"When you live on a planet the size of a town
You can't get your kicks by getting around"
—Richard Hell and the Voidoids, "The Kid With the Replaceable Head"
Most Space Opera
stories are lifted from other genres, then transposed into outer space. And the most obvious way to do it is to make everything take place on a planet. Not just any planet, but Planetville
, the planet that serves the same function in space that towns and countries do in Earth-based stories. It's basically Adventure Towns IN SPACE
If a Wild West
story is about outlaws going from town to town, the Wagon Train to the Stars
will be about outlaws going from planet to planet.
Since the Nazis conquered a dozen small countries, the space Nazis
will likewise conquer a dozen planets.
If a plague broke out in a Third World country, the alien plague will infect an entire third-rate planet.
By extension, if a planet represents a country, an alien race represents an ethnic group, and an empire that spans Earth becomes a multi-planet empire.
Unfortunately, because Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale
, stories about Planetville
make no sense. Nobody seems to realize how BIG a planet is — everything in Planetville
takes the same amount of time as stories set in towns or countries. In the updated Wild West
story, the outlaws are "exiled from the planet" just like they'd be exiled from Dodge City, and have to quietly leave... instead of flat out challenging the authorities to find them when they have an entire planet
in which to hide. When the space Nazis invade, they seem to need the same number of soldiers and time as the Earth Nazis needed to invade Europe. And when the crew of the Cool Starship
finds the cure for the alien plague, the logistical issues of distributing it to an entire planet rarely get mentioned at all. These considerations are minimized or left out entirely
in many stories.
This might work if technology was really advanced — if transport were so fast that crossing a planet took as much time as crossing a town or Earth country does today. But that almost never happens. Besides, even if Planetville were a global village in terms of travel time, a planet still has thousands of times as many people, thousands of times as many hiding-places, thousands of times as many strategic locations, thousands of times as many and as much of everything as a city on Earth today has. The only exception to this is the Baby Planet
which is indeed small enough to be a Planetville
though that has a different set of rules.
A side effect of this is that the characters never realize that things can happen in parts of planets. You will never see aliens trying to capture a planet's equator, or its polar caps — it's the whole planet or bust.
instantly explains these Speculative Fiction Tropes
This trope is sometimes extended further still, with each star system apparently only having a single planet in it... every body in the system aside from Planetville itself is merely decoration if it is considered at all.
Sometimes a result of the Law of Conservation of Detail
in universes with dozens or hundreds of planets/star systems. The "planet with one small settlement" subtrope can be justified in stories about human colonisation of planets with no native sentients, because it's plausible that colonies wouldn't leap from a couple of spaceships full of initial settlers to occupying the entire planet in a few short years.
Not to be confused with planets that are literally
covered by a single city—that's City Planet
), a subtype of the aforementioned Single-Biome Planet
(and one of the few that is remotely within the realm of possibility). Supertrope of Creator Provincialism
, where the Planetville is the Earth.
open/close all folders
- Lucifer: The birth of a new "creation"—explicitly described as a new "multiverse"—seems to consist of approximately one region the size of Europe being made.
- That's just where all the interesting stuff happens (following in daddy's footsteps). Twenty six pages showing the inky blackness of space in order to demonstrate scale does not make for a fun story.
- Oddly inverted in a Marvel Comics miniseries, Captain Universe. Gladiator, a Flying Brick alien flies to Earth from across the galaxy. That sort of travel is usually hand waved in comics as those characters being just that darn powerful. It gets odd when Gladiator has to fly from one part of the globe to another once he gets there and uses the Captain Universe Power-Up in order to grant himself enough speed to make the flight in time. So essentially, space is smaller than the planet Earth, according to this story.
- Star Wars is made of this trope. Luke is supposed to find Yoda, but he's simply told to find him in the Dagobah system (although in that case he only succeeds because Yoda crashes him near his hut). Obi-Wan is told that General Grievous is in the Utapau system, and the first place he lands is the city that Grievous has taken as his headquarters. Anakin tells Padme that he's going to Mustafar, then she has no trouble at all finding him later. Granted, a combination of The Force and on-ship guidance systems can be (and in the Expanded Universe, have been) used to Hand Wave all of those.
