Desert Punk

"Allow Me to explain. About 50 years ago the foolish practices of the humans combined with natural disasters to destroy most of the world except for this terrible desert...
...Not that a little global holocaust discouraged the humans from pursuing their foolish wars. Then when we thought everything had calmed down, the single river that sustained this world, the life of our desert, suddenly stopped...
...With absolutely no chance of rain, as usual, more deaths are predicted."

The term "Wagon Train to the Stars" had more relevance than we thought. Much of humanity has gone to outer space, but apparently all the planets they could settle on were dry, desert-covered worlds.

A big advantage to setting a sci-fi world in a desert is that it's easy to conceptualize, compared to a geographically and culturally diverse world like Earth. The author doesn't have to spend time explaining the history or nuance of the world because there is none. Also, judging by the planets we've been finding around other stars in recent years, while potentially inhabitable planets seem plentiful, earthlike ones seem slightly more rare, with slight variations in size, composition, and average temperature making the difference between an Earthlike mixture and a comparative ice world, water world, or desert world. A moderately large galactic empire would almost certainly put up at least a token effort at setting up outpost colonies on some of the less pleasant worlds, if just to have a place to put your Landfill Beyond the Stars.

When life becomes hard, and on such a world, it usually is, morals are the first thing you throw away. Law and order are swift to break down, and suddenly we have The Wild West on another planet. Also, it's wise to be wary of Desert Bandits.

Alternate version: deserted lands After the End (usually nuclear wars).

For the anime and manga that is also an example of the genre, see Desert Punk.

See also Cattle Punk.

Desert Planet Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Orgos from Desert Coral.
  • Trigun was probably the first big one, at least as far as anime goes, though it's also a very good trope example, and justifies the setting very well. Long story short: They were going to terraform the planet (or even just find a better one), but the Big Bad tried to kill everyone and screwed it up.
  • Zoids has a considerable amount of this, seeing that the planet Zi is mostly desert.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • Dune and its sequels, by Frank Herbert, may be the ur-example of desert planet sci-fi, though thematically it resembles a Heroic Fantasy more than Desert Punk. Except that in Dune it's not so much The Wild West In Space as The Middle East (In Space.)
  • The Santiago books by Mike Resnick.
  • The Pit Dragon Chronicles.
  • Ian Mc Donald's Ares Express and Desolation Road are this away from the urban zones. In the cities it's a mix of Diesel Punk and Cyber Punk.
  • The parts of John Birmingham's Wave trilogy set in Texas and the Midwest.
  • China Mieville's Railsea takes place in a world where the "oceans" are barren, monster infested wastelands crisscrossed by railroads.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels take place on a Mars that is, mostly, a desert except for the areas bordering the canal network, a region surrounding an underground sea at the south pole, and a few swamps, which represent all that is left of the once-great oceans covering the planet. There is apparently still groundwater deep below the surface, though, since some plants and animals do manage to survive despite the complete lack of rainfall.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Firefly many border worlds and moons, as well as those on the Rim are only marginally terraformed, generally resulting in them being deserts or borderline. More affluent or Alliance worlds in the Core are more idyllic in terms of atmosphere.
  • Any story set on Vulcan
  • Reversed on Terra Nova. The general feel of desert punk is there, especially with the Sixers but it's set in the jungles of the Mezozoic.]]
  • Since it takes place in a near future Las Vegas surrounded by a desert wasteland (even more of one than now) Dominion qualifies.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The RPG Burning Sands, being (by the author's admission) heavily inspired by Dune, is another example.
  • The game Gorkamorka: Mad Max, with Orks!
  • Dungeons & Dragons' Dark Sun.
  • Space 1889 Caravans of Mars and Steppelords of Mars have elements of desert punk, particularly some illustrations.
  • Shows up from time to time in BattleTech, particularly on some of the less habitable worlds in the Periphery, where there's far less advanced technology available (to the point that some planets have an average tech level that's lower than 20th Century Earth) and the inhabitants get preyed on by pirates and gangs.

