...Not that a little global holocaust discouraged the humans from pursuing their foolish wars. Then when we thought everything had calmed down, the single river that sustained this world, the life of our desert, suddenly stopped...
...With absolutely no chance of rain, as usual, more deaths are predicted."
The term "Wagon Train to the Stars" had more relevance than we thought. Much of humanity has gone to outer space, but apparently all the planets they could settle on were dry, desert-covered worlds.
A big advantage of setting a sci-fi world in a desert is that it's easy to conceptualize, compared to a geographically and culturally diverse world like Earth. The author doesn't have to spend time explaining the history or nuance of the world because there is none. Also, judging by the planets we've been finding around other stars in recent years, while potentially inhabitable planets seem plentiful, earthlike ones seem slightly rarer, with slight variations in size, composition, and average temperature making the difference between an Earthlike mixture and a comparative ice world, water world, or desert world. A moderately large galactic empire would almost certainly put up at least a token effort at setting up outpost colonies on some of the less pleasant worlds, if just to have a place to put your Landfill Beyond the Stars.
When life becomes hard, and on such a world, it usually is, morals are the first thing you throw away. Law and order are swift to break down, and suddenly we have The Wild West on another planet. Also, it's wise to be wary of Desert Bandits.
Alternate version: deserted lands After the End (usually nuclear wars).
For the anime and manga that is also an example of the genre, see Desert Punk.
See also Cattle Punk.
Desert Planet Examples
- Orgos from Desert Coral.
- Trigun was probably the first big one, at least as far as anime goes, though it's also a very good trope example, and justifies the setting very well. Long story short: They were going to terraform the planet (or even just find a better one), but the Big Bad tried to kill everyone and screwed it up.
- Zoids has a considerable amount of this, seeing that the planet Zi is mostly desert.
- Sands of Destruction takes place In a World... where Sand Is Water, meaning that the whole planet is a desert except for islands of land which is capable of supporting plant life. The manga is the same in terms of setting, though its plot is wildly different.
- Dune and its sequels, by Frank Herbert are especially prominent examples of desert punk scifi, though thematically it resembles a Heroic Fantasy more than Desert Punk. Except that in Dune it's not so much The Wild West In Space as The Middle East (In Space.)
- The Santiago books by Mike Resnick.
- The Pit Dragon Chronicles.
- Ian McDonald's Ares Express and Desolation Road are this away from the urban zones. In the cities it's a mix of Diesel Punk and Cyberpunk.
- The Martian comes as close to this trope as a work of hard sci-fi possibly can.
- China Mieville's Railsea takes place in a world where the "oceans" are barren, monster infested wastelands crisscrossed by railroads.
- Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom novels take place on a Mars that is, mostly, a desert except for the areas bordering the canal network, a region surrounding an underground sea at the south pole, and a few swamps, which represent all that is left of the once-great oceans covering the planet. There is apparently still groundwater deep below the surface, though, since some plants and animals do manage to survive despite the complete lack of rainfall. Probably the Trope Maker.
- The first volume of Tales From The Year Between, 'Achten Tan', is set in a dried-up bonewaste where a city built in the enormous ribs of a long-dead leviathan is surrounded by miles and miles of dead sand.
- In Firefly many border worlds and moons, as well as those on the Rim are only marginally terraformed, generally resulting in them being deserts or borderline. More affluent or Alliance worlds in the Core are more idyllic in terms of atmosphere.
- Any story set on Vulcan
- Reversed on Terra Nova. The general feel of desert punk is there, especially with the Sixers, but it's set in the jungles of the Mezozoic.
- Similarly on Earth2, the equipment and the costumes of the Eden Advance survivors (survivors of a crashed advanced scout ship that arrived at an Earth-like planet ahead of the main colonial transport) lent themselves to a Desert Punk feeling in many episodes, although the planet G-889's terrain was more varied than just a desert planet, and the group experienced different seasons as they traveled toward their original target destination. The Desert Punk equipment included futuristic Humvee trucks and dune buggies, cool guns, high-tech but utilitarian survival gear, and costumes that became more rugged and patched up as time wore on for the group on their journey.
- Since it takes place in a near future Las Vegas surrounded by a desert wasteland (even more of one than now) Dominion qualifies.
- The album Dopesmoker by Sleep has this sort of setting. It's a concept album about the holy pilgrimage of the Weedians as they journey across a vast desert, following the smoke towards riff filled lands. It's like a stoner metal Book of Exodus. The album's iconic cover artwork depicts a caravan of hooded figures with gas masks (that are implied to basically act as bongs) travelling over the sand dunes, with two moons in the sky and a space ship on the horizon. Needless to say, it rules.
- The RPG Burning Sands, being (by the author's admission) heavily inspired by Dune, is another example.