- A Hand Wave excuse for Planetvilleism in Star Wars is that because of the nature of the galaxy being centered around space travel, if something isn't within an hour's flight of the nearest space port, it's probably not important.
- And in The Thrawn Trilogy, where Luke thinks being given a planet as a location for a warehouse means the informer will not need come with them. Han points out that a planet is a big place to hide one building in.
- The Thrawn Trilogy also explains away the Dagobah example when Luke theorizes that Yoda used the Force to blank his sensors and bring him to the correct location.
- In The Phantom Menace, all that's needed to conquer Naboo is simply taking the capital city, and "blockading" the whole planet from surrounding space with a handful of ships. Nevertheless, the protagonists trying to flee the planet aim their ship straight at the enemy fleet to "break through the blockage", and have to do so before they can jump to hyperspace.
- Just taking Theed to take Naboo makes some sense: planetary governments in such a galactic culture could very likely have most of their important infrastructure in one place, meaning the only thing left to fight back would be police forces and the like lacking an overall leadership (which actually happened).
- And let's not forget that the ship can only jump to hyperspace when outside gravity wells, both the planet's and those of the Interdictor ships the Trade Federation most likely used.
- Inverted in Attack of the Clones, where seemingly the entire Republic except for Palpatine is unaware that Count Dooku is on Coruscant, the Republic's capital, at the end of the film.
- In The Empire Strikes Back, the Empire finds the Rebel base simply by launching scouting droids at various planets. Sure, it apparently took a few years but that would be an insanely short amount of time for even one planet, to say nothing of an entire galaxy's worth. Keep in mind the scouting droid that eventually found the base did so after conveniently landing about a mile away.
- Justified and Deconstructed in Dan Simmons' Illium. Fax Portals (teleportation booths) are all pervasive and no one needs to walk more than half a mile to get anywhere (no planes, no cars, no boats). The problem is that they start thinking they really do live in a Planetville, most of the planet has been completely forgotten.
- Justified also in Dan Simmon's Hyperion Cantos series. Millions of Farcaster portals mean that pretty much anywhere on a world (indeed, a couple of hundred worlds) are rarely more than a few steps away. Some houses are built on multiple planets, with farcasters serving in place of doors. Martin Silenus had one; the bathroom is a raft on the ocean planet Mare Infinitus.
- Also averted: Most planets are clearly stated to have multiple, distinct locations.
- A very literal example is found in The Little Prince, who is the sole inhabitant of a planet about the size of a house.
- Played straight and justified in Larry Niven's Ringworld series, as teleportation and other technology all but eliminate differing cultures across Earth.
- Not just on earth. Earth colonies are all varying degrees of this, largely because the worlds humanity's ramrobot scouts found for humans to colonize rarely have more than a few places humans can live safely. The world of Plateau is one giant mountain (Mt. Lookatthat) on a Venus like planet, only the upper parts are habitable. On Jinx the planet's shape and gravity mean that only the poles are habitable, and then only just. Wemadeit is earth like, but has a nasty storm season that means you can't build above ground. Naturally the first colony dug out a city (Crashlanding City), and has just expanded that as needed. And so on. Largely averted later on with Wunderland (Alpha Centauri), which initially came across as a monoculture Planetville, but was greatly expanded on in the Man-Kzin wars collections.
- Mostly averted however, with the Ringworld itself — an artificial ring-shaped structure, surrounding a sun at about the Earth's distance from our sun, which is also 1,000,000 miles or so wide. Let's put it this way... the first Ringworld novel chronicles a months-long journey by the main characters, across a wildly diverse area of the Ring, from one edge. They only explore about a fifth of the way across from that edge and back. That's the sort of scale we're dealing with.
- Jack Vance's science fiction abounds with Planetvilles. Typical is The Demon Princes series, where, for example, one planet is organized around its publishing industry, being the source of the main magazine found throughout a star cluster in the manner of a dominant regional town paper. However, such immediacy is central: it is hard to see how it could be written more realistically without spoiling the story and its setting. A redeeming justification is the incredibly sparse nature of settlement, where a planet might only have a single town. Or Smade's World: halfway between Smade Mountains and Smade Ocean lies Smade's tavern. All else is wilderness.
