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Standard Sci-Fi Setting

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"In the far future, the [human group] fights a pitched battle against the mighty [alien name] Empire, but deep in the mysterious [region of space], among the ruins of the past, a darker threat looms."

Does the above sentence sound familiar? It should. It's probably the single most popular Space Opera premise around. In fact, you could even call it the Standard Sci-Fi Setting. Typical features of the Standard setting include:






A typical plot involves the humans fighting the Proud Warrior Race Guys until one or the other stumbles upon the ruins of the Neglectful Precursor civilization and unleashes the evil third race. Then a bunch of people die, there are lots of cool explosions, and the first two races team up to take out the genocidal aliens. Usually they have to track down some Lost Superweapon and use it to destroy the alien queen/mothership/homeworld, thereby saving the galaxy... for now.

Examples come mostly from TV, Movies, and especially video games, where scientific accuracy often takes a back seat to awesome visuals and an engaging storyline. Compare Sci-Fi Kitchen Sink, which takes a Standard Sci-Fi Setting, then crams as many other Speculative Fiction Tropes into it as it can.


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  • Legion of Super-Heroes has a 1000-years-from-now setting that was so close to the Standard Sci-Fi Setting (at least until the threeboot) that you'd think it's clearly based on Star Trek had it not actually preceded Trek by a good 8 years. FTL? Original has warp drive, reboot adds Stargates. Threeboot isn't so stock, as transmatter gates have rendered spacecraft obsolete. The United Planets is The Federation (it was at least once erroneously called "the Federation of Planets"). Mysticism? Check. Not just psionics, but explicit magic, since it takes place in the Fantasy Kitchen Sink DC Universe. Proud warrior race? The Khunds, sometimes specifically based on Klingons. Alien hordes? Check. Space pirates? Check.
  • DC Comics' Star Raiders graphic novel features one of this. Easy Faster-Than-Light Travel, Psychic Powers, Scary Dogmatic Aliens, The Empire, La Résistance, and lots of Epic Space Battles.

  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe is more or less the Trope Codifier in modern fiction. The films have an extremely light version of this, checking off the technology section, but mostly missing out on the population section (aliens are used for flavor but have little relevance), and being very light on factions (space pirates are shown to exist, but only matter in what side they take with the main two factions). The Expanded Universe fills out the rest, having stories where pretty much everything gets its Day in the Limelight, elaborating on a Proud Warrior Race through the Mandalorians, the Yuuzhan Vong being Scary Dogmatic Aliens from "beyond known space", and also giving much more relevance to side factions (including some corporations). Star Wars's EU was also among the most influential in shaping the idea of a rich and populous core space flanked by progressively poorer, less dense, and more rebellious regions, with the galaxy divided into the Core Worlds, the Inner Rim, the Mid Rim, the Outer Rim, and the Unknown Regions.
  • Equally important is Aliens. While the movie lacks other alien civilizations and easy faster than light speed, it single handedly defined human culture, technology, military, and visual style for Standard Sci Fi Settings for decades to come. Babylon 5, StarCraft, FreeSpace, Halo, and Mass Effect are more or less directly based on this movie.
  • The Marvel Cinematic Universe's cosmic stories, namely the Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel, Thor and later Avengers movies, are set in one.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Star Trek is one of the main sources of this setting and has used the basic plot for both The Next Generation with The Borg as The Virus and Deep Space Nine where they fought against the Dominion, not to mention countless one-off episodes that have used this plot to preach An Aesop of cooperation.
