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Pastoral Science Fiction

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Science fiction set in the countryside and encompassing themes appropriate to that setting. While this is very common in fantasy, it's a much rarer thing in science fiction. Stories set in Arcadia or Ghibli Hills are likely to fall under this category. Yet, the trope refers not merely to an idyllic setting — many sci-fi stories start in such a place, only to quickly smash it to bits for the sake of drama or leave it behind in the first act and not return to it for 400 pages. Pastoral sci-fi refers to a work whose overall tone reflects the atmosphere of such a place — calm, peaceful, and meditative. Drama and excitement may certainly happen here, but the overarching feel of the work remains one of tranquility.

The setting may be the result of a Cozy Catastrophe (or even a true and terrible apocalypse, provided that it was a long time ago and things have settled down in its aftermath). On the other hand, perhaps nothing of the sort happened, and this is a scientifically and culturally advanced, but none the less green, open, and idyllic world, filled with Crystal Spires and Togas and Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology. Or it may be our world, where an alien or time traveler has dropped out of the sky into a rural setting without necessarily destroying the place.

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The Noble Savage and Space Amish are likely to inhabit such a story, or conversely, perhaps a Crystal Spires and Togas crowd trying to live a Solar Punk lifestyle. Slice of Life science fiction lends itself well to this genre.

The Trope Namer is Clifford Simak, who used this term to describe much of his work, particularly Way Station.

To reiterate, this is a science fiction trope. Both fantasies and realistic fiction employ this sort of vibe too commonly for it to be particularly notable, but in science fiction it is rare enough to stand out.

Compare Weird West, Cattle Punk, and Space Western. Contrast Techno Dystopia.


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Examples

Anime and Manga

  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind — Most of the film fits the requirements, certainly with Nausicaa's agrarian home valley, and even the alien-seeming but beautifully peaceful fungus forest fits the atmosphere perfectly (as long as you don't give the local fauna a reason to attack you).
  • The relatively primitive, beautiful, canal-laced world of Aria.
  • Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou is a post-apocalyptic slice of life manga about a robot who runs a cafe in the countryside.
  • Space Dandy, with its Planet of the Week structure, runs into a few of these:
    • In one meditative episode, directed by Masaaki Yuasa, the crew end up on a planet covered with a civilization of sapient plants, and much of the episode focuses on the alien jungle as Dandy becomes one with the forest and helps the plants deal with a creeping threat at the pole.
    • Another episode takes place on a planet mostly covered by an ocean. Dandy spends the time befriending a family of fishermen and trying to catch an enormous, legendary fish-like alien.

Comic Books

  • Superman for All Seasons was inspired by the works of Norman Rockwell, and is set mainly in Smallville, Kansas during Clark's upbringing. The art is serene and beautiful, and dialogue is kept minimal.

Film

Literature

  • Clifford Simak is the Trope Namer, primarily with his book Way Station, about a rural man granted immortality by aliens in exchange for secretly maintaining an interstellar teleporter waystation, out in the hills where it's unlikely to be discovered by the world at large.
  • Alien in a Small Town is the story of a friendly, albeit rather neurotic, Starfish Alien who ends up living among a community of Mennonites in the 24th century. The book is full of descriptions of the quiet beauty of rural Pennsylvania, and the whole thing could be described as a Slice of Life piece.
  • If not for the fact that it was long before Simak coined the term, the world of the Eloi in The Time Machine could be viewed as a deconstruction of the trope. Indeed, the Time Traveler at first assumes this is exactly the sort of future world he's discovered, where man's descendants live in happy idleness and beauty... until he learns the terrible truth that they are cattle for the cannibalistic Morlocks.
  • "The Dandelion Girl" is about a man who travels to the country and happens to meet a girl from the future there.
    Julie: "Day before yesterday I saw a rabbit, and yesterday a deer, and today, you."
  • The segment Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rythin' After in Cloud Atlas takes place in a simple agrarian society on Hawai'i After the End. While the society is not without problems and ends up getting destroyed by the Kona at the end, with the demise of humanity implied to be impending, a lot of the story is about the relatively peaceful lives of the good-natured people there as they adapt to the arrival of a higher-tech visitor.
  • The page image source, Tales from the Loop (and by extension, its tabletop and screen adaptations), thanks to its default setting in a small town in the Swedish countryside overshadowed by a research facility and the titular particle accelerator.

Live Action TV

  • British Edutainment series Police, Camera, Action! does this in the beginning and end of the episode "Highway of Tomorrow" (an episode where the police were Out of Focus the whole episode and the episode's subject was car technology), filmed in mid-2000, where it shows a Volvo crash-test site in rural Sweden (appropriately enough, sci-fi music like that of 1980s Doctor Who is used), and towards the end, when they test-drive a Ford Escort hatchback that cannot go above 55mph. The episode has a lot of science-fiction 1950s references to autonomous cars and driver technology, adding to the sci-fi feel.

Video Games

  • Myst certainly has this sort of vibe to it, with endless pretty, quiet visuals juxtaposing gardenesque greenery and peaceful seas with bits of abandoned Raygun Gothic tech lying about.
  • Likewise, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture is full of lovingly rendered visuals of green, rural country set to a hauntingly beautiful (or perhaps beautifully haunting?) soundtrack, as the player tries to deduce where everyone in the area has vanished to.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a Science Fantasy example, albeit one with a heavier emphasis on the "Pastoral" and "Fantasy" than the "Science." This Hyrule became predominantly a post-apocalyptic wilderness when possessed Magitek robots, originally built in the distant past by Hyrule's more technologically advanced ancestors, slaughtered a massive chunk of the kingdom's inhabitants. The places Link visits in the game's present tend to have a tranquil, agrarian/wilderness feel to them, but there are still sci-fi elements like the aforementioned robots, high-tech Shrines where Link must solve puzzles, and a handful of Sheikah scientists who can give Link high-tech equipment and abilities.
  • Some of the open world areas of Destiny and Destiny 2 can veer toward this, especially in the more open and transitional sections of the exploration maps removed from areas with constant fighting. Sections of the Earth maps feature peaceful grasslands and untouched forests left to grow in the wake of the Collapse, and even xenoformed planets like Nessus and Io can feature areas of peaceful tranquility among the bizarre plant life and strange skies. Rather tellingly, one of the hub areas in Destiny 2 is known simply as "The Farm" which serves as a peaceful agrarian location for survivors of the Red War to gather.
  • Whispers of a Machine is arguably set in a post-science fiction world, as the war between humanity and robots has led to a host of advanced technology being banned. Nevertheless this trope applies, as the game takes place in an ambigiously Scandinavian town, complete with farmers, scenic vistas and a local tavern.

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