    Video Games 
  • In Journey, a robed figure is born in a desert where your ancestors' civilization existed. While cloth fragments are still around, not as much technology functions well and the buildings have deteriorated since the war machines' conflict against the White Robes. A exception to this is the snowy mountain, its peak split by a crevice.
  • Many of the Wild ARMs games have elements of this, as did the anime, with Wild AR Ms 3 being the straightest example (the others all have prominent oceans and forests). Like Journey, crosses over with the Burned-Out Earth, though, since Filgaia as a planet is slowly dying.
  • The "Under the Burning Suns" campaign in The Battle For Wesnoth takes place in the distant future of the main setting of the game, centuries after Mages raised a second sun into the sky. Funnily enough, there's a solid gameplay reason for that: Lawful creatures (including mages) are stronger during the day. One way or another, having two suns led to the whole planet going desert. (The campaign features "Desert Elves".)
  • Pandora in Borderlands.
    • Downplayed in Borderlands 2, as we see Pandora isn't all desert, there's other environments like tundra, grasslands, and volcanoes.
  • Motavia in Phantasy Star IV. It's naturally a desert planet, but in between Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star II, it was fully terraformed into a Ghibli Hills world that borders on Crystal Spires and Togas. However, Climatrol was destroyed in II, and since then, the world has been slowly desertifying and monsters have been taking over the wilds, with only the Hunter's Guild to fight them back. Thus, this crosses over with the Burned-Out Earth variant. Obviously, it was a desert planet in the original Phantasy Star, but it was far less "punk" back then.
  • It's quite literally All There in the Manual, but the early history of the protagonist race from Homeworld had elements of this.
  • Pokémon Colosseum. The protagonist is not a plucky 10-year old, but an ex-Pokemon thief that rescues the female protagonist, who looks like a cheap, under-age hooker in the Japanese version. Together they fight their way through the badlands of Orre, driving a rusty hover-cycle with an engine presumably stolen from a Top Fuel dragster. Reinforced by the near-total lack of Pokemon (read: organic life) in the desert areas. The only real exceptions are Agate Village (a lovely green village built high in the mountains) and Phenac City, a veritable oasis city whose mayor is secretly the Big Bad.
    • The sequel game Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness takes place in the same region, but there are a few places where life has begun to find a way, and wild Pokemon have begun to appear. Strange, since Orre is not a post-apocalypse locale that has something to recover from, but merely in the Pokemon world equivalent of an actual desert in the south-western United States.

    Webcomics 
  • In Homestuck, the Land of Sand and Zephyr, and Earth c. 2422 (in the beta timeline, anyway).

    Western Animation 

Burned-out Earth Examples

    Anime And Manga 

    Comics 
  • Just A Pilgrim, by Garth Ennis, is set on an Earth devastated by a solar flare, literally burned out. The few survivors scrape along the arid ocean bottoms, beset by various mutant monsters.]
  • Some Judge Dredd stories set in the Cursed Earth had this feel.
  • Tank Girl, is usually set in the Australian outback. And Tank Girl is definitely a punk.

    Film 

    Music 
  • The video for Tom Petty's "You Got Lucky" takes place in an After the End version, loosely implied to be after an alien invasion.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands is set in a very strange version of the wild west that qualifies as this with a bit of magic thrown in for kicks.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout. The Fallout universe as a whole is designed around the popular conceptions of future technology and the effects of nuclear war that the American public had in the 1950's. Many aspects of it are intentionally unrealistic.
    • Fallout 1; Justified in this case, as the game takes place in post-apocalyptic Southern California.
    • Fallout 2; Justified in this case, as the game takes place in post-apocalyptic Northern California, Northwestern Nevada and Southern Oregon.
    • Fallout: New Vegas; Justified in this case, as the game takes place in the post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert. The exception is Zion Valley which is lush with life, clean flowing water, and a rain cycle.
    • Fallout 3; Justified in this case as, even though it's set in Washington D.C., it was hit hard by nuclear weapons (the White House is gone), burning it even worse than the rest of the country.
  • Rage

    Webcomics 
  • One of the subplots of Homestuck involves four survivors of the ravaging of Skaia exiled on Earth, doing... something. That's a pretty good question, what were they doing there?
    • Turns out their job is to both advise the players and restore life on Earth.
  • Weapon Brown