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Absent Aliens

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"I remember telling my college professor I wanted to study Xenoarchaeology. He laughed right in my face. 'There's nothing to study,' he said. 'It's all dead space. No alien life exists out in the universe.' In a way, I guess he was right..."
Doctor Earl Serrano, Dead Space 3

Humanity has explored the galaxy, and in some stories the universe, and it turns out the truth isn't out there. There are no aliens, or at least, no intelligent ones.

Done for a variety of reasons:

  • Not every sci-fi plot requires aliens.
  • Avoids Rubber-Forehead Aliens, and saves having to think up decent Starfish Aliens.
  • Isolates humanity in the depressing void of space.
  • Makes humans even more special.
  • Focuses on the question of Transhuman Aliens.
  • Saves on the effects budget.
  • Makes it easier to make characters relatable and believable.
  • Is consistent with the fact that no aliens have yet been found.
  • In an attempt to be different and appeal to those who "don't like sci-fi".
  • Even if aliens do theoretically exist, in settings where the population is confined to a single star system (or handful) and there is no (or very slow) FTL, neither humanity nor the aliens would be in any position to encounter the other.
  • Theoretically, intelligence could be a rare evolutionary fluke, rare at least elsewhere in the Milky Way. Even if intelligence evolves on other planets, it may be extinct by the time humans leave the Solar System, or alternatively, humanity could be extinct by the time aliens leave their home system. Thus, even interstellar civilizations may be separated by immense distances or timescales, and unlikely to interact.
  • The focus of the Sci-Fi in question is a political struggle between human populations, and aliens could either help them resolve their differences or serve as a threat encouraging them to do so themselves.
  • Is free of the unfortunate implications that cultures that spent time building monuments and functioning societies lacked the intelligence to do things like that on their own, or that "low-tech" is synonymous with "backwards".
  • Raises the Driving Question of what happened to the aliens, and whether humanity could be next.

Some science fiction authors have adopted Mundane Dogmatic, the Mundane Science Fiction Manifesto, a system of self-imposed restraints devised in 2004 (with author Geoff Ryman as the sole named contributor) which is similar in spirit to the constraints of Dogme95 in film. Such settings are usually hard science fiction and have no aliens, no FTL travel, and no telekinesis (among other rules).

There may be a few cursory alien plants and rodents or perhaps a Monster of the Week, which is generally filled by humans, genetically engineered monsters, and robots. An ongoing work does not have to stay this way; it can provide a Game Changer with First Contact when the writers need to shake things up.

As evident by the Fermi Paradox, this trope currently appears to be Truth in Television. This is one of two standard solutions to the Fermi Paradox; the other is Invisible Aliens, in which aliens exist but are being hidden or removed by Applied Phlebotinum.

Straight examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Cowboy Bebop, humans have colonized and terraformed most of the relatively inhabitable planets and natural satellites of Solar System, but there does not appear to be any intelligent life that is not human (or genetically engineered Data Dog). There was passing reference to life on Ganymede, but nothing intelligent, and it may have only been there after terraforming. The freaky Blob Monster from "Toys in the Attic" is a mutant, or possibly a dream.
    • The fridge lobster makes a cameo in Watanabe's other anime, Space☆Dandy, which has countless aliens. Due to this cameo and the fact that both shows use the same fictional currency, it's possible that Space Dandy could be set further into the future of the Cowboy Bebop universe.
    • In a 2017 interview with IGN, Shinichiro Watanabe said he sometimes wonders if Ed is really human and thinks she might be from outer space.
  • In the shonen power-based football series Inazuma Eleven, Japan is attacked by aliens that claim they will conquer Earth with its main method of competition: football. Just before the final match at the season's finale, it's revealed that they are only kids that were given incredible speed, strength, durability and reflexes by an evil corporation using a powerful alien meteorite as fuel.
  • Armored Trooper VOTOMS is a hard sci-fi mecha series which deals exclusively with a human-based conflict between two space nations. Although they might actually be Human Aliens due to the A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away... setting. "Humans" here are said to come from a planet near the core of the Astragius galaxy, while Earth is in one of the Milky Way's spiral arms.
  • Kiddy Grade, set within one galaxy, and not only no sentient species, no other life at all has been found so far.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes also avoids aliens, focusing mostly on human-to-human interaction and history.
  • There might not be any aliens in Vandread, but that doesn't stop Dita from trying to find them. It's also played with; the people of Ma-Ger and Tarak consider each other to be hostile aliens, even though they're really just male and female humans trying their damndest to be One Gender Races through gene manipulation.
  • Gundam:
    • One of the things which initially made Mobile Suit Gundam stand out from the pack of sci-fi mech series of its day was the total lack of space aliens. This was primarily done because the writers felt that having alien villains would make them too hard to relate to; they wanted the show's central conflict to be one in which both factions had understandable motives. Subsequent series carried on this tradition, with all the major conflicts being between humans. Mobile Suit Gundam SEED has some fossilized remains of Space Whales, but that's about it. It helps that every series to date has been entirely confined to Earth's solar system, and indeed none of have ever included travel further out than Jupiter.
    • Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn reveals in a Freeze-Frame Bonus (without ever addressing it) that the contents of Laplace’s Box include a provision for the Earth Federation government to prepare for a potential “extraterrestrial biological emergency”, but even 150 years after the Federation started building space colonies, there’s still no sign that aliens exist.
    • The 00 movie is the one exception, introducing liquid metal funnel/bit shaped aliens as the antagonists.
    • Played with Gundam AGE, with the UE calling humans "Earthlings," and Federation characters speculating that they are aliens for the first third of the show... until The Reveal that they're the descendants of a Mars colonization project that was abandoned when disease struck.
  • The desert planet Trigun takes place on is inhabited with aliens, but they are all non-intelligent ones like Sandworms and Taun-Taun-esque pack birds. The closest thing the series has to humanoid aliens are the Plants, but they are man-made.
  • In Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet, it's noted that the Galactic Alliance has never managed to find an inhabitable planet for humans to live on. The only other species that seems to be around are the Hideauze, which live in the vacuum of space. And they aren't aliens.