  • Andromeda had The Commonwealth, the Nietzscheans, the Magog, and various Precursors. It was following the standard plot pretty well until the mysticism took over and it got weird.
  • Stargate SG-1 - originally a planet-of-the-week adventure centered around the titular device, with not that much overall continuity - mutated into this slowly, picking elements over time (especially starting with season 6), although it took the addition of Stargate Atlantis to complete the transition. The Ancients are the Neglectful Precursors, the Wraith and Replicators are the genocidal planet looters or Planet Eater (and the former wiped out the Ancients), the Tau'ri (us, modern Earthlings) are the spacefaring humans with grey ships, and the Jaffa are Proud Warrior Race Guys serving the Goa'uld, a race of Scary Dogmatic Aliens.
    • The Stargate-verse differs from the Standard Sci-Fi Setting in a number of ways. First and most importantly, the characters are mostly modern Americans, and all the high-tech stuff is unknown to the general world simply because of a Masquerade. Morality is more black and gray than in many Sci-Fi settings because the military often has to Shoot the Dog. This is almost unique in that most of the protagonists are Genre Savvy. However, by the end of the series Earth basically is playing the role of The Federation, thanks partially to the Very Neglectful Precursors and partially to Earth's role in freeing the Proud Warrior Race Guys from millenia of slavery.
  • Babylon 5:
    • The series starts out with the Narn as the Proud Warrior Race Guys, The Minbari as the Closer to Earth race, and the Shadows and Vorlons being both the Neglectful Precursors and the Planet Looters at the same time, in varying amounts.
    • It's worth noting that B5 sets the clichés during the first season and then proceeds to Deconstruct them in short order. The Narns mellow down considerably, the Minbari demonstrate serious flaws and hypocrisy, the Centauri who initially seemed to be ineffectual comical figures develop a darker edge, and so on. The less significant races keep to their clichés pretty tightly, though - the Drazi, for example, demonstrate the Proud Warrior Race traits quite a bit, when the Narn set them aside.
    • The dark side of the Minbari is shown almost right away though they always have an attractive side as well as a dark side and the Narns don't really mellow although G'kar does (they simply change from the would-be Empire into The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized). The Minbari curiously are both a Proud Warrior Race and a Proud Scholar Race. The Centauri are a big surprise; no one would expect them to be good enough at fighting to be brutal conquerors anymore. EarthGov is a surprise; we expect it to be The Federation and instead it evolves into a Police State, but with the twist that it is an isolationist and nativist Police State rather than The Empire, and spends more time suppressing internal rebellion then in aggression. Interestingly most of the characters including the command staff and all the main ambassadors at one time or another end up as La Résistance to their own government in various ways and degrees. The Vorlons are a real surprise, turning out to be almost as evil as the Shadows except for Kosh. The Shadows follow the generic description above almost exactly, being the Sealed Evil in a Can that forces leaders from other races to form The Alliance.
  • Firefly is arguably a Standard Sci-Fi Setting adapted to fit closer to the realistic end of the Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic. It clearly has many of the elements, as listed below, but lacks the more fantastic ones like aliens.
  • Some of the future in Doctor Who. In particular the Dalek Wars where The Alliance, including Earth, is battling the Dalek Empire (the ultimate Scary Dogmatic Aliens), and the First Earth Empire period, with the Earth Empire as The Federation and the Draconian Empire as The Empire. It's a bit of a different angle, since we see the setting from the perspective of a not-so-neglectful member of the Neglectful Precursors.

