In the Standard Sci Fi Setting, trade is common between star systems. Sometimes a planet becomes so specialized that it focuses on a certain commodity or service. Maybe it's building weapons or providing doctors. Whatever it is, the world trades this resource with other planets, becoming renowned for the export. This trope isn't about a single Planetville; It focuses on the big picture on how individual worlds interact with each other. Subtrope of Planet of Hats, though any location (an asteroid, small moon, space colony) can serve as this. Compare/Contrast Single-Biome Planet. Most SF tales assume Casual Interstellar Travel; it's possible for Slower Than Light ships to transport commodities, but the items being traded would have to be of extreme value to justify the high cost and long wait. It also often crops up if the setting is confined to a single solar system, which is slightly easier to justify as it only requires somewhat Casual Interplanetary Travel. Well done versions of the trope will explain that a planet is widely known for its major export, while its other industries are neither profitable nor popular. It could also be used for comedic effect, by exaggerating it to the point of absurdity. Economics aside, a planet has other values: political, cultural, religious, and military. The importance of the export directly influences the importance of the planet. For example, the Planet of Phlebotinum would have a lot of power and an armada protecting it. However, the Planet of Toasters would lack any economic influence and maybe warrants a corvette for protection. Meanwhile, the Planet of Judges, Robes, and Powdered Wigs would have political clout, but lack economic influence. The amount of protection depends on how much influence they have with their neighbors. May correlate with Multipurpose Monocultured Crop, if the One Product is farmed instead of manufactured.
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CapitalPolitical center of an interstellar government and a place of intrigue. The apex of culture and power, but also of decadence and corruption. Highly valued, expect the world to be well protected...unless no ships are available for whatever reason. Capitals of various space Empires tend to be highly urbanized. Also the center of the vast bureaucracies governing the stars.
ExoticOffers scientific curiosities and unusual matter (monopoles, antimatter, mini black holes), or a site of strange astronomical happenings (such as wormholes or black holes). If extra-terrestrial life is rare, then worlds with alien biospheres would be of interest. Scientists and corporations would love samples of strange matter, or get a chance to observe such strange phenomenon.
FactoryCenter of mass production. Presented as industrial nightmares, with polluted skies and large crowded cities Its products can include technology, but often less state-of-the-art. Focused on production/engineering than research. Often ruled by tyrants or a corporatocracy.
FarmsGrows crops and raises animals. There are typically two types:
- Worlds that only produce foodstuffs to feed places that can't produce enough subsistence, such as urbanized worlds or space stations. Not much value, except if the importer is totally dependent on them. Then the planet becomes an Achilles' Heel. Often rural in nature, but hydroponic bays and protein vats are not unheard of. Can be large tracts of cultivated land, or water farms on oceanic worlds.
- Planets which harvest an important crop that has unique attributes. Such flora or fauna could be used for medicinal uses, especially if it's a drug. Then it would be more profitable than a world that exports beef. Such farms tend to be jungle or death worlds.
GatesPoint or area where a wormhole/stargate/minimum hyperlimit exist that facilitates FTL transport. Vital for rapid transport (unless you want to slog decades across space), and in the cases of a Portal Network, a chokepoint.
MilitaryExports Mercenaries, coming in two varieties:
- Super Soldiers, often living in a military culture and/or harsh environment to develop their skills.
- Cannon Fodder, hired out only because the planet has nothing else to sell.
MinesHarvests natural resources, often rare metals, minerals, or gases needed for industry. Influence of a Mining world is dependent on what it gathers. A world mining Tin isn't going to be much value. However, a planet collecting Helium-3 (which can be used for fusion reactors) are going to be richer and better protected. Such places can range from terrestrial planets to asteroids to gas giants. As business concerns, they're run by whoever owns the mines. Governance varies, but life tends to be hard and people poor. Another good source for military recruits - many sign up to avoid the harsh environment or receive better pay. new settlers or folks fighting over the planet. Such worlds would have little to export and much to import, due to a lack of infrastructure. If settled, frontier towns are likely. Local government is minimal at best. Because of the lack of infrastructure, these new colonies tend to be easily conquered. a place for the protagonists to relax, especially if there's beaches. Not likely to be a major target, unless it's a strategic location or attacked for symbolic reasons.
ScienceKnown for its research and development, and its state-of-the-art technology. The natives value logic and ruled by technocrats. Home to a lot of cool gadgets, new technology, and various scientists (mad or otherwise).
ServiceInstead of production, these worlds focus on training and providing professionals. Common in SF are:
- Medical: Devoted to healing others in body and mind. Includes Doctors and Psychologists.