- Completely averted though with those worlds Vance wrote complete novels or even series about. These are diverse and rich in detail. Except Pao, the Planetville nature of which caused the crisis that gets the plot started.
- Murray Leinster several times used this trope, justified strongly by the worlds in question being new, young colonies with only one settlement established, or exotic worlds with very little human-habitable land.
- In Elizabeth Moon's Vatta's War books, while a single star system frequently has a system-wide government, various lower levels of government seem to exist. Also, one-Hat planets tend to have been originally colonized by racists or religious extremists.
- The Pendragon Adventure features ten Territories, essentially different planets or time periods of other dimensions (such as Earth in three time periods). Almost all of the action takes place in very small areas, generally very close to the flumes (inter-territory portals). Justified because the antagonist, Saint Dane, is using the flumes to target very specific turning points on each territory, singular events that can turn the Territory towards chaos if influenced the "right" way.
- On Denduron, everything important is within walking distance, such as the arena, the Bedoowan castle, the Milago village, and the mines.
- On Cloral, only three floating cities ("Habitats") are seen, and two of them are colliding. High-speed watercraft do take the main characters far from Habitats, however.
- On the three Earths, almost everything takes place in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. The battle for First Earth is pretty much almost all New York City.
- Eelong takes the main characters far from the city of Leeandra, but except for the journey to Black Water, everything is within walking distance of Leeandra.
- Veelox all takes place within one city. Justfied, since most of the population is inside virtual reality.
- Ibara is almost entirely on a single island, with some action in a city on the mainland. This is mainly because Ibara is the future of Veelox, when most of the civilized citizens live on the island Ibara.
- The battle for Quillan is entirely in the limits of a single city approximately the size of Los Angeles.
- The action on Zadaa is mostly in the city of Xhaxu, a thinly-veiled Africa. Indeed, the entire conflict in The Rivers of Zadaa is similar to the South African apartheid.
- Fantasy fiction can make similar errors, but with Planevilles instead of Planetvilles. It's particularly egregious when other planes/realities are considered infinite, yet are ruled over by a single archdemon, fey lord, or the like.
- Avoided in regards to Earth in Harry Turtledove's World War series - the difference in national identities confuses the Lizards, as does the human propensity to keep fighting even after the capitals and major cities have been subjugated. The tropes is in full effect on the Lizards' homeworld, however, and to some extent justified in that it is (mostly) a Single-Biome Planet that has had a single, united monarchy for millenia.
- In Star Trek: The Battle of Betazed, Cort Enaran is leading the Betazoid Resistance. Having one group of resistance fighters under one mountain chain referred to as "the Betazoid Resistance" seems to take us into Planetville territory. That said, Enaran and other leaders are former members of the parliament, so their resistance cell (near the capital) might be considered the resistance. Still, the novel probably runs afoul of this trope.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek is a constant offender here, where everybody on a planet is the same and nothing happens on a smaller scale, ever. When a low-tech planet isn't united, Starfleet considers it in civil war. Earth in 2000 BC was presumably in civil war, and (except for some arguable periods of peace) continued to be at least into the nineteenth century. Possibly the only exception is the depiction of Bajor in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as its proximity to the show's main setting meant that the writers were able to focus on the planet in greater depth than any other planet depicted in Star Trek's history before or since.
- Particularly conspicuous in The Next Generation episode "Reunification", in which the Romulans planned to seize control of the entire planet Vulcan with just a few thousand ground troops.
- At least two separate stories have featured autonomous colonies with populations given as being in the hundreds, acting (and recognized) as planetary governments. Several others come close.
- There have even been episodes where the Enterprise or Voyager's cargo bay has been used to evacuate a planet. Used as a plot point in one episode where the Enterprise shows up thinking they can do this, only to find out the colony has 15000 members and evacuation will take weeks for a good chunk of the fleet.
- Both Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis are very consistent with this. Nothing of interest happens more than a few kilometers from a Stargate, most planets seem to possess a few thousand people at most, and conquering/purging/eating an entire planet is apparently a very simple affair. The characters even seem to be aware of this, as one episode featured Carter and O'Neill trapped in a frozen cave and immediately thinking they were on an ice planet — but it turned out that they were really on Earth, in the Antarctic. On the few occasions that a planet has more than one state, such as Jonas Quinn's homeworld, they are always at war with each other.
