outside world and regressed technologically are also shown. And, of course, the space technology of the novels, at least in early books, is set up precisely to allow classic Age of Sail battles in space.
Wolmar echoes the American Old West of fiction, with forts and traveling peddlers and an on-going war between the settlers and the natives.
Otranto is a destination-vacation planet based on Victorian "Gothic" fiction, both romance and horror. Lampshaded in that The Castle of Otranto was a major work in the genre.
Gramarye is a planet originally settled by members of the Society For Creative Anachronism; it was deliberately set up to follow the structure of medieval Europe.
All The Things I've Done by Gabrielle Zevin takes place in Manhattan in the late 21st century, but has more elements of The Roaring Twenties only without the "roaring" part. However, instead of alcohol being prohibited, it's chocolate and coffee that are prohibited(the main character's family runs a chocolate factory). In fact several offhand comments made by older characters suggest that the world is, in fact, stagnant.
Live Action TV
On Star Trek The Enterprise visited a few worlds that paralleled Earth's history. Strangely, each time they found a different explanation for that world's existence. In "Bread and Circuses" they encountered a world that mirrored a 20th Century Roman Empire with Christianity beginning to emerge (Kirk mentioned a theory of "parallel evolution"). "A Piece of The Action" had a planet re-enacting The Roaring Twenties (previous Federation visitors left a book about Chicago mobs behind, and the locals made that their bible). "Patterns of Force" had a world modeled after Nazi Germany (a historian tried to restore the world's collapsing society, hoping to avoid the evils of the Nazis, which went about as well as can be expected).
Interestingly, the latter example has the Space!Nazis picking the inhabitants of a neighboring planet as their "subhuman" enemy. The planet's name? Zeon ("Zion" is a synonym for Jerusalem).
Caprica followed Gattaca in making its futuristic society look like 1950s or early 60s USA in terms of fashion and product design. Officially, this was because Battlestar Galactica had used 2000s USA fashions and Caprica was set a few decades before.
String Theory takes place in the United States, where it's scientifically the 2050s but morally/socially the 1950s.
Beckey (creator): Unfortunately, in the world this comicís set in (the 1950′s of the future!), people arenít very accepting or understanding of different sexual orientations. Actually, folks arenít very accepting in general. Itís a distrust of foreign cultures and ideas, mostly, mixed with good old fashioned repressed victorian standards and ideals.
Zombie Ranch shows a world where, in the wake of a Zombie Apocalypse, the reaches of the Southwestern U.S. seem to have reverted to an Old West/frontier model of society. Even the Safe Zones seem to have adopted variations on old-time fashion and accessories alongside more modern ones.
Nonpachyderm is exclusively set here, with a society that has split into two groups, one mostly with high technology but no capacity for food production, the other able to farm and manage agriculture. This leads to a trading culture with technology and its benefits traded for the basics required for life
The Super Friends has several episodes set on alien planets based on periods of Earth history. Texacana is a wild west planet, Camelon is a medieval planet, and Zagdad is an Arabian Nights planet.
It can be assumed that the pre-Armaggedon American society was something like this in the Fallout series of games. While much of the technology was pretty advanced by today's standards (laser guns and robots), the computer monitors were all monochrome CRTs and everything had a very retro 1950's feel to it.
Could be described as "Vacuumpunk", with most technology being based (or at least having the appearance of being based) on vacuum tube technology.
Caesar's Legion (pronouncedKai-sar by the legionnaires) is a huge slaver nation with the style of dress based on military uniforms of Ancient Rome. The ranks are also borrowed from Rome: legionnaires and centurions. Of course, by that token Caesar himself should be wearing the imperial purple.
It's not Augustus' Legion. Caesar was merely Dictator.
Mother 3 takes place in a future in which society has been taken back (or forward?) because humans have all gathered on a single island that survived the end of the world and erased their memories. They are fascinated when machines are brought to them via time travel, and they start off not using money.
Truth in Television: Some social reformers have deliberately attempted to re-create the past — or at least the version of the past they idealized. Examples include the Holy Roman Empire (an attempt to restore the Roman Empire - "Kaiser" and "Czar"/"Tsar" are derivatives of "Caesar"), and Imperial Japan after Perry's arrival (an attempt to recreate the older Imperial Japan).