- Education: Known for their universities and training centers.
- Financial: People who work with money, including loaning, banking, trading, escrow agencies, etc. Often ruled by Merchant Princes.
- Military Support: The supreme headquarters of the armed forces, academy for the fleet's officers, and boot camp for the army's troopers.
ShipyardsPlaces to build spacecraft. Since ships are vital to an interstellar empire, the yards are vital industries and military assets. Often military/government operated. thieves, smugglers, and assassins. Otherwise, one can purchase slaves, illegal technology, and other contraband. The items provided by an Underworld need not be illegal, but merely taboo. Such locations are commonly seedy and ruled by those in the shadows.
Precursors, often a massive construct such as a Dyson Sphere or ringworld. Or recently made by a highly advanced civilization. Can be visited by intrepid explorers and researchers to produce Lost Technology. There is a disturbing trend for BDO's to be abandoned, acting as prisons for alien viruses, which are accidentally released by said explorers.
LibraryStructure that houses a huge database of the knowledge of an entire civilization. Many researchers visit here to learn from the accumulated knowledge. Often left behind by Precursors, though such projects are undertaken by more recent societies as a prestigious project. Expect it to be very quiet and vast, and attracts seekers of truth.
Phlebotinum MonopolyWhen there's only one source of Immortality Drugs, Dilithium Crystals or Spice, and everybody needs it. Whoever controls this world can control the galaxy. Anticipate this world to warrant fleets or warships and armies to protect it, and many fights over it.
SuperweaponWhere a Weapon of Really Mass Destruction is housed. Whoever controls the superweapon can decide the fate of the galaxy. In Space Opera, this is the site of a climactic battle.
In addition to the above types, there are several attributes that can affect the value of a world. Some may overlap or change over time, depending on the current situation.
AlienWorlds or stations inhabited by Intelligent Extra-terrestrials. An important term for emerging space societies or where life is rare. Trade and travel depends on the temperament on the aliens.
BlockadedProhibited from trade, frequently with an enemy fleet enforcing the embargo. Smugglers and rebels would try to get pass the blockade for various reasons. Such embargoes continue until the political situation changes.
CommerceTrade hub, either acting as a key location on Hyperspace Lanes or housing the headquarters of one or more major corporations. Mercenaries and private security forces will maintain order. The destination of many Intrepid Merchants, but possibly plagued by piracy.
Cultural HubMajor center of arts and learning, valued for its impact on society. Often focused on entertainment or academics, these tend to be ruled by open and free societies. The destination and home of artists, musicians, students, writers, and and other creative folks. Tourists are also common, which also means Street Performers are near.
DevelopingTechnology or infrastructure is lagging. Part of the Interstellar culture and trade, but often less advanced than the major powers. Except these planets to be impoverished, often new colonies or exploited conquests. Between the major powers, the Developing worlds would be caught between political struggles. Had seen better days, and is now waning. They may have been over exploited and depleted of primary resources or undergoing a natural calamity. To escape their fate, refugees will flee to the stars. These planets tend to collect garbage, both physical artifacts and the seedier elements of society. If anything of worth remains, it's related to the planet's primary export.
HabitableCan support human life, or whatever species the protagonists are. Can range from Edens to barely habitable Death Worlds. In a setting were most planets are dead or uninhabitable (say Real Life), a planet with a breathable atmosphere is better than nothing.
HomeworldWere a species originated from. A lot of historical and religious importance, because of its mystique of being where a species is born. The dominant species of an Empire will have their homeworld as a Primary Capital, although there are exceptions. The destruction of a Homeworld is often a major mistake for space tyrants: it not only crosses the line, but ensures that a native of that world would eventually destroy said tyrant.
HistoricalLocation of past importance, such as a battle or discovery. Often archaeological sites or monuments are located here. Because of this status, these places are seen as important symbols. For example: a dead moon may have little or no value, but military commanders may make choose to fight there since it was the site of a previous victory.
NeutralLocation takes no sides in a conflict, either forbidding sides from entering with force or acting as a third-party mediator. Generally worlds or stations that have little interest in fighting, but plenty of services to offer (shipyards, underworlds, pleasure planets, etc.). Often well prepared to make sure they maintain their neutrality.
PrimitiveLittle or no high technology or advancements. Any inhabitants are either aliens developing civilization or the remnants of a failed colony, often savage. Expect wilderness and perhaps alien ruins. Any interest to these worlds are either for Science or Strategic. Travel to such worlds may be restricted, as to avoid exploitation or culture shock.
