Depending how you view the future, lawlessness will always be present in society. There's always going to be a shadier, nastier way of doing business, and that will almost certainly follow humanity to the stars. Thus, sci-fi authors will include Expies of modern and historic un/organized crime—be they space mafia, gangs, or—in our case—pirates.
It's not as anachronistic as it might seem. After all, pirates themselves *
Now referred to by many governments as maritime terrorists
have made a Real Life comeback in Somalia and South East Asia, and it's a lucrative enough "business" that it's taken a multinational military response to fight back. Surely an established society in outer space with significant trade and commerce would suffer similar problems!
... Well, maybe. The major problem with space pirates preying on space commerce is that space is vast. The challenge of catching commercial shipping in open space is orders of magnitudes more difficult than catching them on the open seas. Sometimes, this is cleverly worked around and justified. Most of the time, however, it isn't.
As with Pirates in general, there are two kinds of Space Pirates in science fiction:
The normal version are violent criminals with a spaceship, who attack other spaceships, just like present-day pirates (or, in fact, most pirates of any kind). Once you have shipping between different solar systems/planets, pirates preying on said shipping are bound to show. Simple as that. Done this way, piracy actually makes sense, provided there's an enabling factor. That could be anything from the technology of the setting creating trade lanes (via a Portal Network, predictable Hyperspace Lanes thanks to Negative Space Wedgies, or timed space flights between planets to reduce time spent between planets, as in Real Life), to using a variant of the method employed by modern pirates (say, smaller ships striking at commercial shipping in the orbit of a planet).
It's implied that both Harlock and Emeraldas are merely rebels against the status quo, and that Harlock adopted the pirate motif as a clear sign of it, while Emeraldas did it in a strange combination of Rule Of Cool (she already sported the skull and crossbones as an hairpin and on her clothes well before becoming a space pirate) and Sure, Why Not? (her ship Queen Emeraldas was already decorated with the skull and crossbones when she acquired her, and Emeraldas was an anti-status quo rebel with a pirate-minded dress sense).
Buichi Terasawa's Space Adventure Cobra is also the second version. He is slightly less altruistic and noble-minded than Harlock, being mostly in it for his own interest, but he is also a hero, and has some morals and is better than an organized Guild of pirates that are his archenemies.
The manga Crossbone Gundam has the main characters from Gundam F91 opposing the Jupiter Empire under the guise of space pirates, even going so far as to take on the name of the original antagonists, the Crossbone Vanguard. They employ all the standard pirate tropes, including spaceships that look like sailing ships (complete with broadside beam cannons) and a robot parrot (apparently for no other reason than that they can), but are actually preventing the Earth from being attacked by the Jovians.
It gets even crazier. The titular Gundam has X-shaped thrusters (though they're actually practical), a beam cutlass and daggers instead of the standard saber, a beam gun shaped like a flintlock pistol, a targeting lens shaped like an eye patch and an extra antenna on its head modeled after a feather. Apparently just sporting the Jolly Roger insignia on its forehead wasn't enough for Hajime Katoki.
This actually gets a Lampshade in the side manga Skull Heart, where we're shown the Crossbone Gundam shortly after it's finished, and one of the pilots, Umon Samon, suggests adding the familiar pirate elements (like a skull and crossbones on the forehead). The Gundam's pilot Kinkaid Nau teasingly asks "Isn't that a little much?", to which the other man says "Well, if going to be space pirates, we might as well run with it!"
As a minor note, Umon had been inspired by a Dom pilot he fought at the Battle of Solomon in the One Year War, who used a skull and crossbones as his insignia.
And Gundam AGE also gives us a group. They're known as Bisidian, they pirate Federation vessels, and as of the Kio arc, they have their own Gundam. In actuality, they're led by Asemu Asuno, and they've been attacking both Federation and Vagan forces in order to preserve the balance of power and keep large-scale battles to a minimum, in an effort to minimize casualties in the war.
Sol Bianca, also the name of the ship that serves as both the home and the interstellar headquarters for an all-female band of notorious space pirates.
The main characters of Vandread are female examples of this trope.
It should also be noted that their new standard M.O. is more of a performance than an attack: They hit pre-determined cruise ships, put on a scripted show with crewmembers pretending to oppose them, and the "victims" are even compensated for their losses. It's basically a staged insurance scam where the company itself is also in on it.
The Starjammers of the X-Men comics. Their leader is nicknamed Corsair, wears a headband, thigh boots, and a handlebar mustache, and fights with a blaster pistol in one hand and a cutlass in the other. They're a huge mashup of pulp space opera and swashbuckling tropes. Corsair is from Earth, and probably decided to look like a traditional high seas pirate just for the hell of it. His alien crew also look the part, but mostly to a less extreme degree.
The Silver Surfer encountered a group of space pirates while tracking down one of the Elders. Him and Nova even get dressed up as pirates to blend in among the various species that make up the group in an attempt to infiltrate it.
During his first abortive return to the main X-titles in 2000, Chris Claremont introduced a vast number of new characters. They were given the umbrella term "the Neo", and most of them were possessed of an extremely fragile glass jaw (since they tended just to turn up, say their names and give a description of their powers in typical Claremontian fashion, and then get punched into oblivion, never to be seen again). Amongst the Neo was a faction of slave traders called the Crimson Pirates, one member of which actually had a giant comedy cannon on his shoulder. No, really.
In Wonder Woman, the "Silver Serpent" saga featured an all female cadre of Space Pirates who travel from planet to planet to steal that world's technology, recruit a small group of the females for membership and the remainder of the planet's people for food stock.
Despite the name, Star Pirate, from Planet Comics, did not do much pirating. Blackbeard, from the same comic, fits the Space Pirate motif better.
The Uralian Space Pirates, from Crusader from Mars.