- Games Workshop games:
- Gorkamorka has been described as Mad Max with Orks. The game revolves around bands of Orks roving the deserts of the desolate world Angelis, fighting each other in ramshackle vehicles while searching for scrap, adding communist goblins and scientist mutants, and for some Hilarious in Hindsight goodness, pale-skinned humans who really want to be orks and are good with tech.
- The Ash Wastes setting for Necromunda sees gangs of mutants, lizard riding nomads, and outcasts driving rust-covered vehicles clashing in the industrial wastes that separate the Necromundan Hive Cities.
- Dungeons & Dragons' Dark Sun campaign setting. This also crosses over with Burned-Out Earth as the planet of Athas used to be greener before Defiler mages burned away most of the plant life.
- Space 1889 Caravans of Mars and Steppelords of Mars have elements of desert punk, particularly some illustrations.
- Shows up from time to time in BattleTech, particularly on some of the less habitable worlds in the Periphery, where there's far less advanced technology available (to the point that some planets have an average tech level that's lower than 20th Century Earth) and the inhabitants get preyed on by pirates and gangs.
- In Journey, a robed figure is born in a desert where your ancestors' civilization existed. While cloth fragments are still around, not as much technology functions well and the buildings have deteriorated since the war machines' conflict against the White Robes. A exception to this is the snowy mountain, its peak split by a crevice.
- Many of the Wild ARMs games have elements of this, as did the anime, with Wild ARMs 3 being the straightest example (the others all have prominent oceans and forests). Like Journey, crosses over with the Burned-Out Earth, though, since Filgaia as a planet is slowly dying.
- The "Under the Burning Suns" campaign in The Battle For Wesnoth takes place in the distant future of the main setting of the game, centuries after Mages raised a second sun into the sky. Funnily enough, there's a solid gameplay reason for that: Lawful creatures (including mages) are stronger during the day. One way or another, having two suns led to the whole planet going desert. (The campaign features "Desert Elves".)
- Pandora in Borderlands invokes very Mad-Max like look-and-feel thank to be mostly desert and having a lot of remnants of mining equipment and towns in various states of decay and numerous garbage dumps. The lore for the planet states that it has orbit with high eccentricity, making climate hot and dry at short 'summer' and chilling cold at longer 'winter' causing most local species to hibernate at local winter. Since Borderlands 2 is set several years later (likely at local 'autumn'), it features much more diverse landscape, though there is still no trees and vegetation is scarce even at more hospitable areas.
- Motavia in Phantasy Star IV. It's naturally a desert planet, but in between Phantasy Star and Phantasy Star II, it was fully terraformed into a Ghibli Hills world that borders on Crystal Spires and Togas. However, Climatrol was destroyed in II, and since then, the world has been slowly desertifying and monsters have been taking over the wilds, with only the Hunter's Guild to fight them back. Thus, this crosses over with the Burned-Out Earth variant. Obviously, it was a desert planet in the original Phantasy Star, but it was far less "punk" back then.
- It's quite literally All There in the Manual, or at least it was until Homeworld: Deserts of Kharak came along in 2016, but the early history of the protagonist race from Homeworld had elements of this.
- Pokémon Colosseum. The protagonist is not a plucky 10-year old, but an ex-Pokemon thief that rescues the female protagonist, who looks like a cheap, under-age hooker in the Japanese version◊. Together they fight their way through the badlands of Orre, driving a rusty hover-cycle with an engine presumably stolen from a Top Fuel dragster. Reinforced by the near-total lack of Pokemon (read: organic life) in the desert areas. The only real exceptions are Agate Village (a lovely green village built high in the mountains) and Phenac City, a veritable oasis city whose mayor is secretly the Big Bad.
- The sequel game Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness takes place in the same region, but there are a few places where life has begun to find a way, and wild Pokemon have begun to appear. Strange, since Orre is not a post-apocalypse locale that has something to recover from, but merely in the Pokemon world equivalent of an actual desert in the south-western United States.
- Mar Sara and a few other desert worlds from StarCraft.
- Sands of Destruction downplays the "punk" part in favor of Science Fantasy, but certain aspects take on a distinctly punk aesthetic - see, for example, the stern of Agan's Cool Ship The Sea Gale.
- The world of Heaven's Vault consists of "moons" (actually small asteroids with Eatrh-like gravity and atmoshpere) connected by a network of "rivers" (water flowing between the moons). Most of the moons are mostly or completely dry, with a few notable exceptions. This makes water a valuable resource.
- In Homestuck, the Land of Sand and Zephyr, and Earth c. 2422 (in the beta timeline, anyway).
- Bara Magna in BIONICLE
Burned-out Earth Examples
- Desert Punk
- Fist of the North Star seems to be about 25% Kenshiro wandering through sand.
- Sand Land
- Combat Mecha Xabungle straddles both types and plays the trope for a surprising amount of humor, but really falls here due to it being Earth All Along.