QuarantinedTravel to and from location restricted due to a medical emergency. A temporary measure until a cure can be found for the ailment, if at all. Except for medical craft and warships, no sane being would risk going lest they too fall victim. If the plague is left unchecked, the quarantined world may become permanently Forbidden. If it gets really bad, the planet may be sterilized.
StrategicLocation makes this world a vital military target. Expect military fleets and fortresses here. With changes in warfare, space travel, and the political environment, a location could cease being a military prize.
UnstableThe local political situation is bad, and society is barely holding together. Order can fall apart at a moment's notice. Merchants and travelers will avoid going there if they can help it. It results in less trade, and could lose it's status as a trade or culture hub. If it's really bad, it may become a War zone or worse.
WarLocation is the center of an armed conflict, with Military ships and troops fighting each other. Mercenaries and arms dealers would be attracted to this place. Lost of life and destruction of infrastructure will negatively impact its value. Refugees from this world would be common. If this status lasts long enough, a planet may become Dying as well.
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Anime and Manga
- Crest of the Stars / Banner of the Stars: Interstellar travel relies heavily on Gates. During Jinto's and Lafiel's adventures, they visit a Factory asteroid (producing Antimatter), a Strategic planet, help enforce a planetary Blockade, and latter coming across a rather civilized Penal world.
- Mobile Suit Gundam SEED: ZAFT's colonies were arranged in this manner, with one group focusing on Farming, another on Information Science, another on Chemistry, and so on.
- Avatar: An example of interstellar commerce with STL craft. Pandora is mostly valued for its Phlebotinum Monopoly, though having a Exotic Alien society and ecosystem.
- Star Wars: As with any good space opera, Star Wars provides plenty of examples. Coruscant is a Capital, Bespin and Kessel are Mines, Endor houses a Superweapon, the First Death Star itself was a Superweapon, Genosis is a Factory world, Tatooine is a minor Underworld, and Yavin and Hoth were strategic locations. Naboo was Blockaded for a while.
- Spoofed in Stingray Sam with Durango, a Planet of Rocket Builders which after an economic slump turns into a Planet of Criminals and then a Planet of Prison Factories (in which they build rockets).
- Childe Cycle: The interstellar economy depends on specialized services, almost to the point of Crippling Overspecialization. Dorsai and the Friendlies provide Military, Ste. Marie focuses on Farming, the Exotics on Health Services, Coby on Mining, Newton and Venus on Science, Ceta on Commercial Services, Cassdia on providing Technical Services as well as mercs. Zombri, otherwise an uninhabited world, is a Strategic location.
- Parodied in "The Didactics of Mystique", a takeoff on The Tactics of Mistake. Interstellar civilization is falling apart because each world offers only one profession, and there are far less inhabited worlds than needed professions.
- CoDominium: Alderson Points serve as Gates. During the CoDO era, most worlds were used as Mines, Drug Farms, and Penal Colonies. Many industrialized worlds hired out Military forces as mercs. Latter, more examples, such as Pleasure and Alien worlds begin to appear.
- ConSentiency: With the development of Jumpdoors (acting as Gates), traveling between the stars is so causal there a planet devoted to a single service: Beautician worlds, Honeymoon Worlds, even Gynecologist Worlds. Dosadi is part Penal and part Science World, where every inhabitant is part of a massive experiment.
- Cordwainer Smith: In his Instrumentality milieu, Norstrilia is a Farm World with a Phlebotinum Monopoly, making it extremely rich and envied. Viola Siderea is an Underworld, a planet of thieves. Shayol serves as a Penal world of the Body Horror kind.
- Dune: the eponymous planet is a Phlebotinum Monopoly, with Giedi Prime a Factory world, Ix and Richese are Science worlds, Tleilax is a Biological Science world, Caladan is noted for Farming and Fishing, Kaitain is the Capital, Salusa Secundus is ostensibly a Penal colony but also a Military world. Tupile is a Service world, providing protection for exiled families.
- Ginaz is a Military world, training swordmasters for the various Houses. Swordmasters of Ginaz were instrumental during the Butlerian Jihad.
- Foundation: Trantor is the Capital, Terminus serves as Science/Library as well as another Capital. Many other planets are Developing/Strategic due to their location and influence, as well as Mines. Pleasure and Farm worlds are also mentioned.
- This varies through the series. At the beginning, Trantor is a City Planet which essentially produces government and nothing else, while Terminus initially exists to produce an encyclopedia. Later on after the collapse of the empire and rise of the Foundation, Trantor has become a largely rural planet with no products to speak of other than the psychics who secretly run everything while Terminus has become a much more rounded capital planet. It's implied, although never really explored by the books, that other planets must also have become more balanced; the farm worlds which used to supply Trantor with food no longer having anywhere to export their produce to, for example.
