"You know, there's something I just don't understand. You're always telling me that space is big, that it's an endless frontier, filled with infinite wonders. If that's the case, you would think there'd be more than enough room to allow people to
leave each other alone."
The Cold War! Recycled in SPACE!
Considering it lasted about 45 years, the Cold War
massively influenced speculative fiction and fantasy work during and after that period.
Metaphors and analogy about nuclear weapons
, superpower rivalry
, arms races
, etc. therefore were common.
Note that this is not entirely without rational foundation, a technology capable of interplanetary (or even moreso) interstellar travel necessarily involves energy levels and destructive possibilities on a grand scale. Mutually Assured Destruction
is quite plausible in a war between space-faring powers, making scenarios at least akin to the Cold War not entirely unlikely.
Please note this entry is limited to exterior settings inspired by the Cold War
and not stories that explicitly involve the actual Cold War
. Despite the name, however, it's not
limited to examples set in space — any fictional setting will do.
Subtrope of Fantasy Conflict Counterpart
- Long stretches of the "Great War" are described as this in The Transformers IDW. Veterans mention centuries long armistice periods where both sides simply planned for battles that only lasted a few hours.
- In the Fusion Fic Renegade, this is the state of affairs between the Citadel and the Global Defense Initiative. It's less antagonistic than most cold wars, but GDI and the Citadel are at serious odds due to GDI's outright refusal to adhere to Citadel laws regarding dreadnought production or AI tech. Not to mention GDI's attack on the Batarian Hegemony....
- This state of affairs lasted for about two thousand years in the backstory of Game Theory. During the Dawn States era, none of the major powers ever committed their full forces against one another, for fear that another rival nation would take advantage of the opportunity. And then a Succession Crisis in the Belkan Empire escalated into civil war, which shattered the balance of power and led to the aptly named Warring States era.
- The first two Honor Harrington novels have a cold war going on between the Star Kingdom of Manticore, and the People's Republic of Haven, that has been ongoing for half a century before the first story starts (The war goes hot halfway through the third book). Several recent books concern about the Cold War between the Mantico-, ahem, Grand Alliance and Solarian League, which became hot rather quickly thanks to Mesan Alignment manipulating the League leadership behind the scenes and the League's bosses' own stupidity.
- Embedded has a Cold War ongoing between the NATO-style United Status and the Warsaw Pact-style Central Bloc. It's mostly identical to the original Cold War, except that the two powers are more opposed politically instead of ideologically. Also, thanks to the vast room available on the hundreds of colony worlds, the two factions aren't brought into conflict very much.
- A significant portion of the Legend of Galactic Heroes falls into this, as by beginning of the series the centuries long war between The Empire and the Alliance generally devolved into the Cold-War-with-occasional-skirmish mode and it took the rise of Reinhard and Wen-Li — the eponymous Heroes — to the top of their respective societies, for conflict to intensify again.
- Urras in The Dispossessed is in the midst of a cold war intentionally reminiscent of the real one, with the players being the liberal, parliamentary republic A-Io and the socialist totalitarian regime Thu. When a war breaks out, they don't attack each other but rather help different sides of a conflict in the underdeveloped country of Benbilli, which bears a suspicious resemblance to Vietnam.
- C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union has one with three factions: Sol(Earth)/Alliance/Union. All are capitalist, though it is noted that Union citizens mostly descend from eastern block.
- In the Star Trek Novel Verse, the Typhon Pact vs the nations of the Khitomer Accords. Six previously antagonistic races, the Breen, Gorn, Tholians, Tzenkethi, Romulans and Kinshaya, formed new galactic superpower the Typhon Pact, which is a rival to the United Federation of Planets. The Federation responded by expanding their alliance with the Klingons to also include the Ferengi and the Cardassians, while also courting the Talarians. Now there are two large political blocs competing politically, economically, and technologically. They've even had their Cuban Missile Crisis in the novel Brinkmanship. Basically, the entire franchise is built around a Cold War.
- Leonid Kudriavtsev's novel Agent of the Star Corps takes place during a ceasefire between two galactic power blocs: humans and their allies, and the vicious Radnits and their mercenaries. Interestingly, the brutal war preceding the ceasefire is specifically referred to as the Massacre. The only reason for the ceasefire is to rebuild and replenish the ranks before starting another Massacre. Meanwhile, both sides heavily engage in typical Cold War activities, such as espionage and subterfuge. The novel itself deals with Mikhail Brado, a Star Corps agent, who arrives to a planet in the Radnit sphere of influence (i.e. the planet's corrupt government is deep in the Radnits' pocket). Shortly after that, he finds his partner murdered in his hotel room and must flee, as a planet-wide manhunt is declared for him. Brado must use his training, as well as his contacts, sleeper agents, and drop sites on the planet in order to evade capture, discover why his partner was killed, and escape back to human space with his findings. Oh, and there's a Sniffer on his tail, who has an uncanny ability to see through any disguise and can also seemingly escape any deadly situation unharmed.