    Comic Books 
  • Sci-Spy presented a future in which humanity had fled Earth for another star system, but hadn't found any alien life. The comic assures us that the otherworldly beings we see throughout the series are just humans who've taken extensive genetic alterations for cosmetic purposes. Aliens do show up eventually, having been the things that drove humanity off the Earth in the first place.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Isaac Asimov: Enforced because John W. Campbell (editor of Astounding Science Fiction) insisted that humans always triumph against aliens, Dr. Asimov tended to avoid the presence of alien civilizations in works which would otherwise expect to encounter them. The following examples include stories where Dr. Asimov gave a reason for the absence of aliens.
    • "Blind Alley": Humans have explored nearly the entire Milky Way, and found a single species of sentient alien life. When given the chance, however, said aliens steal a human spaceship and fly off into the Magellanic Clouds, dwarf galaxies near the Milky Way, leaving humans alone in the galaxy.
    • Foundation: Humanity is the only sentient species in the galaxy, unless you count robots, Gaians, or the transhuman Solarians. It's explicit (in The Second Foundation Trilogy) that every other sentient species in the galaxy had been killed off before they encountered humans. It's implied (in Foundation's Edge) that the current timeline was selected because the galaxy is absent of sapient alien species. These two facts are not exactly contradictions, because timeline manipulation would allow for a reality where aliens had been killed off before humans encountered them. However, the galaxy is not the universe. Also, it's a Plot Point during the climax of Foundation and Earth that Absent Aliens only applies to the Milky Way, and just because there aren't any aliens in this galaxy, it doesn't mean that aliens don't exist in other galaxies.
    • "The Last Question": Aliens are never seen, despite the story taking us all the way to the end of the universe. Humanity is allowed to freely colonize the entire universe with casual intergalactic travel.
    • "Living Space": [Implied Trope] Since Casual Interstellar Travel technology was too difficult to create, Earth has developed dimensional travel technology instead. Without space travel, nobody expects to encounter any alien life. They were wrong.
    • The short story "Victory Unintentional" had three robots sent to explore the surface of Jupiter and contact the Jovians living there. The aliens are so impressed by the robots, they promise to leave space to the obviously superior species.
  • The "aliens" in Crest of the Stars, known as the Abh, are really genetically-engineered humans. The novels elaborate a little further in that while there are a few, exceptionally rare planets with their own native plant and animal life (protagonist Jinto's homeplanet of Martine is one such) there is nothing approaching intelligent life other than humans and their descendants.
  • In the universe of Dirty Pair there is faster than light travel and humans have colonized the whole galaxy, but there are no aliens. There are two exceptions outside the series: The OVA "Affair of Nolandia" does have alien ruins and the technology that resides within, and in Project EDEN a scientist uses a dormant piece of an alien in his experiments. Everything other piece of technology or strange creature you see is man-made.
  • Stephen Baxter's Manifold series of (mostly) really hard Science Fiction revolves around the Fermi Paradox, with each (Alternate Continuity) book providing a different resolution. In Manifold: Time, there really is no other intelligent life in the entire universe. Manifold: Origin is similar, except it's set in a multiverse with an intelligent species in each universe. Manifold: Space does have aliens, but recurring natural disasters on a galactic scale keep wiping them out before they can meet.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga is a roughly 30th-century Milky Way with no sentient aliens to speak of (though there are alien plants and animals); however, after nine or ten centuries of diaspora, many of which involved various genetic engineering concepts, humanity has undergone speciation to the point that "the aliens [are] us."
  • In Voidskipper there doesn't seem to be any sign of life that didn't ultimately originate from Earth, but the sheer level of transhumanism at play more than makes up for that.
  • The Vatta's War series has humanity spread out to such an extent that Earth isn't even mentioned. Humanity is still the same species, but there is a fair amount of augmentation, both organic and technological, being done and baseline improvements are made to genetic code.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune series alien plants and animals exist (including the iconic sandworms), but nothing sapient. Rather, the closest to "aliens" are genetically modified humans and animals. These creatures take a variety of shapes, some almost unrecognizable.
  • Robert J Sawyer's Quintaglio Ascension trilogy: Although there are several planets with intelligent life, there is no life in the universe that can't have its origin traced back to Earth - at least not in this iteration of reality.
  • Zig-zagged in The Golden Age by John C. Wright. Biological engineering has reached the point where (formerly) human beings are able to turn themselves into what amounts to Starfish Aliens as compared to "traditional" humans (amorphous blobs, Hive Minds, a sub-culture of living biological Squick, and sentient ecosystems, to name a few) but no humans have ever encountered actual extraterrestrial life and have given up looking, until something from the outside starts to cause trouble for the main character which ultimately turns out to be the evolved cybernetic remnants of a human spacecraft that had been sent out thousands of years earlier, when humanity was still interested in exploring space.
  • Last Legionary: Although there are a wide variety of humanoid forms, they're all genetically human, just mutated by the effects of their respective environments. High-gravity worlds get shorter, heavier humans and so on. The only genuine alien is Glr, and her species isn't from the same galaxy.
  • There are many planets in The Diving Universe, but they're all populated by humans. Not even the nomadic Fleet, in all its travel across known space, ever found an alien intelligence.
  • In the Cassandra Kresnov series by Joel Shepherd, other sentient species besides humans do exist, but they are barely mentioned in the story and have no bearing on the plot, which mainly concerns politics within the human Federation, and between the Federation and the other human faction, the smaller and more technologically progressive League. Until it's revealed that the League found an abandoned alien research facility, which was what allowed them to create Artificial Humans, while the aliens have been spying on the humans. It's revealed after that that the aliens are divided into two factions, one organic, the other synthetic, and they're engaged in a war that threatens to spill into human space.
  • The Hour Before Morning has intelligent humanoids genetically engineered from humans, but no aliens per se.
  • Glen Cook's The Black Company novels provide a fantasy version. The first three books take place in a Standard Fantasy Setting, except that the entire series is populated solely by humans. The only exception is the Plane of Fear, where a handful of nonhuman beings are intelligent, but none of them have anything resembling a culture or civilization. Dwarves are mentioned, but the narrator is fairly sure they're a myth.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov and Christopher Nicholas Gilmore's Captain French, or the Quest for Paradise, by the 22nd millennium, humanity has colonized thousands of worlds and scouted out tens of thousands of more in three spiral arms of the galaxy. While many of the settled planets have their own flora and fauna, no intelligent alien beings have been discovered. The only non-humans (besides those who have genetically-altered themselves) are a Servant Race created on one planet. They later rebel, and the resulting war devastates the planet.
  • There are no intelligent aliens in Starluck. Humans have discovered branches of humanity on other planets when they traveled to the stars, but they are fully human. There is animal alien life.
  • The Crow: Hellbound has a repentant Fallen Angel named Dren outright state that there is no life (whether he meant sapient life or life in general is left a bit unclear) anywhere in the universe except for Earth.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Ark (2023): Robotic probes sent to nearby stars have found planets where humans can live, but no sign of intelligent or technological aliens. But then Angus suggests aliens might have been responsible for the strike that crippled Ark 1. Played straight again when we learn that it was humans on Ark 15 who are disabling the other Arks.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003) has no aliensnote : just robots, clones, and the occasional 'angel'. However, the "humans" turn out to be Human Aliens, and there is absolutely some kind of intelligent god-like being served by messengers.
  • In Firefly, there is no alien life whatsoever, not even so much as a microbe. This is ostensibly because other humans make more interesting foils for humans. Lampshaded when a "genuine alien" at a sideshow in "The Message" turns out to be a mutant cow fetus in a jar, with some creepy lighting thrown in for good measure. Word of God confirms the nonexistence of aliens in this particular universe, which is also set in a single star system.
    Inara: Do aliens live among us?
    Kaylee: Yep. One of them's a doctor.
    • The Reavers are ultimately revealed to be Transhuman Aliens, ordinary people turned into monsters by Alliance technology.
  • In Frank Herbert's Dune and Frank Herbert's Children of Dune, there are no sentient alien life forms in their galactic feudal system.
  • The Red Dwarf verse contains no multicellular alien life, and in the novels it's explicitly stated that Earth has been proven to be the only place in the universe where life appeared. In the early seasons this added to the isolation and paranoia of the main characters. Later series introduced other life forms, but most of them are leftovers of human genetic engineering projects, or otherwise artificially created (i.e. robots or holograms) and on a very rare occasion they're descended from some form of Earth creature (the Cat being the best example). This still didn't stop them from poking fun at it though; a running gag in the first two seasons involved Rimmer constantly suspecting aliens to have something to do with whatever problem has just befallen the crew, including one instance where he suspected aliens were trying to communicate by breaking Lister and Cat's legs, and then finishing a jigsaw puzzle. Another episode played it for laughs when Rimmer was convinced that a mysterious pod that they recovered contained an alien life form. It was actually just one of Red Dwarf's garbage pods.
    • Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers mentions that humanity somehow proved they were alone in the universe around 2,000 years after Lister was frozen.
    • "Krysis" reveals that the universe is intelligent and scientists have found a way to communicate with it. Uni mentions that only one of his planets ever evolved life.
  • The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Chase" reveals that billions of years prior to the series, a race of lonely Benevolent Precursors seeded the rest of the races in the galaxy after realizing that they were alone.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Attack Vector: Tactical features only humans fighting other humans. These humans have only explored and colonized a relatively local part of interstellar space, though.