- Gaunt's Ghosts: The forest planet Tanith was, when it still existed, a major exporter of high-quality wood.
- Hammers Slammers: Several Farms and Mining Worlds were apparently set up this way so new colonies couldn't become economically independent. Occasionally, the protagonists end up fighting in Big Dumb Objects or against Aliens.
- The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, to the point that some planets now have commodities growing naturally on them such as a swamp planet with mattresses that get slaughtered and dried to be slept on. Another planet has tools that grow on trees.
- The Hunger Games: Districts in the series function like this. Each has one and only one job to do (such as District 12: coal mining, or District 11: agriculture), all of which support the Capitol.
- A Planet Called Treason: Variant of this trope on a planetary level, where each Region on the planet are Service providers, specializing in different areas: Biology, Theology, Genetic Engineering, and Acting, to name a few.
- In Honor Harrington, The Manticore System serves as a Gate, housing the Manticore Wormhole Junction which provides Manticore with a lot of economic clout.
- Montana's only significant export is stated to be beef, and it is frequently suggested that Montanan beef would command top prices on developed planets in the League or SKM. That said, one wonders how many cows it takes to fill a five million ton freighter...
- During the war with Haven Trevor's Star serves as Strategic since its holds a Junction Terminus that would allow Haven access to the Manitcore system. It's also becoming the Capital World of the burgeoning Star Empire of Manticore.
- Beowulf in Sigma Draconis is a Science World, noted for being the galaxy wide leader in (ethical) biomedical and genetic research. Given recent developments in the series, it may also become Strategic as well since if also hosts the one end of the Manticore Wormhole.
- Retief has the CDT sent on various Alien/Developing worlds, often trying negotiate with the natives. Such worlds are often caught between the cold war of the CDT and the Groaci, who vie for political influence.
- In the Vorkosigan Saga, Komarr serves as both Gate and Strategic for Barrayar since it contains the wormhole route that is the only connection that Barrayar has to the rest of the galaxy. The Hegen Hub is a more general Gate. Beta Colony is Science (of almost all varieties), Jackson's Whole is Underworld Service and Earth is Cultural Capital.
- Sometimes the specialization is stated more in terms of species than of planets. In Star Guard by Andre Norton, Earth, a poor backwater latecomer to a galactic civilization, exports soldiers for combat on primitive or more advanced worlds (the military units are referred to as "Archs" and "Mechs" respectively). In Alan Nourse's Star Surgeon, each species has a specialty, and Earth's is medicine; this sets up a story in which the hero is a nonterrestrial doctor who faces prejudice in his attempt to succeed in the Terran-monopolized interstellar medical system.
- Dirigent in the Dirigent Mercenary Corps series has its entire economy organized around supplying two things: Professional soldiers-for-hire, and weapons.
- An Invoked Trope in Harry Harrison's To The Stars trilogy, which has a Big Brother-like Earth lording it over interstellar colonies set up to be totally dependent upon each other. Since each colony requires numerous goods (which they are never allowed to stockpile) each made only on one of the other colonies, it would be impossible for a revolt to succeed unless every colony did so at once. Which they do. Not only are the planets set up this way, but their cultures are also custom-designed to reinforce this setup.
- Babylon 5: There is a brief mention of a Disneyplanet, and the Centauri Republic colony world of Ragesh 3 is identified in discussions as an agricultural colony.
- Battlestar Galactica (2003) had the Twelve Colonies of Kobol set up as such. Aerilon was the "bread basket" of the colonies. Caprica was the capital and cultural Center. Gemenon is a holy center. Libran is known for its lawyers. Picon has strategic value (the Fleet HQ was located here), and a cultural center since it was used as a substitute for Caprica in entertainment. Scorpia had shipyards, and Tauron was another farm center.
- Following the fall of the colonies, the rag-tag fleet's economy is set up like this. Justified, in that only certain surviving ships were only equipped for certain functions.
- Doctor Who has featured many such examples. "Silence in the Library" takes place on a library planet. Satellite 5 is a Service station providing news and a Capital for the true rulers of the Human Empire. Billions of Years in the Future, Earth is a Cultural and Historical Center.
- An early episode of Farscape deconstructs this trope: Sykar was forcibly remade into a farm world by the Peacekeepers; most native plantlife was almost completely destroyed to make way for vast fields of Tannot root, and every single inhabitant of the planet were reduced to farm-labourers, planting, tending and harvesting the crops. Thanks to the high demand for Tannot root, the farms themselves are steadily being worn out through overharvesting and reduced to barren wastes; the one seen in the episode is said to be the last fertile region of the planet. For good measure, the only thing stopping the Sykarans from noticing any of this is the fact that their food is made entirely of mind-control drugs, and they all believe that every day is the last day before a weekend.