- Sentou Yousei Yukikaze features a 30+ years long cold war between the United Nations' expeditionary force the Faery Air Force against the JAM. It was once a hot war when the JAM tried to invade Earth but has now settled into a cold war, complete with a Lensman Arms Race and a long stalemate. A huge plot twist in the novels (not the anime) was that the JAM never knew humans existed until very recently, which meant humanity was the proxy victim of a war that the JAM thought they were fighting against our computers and technology.
- Multiple cases in the Stargate Verse:
- The The Asgard and the Goa'uld prior to Stargate SG-1, whose relations are governed by the Protected Planets Treaty. This treaty forbids Goa'uld invasion of certain worlds, and requires that the Goa'uld as a whole stop any rogue Goa'uld from doing so, but simultaneously acknowledges that humans exist to be hosts for the Goa'uld, and thusly are to have limited technology so as to never pose a threat to the System Lords. When Jack O'Neill questions why the Asgard stand for such a thing, and why they even allowed the Goa'uld to gain such power in the first place, Thor explains that the treaty is actually a complete bluff. The Asgard are so occupied fighting the war with the Replicators that they do not have the resources to actively combat the Goa'uld, forcing them to accept this "peace."
- The planet Langara prior to "Homecoming" was engaged in a cold war between the three dominant superpowers. When two of those superpowers ally in "Shadow Play," the third, Kelowna, launches a preemptive strike with a naquadria bomb. This terrifies all combatants enough to prevent further hostilities until Anubis arrives in "Homecoming" and renders their internal conflicts moot.
- In "Icon", the cold war on Tegalus between the Rand Protectorate and Caledonian Federation is disrupted by SG-1's arrival, which allows a religious extremist faction to rise up in Rand, eventually overthrowing the government and starting a war which reduces most of the continent to rubble. The SGC helps the Rand loyalists regain control, but the international tensions remain into season nine's "Ethon", when the Ori give the Rands a Kill Sat.
- The Stargate Atlantis episode "The Game" centers around what the SGC contingent at Atlantis thinks is a computer game left by the Ancients. In reality, they're controlling actual countries on M4D-058 (it was an Ancient sociology experiment), and have created a cold war that's on the brink of going hot.
- The basic concept has featured in Star Trek between the Federation and multiple alien races at different times; the Klingons in Star Trek: The Original Series were outright metaphors for Soviet expansionism, while other series had the Cardassians, the Dominion (until actual war broke out) and finally the Romulans in spades.
- Enterprise featured a Time Travel cold war called the Temporal Cold War. Interestingly, the incipient Federation played the part of third world in this conflict, being used as a pawn between two secretive factions who were neither of them the nice guys, even if one was the "good" guys.
- Of course, a future version of the Federation was at least one of the sides of this rather confusing, and clearly not thought entirely through, cold war.
- To elaborate more on the Star Trek analogies, The Federation was the idealistic, peaceful Western (read: American) society. The Klingons took up the loud, arrogant, warrior stereotype of the Russians, while the Romulans assumed the sinister, backstabbing, espionage/sabotage-laden stereotype of the Soviet Union, especially the Tal Shiar, which was the KGB in disguise. In an extremely apropos metaphor, the Klingons and Romulans switched from being allied to at war to being allies again at the drop of a hat.
- That or the Romulans were an analogy for the Chinese, the secretive and testy on-and-off allies of Soviet Russia.
- With their relationship with the Vulcans - same species that broke into two factions - mirroring the state of Asian countries divided between communist and capitalist halfs - mainland China and Taiwan, North and South Korea, North and South Vietnam, etc.
- The Doctor Who stories "The Armageddon Factor", "Timelash".
- Also "Frontier in Space," in which a third partynote is provoking a (second) war between the humans and their enemies, the Draconians.
- Farscape is set against the backdrop of rapidly rising tensions between the Peacekeepers and the Scarran Empire. There's even a superweapon arms race analogue of sorts in the form of wormhole technology, which both sides are eager to acquire and only one man in the galaxy knows the secrets of. The war finally turns hot in the miniseries.