    Video Games 
  • In Celestus, while there is some alien plant or animal life (for certain values of alien, as every single ecology in the galaxy descends from the same planet through Precursor terraformation), humanity is canonically established as the single intelligent species.
  • In the Killzone games, it's 2360, humans have colonized dozens of worlds, but haven't found any alien lifeforms whatsoever. The conflict itself is between humans and altered humans.
  • This trope is played to the letter (to great effect) in Starlancer, which is ostensibly a retelling of World War II IN SPACE.
  • Xenosaga: despite a significant portion of the galaxy being colonized, there are no real aliens. The apparently alien Gnosis are actually altered humans and supernatural beings such as U-DO and chaos were created or at least given their present form by humanity's collective will.
    • Subverted with the alien planet Xenogears takes place on, which did have a dominant species capable of communication and speech before humans crashed on it and installed limiters in the population, though they were considered "unintelligent" compared to humans.
  • In Infinity: The Quest for Earth, there are several hundred worlds grouped in clusters in several parts of the galaxy, and no other races have appeared; according to the developers, this is mostly to avoid what they think is the overused idea of a plethora of races.
  • In some Super Robot Wars timelines, all the Human Aliens are actually descendants of a lost civilization from Earth. Even the Einsts have some connection to Earth, though they mostly hang out in a parallel universe.
  • In the MMO EVE Online there are five distinct sentient races (only four are playable) and several non-playable races within the game, however they are all descendants of Human beings who traveled through a wormhole into the space of New Eden 25,000 years before. Even newer races introduced such as the Sleepers are believed to be of human origin. The only non-human life are flora and fauna.
  • In Total Annihilation, the Galaxy has already been thoroughly explored and colonized by humanity thousands of years ago, and no hints of intelligent alien life are mentioned in the backstory (though there are alien plants on some of the planets battles are fought on). Both Core and Arm factions are derived from Earth human stock.
    • Like-wise with Spiritual Successor Planetary Annihilation which follows an endless war waged by the machines of humanity long after we've shuffled off this mortal coil. There are plants on some worlds but no higher lifeforms. Another race named Xziphid that warred with humanity is mentioned but not seen.
  • In Outpost 2 there are only humans that are trying to survive after Earth is rendered unlivable by meteorites. The conflict comes between two factions fighting over the scant resources and trying to win an evacuation race from New Terra, which is being destroyed by a terraforming project by one of the factions gone wrong.
    • One of the Tales From New Terra vignettes mentions shapeshifting aliens called Shades. However, they are products of Juno Steele's imagination made to liven up his boring job.
  • Hideo Kojima's Zone of the Enders features a colonized solar system with advanced space colonies, starships, Orbital Frames... and no aliens whatsoever. The mysterious substance known as "Metatron" may or may not be alive and intelligent.
  • The setting for Titanfall, Titanfall 2, and Apex Legends has no sapient aliens, only humans (some of which are cyborgs), Ridiculously Human Robots, and animal-like aliens native to some planets. The primary conflicts is between human rebels against corrupt corporations. While intelligent aliens may once have existed in the setting due to several unknown relics, they don't play an active role in the backdrop or plot of any of the games.
  • Capcom's Lost Planet series features a conflict primarily between the NEVEC corporation and various factions of Snow Pirates. The Akrid are dangerous lifeforms native to E.D.N. III, but they're non space fairing and non sentient.
  • In Rimworld, the only life in the galaxy came from Earth. Planets with thriving biomes and even highly developed empires got that way because humans terraformed and colonized them, and then they lost track of each other over the millennia, thanks to societal collapse and the absence of Faster-Than-Light Travel or communication. That said, humans have undergone so much biological modification and cybernetic engineering that humans and other fauna on many planets look and think like aliens, such as the Pigskins that were hybrids created for organ growth experiments or the savage Yttakin who are furred humans engineered to survive cold climates.
  • RayStorm sees Earth advancing in space travel enough to set up a series of human-inhabited colonies in a distant star system, known as the Star Federation. The plot sees the Star Federation attempting a revolution against Earth, with a squad of fighters fighting for Earth as the protagonists.
  • Tachyon: The Fringe takes the player as Bruce Camp--, er, Jake Logan first in the Sol System itself, then into the outer reaches of space known as The Fringe. In spite of some serious weirdness and more than a bit of Space Madness, everything you encounter out there is human—this allows the corporation-vs.-colonists storyline to remain the core focus, with some glances aside for colorful space pirates, asteroid barons, and spectacularly unethical science.
  • In Rising Angels, there are a variety of species around, but they're derived from humans, not alien life. However, the way that some characters talk about relics of ancient civilizations suggests that true aliens may be known or conjectured to have existed historically.
  • Warframe: Despite all the insane forms of life in the Origin System, all of it is either human-descended or human-created. Even the utterly alien Sentients were created by the Orokin to terraform the Tau system. The Orokin created the Grineer as slaves, the Technocyte Plague as a weapon, the warframes as another weapon, the Tenno as another weapon when the warframes alone failed, and the Orokin themselves were transhumans who gained immortality by using Grand Theft Me on children.
  • Children of a Dead Earth: Space warfare is a regular occurrence in the solar system, which humanity has largely colonized. Despite this, the entire conflict is between two large human space superpowers and there is no indication that even extraterrestrial microbial lifeforms exist.