Space Smith, from Fantastic Comics, often fought Space Pirates.
Wonder Comics featured many Space Pirates, including Tara the Pirate Queen.
Rex Dexter, from Mystery Men Comics, fought Space Pirates in his first appearance.
This was basically Terra-Man's schtick in Bronze AgeSuperman comics. Aliens kidnapped him as a boy from the 19th century American West. He eventually broke free and became a pirate in the aliens' own society. When he finally returned to Earth, he found that spending years traveling at relativistic speeds had let 100 years pass him by, so that his 19th century mannerisms made him a literal space cowboy. As Superman once observed, Earth wasn't really of much logical interest to a planet-hopping thief like TM, but TM took offense to an alien being called Earth's greatest hero, and so christened himself Terra-Man and kept returning just to pick fights with Supes.
In “The Wreck of the Cosmic Hound,” a 1970s Superman story, Superman meets a woman who dresses like a pirate, has a peg leg, an eyepatch and modified her spaceship to look like a pirate ship. She really doesn't do much pirating but she considers herself one because she used to “pirate” or, more accurately, collect extraterrestrial animals from different planets so scientists could study them. She admits that she took up the pirate persona mostly as a way of dealing with her boredom.
Jeb and Tommy from Star Raiders are implied as such, though the reader never sees them actually commit any sort of piracy. Tommy even sports an eyepatch...
Darkhawk wears armor meant for an army of space pirates.
Space Mutiny had pirates (recycled footage of Cylon warships) with at least one inhabitable system as claimed territory. Keep in mind this is a setting where space travel is less than light speed, necessitating multi-generational ships. Except when they forget and it isn't (it's that kind of movie, watch the MST3K version and be amazed. The Agony Booth did a recap that tried and failed to make sense of the tech level).
Star Wars references to "Corellian Pirate Ships". And Han Solo is a smuggler.
Space Truckers has the protagonists go "off-road" in order to avoid being stopped by the authorities but end up getting captured by a giant pirate ship, which literally swallows them. These pirates were of the second, Recycled IN SPACE! type, complete with cybernetic false limbs and a skull-and-crossbones flag.
In the Revelation Space universe by Alastair Reynolds, pirates lurk in the remains of the Glitter Band (a vast ring of space stations). The pirates, the "Banshees", are thoroughly unromantic bastards who grapple onto freighters to kill the crew and sell anything onboard. The Ultranauts, the crews of the massive slower-than-light freighters, often have elements of space piracy, as they'll just as often loot as save a ship in trouble.
The impossibility of space piracy and the trick Julian Forward uses to make it work is central to the plot of Larry Niven's "The Borderlands of Sol".
In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories, when the Hokas set out to emulate a Space Patrol, Alex has horrified visions of their being tried for piracy. He's not even sure that hanging isn't still in effect as the approved form of punishment.
In Piers Anthony's Bio of a Space Tyrant series, pirates of the second kind show up as a form of Refuge in Audacity, since the authorities won't believe (or don't want to admit to) ancient-looking pirates operating in space.
Lucky Starr confronts space pirates in the juvenile novel Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids by Isaac Asimov.
Consider Phlebas (the first Culture novel by Ian M. Banks). The crew of the Clear Air Turbulence are ostensibly Private Military Contractors, but are actually just a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits raiding whatever they think will be vulnerable. Seeing as they're carrying out their activities amidst the chaos of an intragalactic war, that tends not to be very much.
Averted in Terry Bisson's Pirates of the Universe, despite the title, which actually refers to a theme park ride. Although the main character's coworkers might be considered Space Poachers.
The setting of The Rock Rats by Ben Bova involves space pirates, space cowboys, space corporations, and space privateers/space pirates for a cause. They're all violent, though in different ways.
In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Miles' Dendarii Mercenary Fleet gets hired to rescue hostages from hijackers. Also, in the later books, the Barrayaran Fleet is put to use as bodyguards for Komarran merchants. This is a win-win for both parts, since the Komarrans get protected by an army with a reputation for ruthlesness and the Barrayarans get to give good military training to their soldiers, without needing to declare war on anybody.
The Vatta's War series, by Elizabeth Moon, features pirates as well. In this case, they are usually only a major problem if you venture off the charted and patrolled space routes. This changes when the Pirates form a large organized fleet, leading to the creation of first an ad-hoc fleet of privateers, and later an alliance of different navies (including what amount to a large corporate security space force and a Private Military Contractor with its own fleet of warships). The formation of such alliances is only made possible with the development of technology for ship-to-ship faster than light communications.
In C.J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union works, the Mazianni started as the Earth Company's navy. When the Company decided that the war against Union wasn't cost-effective, Conrad Mazian and his captains felt that they'd shed too much blood to just be called back, and that they'd continue the fight on their own — and if a merchanter ship had resources they needed for that aim, they'd hand it over if they knew what was good for them.
We'll contest each star Union wants
This is war and not some bureaucrat's game
And we hear you're calling us pirates now-
Well, screw you all, we'll earn the motherless name!
On the other side of Earth, the knnn might qualify, if they had enough concepts in common with oxygen breathers to be able to formulate the idea. They used to force their way onto stations and take what they want; after lengthy negotiations through t'ca/chi intermediaries, now they take what they want and leave something behind. Among oxy-breathers, the kif, who see every action as a bid for dominance, turn out to make excellent pirates.
Islands in the Sky, the sci-fi juvenile by Arthur C. Clarke. One of the apprentices on the space station thinks a suspicious spacecraft might be involved in piracy — an idea denigrated by everyone else as large corporations can afford to maintain spacecraft, but not criminals. They think otherwise on discovering the ship's hold is full of ray guns which turn out to be props for the first movie being filmed in space.