- The reason the war turns hot is because Scorpius, who has been place in command of a border fleet, assumes the hostilities will start any day now, decides to strike first and deal a decisive blow to the Scarrans. The Grand Chancellor is, naturally, angry, as he doesn't believe that the Peacekeepers can win the war. Scorpius is, effectively, General Ripper in this regard, similar to rogue generals in many Cold War-era novels.
- Interestingly, his tactics actually do nearly win the battle. The only reason the battle is lost is because Scorpius orders his command ship to retreat when he finds where Crichton is and the rest of the fleet to cover them. As a result, only his ship makes it out.
- Babylon 5:
- The early seasons have an ongoing cold war between the declining Centauri Republic and the aggressively expanding Narn Regime, owing largely to their shared history (the Centauri previously enslaved the Narn, before being forced off by a rebellion). Though it began with the Centauri being the more sympathetic party, by the time it turns into a shooting war in the second season, revelations have turned it into a case of Gray and Gray Morality.
- The major driving cold war in the series is the Vorlons and the Shadows, who seem to have an agreement to fight the war primarily through proxies amongst the younger races.
- Sheridan forces the Vorlons to turn it into a hot one... and then both sides start to blow up planets.
- After Babylon 5 secures its independence from EarthGov following the extremely unconstitutional and fascist actions taken by President Clark, they essentially go into a cold war period that lasts for the next season. Sheridan and his forces are busy dealing with the Shadows and Clark is trying to further secure his power base on Earth. Once the Shadow War ends, this turns into a propaganda war. The cold war ends when Clark commits his worst atrocity, having his ships fire on refugee transports resulting in the murders of 10,000 innocent civilians, enraging Sheridan into beginning full armed conflict.
- In Traveller the Imperium is in a cold war-like state with the Zhodani on the Spinward Frontier, and the Solimani Confederation on the Rimward.
- Five way in Eclipse Phase between the Planetary Consortium, Autonomist Alliance, Jovian Republic, Lunar-Lagrange Alliance, and Morningstar Constellation. The main impediment to open warfare being the expense of physical space travel, or lack of excuses for war in the Consortium and Constellation's casenote
- Also note that the Consortium is a Corporatocracy while the Autonomists are a mix of anarcho-capitalists, anarcho-communistsnote , democratic communists, and interplanetary gypsies.
- This is the basic relationship between the Imperium of Man and the Tau Empire in Warhammer 40,000. In the mid-8th Century M41 the tau demonstrated during the Damocles Gulf Crusade that man for man, they're at least as competent at warfare as the Imperium. However the human empire is several orders of magnitude larger, so the tau can't afford to antagonize them overmuch. At the same time, for all its might the Imperium doesn't have the resources to just be rid of the tau: they certainly could if they had to, but the resource expenditure would be well beyond what the local forces in the Damocles Gulf could manage, requiring the Imperium to retask ships and men that are keeping problems elsewhere in the galaxy at bay. So for the past 250 years or so the two empires have only fought what amounts to a series of border skirmishes (one planet changed hands seven times before the tyranids ate it), and both sides are also pragmatic enough to ally in the face of mutual enemies such as the necrons and tyranids.
- Star Wars: The Old Republic: The setting for the game, is a cold war that was established, when, after invading The Republic for decades, the Sith Empire sacks their capitol, and forces them to sign a peace treaty. The Empire's motivation for signing the treaty, which gives the empire a bunch of strategically insignificant worlds, is a great mystery, and the Emperor disappeared soon after it was signed. This cold war brings the idea of an arms race to it's logical conclusion: planet destroying weapons, besides the usual proxy conflicts and special forces operations. Both sides are positively chopping at the bit for the war to go hot again, and the facade of peace breaks down over the three acts of each of the game's eight class story-lines.
- Interestingly, the novel Deceived reveals that the original goal was to destroy Coruscant with orbital bombardment, as there was no way for the Empire to hold it before the Republic took it back. The peace talks were originally just a distraction. However, at some point, the Emperor inexplicably decides to sue for a ceasefire, using Coruscant as a bargaining chip. Naturally, not all Sith are happy with this outcome.
- X3: Terran Conflict has a cold war between the Terrans (Sol system human government) and the Argon Federation. The Terrans are paranoid that the Argon are dabbling in artificial general intelligence research, and the Argon fear the Terrans' extremely advanced technology. Terran Conflict's main plot follows some of the events that set off the war that takes place in the expansion pack, Albion Prelude, when the Argon blow up the jewel of the Solar System, Earth's Torus Aeternal and sic artificially intelligent fighters on Earth's fleet. This war ends up being a Shaggy Dog Story: as the Argon push the Terrans back to the inner planets, the Ancients shut the whole jumpgate network down and trap everyone in the entire X-Universe where they are.
