Once you leave the surface of the Earth, all bets are off. What we think of as immutable laws of nature are merely local phenomena, and all manner of things unexplainable by anything we know are out there between the stars — planets identical to Earth in every way, elements that no one has ever suspected existed, chemical compounds that don't behave the way "our" science says they should, and creatures with powers that seem paranormal. Why? Because they're from outer space
See: Applied Phlebotinum
, Deus ex Machina
, Space Does Not Work That Way
In science fiction, space is rarely deliberately magical, but rather ends up that way due to insufficient research, the Rule of Cool
, or excessive handwaving
. Thus it's better described by its related tropes. However, when fantasy ventures into the final frontier, space is literally magical. Natural law isn't just ignored; it's shown the door and told not to come back. It's entirely replaced by a Here be Dragons
sign. This is typical for fantasy, but when it's applied to outer space, things can get...weird.
The changes in the laws of physics generally do not cause manned spacecraft or the humans aboard to malfunction, shut down, or fall apart. Such a spacecraft is usually contained in a bubble where earth science remains 99.9% reliable.
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- In Highlander II: The Quickening, perhaps in an inversion, aliens coming to Earth gain immortality (though they seem hugely long lived already) for as long as there's more than one of them.
- Treasure Planet. It's probably best if you just think of it as a film adaptation of the Spelljammer setting discussed below.
- An aborted trilogy from Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman made this explicit, with the rules of the universe changing radically in different areas of space. This left a human exploration ship in rather bad shape, as while it could navigate well near earth, if it entered the zone where, for example, a circle of magical statues is required for safety there would be trouble.
- Pretty much everything H.P. Lovecraft wrote relied on this trope. Lovecraft was writing at around the time of Edwin Hubble's discoveries, which cemented the idea of other galaxies as large as the known universe of the time and gave people for the first time an idea of how large the universe was. Lovecraft said that all his fiction was based on the idea that the laws of nature only apply locally, and so his horrors from the stars were literally impossible for us to imagine.
- The "Zones of Thought" series by Vernor Vinge plays with this trope, even though it is (on some levels at least) moderately hard sci-fi. The basic idea is that the laws of physics become more lax at increasing distances from a galactic core. In the "Unthinking Depths" at the center of a galaxy, not even thought is possible. The "Slow Zone" further from the core (where Earth is located) uses Mundane Dogmatic physics. In the "Beyond", still further away from the galactic core, more fantastic things like FTL and strong AI become possible, and in the "Transcend", beginning at the farthest edges of a galaxy and extending out into intergalactic space, Space Is Magic. The series basically uses the entire Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.
- Isaac Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves was written largely in response to this trope. Asimov once heard Robert Silverberg make up an isotope off the top of his head, Plutonium-186. When Asimov pointed out that said isotope does not and cannot exist, Silverberg responded "So what?" Asimov, who was never one to back down from a challenge (even a self-imposed one) decided to work out under what conditions Plutonium-186 could be possible. He concluded that it would have to be in an parallel universe where the laws of Physics behaved differently than they do here (such as the strong force being a lot stronger than it is in our universe). He went on to figure out how such a Universe would operate, and eventually developed his ideas into what he considered his most ambitious novel.
Live Action TV
- Many episodes of Star Trek, from each incarnation of the franchise, treat outer space in this manner. Why do species that evolved on other planets have telepathic or even godlike powers? Because they're from space! How does the Negative Space Wedgie take over the minds of the crew, and how do the waterfalls on the paradise planet run backwards? They're in space, that's how!
- Few sci-fi series better embody this trope then Series/Farscape.
- In the Spelljammer Dungeons & Dragons setting, the Greek philosophers were right. Each solar system is enclosed in an enormous crystal sphere, which has the stars embedded in its inner surface. Spaceships are frequently modified ocean faring vessels. Gravity is uniform; even the ships have an intrinsic gravitational field. The laws of reality within the spheres themselves are wildly variable, with some being geocentric, while others are Dyson Spheres populated by planet-sized megafauna. Space outside the spheres is a flammable substance called Phlogiston that allows for fast travel between the spheres.
- Likewise, the Ravenloft setting is situated in "the Demiplane of Dread", which is a pocket dimension that serves as a prison for various Big Bads. Looking up in the sky you'd see stars, but in reality the entire realm is surrounded by a thick, endless mist.
- In 4e, space is just the void between celestial bodies. However, the Astral Sea is basically a port over of the version of space from Spelljammer, but on a higher physical plane than the material universe.
- In the Old World of Darkness, a spiritual analog to outer space is the Deep Umbra. It is home to spirits, monsters, insane mages, relatively sane mages (no guarantees), gods, weredragons, and Eldritch Abominations. Celestial bodies represent various metaphysical aspects, and you can visit their spirit-world mirrors. And because in Mage: The Ascension reality is consensual, some books indicate that deep space (beyond the local solar system and its nearest neighbours) is really a part of the Umbra, because humans have only imagined it.
- And for this very same reason of Mage's consensual reality, this trope is literally true for the Void Engineers.
- GURPS Technomancer has this in a technobabbly way. Magic is caused by Oz particles, which were initially scarce on earth. (A nuclear test and a necromantic ritual later though...) However, it's been discovered that there are indeed oz particles in space, radiated by the sun, they just got blocked by the atmosphere along with the other harmful rays.
- In Warhammer 40,000, space is definitely magical. This is unfortunate, given what it spawns.
- Inverted in Shadowrun. Because space is mainly, well, space, there is no Mana there at all and the Background Magic Field is non-existent. Magic does not work in space and Astral Projection causes the projection to be torn asunder, killing the mage in the process. Magical beings like faeries, vampires, spirits and dragons usually die shortly after leaving the atmosphere.
- In the Warcraft franchise the space itself (thought it's called the Great Dark Beyond) is quite normal and unmagical, but it exists beside an alternate dimension called the Twisting Nether, a space filled with chaotic magics. Since distances are significantly shorter within the Nether, all teleportation and portal magic works by short-cutting through it. The bad thing is that demons originate from the Nether and the magics required to warp through it are addictive and slightly corrupting. Certain more mystical races such as the Titans choose to instead travel through space.
- In the StarCraft franchise, the Protoss are Sufficiently Advanced Aliens with psychic powers. The overwhelming majority of the Protoss derive their psychic powers from the Khala, a sort of mystical energy that connects all the Protoss together. A certain splinter sect of the Protoss, the Dark Templar, are not connected to the Khala. They draw their powers from "the void", which is explained as a sort of dark energy inherent to the emptiness of space itself.
- Cosmology in The Elder Scrolls universe is a little weird. For example, the two moons of Nirn are actually the physical corpse of a dead god. And other planets are projections of AlternateDimensions owned by the Aedra and Daedra puncturing through a murky region known as the Oblivion in which everything floats. Stars and the formal sun are other punctures in Oblivion but project into the Aetherius. Also, the Serpent constellation moves around the sky without rhyme or reason and is said to be made of "unstars." Yeah.
- A curious - and actually well explained - version appears in Hero In Training; The Trainer takes the main character around The Multiverse to show him that, outside the universe Earth is in, things just work differently.
- Basically: Once you get outside our 'local' universe, all bets are off as to what the local laws of physics are.
- This was essentially the main premise of the Celestial spheres theory of the universe. Before Newton, it was understood that objects in the air will fall to Earth, yet the stars and planets could be seen hovering in the sky in fixed positions. Early philosophers reasoned that the observed "rules" for earthbound objects must end at some unknown distance from earth-the beginning of the "outer space" concept.