Honor Harrington. Among the nastiest things they do is throw people into space as a means of execution, which is widely regarded as an unforgivable atrocity. Space piracy is the major raison d'etre for military power in times of peace, and plays heavily in the various works of fiction. It typically serves as a place for new characters to "start off small" in deadly, but relatively low-stakes, combat (prior to the war with Haven, anti-piracy operations in Silesia were the primary source of combat training for RMN personnel). They also tend to come up as disposable pawns in Mesa's latest Evil Plan. Space pirates are never portrayed the least bit sympathetically. Piracy is universally a capital crime, and for excellent reasons.
It may be worth noting that many of the pirates operate under an agreement with a local polity. In Silesia, it is not uncommon to turn over a batch of recently captured pirates to the local government, and then six months later the same pirates have a new ship and are back in action. The local government is basically taking a bribe to ignore the piracy, or has funded the pirates to plunder shipping from richer nations (I.E. Manticorian shipping would carry better goods that the government can buy through normal means) and will turn a blind eye to rape and murder to gain such benefits.
Some privateers (which, historically, were separated from pirates by rather thin margins), however, get better treatment. Like Admiral (Royal Naval Reserve) Thomas Bachfisch, one of Honor's mentors. After he was beached by first Janacek admiralty, he retired from active duty, and managed to obtain the Letter of Marque, starting, effectively, a privateer shipping line. Equipped with fast, armed, merchantmen (actually, surplus Andermani Navy transports) it operated in Silesia, where their improved speed and protection allowed him to charge a premium and engage in a little pirate hunting of his own. Not mentioning his side work as a Manticoran intelligence resident (Admiral Givens of the RMN intelligence service being the source of the pressure to give him a Letter of Marque) in Silesia.
Piracy is also a career of choice for military units from non-existent governments. After the Saint-Just dictatorship is defeated State Security forces go into piracy and mercenary work. Some get hired by Mesa, while at least one set of battleships finds a small planet to set up a local lords. In fact the first armed ships in the Honorverse were pirates with space navies being created to counter them.
In Peter F. Hamilton's Fallen Dragon the mega-corporations on Earth which funded the establishment of interstellar colonies are beginning to decline, so they now make a profit by 'asset realization' — turning up in orbit and implying they'll blast the colony if the colonists don't hand over various manufactured goods, leaving information on the latest Earth technologies as compensation, then returning several years later to do the same thing again once the colonists have upgraded their technology and gotten back on their feet.
In his The Nights Dawn Trilogy, pirates prey on asteroid settlements, poorly-defended early-stage colonies and commercial shipping routes. The primary reason for the Navy to exist is to combat these pirates. It's a good example of this trope played relatively straight in a space-opera that balances its "hard" science fiction elements (much of the science behind the advanced technology is explained, the human societies are detailed to an absurd level) with soft (the fantastical horror of "the beyond"). Hamilton loves doing this.
He also shows how pirates would work in practice — they're interstellar traders who covertly supplement their income with smuggling and piracy, rather than permanent raiders operating from a secret base.
The Fat Men in Daniel Pinkwater's Fat Men from Space act as a variation on type 1, closer to a Horde of Alien Locusts in that they invade a planet, steal the junk food, then force the inhabitants to prepare more of it until the raw materials thereof are at dangerously low levels before they leave. They return in Slaves of Spiegel, where they abduct the greatest junk food chefs of the galaxy to compete in a Cooking Duel.
Pirates are major villains in the Warchild Series. One of them, Falcone, could even be considered the Big Bad...as much as anyone in such an ambiguous universe. Lowachee never goes into detail about how the pirates find their victims. Most of the ships they prey off of, however, are running through the notoriously hard-to-police DMZ.
The pirates' modus operandi deserves special mention here, too. Falcone, their de facto leader, was an ex Space Marine. He left because he thought the government of EarthHub was a little too civil, and saw a lot of opportunities to make his own empire out in deep space. He also believed absolute loyalty could be achieved by raising his "protégés" from early childhood. Of course, no one told him that ritualistic child abuse would maybe, possibly undermine what he was trying to do. In the end, he dies at the hands of one of his ex proteges, and before this moment, spent much of his life on the run from a different protege. The man made his own enemies.
The Star Wars Expanded Universe has more than a few, most of them overlapping with information brokers and smugglers. Some Space Pirates are slavers. Since most interstellar travel in Star Wars has charted routes and it's considered dangerous to split away from them, and Space Pirates actually tend to strike planets and ships going to and from planets, it's basically justified. A merchant who had found a way to avoid the pirates lying in wait around a planet unfortunately bragged about this. By the way, if you're wondering why Han Solo wasn't able to use his reward for saving Leia to pay off his debt to Jabba the Hutt? A space pirate stole the money from him.
The Wraiths, aware that the Big Bad was hiring pirates to harass his enemies, succeeded at The Infiltration by posing as a pirate band called the Hawk-Bats which focused on a system in Imperial territory, doing things like breaking into a hangar to steal TIE fighters, preying on merchants, and, once, robbing a bank. They had so much fun doing so that Wedge felt it necessary to remind his men that they weren't, in fact, actual pirates.
Some Star Wars pirates play more to the cliches than others. For example, the space pirate Raskar loves every swashbuckling trope there is, and even carries a "lightfoil" (a relatively low-quality, short-hilt lightsaber otherwise mostly popular among Sith-wannabe noblemen of the Tapani sector) despite unauthorized ownership of anything that could be seen as "Jedi paraphernalia" being a death penalty offense in the Empire.
Ideologically motivated pirates are what led to the Trade Federation being allowed to build an army in Cloak of Deception, a lead in to The Phantom Menace.