- The entire premise of Battlezone (1998), with the U.S.A. and USSR duking it out on various planets and moons of the solar system with advanced Hovertanks realized with a biometal of alien origin.
- Though it differs from this trope in two key ways: it is effectively a hot war, and it isn't recycled in space, it is the Cold War. It's just that the game tells us that as a secret part of the Cold War, the US and the Soviets were fighting a war throughout the Solar System using an alien biometal.
- Command & Conquer: Tiberian Series: This is a possible interpretation of the relationship between GDI and Nod between games. It's not a straight example since both sides are still Earthbound, but it fits if you interpret the trope broadly as "fictional cold war".
- Despite being a declared war, the fighting between the Federation and the Auroran Empire in Escape Velocity Nova has devolved to this, with frequent border skirmishes. Reason being, the last time the war went full-scale, both sides struck far behind the lines and millions of innocents died, forcing the combatants to devote the bulk of their forces to Home Guard duty.
- Override has a similar situation approached from the opposite side — there actually is a peace treaty. but outside Pax Station (literally outside — the system sees regular skirmishes), no-one seems to actually care about it (in fact, if it wasn't for Pax Station it wouldn't even be known there was a peace treaty, since the reasons given on both sides for not making major offensives are all practical).
- The sequels to Elite (the Frontier series and Elite: Dangerous) feature a cold war between the democratic Federation (centered around the Solar system) and the absolutist Duval Empire (centered around Achernar). They do not battle each other directly with huge starfleets (this is a cold war, after all), but you can sign up for an espionage or sabotage mission for either, or both, as a deniable asset. You'll be awarded with money, ranks, titles and military decorations.
- Tactics Ogre: This is happening between Lodis and Xenobia, complete with using Valeria (itself resembling Yugoslavia after the death of Josip Broz Tito) as a proxy battleground.
- Final Fantasy XII: Rozarria = NATO, Archadia = Warsaw Pact, Nethicite = Nuclear Weapons, Dalmasca = any country that got a proxy war in it such as Korea and Vietnam. This game could even be viewed as what would happen if during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Cuba was researching ancient magic that would let them mass-produce even more nuclear weapons. All in all, this is why so much of the plot of the game is about politics and faction leaders while your party tries to get an edge in on the coming conflict — Rozarria and Archadia both don't trust the other to back down and don't want to do so themselves for fear of appearing weak, and while Archadia's nethicite research is allowing them to acquire more and more power, Rozarria is itching to seize the chance to make the first move before Archadia can. This is why the game's climax centers around stopping the battle between Archadia and the Resistance, because it's the chance Rozarria has been waiting for and if they get involved the dreaded world war will begin. This game's plot was written by the same guy who wrote Tactics Ogre.
- In the Mass Effect series, this is essentially the relationship that has developed between the Systems Alliance and the Batarian Hegemony. The Hegemony completely withdrew from Citadel controlled space, due to the perceived slight that the Citadel Council were playing favourites and giving Humanity worlds and systems to colonise, which rightfully belonged to the Batarians. The only thing that has prevented the conflict from breaking out into Interstellar War is that the Batarians are painfully aware that even if the Council races didn't get involved, the Alliance has them far outgunned.
- This was the initial relationship between the Turian Hierarchy and the Systems Alliance, due to the brief First Contact War leaving a lasting enmity between the two superpowers. By the start of the first game, this has lessened into more of an Enemy Mine situation, where the two are reluctantly willing to work together, before evolving into Fire-Forged Friends over the course of the second and third game.
- In Xenogears, Shevat and Solaris have officially been at war for centuries, but they are locked in a Cold War-like status quo because both use the superior "gate" defensive technology that prevent any side from dealing significant damage to the other.
- The real conflict in Perfect Dark is not between the Carrington Institute and dataDyne, but rather the Maians and the Skedar. Earth itself is considered a backwater, and the only reason the Skedar have even bothered to take an interest in Earth is because they're losing the war against the Maians but have learned about the existence of a Lost Superweapon under the ocean that was left behind by a third alien race who are long gone by now. To compound matters, humanity isn't considered a player in this war; the Skedar plan to activate the weapon on Earth just to test it, and if successful, then they'll deploy it against the Maians.