  • Far Out There: The comic establishes this right at the start, though there are plenty of genetically manipulated humans who might as well be aliens.
  • pictures for sad children: The comic does this while lampooning Star Trek: the captain's greatest feat was discovering alien algae 40 years prior.
  • Claude & Monet: There was a war against aliens in the backstory, but the author has stated that the aliens are unintelligent and it's more like an arthropod infestation on a galactic scale.
  • Quantum Vibe features a universe in which dark matter makes sublight interstellar navigation impossible. Apparently humanity is nearly (see below) the only species that managed to developed a "jump" drive before being trapped in their home system led to decay and eventual extinction; xenoarcheologists have found the remnants of several such civilizations. The only known (so far) exception is four members of a Sufficiently Advanced Alien race who play their equivalent of a Role Playing Game with species they have uplifted in a galaxy where they have altered the laws of physics so that said species can play out an Expy of Star Trek: The Next Generation

    Web Original 
  • Bosun's Journal: Downplayed. Over the main body of the project, the Nebukadnezar encounters neither aliens nor other humans due to drifting in interstellar space. After enough repairs are made to get the ship moving under its own power again, the Bosun's final log mentions that, in their journeys among intergalactic stars and dwarf galaxies, they never encountered any alien life more advanced than lichen, nor any other human colonies — all life out there is the fruit of the Nebukadnezar and the various colonies that it seeded. However, the Bosun speculates that sapient aliens may exist due to some radio transmissions that he picked up over the ages, and that they simply keep to the main galaxies like the rest of humanity presumably does.
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-2669 plays this as a point of horror. It's a space probe launched by the Foundation in 2004 to look for alien life on exoplanets. It contains the consciousness of a Foundation researcher named Asma Tareen, who was once excited to look for new life in the universe, but found not even a speck of it no matter how far she travelled out. Now she's travelling back to Earth at five times lightspeed, and her sanity has decayed to the point where she doesn't care what happens when she touches down.
    • SCP-3426 serves as a justification of why there are no Sufficiently Advanced Aliens, again played for horror. Whenever a civilization reaches Type I civilization status on Kardeshev scale, a mysterious anomalous phenomenon triggers and renders the species completely extinct, going as far as to degrade the laws of physics or reality to do so. Due to that, Foundation is purposefully delaying the technological progress of humanity back until they will find out how to avoid this fate. It is strongly hinted that life-hating entities known as pattern screamers are responsible
  • 17776: Ten explains that after all humanity gained Complete Immortality, they spent a millennium on reaching another star system, found no life, sent out probes to explore the galaxy, found no life, and eventually turned around and went home. The sheer spatial and temporal scale of the universe made it a doomed effort from the start.
    Ten: People had a choice. They could continue wandering through the endless darkness, an absence of everything they loved, an endless void of disappointment and loneliness...
    ...or they could look down, and embrace what they always had and loved.

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 

Subversions, aversions and inversions

    Anime and Manga 
  • Downplayed in the Macross franchise's backstory; the Protoculture were the only humanoid species to naturally develop full sapiance, so they proceeded to create a bunch of new intelligent humanoids (including actual humanity) to fill the galaxy with. However, the insectoid Vajra seem to have actually developed sapiance even earlier than the Protoculture; it's just that the language barrier between the two species was insurmountable (since the hive-minded Vajra literally have no concept of language to begin with).
  • The Korean animated movie Armageddon has lonely precursors creating humanity and every other race in the universe.
  • That this trope even is averted for Gundam Build Divers Re:RISE is actually the big twist halfway through: The characters thought they were just playing a VR game, when in actuality they'd been sent to an inhabited alien world.

    Comic Books 
  • Durham Red only focuses on humans and Mutants with no aliens even though it spin-off from Strontium Dog, which had plenty. The Unquiet Grave Tie-In Novel says that the Pan-Species Accord wiped out any sapient species humanity encountered, though this novel as them dealing with an Eldritch abomination that they'd missed.

  • The Dark Crystal: Inverted. No humans on Thra, although there are multiple humanoids.
  • Forbidden Planet: The Krell, the ancient race that once inhabited the planet, have been extinct for millennia. Only their technology remains. Which, it turns out, ain't a good thing.
  • Amongst other things in Dark Star, the characters display absolutely no interest in their computer calculating a 95% chance of intelligent life in a nearby system, with the implication that previous pursuits of such readings had brought disappointing results. The only alien we see resembles a beach ball with webbed feet which even the guy who brought it aboard has gotten extremely fed up with, and that ends up being only a small (though memorable) part of the overall film. From what is indicated in the film, there is life out there, just nothing that makes the trouble of first contact worthwhile.