In one book of The Han Solo Trilogy a passenger liner is attacked by pirates who placed an asteroid in the middle of a major hyperspace route and used its gravity to pull ships into real space.
During the New Jedi Order Han and family have some fun playing pirate on some Yuuzhan Vong collaborators. Leia is not amused by the "Princess of Blood" moniker he picks for the Falcon.
I, Jedi has an former Imperial Moff with a Star Destroyer (something far beyond the resources of most pirates in the EU) unifies several pirate gangs under her command and terrorizes New Republic shipping. The Star Destroyer gives the pirates enough firepower to raid even the largest ships and crush most opposition. This means the only potential threat is a concerted attack by the New Republican Navy itself...and she's got a group of Force-sensitive advisers who give advance warning whenever such an ambush is being planned.
Discussed and averted in Eric Frank Russell's "And Then There Were None": interstellar travel is so prohibitively expensive that a would-be pirate has to become a millionaire first.
Though we never see any up close, Space Pirates are the background in the classic "Heinlein juvenile" Citizen of the Galaxy. The protagonist destroys a ship full of them, and later learns that he was originally sold into slavery by pirates who killed his fabulously wealthy parents. He decides to devote his life to fighting the pirate-slaver complex, then has to decide if he will do it in the military or by using his family's money and influence.
The Pirates Of Zan by Murray Leinster. The protagonist is from a planet whose sole occupation is space piracy. He tries moving to another world and going legit, but when things go badly wrong he has to resort to the traditional methods of his kin. Serialised for Astounding in 1959 as "The Pirates of Ersatz" with its famous zeerust cover of a space pirate climbing aboard a rocket with a slide rule clasped between his teeth. (This cover can be seen here.)
Type one shows up in the first part of Triplanetary, and have no qualms with filling the ventilation system of a passenger liner with nerve gas.
As the Lensman series goes on, however, the Pirates of Boskone start to shift more and more toward the role of Type Two. At least, until the Lensman Arms Race wipes them out with faster-than-light antimatter planets.
The Ben Bova novel Privateers had an interesting variation on this. Set in a b where the Soviet Union gained a "Star Wars" anti-ballistic-missile system first and nuked Paris, effectively dominating all the world except the United States (which is thrust into a massive recession by refusing to knuckle under) the novel revolves around American cosmonauts (all space travelers were called as such because the USSR dominated space travel) trying to restore American power and liberate Europe from their communist oppressors by highjacking soviet asteroid mining facilitis. Sadly Worse than it Sounds.
In David Drake's RCN novels, space piracy is a problem occasionally dealt with by Leary and his crew, and at one point Leary enlists a pirate world in order to counter a vastly superior Alliance fleet.
There And Back Again by Pat Murphy has a few different versions, including a ship whose crew explicitly call themselves pirates, and whose captain takes on the pseudonym "Blackbeard". The novel is set in a galaxy with a Portal Network, and the pirates all tend to hang around the entrances of wormholes to avoid the scale problems mentioned in the trope description.
E.E. Smith's Lensman series is very big on space pirates, the battle against which forms a central part of the plot. Played straight in that the pirate ships are crewed by "the dregs of space", attack merchantmen for their cargo, board through airlocks (or in armour, through holes in the hull), and slaughter their opponents hand-to-hand. Subverted in that they are (later seen to be) more or less an integral part of the Boskonian military, and thus representative of an intergalactic spacefaring culture (albeit a highly dysfunctional one), rather than freelancers or organised criminals in the accepted sense.
Andre Norton called them Jacks, presumably short for "hijackers." Their actual methods of operation weren't detailed, but they often had connections with the Thieves' Guild.
The Skrit Na of Animorphs are basically a whole race of them. They aren't specifically in either type, though...maybe a bit of type one without the violence and death. They go around kidnapping creatures to either add to their own collections, sell or get ransom for and whatever items they can sell or trade.
As you might expect, Anne McCaffrey's Planet Pirates series includes space pirates. They evade the scale problems by mainly hitting settlements and ships near planets. They also go a step further in many cases, being Planet Looters who will enslave and/or kill the inhabitants of a colony world, then settle their own people on it. Hence the name of the trilogy.
The first kind of space pirates appear in the serial "The Space Pirates".
The Captain of "The Pirate Planet" in the serial of the same name. Cybernetic eye and robot parrot (the Polyphase Aviatron). Slightly subverts the second type, as it turns out that he's Genre Savvy and deliberately trying to invoke Beware the Silly Ones.
Kari and Olvir in "Terminus", who board what is seriously the wrong vessel to attack.
Captain Wrack of the Eternals in the very next serial "Enlightenment" is a bored alien god impersonating a type two Space Pirate.
The ending of "Curse of the Black Spot" has a crew of regular 17th century pirates who end up taking over an abandoned alien space ship. We are never told if they remain pirates or use their new ship for legitimate purposes.
The mass-murdering and rape-loving Solomon in "Dinosaurs on a Spaceship".
Captain Kaliko and her oil-rig raiders in the Totally Doctor Who animation "The Infinity Quest". Baltazar in the same story fits the trope to some extent, if only because he has a robot parrot.
The novel The Resurrection Casket features robotic space pirates, and some extremely reminiscent, not to say recycled, names and/or characters. (Let's just say it involves a young lad named "Jimm" and "Captain Glint's treasure" and leave it there...)
The TV show Lost in Space had two episodes with space pirates: "The Sky Pirate" and "Treasures of the Lost Planet".
The Reavers from Firefly, whose typical method of raiding involves raping victims to death, eating their flesh, and sewing their skins to their clothing. The luckier ones get it in that order. Really, they are Space Vikings if all of the awful rumors about Medieval vikings had been true.
The Raiders are of the first kind. They were a recurring threat for the first half of the first season, but bit off more than they could chew when they tried to raid the station directly and lost all their fighters before being annihilated by theShadows.
In Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Gambit", Picard and Riker go undercover to infiltrate a pirate/mercenary crew. Supposedly this episode wouldn't have been made while Gene Roddenberry was still alive as he had always vetoed the "space pirates" idea.
The Maquis in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine commit piracy in the course of their terrorist activities; though they mostly keep to smuggling and gunrunning they have hijacked ships more than once.
The Orions are sometimes referred to as pirates, though they straddle the line between actual Space Pirates and The Syndicate. Of course, since they are a fairly wide-spread race with no central government that may just be different groups.
Early encounters with the Ferengi involved them acting like pirates, even trying to capture the Enterprise in more than one occasion.
The Enterprise itself turned to piracy late in the Xindi arc. After the Enterprise' warp drive was disabled by the Xindi, Archer attacked an innocent freighter to take theirs. He almost certainly wouldn't have done it if Earth's very survival hadn't been on the line.
The Barban, the main villain group of Seijuu Sentai Gingaman are these. The leader and the Mooks showed up in Power Rangers Lost Galaxy as "Captain Mutiny" and "Swabbies", but only for an arc instead of being the main villains (The rest were given no connection to Mutiny's crew).
The heroes of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, the titular Gokaiger, absolutely run with this. Their suits are designed to look like jackets and their helmets have the traditional pirate hat built into them (except the Sixth Ranger, whose has a bandana instead). Their main weapons are cutlasses and flintlocks (and a trident for Silver), they have a robot parrot, and Red's Humongous Mecha is a giant galleon which serves as their living quarters and the core of their Combining Mecha. Even their team logo is designed to look like a fancy skull and crossbones.
This all gets an amusing Lampshade in the episode where the Gokaigers have to find the Gingamen. Upon hearing that their enemies were space pirates, Gokai Green decides to bring some doughnuts as a peace offering, and at the end of the episode Ginga Red says the idea of heroic space pirates is still kinda weird for him, but he can see that the Gokaigers are good people.
In the Tokusatsu series Chou Sei Kantai Sazer X, Space Pirates play a very big role as the villains. In 2005 a bunch of them attacks and take over earth. In the year 2500 their descendants have established an empire throughout a large part of the galaxy.
Double The Fist presents to us the man who discovered Australia, Captain James Cook, as an egotistical Space Pirate who barely flinches at the sight of the ballistic Fist Team.
Farscape had the Zenetan pirates, as well as the Sheyangs. The first were humanoids with well-armed, sleek little ships and an energy-draining capture net called the Flax. The Sheyangs were fireball-breathing frog-like creatures with lots of plasma cannons.
Heavy Metal band Arcturus used to dress as pirates onstage while singing about astronomy and space travel.
The indie band The Senate created the world's first "Space Shanty" which is sung in character as, if not space pirates, space sailors in general.
Plenty of examples from Warhammer 40000. Type one space pirates include Eldar Corsairs who raid the lesser races' shipping and settlements to survive, Dark Eldar who raid for captives and playthings (or more specifically, souls), Chaos warbands including some traitorous Space Marines such as the Red Corsairs. And even perfectly average human pirates, mainly around some of the more unexplored and backwater sectors.
Ork Freebooter bands are type two space pirates, and like hats and bandanas and fly the Jolly Ork. Examples include flash git Kaptin Badrukk, while the most recent Dawn of War II expansion gives us Kaptin Bludflagg, who cuts through scores of Imperials and aliens, culminating in a battle with a daemon prince and an inquisitor on the same day, all so he can claim the inquisitor's Nice Hat.
In Graham McNeill's Ultramarines novel Nightbringer, a Dark Eldar pirate is raiding the vessel carrying the Space Marines.
The 40k spin-off RPG Rogue Trader has space pirates (human or otherwise) as one of the most common enemies, and the rules let you go pirate if you wish. The Rogue Traders count to some extent as well, being privateers able and expected to launch full-scale planetary invasions. One of the supplements to the gameline, Hostile Acquisitions, explicitly gives the players the option to become a Reaver or a Swashbuckler archetype.
Spelljammer setting for Dungeons & Dragons has The Pirates of Gith, an entire race of Space Pirates, a third offshoot of the Githyanki/Githzerai. Additionally, the game also has plain ol' human Space Pirates who act pretty much identically to regular stereotypical pirates. Furthermore, the entire point of the setting is flying around in wooden sailing ships in space, and in the introduction to the setting the author mentions that they designed the setting's rules with the thought of a pirate standing on the deck of his ship—in space—as a guiding image.
Piracy is alive and well in the BattleTech universe due to the relative ease of capturing most recharging JumpShips, though actual independent pirate and bandit groups are seen more in the Periphery beyond the reach of either the Clans or the Great Houses. They don't so much attack civilian shipping as they raid poorly defended worlds directly, though.
Piracy is part of the Traveller universe, and pirates vary widely. The most notable variety are the Vargr corsairs which have considerable force behind them and are considered a respectable profession by other Vargr who are willing to shelter them. This makes them kind of like Barbary Pirates in space.
The Steve Jackson Games card game SPANC Space Pirate Amazon Ninja Catgirls features space pirate Catgirls who take part in nefarious capers to win the most loot. Some of the capers are just there for cuteness, others are space-opera specific, like the Stuck Airlock.
The Galactic Marauders from the Champions sourcebook Alien Enemies.
Starfleet Battles has the Orion Pirates, a whole race (in a game where 'race' means a playable faction) of space pirates, of the first type (although the picture in the write-up shows a humanoid with a patch-like prosthetic eye, so some apparently affect elements of the second type). They also do mercenary work (particularly when prolonged war has stretched normal militaries thin, and convoys tend to be better protected) and have even been known to run cargo for actually legitimate businesses and governments on occasion.