- At least for SG-1, they're walking through the gate, which severely limits the amount of the planet that they're capable of exploring. So, while each destination is essentially a "planet", the area of relevance to the SGC is only a few dozen square miles. But the excuse hardly works for their enemies, who are kind enough to place all their facilities within walking distance despite having spaceships and teleporters.
- The teleporters are limited, and if the only methods of travel you had were by magic doorway, Learjet and massive spaceship you'd probably spend a lot of time walking too, and you'd ensure that said magic doorways were as near to your current resource pile as possible.
- Various Power Rangers series portray Earth as Planetville. Apparently, conquering whatever town the Rangers happen to live in is the key to taking the whole thing.
- Are you sure they're targeting the city to conquer it and not to draw the Rangers in the open to kill them?
- It tends to vary, however a particularly egregious case happens in Power Rangers in Space where the attack on Earth only seems to concern Angel Grove and no indication is given that any other part of Earth is under attack.
- In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, the villains once used the Rangers' trip to Australia as an opportunity to attack the city while they were away. Apparently, attacking a city that never had Rangers just isn't an option.
- Subverted in Power Rangers RPM, where the rest of the planet was conquered first. It is in fact one of few series to address why the one city is so important (In RPM, Corinth is the only city left; in Power Rangers Lightspeed Rescue, reestablishing their palace on their old sacred ground is the only way the demons can return to full strength and Mariner Bay, built upon it while they were in the can, has to go; in Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, we throw out "Earth = Angel Grove" ''entirely:" The artifact of the week can be anywhere on Earth and we don't even learn that the city the Rangers are based in is called San Angeles until the halfway mark.)
- Justified in Firefly, as all the planets there are colonies of varying sizes, usually initially settled by a cohesive group of people in just one area.
- Doctor Who is a constant offender in stories set on non-Earth planets, whether they're inhabited by human colonies or native alien cultures.
- Gallifrey originally only had one city, the Capitol. In The Day of the Doctor, we learn there is a second city, called Arcadia (the Doctor actually refers to it as "Gallifrey's second city"
- Farscape occasionally does this, although it's better than many space opera shows in regularly making it explicit that stories are taking place in a single community that isn't necessarily the only one on the planet.
- Blake's 7: Commander Travis says on one occasion, "There's Blake's ship! I knew he'd have to return to this galaxy!"
- Both averted and played straight in Warhammer 40,000, where the background fluff suggests that capturing a planet can involve tens of millions of soldiers and require weeks or months in order to wrest control of strategic locations, and afterwards the occupation forces might have to wage a low-intensity campaign for years in order to root out the remaining resistance... but in gameplay terms, world- or system-spanning campaigns may be decided by small-scale battles held by players around the world.
- Justified in the cases of Hive Worlds, where pollution forces the inhabitants into a few gigantic cities surrounded by endless ash wastes, and Death Worlds, where the local geography and/or wildlife makes widespread population growth impossible.
- Played straight with the Space Marines, as less than a thousand of them can crush entire rebellions and purge whole worlds. Than again, aside from being extremely powerful Super Soldiers, and most citizens thinking of Space Marines as literal angels, believing them to be divine agents of the God-Emperor, their strategies revolve around swift, brutal strikes that decapitate the enemy's command structure, before or after some judicious use of orbital bombardment, so it's less blatant than normal.
- Also justified in some locations, such as Holy Terra, which is indeed a planet-wide city.
- ...with the Emperor's palace complex taking up most of Europe.
- BattleTech has entire planets garrisoned by a single regiment of 108 giant robots. Major factory worlds and capitals might get 3 to 5 of them. This is like suggesting you need only one tank division to conquer Earth.
- Well arguably, if your tank is a bolo, you wouldn't even need a whole tank division. A single bolo would do the job in fact. But, that's crossing the streams.
- It's also been remarked upon that many worlds only really have two strategically significant features: The Spaceport and the HPG Generator. If both of these are under your control the planet is effectively yours, since no-one can leave and no-one can get a message off of the planet. If both attacker and defender think like this, the numbers deployed starts to fall as there is less need for grand, planet encompassing strategies when only 2 points will ever need attacking or defending. Similarly, the slow, limited nature of space travel in the setting means that it's difficult to transport a force that exceeds more than a regiment or two in size with any amount of haste.