  • Inverted in The Alien Chronicles: it's the humans who are absent.
  • The children's Science Fiction Book series Astrosaurs subverts the trope. While the first few books only have alien animals and planets colonised by sapient dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures, later books feature sapient aliens. The books still focus on Ultra Terrestrials though.
  • Within the CoDominium universe by Jerry Pournelle, Falkenberg's Legion features no intelligent aliens. The setting in general is largely lacking aliens until The Mote in God's Eye, which is set far into the future of the series and involves First Contact.
  • Jack Vance's The Demon Princes series has several forms of alien life of various levels of intelligence, some extinct, but only one that even closely resembles humanity or has any impact on the human universe - the Star Kings. These are described as having a friendly rivalry with humanity and are capable of passing as human. The eponymous villain of the first novel is an exile from his race who has taken his talent for criminality to the human universe, while his fellow Star Kings take a more reclusive approach or go about the human universe quietly disguised as men and making no fuss.
  • Author David Brin has argued that the galaxy is so large, and the history of the galaxy is so long, that it's actually likely that only one sentient species arises in the galaxy at a time. They live for a few million years, then die out, and as they are dying out, the next species is arising on some far-distant planet. Brin's other treatments of this idea range from exultant (Crystal Spheres) to mild fearsome (Lungfish). This also turns out to be the case in Existence, while the artifact contains the uploaded personalities of dozens of alien emissaries, their species are now extinct.
  • Sort of happens in K. A. Applegate's Remnants series: there are aliens, the Shipwrights, and three other species, at least two of which the Shipwrights created. However, these three species are apparently exterminated by the Troika, and it is implied the Shipwrights may be dying too. The penultimate book involves Tate, Amelia and Yago spending the rest of their lives looking for some other form of life but never finding anything more than bugs.
  • This appears to be the case in Dan Simmons' Hyperion Cantos, but near the end of Hyperion, it's stated that this is more of a legal technicality. Whenever humanity encounters an alien species that might qualify as intelligent, they re-jigger the official criteria for intelligent species so that this new species doesn't qualify, allowing humanity to kill them off and seize their world without legal or ethical complications. More aversion in the sequel-series Endymion as the main character encounters a few of the said-to-be-extinct intelligent species multiple times, on unknown planets and on a living Dyson Sphere constructed by 'alien' humans.
  • Played straight initially, then subverted in The Stainless Steel Rat series. Aliens are completely absent throughout the galaxy up until one book where every kind of grotesque alien monster pops up out of the woodwork, who were just hiding all that time. Played with in The Stainless Steel Rat Sings the Blues, where Slippery Jim Di Griz, the eponymous Stainless Steel Rat, is sent undercover to find the first recorded alien artifact. Turns out that it was an artifact left by human time travelers from the future.
  • In Embedded, humanity has colonized hundreds of worlds but found no sign of intelligent alien life anywhere. Until they get to Eighty-Six....
  • Used as a plot point in the Revelation Space series by Alastair Reynolds. There is various odd alien fauna and flora, but there are no living alien races comparable in intelligence to humans. However, human archaeologists continue to find the remains of several highly advanced civilizations all the time. More worrying is how they all seemingly became extinct shortly after they discovered interstellar flight and started exploring deeper space. There turns out to be a reason for that - and the author uses it to cleverly explain why the Fermi paradox seems to be in effect in the first place, the driving mystery behind the events of the series.
  • In Death: There is space travel in Robb's 21st century, but it's mostly background, and there's no mention of non-human life (aside from the monsters Eve chases).
  • In the Matador Series humanity has colonized most of the galaxy's Earthlike planets and found nothing sapient. There is a race of precursors called the Zonn that left interesting ruins on multiple worlds, but they've been gone for tens of thousands of years.
  • In Earth Girl, settling dozens of star systems humanity has not yet encountered another intelligent space-faring species. They have, however, encountered lots of alien plant and animal life and so far two species of primitive tool-using neo-intelligent aliens they leave alone until they develop further. But they do have the elaborate Alien Contact Programme set up should this situation ever arise. Which happens in the next book Earth Star, with a mysterious unmanned alien probe spurring the First Contact Crisis.
  • Initially played straight in Andrei Livadny's The History of the Galaxy series, as humanity is expanding and colonizing hundreds of star systems. Subverted about halfway through when three alien races and the remains of a fourth are discovered in short order. More are discovered later. It's pointed out that, while the aliens tend to be more advanced in some areas (especially those who have been around for billions of years), there are a few areas where humans have made great strides, leaving most discovered alien races far behind. This is mostly because the aliens haven't been doing much the last several million years, following a devastating galactic cataclysm. Meanwhile, humanity has been steadily expanding and advancing for the last thousand or so years, with wars and labour shortages necessitating great strides in cybernetics and FTL technology.
  • The Lost Fleet series takes place some time in the 27th century, with humanity spread across hundreds of star systems and no sentient aliens in sight... up until about halfway through the first series, at least. Turns out that there are at least three, two of them decidedly unfriendly.