Big Barda is re-imagined as a space pirate in the Ame-Comi Girls line of PVC statues from DC Direct.
Elite, one of the earliest space trading games, featured pirates who would attack you between hyperspace jump-points and your destination. Or you could become a pirate yourself.
Escape Velocity and its sequels has a lot of pirates. EV has straight up pirates, EVO has the Renegades and Strandless, Nova has pirates, marauders (weak pirates hated by everyone, including other pirates), the Guild (a more organized group with a semi-legal veneer), the Association (technically; they are the Pirates mentioned below as being one of the major mission strings, only they aren't so much pirates as semi-legal free traders that Pay Evil unto Evil with actual pirates and smuggle stuff because The Federation's laws are blatantly Mega Corp-slanted) and Houseless (Auroran Ronin pirates). It's also notable that you can be a pirate in any of the EV games. EVN even made it one of the possible primary mission strings. You could also attack, disable, board, steal from, and even hijack (basically everything the pirates themselves do) the pirate's own ships without getting a bad rep for it. They had some serious cash, too...
Space piracy is a viable, if risky, career choice for Ev E Online players.
Or that's what the creators want you to believe. In reality, most "pirates" describe piracy as rather unprofitable as the occasional loss of an expensively fitted ship is not made up by the equipment dropped by the low-level players that actually fall for pirates. These "pirates" go on to explain that they do it for the lulz and not for the money. The fun of blowing up any random passerbys. The closest thing to Moneymaking via violence in EVE may be the Psycho for Hire "mercenary corporations" who demand money up front. This sort of behaviour is the expected default in Ev E Online.
The primary reason for this is the practical impossibility of capturing ships in the game. The pirates are pretty much limited to blowing their prey up and then scavenging the debris for anything of value. Most of the valuable cargo is destroyed in the process. The only reason piracy is even viable in the game is because you have no fuel, maintenance or living costs so your only expense is cheap ammo.
Hilariously enough, players seem to have no problem roleplaying themselves as either of the two varieties.
Demanding pay-outs to not blow up the valuable cargo ship is viable though, although if you wait very long doing this the reinforcements can show up...
The raiding of ships is justified, however. Legitimate travelers, including merchants, use "trade lanes" to get from station to station quickly. These can be disrupted mid-route so pirates can set up an ambush.
Showed up just once in the Freespace series. However, every user-made campaign now has hordes of utterly suicidal space pirates who will just keep coming despite the fact that you've already killed the dozens which came before, and the cargo you're protecting probably wouldn't tally up to the cost of replacing their really expensive destroyed fighters. Also, those space fighters they were flying? Better quality than a full-fledged rebellion could afford to procure.
Lampshaded in Derelict. The Tau Ceti pirates are able to field a Deimos-class corvette (this would be the equivalent of Somali pirates having a US Navy Destroyer) and Mackie immediately exclaims, "Where are they getting this equipment?" It turns out the well-equipped pirates are actually mercenaries funded by the Morgan Mining Company to stir up trouble in Tau Ceti. When the Shivans start killing everyone, the actual local pirates, who have been almost entirely inactive in the wake of the mercenaries stirring things up, are recruited by the GTVA to help with the manpower shortage. The alternative makes them more than happy to go along with it.
The Turanic Raiders of Homeworld. Also, while they are the only pirate race, both the Kushani and Taiidani sides use pirate-like ways, namely, hijacking. In the first series, the peaceful-sounding "Salvage Corvette" is often used for hijacking ships by making them incapable of resisting, towing them back to base, and let the landing party do the job. Thanks to the brokenness of this system, in Homeworld 2, the salvage corvettes are replaced by Marine Frigates (Hiigaran race), and the Infiltrator Frigate (Vaygr side). This time, they either latch onto said hapless ship (Hiigaran's preferred method), or launch boarding pods (Vaygr's way of saying Bad Ass), in the middle of battle. Both frigates are lightly armored and lightly armed, but very invaluable in the heat of battle. Their tendency to get targeted first could also be useful as bait, as a couple of these frigates will send any AI player to engage them even if that means turning their backs to the Wave Motion Gun wielding enemies nearby.
Bands of space pirates are the primary antagonists in the early chapters, and provide fodder for Random Encounters throughout the game.
Several independent shipowners, most notably Celina and Valantin, make their living through piracy. Valantin, however, is in an entirely different league from other pirates, being the most famous and feared Zero-G Dog in the known universe.
Yuri himself turns pirate at one point after escaping from a Prison Planet in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
Chapter 8 in Kid Icarus Uprising has Pit boarding the ship of Space Pirates to retrieve 3 Sacred Treasures. For a bunch of pirates stealing constellations, you might think they would be more important to the plot, but this is the only chapter they appear in.
You'll be fighting some variation of this trope and/or private millitary companies whenever you aren't following the plot in Mass Effect. Notably, however, Mass Effect's Space Pirates don't seem to attack ships (and various militaries have a hard time hitting their ships en masse, too) - they attack sparely-defended colonies, then run away before the military can respond, generally taking their loot in the form of enslaved citizens.
In a variation on this trope, Metroid's Space Pirates are a large, organized alien army rather than small bands of individuals out for plunder ("Space Pirate" is literally the name of their species, though there are also "honorary Pirates" in the form of much of their leadership - namely Ridley, Kraid, Mother Brain - and their insectoid allies, the KiHunters). Their motives are invariably portrayed as sinister, but it's always implied that they have some larger goal at work, even if the precise details are unclear (it mostly comes down to "breed Metroids," "mine Phazon," etc. so that they can be used for galactic conquest). Although their marauding activities are an important part of the series's backstory - Samus's parents were killed in a Pirate raid when she was a young girl, and the events of the original game were kicked off by the Pirates raiding a Federation ship that had Metroids on it - they are only rarely seen performing any piracy on-screen; at the beginning of Super Metroid, Samus investigates the ransacked Ceres Space Station and confronts Ridley just before he makes away with the Metroid hatchling, and in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, Space Pirates are seen literally using boarding craft to crash into and raid a fleet of capital ships. Besides the whole Take Over The Universe thing, this is played close to the modern Real Life version.