- Stargate SG-1: Most worlds are valued as Mines for rare materials, although Libraries, Big Dumb Objects, Farm worlds, Forbidden worlds, and Superweapons make appearances.
- Star Trek: Earth serves as the Capital, though oddly enough unprotected in many movies. It, along with Mars, also has Shipyards. Risa is a Pleasure Planet, Rura Pente is a penal world, and there are various Unobtainium mines, Big Dumb Objects, Forbidden locations, and Exotic places. Memory Alpha was a Library world for the Federation, though we only saw it during construction.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation shows us the trope in action. In the episode "Symbiosis", one of the two planets of the week produces nothing but a narcotic which the other planet believes is a cure to a virulent plague (whose symptoms just happen to look exactly like withdrawal). Deconstructed — the providing planet used to have a broader commercial base (it was the poorer and less developed of the pair, but still a full civilization), but the profits of the drug were tempting enough that gradually other industries fell out of use over the generations until both sides were effectively addicted — the buying planet literally, and the selling planet by being dependent on selling the narcotic to keep society running.
- Fading Suns: Uses the trope, with many different examples. For instance "Urth" is the Holy center of the Urth Orthodox church while the Imperial Capital of Byzantium Secundus is a Gate nexus.
- Warhammer 40,000: Many worlds are known for what it produces to the Imperium's war machine: Forge worlds producing high technology, Agri worlds producing food for Hive worlds, Feral or Death worlds providing Military forces, Holy Terra as a Holy Capital, and Cadia as a strategic world.
- Hive worlds supposedly produce a lot of different products, but they're best known as a source of Cannon Fodder for the Imperial Guard.
- Zig-zagged in Traveller, planets have trade codes similar to the categories listed above, but most export more than one product.
- Wing Commander: Privateer put the player in the shoes of a freelance ship owner during a peaceful period of the Terran Confederacy's reign. While the most obvious route to take was killing anything that shot at you, it was entirely possible to make a living solely from trading between the planets, each of which had a specialty. Due to this, each planet would produce certain goods cheaper than elsewhere and purchase some goods for more than other planets.
- EVE Online usually subverts this, there are usually a wide variety of goods available at a given market.
- while this is true for the stations in the orbits, with the planetary interactions and the general Single-Biome Planet, many players play this straight: get a temperate planet as factory world to make tier 3 or 4 products, while the other planet types often make mine worlds to get the supply for the temperate one.
- Also about the moons, as you can only have only one POS (Player Owned Station) in their orbit: some are deathstars loaded with weapons, others have factories or science facilites, and others are just there to mine the moon if it holds valuable resources.
- Mostly averted in the X-Universe games, but some sectors specialize in only a few types of goods. Asteroid Belt in Terran Conflict mostly produces different types of minerals from the asteroid mines, for example.
- Partial example in the Escape Velocity series, where bulk commodities can be purchased at most worlds. Usually, among the generics (food, metals, equipment, luxuries, medical supplies) one or two will be cheaply available and one or two will be more expensive. However, in Nova, many worlds have a "special" commodity that is generally only traded at two or three worlds (some supplying it, others demanding it), which are either valuable or just interesting flavor.
- In the Myst/Uru franchise, many Ages served a single economic or social function, often quite narrow. For example, the Age of Teledahn was farmed for a type of fungal spore used in D'ni cuisine.
- Knights of the Old Republic features Manaan, an ocean planet that is the Galaxy's sole source of the medical substance called "kolto" (the naturally produced precursor to the synthetic bacta from the movies).
- Star Wars: The Old Republic features this with Quesh. The one reason the Empire and the Republic are interested in this planet? The Quesh Venom can be refined into useful adrenals. This is also the only reason that the Hutt Cartel is expressing any interest in the planet as well.
- Invader Zim: The Irken Empire from Invader Zim has conquered numerous alien planets to give them a convenient specialization. Some examples: Blorch, the new parking structure planet; Callnowia, the mail order planet, along with Conveyor Belt Planet for shipping; Conventia, the convention hall planet; Foodcourtia, the food court planet; etc. They have so many they don't even really have a plan for new planets until they conquer them and wipe out the lifeforms present, then they just decide on a whim what kind of new planet might be handy or fun.
- In Shadow Raiders the four planets of the Cluster, Fire, Ice, Rock, and Bone, each have one resource that the others need. Though, at the start of the series they've been raiding each other for years instead of trading.