  • The Quantum Thief-trilogy takes place entirely within the Solar System and no true aliens are to be seen, although Transhuman Aliens come in all shapes and sizes. In the final novel, The Causal Angel, the issue is brought up. Though not outright stated, it's implied that any sapient life that doesn't destroy itself will learn how to break the Planc Locks and create a new, perfect universe for themselves to inhabit.
  • In Honor Harrington there are eleven intelligent nonhuman species known, but only two, the Medusans and the treecats, have any plot importance (and in the first case only because they're being used by Haven for a Proxy War with Manticore in book one). None are space-faring on their own, although treecats sometimes serve in the Manticore fleet.
  • RCN: There are several alien species known and evidence as well of three or four Precursor races, but the extant aliens unimportant in the series because most of them can't breathe humans' atmosphere so they don't need to interact with humans (the only one the protagonists interact with is a Lizard Folk mercenary bodyguarding a local dignitary, who takes a shine to Adele's Battle Butler Tovera).
  • The Kris Longknife series takes place eighty years after a bloody border war with the Iteeche, after which both species agreed on a "no go" zone and studiously ignored each other for eighty years. The Iteeche take on a larger role when they try to open diplomatic relations with humanity early in book seven.
  • In Slingshot, aliens are absent,though humanity has explore 3000 light years around the solar system (though not exhaustively so). Some characters even point out that nobody has even found alien artifacts, much less actual specimen. And it is hinted that anyone claiming they saw one would most likely be ridiculed. And then aliens do show up and start murdering people for initially unclear reasons. The protagonists initially struggle with the idea when they find evidence about the aliens, and point out that nobody will believe them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the backstory of Altered Carbon there were aliens, here referred to as the "Elders", but they apparently went extinct before humanity encountered them. However, they did leave behind remnants of technology, including Songspire Trees and the Angel Fire network. However, most of their tech was too advanced for human scientists to understand. The one exception was a particular type of alloy that humanity used to develop the Cortical Stack, which in the present forms the backbone of human society. Season 2 reveals the Elders actually weren't quite extinct when humanity first encountered them, but early human explorers exterminated the last of them and then covered it up so they could colonize their home world. The protagonists encounter the virtual ghost of one, and it goes on the warpath against humanity at large.
  • The Expanse is a hard sci-fi thriller about space-faring humanity, with no rubber forehead aliens in sight. Plus, humans have only really explored their own solar system even a few centuries in the future. Aliens DID exist in the galaxy at one point, but are now seemingly all dead, and the discovery of their leftover technology drives a large portion of the plot.
  • The 100 touches on this. The characters encounter alien flora and fauna on Sanctum in Season 6, but nothing intelligent, with local ecology basically being a temperate rainforest. The final season reveals that there were once intelligent aliens at some point throughout the galaxy, who built the Portal Network linking multiple planets, but they had all previously ascended. Humanity eventually follows suit, with the exception of the protagonists.
  • It's argued in-universe in Blake's 7 whether the various Human Aliens are aliens or descended from human colonists and the writers couldn't decide which was the case. Extragalactic alien invaders were introduced at the end of season. Word of God said these were originally intended to be Daleks but Executive Meddling stopped it.
  • Sliders is about travel between parallel universes or Earths. In episode "Invasion" that started the Kromag arch what it was thought to be alien invaders were actually primates from a parallel Earth, thus, not aliens. In fact they can even interbreed with humans as are part of the homo genus. Aliens do exists as confirm in one episode "The return of Maggie Becket" where they reach a world where the Roswell incident did happened (or it was made public) and The Greys or Reticulans existence is common knowledge even though they haven't come back, however they play no role in the episode nor in the rest of the series.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The BattleTech universe is renowned for its lack of intelligent aliens. The lack of aliens allows its Black-and-Gray Morality of interstellar politics between human groups to thrive. There are primitive aliens, but they were discovered in a unknown system by a JumpShip misjump (read: they'll never interact with the rest of the universe), and they only appear in one novel, Far Country.
  • Attack Vector: Tactical features only humans fighting other humans. These humans have only explored and colonized a relatively local part of interstellar space, though.
  • In Eclipse Phase: after the Fall transhumanity discovered an ancient Portal Network and has used it to explore dozens of star systems. So far, we've only encountered one living sapient species, the Factors, and by all indications, they earned a presence in the Solar system by traveling here the old-fashioned way. However, transhumanity has found ruins built by at least four other distinct alien civilizations, with no sign of what happened to their builders, implying transhumanity may still be looking down the barrel of at least one Great Filter.
  • Lancer: In the ten thousand years or so since humanity first left Cradle (aka Earth) they've only encountered one alien species, the egregorians. Unfortunately Union was governed by the fascistic Second Committee at the time and once they heard that the human colonists of the planet got in a war with one egregorian hive they decided to wipe out the entire species. This act appalled enough of Union's people to set off the revolution that installed the Third Committee.