- There's another aspect involved in the numbers used, too : The populace is, in general, rather fatalistic about accepting their fate as serfs in the Feudal Future setting of BattleTech.
- These numbers only hold true for late Succession Wars if even that. Prior to 3028 twelve mechs was considered an huge amount of resources to commit to anything.
- This and that fact that the Houses don't want to blow up the things they want form the planet resulting in most invasions being just one battle and who ever wins gets the planet.
- Even with all the above factors taken into account, the people in charge of the setting have admitted that planetary populations are far too high for the levels of military forces used to defend them, but they don't to Retcon either one, since at that point they'd pretty well have to keep retconning until they'd redesigned then entire setting from the ground up.
- Averted and played straight in Traveller. Planets can have many different cultures, biomes, even governments, but most players are interstellar traders who tend to stay on a given planet less than a week and the Third Imperium rarely builds more than one Starport (as opposed to spaceports built and patrolled by local governments, who tend to have tighter laws than the Imperium and thus aren't too attractive to Free Traders) on a planet. Plus many worlds have no biome and less than a million colonists.
- Star Wars Rogue Squadron has an aversion in the level where rebels fight for control of Gerrard V. Wedge radios in, "Luke, I'm on the other side of the planet, we got trouble". Wedge is being tailed by an Elite Tie Fighter Squadron. One of the very few senses of planetary scale in the Star Wars series.
- Knights of the Old Republic features this. In order to find the Star Maps, all the group need to learn is what planet it's on. They're even within walking distance of the starport (Manaan excepted, maybe). The sequel averts this however, you land on Telos, which is a planet recovering from war. The main first part you land on is forest and tropical, and then you fly to the polar ice caps.
- Justified in Halo. The Covenant have battles in space above the planet, and usually seem to land on one city/country, ignoring the rest of the planet. However, the only reason the ground assault exists is to recover Forerunner artifacts, which are only on whatever part of the planet they land on. Once finished, they fly back into space and glass the entire planet, assuming they won the space battle. Which they almost always do, given how much more advanced they are compared to humanity. In the third installment, a character specifically noted that Truth could've landed his forces anywhere, but specifically chose the ruins of New Mombasa, Africa.
- They also do ground assaults to destroy the ground-based generators which power the planet's orbital MAC cannons which are pretty much the only weapon humans have which can reliably destroy Covenant ships.
- This trope is thoroughly averted however when on the eponymous Halo rings. They're about the size of Earth, and they have a very diverse ecosystem.
- Freelancer is a major offender: every single planet is a Planetville. Without exception. Pittsburgh, for example, appears to be an entire planet with just one little mining site. And on top of that, planets usually offer the same services as a "tiny little" battleship. This is rather justified due to The Law of Conservation of Detail, though, because Freelancer has hundreds of planets and space stations within its own world.
- Somewhat justified in that you are a freelance trader, you only ever go as far as the single spaceport on each planet. You buy/sell resources in the port, and visit the port bar to get contracts. The rest of the planet is irrelevant to you.
- You don't need to see anything on the planets because nothing happens there. Any planet-side parts of the story are limited to chats in the local bar.
- In Beyond Good & Evil all action (apart from the endgame) takes place in and around a single town (justfied/handwaved using guard towers that drive you back if you attempt to leave "territorial waters"); yet in the beginning of the game you are given a task of completing a full photographic inventory of the species living on the planet. Likewise, there seem to be no pearls on the planet apart from the gameplay area (judging from the message you get after collecting all of them).
- Pretty much any 4X strategy game set in space will treat planets exactly like this. The most obvious sign being the total impossibility of two players, even allied ones, having a settlement on the same planet at the same time.
- The second and third Master of Orion games have buildings for specific purposes, compared to the generic "factories" of the first game that were never shown.note
- The Galactic Civilizations games also feature this, with the manual explicitly invoking The Law of Conservation of Detail; managing an interstellar government is difficult enough without the intricacies of entire planets as well.
- Can be subverted in events, as the planet may technically be divided between indigenous life and your colonists, though there is no effect on gameplay outside of the event itself.