- Last three episodes of Excel Saga, though it was only one city. 26 doesn't count.
- The Third: The Girl with the Blue Eye
- Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann Pre-timeskip, everything is desert with giant freakin robots and beastmen. Can't really say the same for post-timeskip though.
- Just A Pilgrim, by Garth Ennis, is set on an Earth devastated by a solar flare, literally burned out. The few survivors scrape along the arid ocean bottoms, beset by various mutant monsters.]
- Some Judge Dredd stories set in the Cursed Earth had this feel.
- Tank Girl, is usually set in the Australian outback. And Tank Girl is definitely a punk.
- Ur-Example and Trope Codifier: The Mad Max sequels, especially The Road Warrior and Fury Road.
- Terminator Salvation seems to have this as the setting outside of cities.
- Resident Evil: Extinction. While it is set in the Nevada/Utah desert, the opening explains the whole world is a desert. The world got better in the sequels.
- 9, though it's not quite clear in the film whether the entire world is like this or if it's just the place where the dolls live.
- Tank Girl - At least Australia is sand, but we're not sure if it's the rest of the world too.
- Despite being set in the present day, Fair Game (1986) and The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) have elements of this trope, most notably cool cars, arid Badlands, sociopathic hoons in punk punk inspired clothing, and deserted settlements.
- The Movie of Kamen Rider Kabuto
- Patrick Swayze film Steel Dawn, which is a western with swords in a post-apocalyptic world.
- The Book of Eli
- A Boy and His Dog - Society on the surface world has been reduced to roving bands of scavengers prowling for food and sex. There is a civilization underground, but it's a bizarre, oligarchical, almost dystopian state.
- Much of Cherry 2000 takes place in the post-apocalyptic Nevada desert.
- Solarbabies is an odd (and commercially disastrous) attempt to blend Desert Punk with roller-skating, teen dystopia, and elements of ET The Extraterrestrial of all things.
- The Atlantropa Articles takes place in a post-apocalyptic Europe in the 23rd century where Nazis rule and the Mediterranean Sea has dried up, creating a massive desert called "the Kiln".
- City of Bones (1995) takes place a thousand years after an Unspecified Apocalypse reduced the world to a desert waste. Humanity survives in a few "fringe cities" with an exploitative Fantastic Caste System, while the Waste is a Death World inhabited by bio-engineered "krismen" and cannibalistic Desert Bandits. A major plot thread involves discovering the origin of the Waste and its ramifications for the present day.
- Clark Ashton Smith wrote a series of stories set on Zothique, a burned-out supercontinent in Earth's distant and bleak future. The typical Zothique story combines the Cosmic Horror Story with swashbuckling Heroic Fantasy adventure.
- Deadlands is set in a very strange version of the wild west that qualifies as this with a bit of magic thrown in for kicks.
- Fallout. The Fallout universe as a whole is designed around the popular conceptions of future technology and the effects of nuclear war that the American public had in the 1950's. Many aspects of it are intentionally unrealistic.
- Fallout; Justified in this case, as the game takes place in post-apocalyptic Southern California.
- Fallout 2; Justified in this case, as the game takes place in post-apocalyptic Northern California, Northwestern Nevada and Southern Oregon.
- Fallout: New Vegas; Justified in this case, as the game takes place in the post-apocalyptic Mojave Desert. The exception is Zion Valley which is lush with life, clean flowing water, and a rain cycle.
- Fallout 3; Justified in this case as, even though it's set in Washington D.C., it was hit hard by nuclear weapons (the White House is gone), burning it even worse than the rest of the country.
- Fallout 4; Mostly averted, since Boston was not hit as hard as the rest of the country. However, the southern areas are still dangerous, mainly due to the presence of the Gunners, mercenaries who in practice are little better than raiders, as well as bands of Super Mutants. There's also the Glowing Sea in the southwestern corner, a radioactive wasteland (even by Fallout standards) created by the only nuke to hit the Boston area, which is filled with various types of Demonic Spiders that occasionally wander into the Commonwealth.
- LISA, being heavily inspired by Fist of the North Star, is pretty much solely this.
- The Orre region from Pokémon Colosseum fits this to a T. Unlike most Pokémon games, the criminal organization practically controls the entire region already, and even the protagonist is more morally gray than normal. Justified, as the region is based off of Phoenix, Arizona.
- One of the subplots of Homestuck involves four survivors of the ravaging of Skaia exiled on Earth, doing... something. That's a pretty good question, what were they doing there?
- Turns out their job is to both advise the players and restore life on Earth.
- Weapon Brown
- Bicycle Boy takes place in a vast, dry post-apocalyptic desert.
- Suihira judging by the Saharan Shipwrecks and mentions that "lower desert" used to be ocean floor.
- Parodied in Futurama. Turns out thats just what 3003 Los Angeles looks like normally.