  • Inverted in BIONICLE, in which humans are completely absent.

    Video Games 
  • In the original Armored Core universe during the events of the second game, it's a big reveal when humanity discovers that Phobos, the moon of Mars, is actually an ancient Martian construct capable of mass destruction. In the third game however (which may or may not be related to the original), backstory materials released only in Japan reveal that humanity had warred against an alien race which caused a godly alien power to intervene, the resulting conflict leaving humanity living in an isolated machine controlled society in order to protect them from the wrath of the godly alien power.
  • Halo: The backstory of the franchise involves humanity going on a 230 year spree of space colonization, settling hundreds of worlds and moons, advancing technology to a level previously thought impossible, all without encountering any sapient aliens (there were alien animals on some colonies though). In-Universe, a lot of characters thought that either intelligent aliens just didn't exist or that whatever ones existed were so far away that they'd never make contact (the UNSC exists in a 100 light year bubble radiating out from Earth, unfathomably large to us but minuscule on a galactic scale). Then the Covenant entered the scene...
  • StarCraft: The United Powers League colonized a significant chunk of space, while roughly 60,000 light-years away in the Koprulu Sector, their Terran offshoots only ruled a couple dozen worlds and regularly squabbled among themselves. Despite colonizing numerous worlds in a relatively large portion of the galaxy, neither faction had ever encountered sapient extraterrestrials. The discovery of the Protoss and the Zerg in the Koprulu Sector by the Terrans, and the following violent first contact, caused massive panic within the UPL who prior to First Contact, had been keeping tabs on the Terrans without their knowledge, but had never bothered to interfere. However, the news of hostile alien life changed that, enough that after bringing the few remaining non-UPL Earth countries into the fold and reorganizing into the United Earth Directorate, they decided to send an expeditionary force to take control of the Terrans and exterminate both alien species. Although, their plan never came to fruition and most of the expedition was killed, with the UED not having a major appearance since.
  • When Anarchy Online was first released, humanity was thought to be it for intelligent life in the galaxy, though the backstory novel Prophet Without Honour did include at least one being that was not at all human. The Shadowlands expansion introduces the Xan — a race of Precursors who created humanity, all but destroyed in a terrible cataclysm eons ago. One of the surviving factions (the Redeemed) launched great space-arks that were meant to seed life across the galaxy, but the other faction (the Unredeemed) destroyed every ark except the one that landed on Earth. Alien Invasion wiped that out by revealing the Kyr'Ozch aliens, who invaded Rubi-Ka due to actions taken by the players in Shadowlands — like humans they're children of the Xan, but have evolved radically differently compared to humans.
  • Homeworld's three chief Empires, the Kushan, Taiidan and Vaygr all trace their ancestry to advanced human Precursors. The Bentusi are cyborgs merged with their ships, and while their origins are unknown, their technology also came from the Precursors. The only distinct non-human intelligence is the Flood like virus known as, "The Beast" and it was successfully sterilized after a brutal war.
  • Imperium Nova has this by default, but some players choose to role-play their houses as aliens and, in one case, a game administrator orchestrated an alien invasion of a galaxy.
  • In Dead Space, humanity has no qualms about cracking apart planets (and thereby destroying entire solar systems) for resources, since there are no aliens around to protest. At least until the game begins, and that's a bit of a cop out, since although the original Marker may have been created by aliens, the one in the game is a reverse-engineered human copy, and the Necromorphs are reanimated human corpses. In Dead Space 3, it turns out that there's a good reason for this, as intelligent alien life did happen to exist and was rather abundant at some point millions of years ago, but they, like humanity, fell prey to the Marker's influence and were all wiped out by the Brethren Moons.
  • Elite:
    • Elite 2: Frontier has flying saucers in secret military bases, but the game play plays this trope perfectly straight because the only inhabitants of the whole galaxy are humans. However, the sequel (Frontier: First Encounters) averts this and reintroduces the Thargoids (they first appeared in the first game as a random encounter), an actual alien race which inhabits the systems of Polaris, Pleione and Miackce. The player's experiences with the Thargoids are the "first encounters" referred in the subtitle.
    • Elite Dangerous (the fourth game) Enforces this by dismissing the Thargoids as legends, though GalNet has mentioned an auction of supposedly authentic Thargoid artifacts, combined with some systems being blocked off by permits when theoretically they shouldn't be (like, for example, systems on the far side of the galaxy from Human space). Flipped on its head with the release of the Guardians update; the Thargoids are back, and they are angry.
  • Section 8: Prejudice presents a plausible explanation for the complete absence of any alien lifeforms in the galaxy, despite humanity having spread out and colonized a huge chunk of it. Long before the game, the Earth government secretly sent out an advance wave of super soldiers, whose mission was to move from planet to planet committing genocide on all potential competing lifeforms in order to pave the way for human colonization of the galaxy.
  • Zig-zagged in Escape Velocity, since each game in the trilogy takes place in a new universe:
    • The original subverted it: there were aliens in the backstory, but humanity wiped them out after they tried to do the same to us. There's one last alien cruiser floating around, however.