- Outpost 2 (by Sierra) features a distant planet called New Terra, with only two cities (Eden and Plymouth). And both cities still fight over the land's resources, especially when a plague (called the Blight) slowly takes over the planet.
- Phantasy Star is an especially egregious example, with each planet having an average of 2-3 cities. Casual Interstellar Travel means that a quest to talk to the governor of one Single-Biome Planet will involve buying a cake from the only bakery in the star system, located at the bottom of a dungeon on another planet. Alis even has the Fly spell, designed to take you back to the last church you visited, which works without regard to whether or not it is on the same planet you are currently visiting.
- Mass Effect plays this straight but also averts it. In the Codex, it is mentioned that planetary invasions are common. However, thanks to the way colonization works in most cases, there are rarely any planets with more than a dozen settlements, and most of the worlds visited by the player are in the process of being colonized, having only a few hundred inhabitants at most. The exceptions are mainly the species of the galaxy's homeworlds (Earth, Pavalen, Thessia, Sur'Kesh, etc.) However, most planets are home to only one mission or point of interest, with most of the gameplay taking place within a couple square kilometers traversed by an all terrain vehicle.
- Although these few square kilometers around any settlement always include (as yet) undiscovered crash sites, mineral deposits and so on, which are supposed to be rare in universe.
- Played straight, yet averted, in Planetary Annihilation where planets are much smaller than real life planets and generally singular biomes. Yet the whole game is about taking control of the planets. Meaning that your opponent could (and probably will be) on the same hunk of rock as you.
- In the Game Mod Star Wars Conquest, each planet is only represented by a small inhabited zone which harbours the barracks, the shops, the quest-givers, etc. It is also where sieges occurs.
- In Star Wars: Empire at War a few dozen ground units land just outside a city, kill all enemy forces in the city and the entire planet is conquered.
- Dawn of War: Dark Crusade, where the action takes place on a single planet broken up into two dozen provinces (and a single battle gives you control of the province). However, the sequel takes place over four planets, with approximately the same amount of provinces,with only two having developped cities.
- The Filmation series Bravestarr is a major offender in this regard. It features New Texas, an entire futuristic western-styled planet with exactly one -1!- village-sized settling by the name of Fort Kerium. Especially mind-blogging considering that the planet is said to be rich with the rare and valuable element Kerium. However, considering that one episode had the local star stolen and buried in the desert, that might be the least of the show's logical problems. Yes, that's "star" as in "celestial body".
- Galaxy Rangers, being a Space Western of the same era also rocked this Trope: Tortuna was a Wretched Hive with a few domed cites that Her Travesty didn't nuke into ashes. Ozark was an isolated Lost Colony backwater. Granna and Nebraska were farm worlds. The justification for using the Trope was that large-scale human colonization had only been going on for a decade at most, and sleeper ships only launched about 50 years prior to the series.
- In the Star Wars: The Clone Wars Movie, Mace Windu says Obi Wan Kenobi captured an entire planet by himself. He probably meant "General Kenobi and the clone fleet under his command", but still that seems like a small amount to take a planet. Either that, or an over reliance on those Droid Command ships (or something similar) like in The Phantom Menace means that a conquered friendly planet could be liberated by a commando unit.
- During the invasion of Kamino, General Grievous boasted that Kamino had fallen. This is despite much of his fleet getting shot down in orbit without doing similar damage to the Republic fleet, and his crashed troop transports (which was part of the plan) only really managing to get a foothold in Tipoca City. Grievous might have simply been trying to psyche out Kenobi though.
- The main setting for Loonatics Unleashed is Acmetropolis, a city that's literally the size of a planet.
- Judging from the visibility of the buildings, Planet Cybertron in (the original 1980s animated series) The Transformers looks no bigger than a major city. We do get the names of cities and places of interest within Cybertron from day one; the artwork is just the worst and most literal example of Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale ever.
- The series (in all versions, actually) is, however, much better about averting "Earth = the hero's hometown" than many works (especially kids' media) where a villain wants to Take Over the World. The MacGuffin Megatron wants or the place he chooses to attack can be anywhere on Earth, and he usually has a stated reason for targeting this place this week. Transformers Animated is the exception; it seldom leaves Detroit, but again, they've got a reason: if that's where the Allspark is, that's where the action is.