In the Standard Sci Fi Setting
, trade is common between star systems. Sometimes to survive a planet becomes so specialized that focuses on a certain commodity or service. Maybe its 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
, but it's possible for Slower Than Light ships to transport commodities. But the items being traded would 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 their 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 relies 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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Political 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
Offers 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
Center of mass production. Presented as industrial nightmares
, with polluted skies
and 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
Grows crops and raise 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.
Such worlds are usually peaceful, but could become unstable if the political situation changes. The local folk are religiously devout, originally settling such worlds to seek ascetic lives. The home of many a young
adventurer and military / mercenary recruit - life on a farm world lacks excitement, and encourages wanderlust.
Location of dangerous nature that no one visits. Could be a colony destroyed by plague or infested by alien locusts
. Whatever the reason, the planet is no longer of any value
, covered in ruins or wasteland. Only adventurers would willingly travel to these worlds
Point or area where a wormhole
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.
, 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.
Along with these, various settings have specialized forces: armour warfare, Special Ops, sapping, urban warfare, etc. Life on these worlds tend to be tough, and often produces prideful fighters
. Could be ruled under the military or an authoritarian society. Oddly enough in fiction, there are plenty of Libertarian cultures that don't mind setting up such worlds.
Harvests 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.
Planet that is newly discovered and open for grabs. Expect 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.
Dumping grounds for "discontents". Expect these worlds to be unpleasant at the very least. Can range from orderly communities to work camps to lawless wastelands. If these worlds export anything, it's products of slave labor. If governed, it would be by the prison administration (authoritarian by necessity).
Places for tourists to visit and relax, often paradise worlds or something akin to Las Vegas in space. Mostly, it is 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
Known 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
Instead 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.
Other services can include lawyers, intelligence agents, engineers, beauticians, etc. May also produce items of great importance to these services, such as instruments if the planet is known for its musicians.
Places to build spacecraft. Since ships are vital to an interstellar empire, the yards are vital industries and military assets. Often military/government operated.
Planet notable for its black market products and services. With enough money, one can hire 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
Artifact of Precursors
, often a massive construct such as a Dyson Sphere
. 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.
Structure 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
When 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
Where 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.
Worlds 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.
Prohibited 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.
Trade 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
Major 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
Technology 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. 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.
Can 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.
Were 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
Location 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.
Place of major importance to a religion, with many places of worship and pilgrims. If the religion is benign, attacking this center is a sign that you're an evil jackass. More fanatical sects would protect these centers. May be governed by a Theocracy, though it depends on the faith.
Location is no longer accessible or has disappeared. This could be due to a variety of reasons: The local Gate has been destroyed, the wormhole that connected the location is now unstable, or something
happened to the settlers. In either case, no one knows were it is and may become myth. Explorers may find these places again.
Little 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.
Travel 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.
Location 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.
The 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.
Location 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. 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.
- Con Sentiency: 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, Telixau is a Underworld, Caladan is noted for Farming, Kaitain is the Capital, Salusa Secundus is ostensibly a Penal colony but really a Military world. Tupile is a Service world, providing protection for exiled families.
- Foundation: Trantor is the Capital, the Foundation 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.
- 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 Hitchhiker's 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- The 2003 version of Battlestar Galactica 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.
- 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 as a penal world, and various Unobtainium mines, Big Dumb Objects, Forbidden locations, and Exotic places.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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 40000: 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.
- Sometimes played straight, often averted by Traveller, most planets have a variety of trade goods available, usually randomly rolled but influenced by planet type.
- 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.
- 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.