    • Cleanly averted in EV Override.
    • In EV Nova, the Wraith north of Polaris space are insular, space-living Starfish Aliens that only feature in a minor role in the Polaris storyline. The Hyperioids in the same region are nonsentient Space Whales. Double Subverted with the Krypt, which are the result of the Vell-os ruling council having imbued their minds into their nanites in the backstory, which makes them human offshoots instead of actual aliens.
    • Inverted in the Polycon total conversion, in which all the races are nonhumans. Earth exists, but we're still using Soyuz capsules.
  • Danced with by the defunct MMO Earth & Beyond. The 3 playable races were all factions of humans that colonized different parts of Earth's solar system. When humans left the solar system thanks to Precursors Lost Technology the only life found was Space Whales Space Whales and more Space Whales. That was until the Tengu and V'rix showed up; but the Tengu came from another galaxy thanks to an experimental new gate and only their leaders (who rarely showed themselves) seemed to possess intelligence, and the V'rix were an odd case. At first they seem to be insectoid aliens hell-bent on destroying humans, but design documents revealed they were a prevented reflection of humanity sent by the same Ascended Precursors that left behind the Ancient Gate System.
  • Final Fantasy XIV seems a justifiable example at first blush, being set in a medieval fantasy world with light Magitek elements. This becomes Subverted, however, in the case of the Dragons, once thought to be yet another fantastic species on Hydaelyn, later revealed to be the descendants of Midgardsormr, an ancient dragon who came from a distant planet. Endwalker later double-subverts this with the reveal that the world of Hydaelyn may be the only planet in the known cosmos that supports life: all other planets, as far as Meteion was able to determine, were either completely uninhabited or otherwise depopulated, including Midgardsormr's homeworld.
  • In the Borderlands series, the Vaults seem to be archaeological evidence of an alien civilization, but they seem to be long-gone until the end of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!. There is, however plenty of alien wildlife, and also the things that come out of the Vaults. Also, while we have no idea what Zer0 really is under that mask, one character guesses he's an alien within seconds of seeing him. Whether that indicates aliens aren't unheard of in this setting remains to be seen.
  • Sunrider may start out with some exposition about how humans have "subjugated all life" and become the dominant species in the galaxy, but aliens are never seen or even mentioned outside the occasional reference to animalistic Space Whales. A brief scene in the Sunrider Academy spin-off suggests that this is because humans exterminated all other sapient, space-faring life in the distant past.
  • Grey Goo (2015) Played With this trope. When humanity explored space, they hoped to find intelligent life and used the Gray Goo, which are small enough to crawl through a wormhole that allows for exploration, to find them. They discovered a system of planets, but not the life they were looking for. As a result, they gave up on the search, enter an isolated life on Earth and let the Goo shutdown on their own. This is averted as there are extraterrestial life, such as the Beta, who arrived on the system to escape "the Silence," and the Shroud, said "Silence."
  • In Stellaris, the galaxy is usually flourishing with aliens, but the concept does come up a few times:
    • The player can manipulate the parameters of the game so that no other empires or primitive civilizations spawn, meaning that the entire galaxy is yours for the picking. Slightly downplayed in that Enclaves can still spawn, and the Endgame Crisis will eventually spawn, regardless of what you do.
    • The Yuht Empire, one of the Precursors, managed to exist for two million years without encountering a single other sapient species (implied to be because they used Sleeper Ships, instead of Hyperlanes like everyone else). When they eventually did run into someone, they panicked and tried to exterminate them, which backfired spectacularily.

  • A Miracle of Science: The fact that there are no surviving aliens is a key factor in why Mars came back in contact with the rest of humanity.
  • Schlock Mercenary: It get discussed, in-universe, that even though there are aliens, they should have shown up sooner and there should be more races around. Or at least more ruins. Book 19 finally provides a solution for Fermi's paradox: Any advanced race will eventually invent immortality. And when every single member of your civilization has the potential to live for billions of years, suddenly all the natural disasters of the galaxy, especially the upstart young races, start looking a lot more dangerous. Inevitably, every civilization builds a planet-sized ship and flees the galaxy. When modern civilizations think to look, they discover a massive ring of worldships encircling the galaxy.

    Web Original 
  • Zig-zagged in Dawn of Victory. While the Scinfaxi are generally acknowledged to have been most likely an Alien Kudzu, there are still some people who think that they were either an Earth-based mutation that got out of control or a supernatural menace. Whatever they were, they were successfully destroyed along with Earth itself, and as far as humanity is concerned, they are the only spacefaring race. However, the ruins of fallen alien civilizations have been found across the Orion Arm, and stories from the edge of explored space indicate that there may well be something out there, including, quite possibly, whatever force created the Scinfaxi.
  • Fine Structure: Humans are demonstratively the only intelligent species in the entire universe, because 3+1 dimensions (our universe) is apparently an extremophile environment. There was one other intelligent species, but it was destroyed (presumably) billions of years ago.