The RebellionExpansion Pack allows you to take control of enemy ships, including that of pirates. Their voice acting is that of a very stereotypical and Over the Top pirate speech.
In the DiplomacyExpansion Pack, you can offer missions to pirates outside of their normal "raiding schedule".
There is a bit of a bug in the game. At the start of a raid, the pirates pick a colony belonging to a player with the highest bounty. If said colony is captured by another player while they're flying to it, they'll still attack it.
The pirate ships are actually modified TEC frigates and cruisers (lacking special abilities and shields, but with the ability to steal money from their victims), which makes sense, given that the TEC, story-wise, is the largest and most diverse faction and the story has the war taking place entirely in their space. Luckily, they can't field capital ships.
Spore. Alert: Hostile UFOs are attacking planet Nortaxesir! Alert: Pirates are stealing your spice on planet Nortaxesir! And on planet Oremastiz! Planet Quaralax too! And guess what? Your allies with a much vaster empire than you need your help killing a half-dozen animals that are carrying a deadly disease!
A little know (and proabaly for the best) FMV Light Gun game called... Space Pirates.
The Palm OS game Space Trader has these in droves. The player can even become one, if they want, but it comes with some side effects (like losing 10% of your profits when you can no longer sell your goods in person).
Space pirates show up in Sword of the Stars, where they are the bane of your merchant fleets. Oddly enough, these pirates will use ships and technologies belonging to a random faction used in the current game — often factions you have yet to encounter — and will show up in situations that make no sense at all, like the nodespace-only using humans attacking your 'regular' FTL tarka or morrigi fleets, or having your hiver fleets (which use a planet-to-planet Portal Network) attacked in orbit of your own planet.
Random nothing - those are other players. They look like random encounter ships because (according to the fluff) raiding parties fly without colors to avoid diplomatic fallout (you can even harass AI allies and they won't figure it out, even if you're the only faction of a race in play). It also states that Humans and Zuul use regular relativity engines when trading and raiding as trade posts in a sector are guaranteed to be connected by node lines (and in the case of Zuul, a dedicated node ripper would be prohibitively expensive).
In addition the Zuul are more adept at capturing others ships than any other race, and they can raid for slaves from enemy colonies. It says something about their culture that the Zuul word for "pirate" is "Zuul".
The manual also takes pains to explain the logistics of space piracy: first, trade is conducted within one of a regular grid of sectors, so raiders know roughly where to look. And only a part of the attacking fleet will ever participate in a raid, as they spread out to catch something and only some can arrive in time; on the other hand, the entire defense fleet will naturally be present. Also, the Hivers cannot raid since they lack any FTL and will never catch anything, but their traders can only be intercept in orbit as they use hyperspace gates to get instantly from colony to colony.
The sequel properly sets them up as their own side de facto. Sometimes there may be explicit pirate bases you can wipe out to curtail their activities.
Tachyon: The Fringe has many pirate groups, most of them located in the lawless Fringe (which makes up everything outside of Sol). The most famous of these are the Blood Clan pirates, led by Redship Rory, famous for painting their ships with the blood of their enemies. The Scavs are pirates but tend to be friendly with the Bora, as they hate MegaCorps. The Void Runners are more mercenaries than pirates and frequently work for GalSpan, although they don't shy away from piracy. The Demon Pirates are pirates In Name Only, as they are crazed religious fanatics living in the strange fog of the Twilight region, killing any passerby.
Pirates of the first type served as mooks in the Wing Commander games Privateer and Privateer 2: The Darkening. The former even has a mission series operating from a pirate base, as a drug smuggler.
Though they are Type 1 Space Pirate, some of the headshots on the ocmmunication screen show the pirates with what look like high tech eye patches, though they could be cybernetic eyes they certainly fit with the theme.
The Babylon Project expands on the raiders of Babylon 5 mentioned above, allowing you to play a campaign where you're warring against them, or play a campaign where you're one of them.
Karlina and Jayson in Warp Force, who freeze a planet in order to store more water as ice and sell it for profit, killing most of the animals designed for warm-climate while doing so. They speak in pirate accents.
Star Ruler has these. They pop up from nowhere and raid your systems, blockading them if you enable that option.
Vega Strike has pirates as a faction. They use outdated ships and are supported mainly by displaced would-be colonists. No big plunder — their cargo is more or less the same as on equal civilian ships, and vessels like Plowshare carry things like "water, butane, pron". Player Character may do the same, but it's not worth trying, since this causes bad relations with the attacked ship's faction and its friends, expanding through fights with them until shot at sight by almost everyone.
In Halo, although it hasn't been shown in-game, the Kig-Yar*
are said to have been space pirates before joining The Covenant. Part of the novel Contact Harvest takes place aboard a Kig-Yar pirate vessel.
The pirate clans in the X-Universe have gotten to the point where they've become N.G.O. Superpowers, with capital ships and space stations constructed out of kitbashed derelicts. Rather than trying to exterminate them (they respawn at their home base), advanced players generally work to befriend them by selling them spaceweed and space fuel. Ditto the Yaki, who are space pirates for all intents and purposes, though they use a motif of yakuzaIN SPACE!
Master Of Orion 2 has pirate activity as a random event — it interrupts freight traffic in some system and goes away if enough of military presence is brought to the place. Also, explorers discovering a new system sometimes stumble on Pirate Booty.
The first Borderlands 2 DLC, "Captain Scarlett and her Pirate's Booty" deals with "Sand Pirates" who are more or less a Type 2. You ally with the titular Captain Scarlett to find the lost treasure of Captain Blade, guarded by a beast known as The Leviathan.
That wasn't space; it was an entire PARALLEL UNIVERSE!!! (one with very odd properties for the flow of time itself).
Not to mention that they were kidnapping people and sticking them in their hold for time. It's also made clear that there are about a million easier ways to do it, but 1) pirates are anti-social, so they don't want live in the villages necessary to survive normally, and 2) they're all a bunch of nerds acting out pirate fantasies.
What's made clear is that there are two ways to do it, neither of which are necessarily easy as both have their problems. Even the ones who choose the community-building method aren't above piracy on those not with the in-group.
The webcomic Starslip Crisis parodies the second form of this trope with Infra-Redbeard and his crew. They fly around in an open-decked ship with solar sails, fight with Atom Cutlasses, and otherwise fill every pirate cliche while just happening to be in space.
Cutter Edgewise himself was a former Pirate Science officer. These man the Rum Sensors. He still retains the cutlass and eyepatch, and gets a prosthetic leg in a later arc.
The story arc started in November in Zap! involves pirates that appear to be a mix of this and Sky Pirate kidnapping two main characters.
Except for the fact she never quite gets around to committing any acts of piracy.
Space pirates appeared in one Schlock Mercenary in a print-exclusive tale providing some backstory for Sgt. Schlock, and again in the online comic itself. The comic even hung a lampshade on the economic and physical problems inherent in this type of venture. Of course, they turned out not to be pirates, but guerillas fighting the current government.
In the first case piracy was enabled by a Portal Network, in the second by system-wide interdiction of the new "Teraport" drive.
Vaegyr Ward hates being called a pirate. As he points out, he has letters of marque, so he's a privateer. Also, pirates tend to be meaner than him.
In Absurd Notions, in a roleplaying game being played by the characters, space pirates turn up whose mannerisms correspond to exaggerated mannerisms of software "pirates". Namely, a ship preparing to attack opens communication with "j0, SUXX0RZ!! xDR3Dx3DDx 0WNZ U!!! 5UR3ND0R N0W!! 4LL j00R W4R3Z R B3L0N9 2 US L0L!!1!!!". Lampshaded by Asimov, Isaac's character, who responds with "I think I miss the days when pirates said 'Arrr'."
Type 1 space pirates are said to have occurred in S.S.D.D, and is why there was an ancient CORE station orbiting Uranus at the start of the SSDF arc. But once the mineral resources of the outer system dried up piracy ceased to become profitable.
Mighty Moshin Emo Rangers, a fan parody of Power Rangers and emo culture, has an episode where the Emo Rangers battle the Rave Pirates from outer space, who have come to infect earth teenagers with their "New Rave"
They've become quite the problem in Nexus Gate since space travel became a reality.
Space piracy has been TRIED in The Journal Entries (more than once, and even on-screen), but between any random merchant ship possibly having just about any damn kind of weaponry (including one with a combat android that boarded an attacking vessel and sabotaged its' reactors to explode), the way various space navies tend to go looking for any space pirates (mostly because they're bored and curb stomping pirates is fun), and how much it COSTS to go searching for merchants to try to plunder in the first place, they tend to die without successors.
Pirates show up fairly often in the Chakona Space stories, some of them are just run of the mil pirates out for loot, others are slavers from the Non-Aligned Worlds where slavery of morphs is still allowed.
Imperium Nova has a mechanic for houses to fund piracy around one or more planets, it is frequently described as being "broken".
Long John Silver the 23rd in the Duck Dodgers episode "Shiver Me Dodgers".
An unnamed space pirate (with three peg legs out of four, parrots on three of his four shoulders, and eyepatches on two of his three eyes) menaced the Planet Express Ship on Futurama with galleon-style spaceships and cannons, vowing to send them to "Davy Jarg's locker" if they don't electronically transfer their space-doubloons, and realizing too late that his children are his only real treasures. What made it even funnier was Leela's explanation on what Space Pirates are: "They're like Pirates...but IN SPACE!!"
Sonny Blackbones and the pirates in Galactik Football. They're really more heroic space outlaws but they do have at least one member who likes to say 'Arr!' No parrot, though they do have a football team.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars offers a more traditional version with the Weequay pirates led by Hondo Ohnaka (complete with a monkey-lizard standing in for a parrot and an affinity for the cutlass), who is as likeable as he is cunning. He managed to take Count Dooku, Anakin Skywalker, and Obi-Wan Kenobi all hostage, while still being friendly towards them. Even more alarming, the trio (and the audience) weren't and still aren't completely sure how he did it! If that's not enough, he was able to briefly duel Anakin with an electrostaff, on a moving tank pilot, no less. In later appearances, he's something of a Friendly Enemy to Obi-Wan.
As Obi-Wan pointed out to him, he held both Jedi and Sith hostage. and, Jedi don't hold grudges.
The Megas XLR episode "Space Booty" (yes, that is the actual title) had a group of Space Pirates led by a Captain Harlock expy. This being Megas they also had a buttload of Humongous Mecha for Coop to smash.
Cannonball of the Transformers Cybertron toyline is an actual space pirate, complete with skeleton paint apps and a black swath of paint over half of the top of his face in mimicry of an eyepatch. Alas, he was not to appear in the series.
Oban Star-Racers has Lord Furter, a comical example most notable for his incompetence and non-threatening appearance, even though both he and his crew seem to think he's the most bad-ass thing ever. He's also self-aware. "I'm boarding your ship! That's what pirates do, we board ships!"