    Tabletop Games 

  • The Halo games have less of a mystical bent than other examples (though the Precursors might count), but otherwise fits perfectly. The Covenant are the Scary Dogmatic Aliens, The Flood are The Virus, The Forerunners are the Neglectful Precursors, and both the Covenant and the UNSC have their own versions of the core and the border (Inner/Outer Colonies for the latter, Covenant Core/Covenant Fringe for the former), with everything beyond their small chunk of the Orion Arm functioning as the unknown regions. The plot is largely as above.
  • FreeSpace: The Terrans play this trope completely straight, but while the Vasudans certainly fit the Proud Warrior Race stereotype, the xenocidal Shivans are slightly anamolous. Whilst certainly Color-Coded for Your Convenience, from beyond known space, and responsible for wiping out the (downright maliciously imperialistic) Ancients, the Shivans are neither The Virus, a Horde of Alien Locusts, nor Planet Looters. They don't bother with conquest, looting, or assimilation, all they care about is getting to the xenocide. FTL drives are both subspace drives and require a Portal Network of jump nodes to travel between systems. There is a total lack of any metaphysical aspect or aliens aside from the core 3 races. Aside from those minor details, it's a Standard Sci-Fi Setting.
  • Starcraft is set entirely in the relatively limited Koprulu sector of the Milky Way. The terrans are the humans, the protoss are the Warriors and the Higher-Tech Species, the zerg are the Horde of Alien Locusts crossed with The Virus, and the Xel'Naga are the Precursors. Psychic Powers are everywhere. The terrans are mostly ruled by first the Confederacy and then the Dominion, both of which are cruel empires that the main terran hero eventually overthrows. The other terran factions are the Kel-Morian Combine (Mega-Corp that independently rules planets) and the Umojan Protectorate (The Republic and nicest faction of terrans), with Space Pirates plaguing the border territories. The protoss have the standard three-way Space Elves division of High (Khalai), Wood (Nerazim), and Dark (Tal'darim). The zerg are divided between the main Zerg Swarm (starts as Space Locusts under the Overmind before making a Heel–Face Turn under Kerrigan and Zagara), Amon's Swarm (a straight example of Space Locusts to the end), the Primal Zerg (distinct subspecies of individualists), and the feral zerg (broods that operate on little more than an animal intelligence, The Usual Adversaries for all the other factions in the sector). FTL travel is done casually via warp drives. Hundreds of other species are occasionally referenced as existing in the sector under the watchful eye of the Khalai Protoss, but they're implied to be non-spacefaring and therefore play no role in the plot. The plot is as described, with the protoss and terrans starting in conflict before becoming allies against the zerg, and all factions of all three races eventually allying against both their own worst members and the Eldritch Abomination Amon, who has his army of mind-controlled Slave Mooks destroyed before he himself is killed with a Lost Superweapon of sorts. The novels/comics/DLC set after the main story has most of the factions maintaining an unsteady peace.
  • Galactic Civilizations used this as part of its "nothing you haven't seen before" approach to game design.
  • Mass Effect, with the network of jump gates (though they can still use Alcubierre drives to pull several thousand times light speed without jump gates), mass effect fields as the Applied Phlebotinum of choice, the Reapers and Protheans sharing the role of Precursors, the krogan as proud warrior race, the salarians as proud scientist race, the geth and Reapers as the genocidal aliens (with a hint of Cosmic Horror), and the asari doubling as both psychic Space Elves and an entire species of blue-skinned space babes.
    • It's the perspective of many that humanity is the come-lately Proud Warrior Race Guys. They're trusted enough to be considered for the Council and Spectre membership, but not that much more than the krogans.
    • Also, since the game features Husks (human corpses impaled on evil technology spikes that turn into mindless ever-attacking robots) as the basic frontline unit of the Reapers, the Reapers actually are Robot Eldritch Abominations that command zombies.
  • Freelancer is kinda like a conspiracy story with Casual Interstellar Travel, Space Clothes to some degree (mostly the LSF uniforms), and genocidal aliens who come to claim back their old turf. There are no Psychic Powers though, and the closest thing to The Federation are the four Houses that are kinda like our countries.
  • Halo's forerunner, Marathon, decides to mix things up. You have the so non-proud warrior race/Alien Slaver Pfhor, then the indigenous Flick'ta replaced the planned fungal zombies, and an Eldritch Abomination shows up in the final game. The S'pht and their long-lost cousins Enemy Mine with the humans to take on the aforementioned threats. Other than the above alterations, the plot pretty much follows the above description to a T.
  • Sins of a Solar Empire. The Trader Emergency Coalition (or TEC) is The Federation, The Advent have Psychic Powers, Vasari are Planet Looters, and there's Space Pirates and easy faster-than-light travel, by means of "phase jumps" along "phase lines" in "phase space." Most beyond that is uncertain, since the developers decided to drop a campaign in favor of better multiplayer.
  • The Star Control universe does all of the above both straight and with a light-hearted tone.
  • Sword of the Stars has a wealth of this, although it plays with a lot of them, like different races using different faster than light drives (all the standard methods are used, but by different races) and a wealth of background information on the different races and their inner workings that would put several sci-fi TV series to shame.
    • Proud Warrior Race: Tarka, within reason
    • Bee People: Hivers, with a complex and intricate society of independently conscious but very family-oriented eusocial insectoids.
    • Spiritual Race: Liir, so pacifistic their military is composed entirely of sociopaths who will annihilate your entire species if they deem you a threat.
    • Precursors: Morrigi, who used to come to earth to trade trinkets with the cave-dwelling locals (and inspire myths of dragons) and are just now coming back from near extinction.
    • Planet Looters: Zuul, they'll also take slaves for labor or Mind Rape. Unless they're the faction in the second game who've joined with the Liir.
    • Eldritch Abomination: Suul'ka, who are actually extremely old Liir who've grown so big their tentacles can bisect dreadnoughts
    • Psychic Powers: In particular the Liir and Zuul, form a whole branch of the tech tree in "2".
  • Lovingly parodied by Gratuitous Space Battles; the back story is pure fluff, used as a tongue-in-cheek excuse for the eponymous space battles. The main thing it lacks is the wise Crystal Spires and Togas civilization: the Tribe comes close, but they're Well Intentioned Extremists, just as violent as everyone else.
  • The Wing Commander series is all about this. Initially it's the Terran Confederation versus the Kilrathi Empire, but in the fifth game the Horde of Alien Locusts shows up.
  • Escape Velocity Nova is no exception to this trope. The main twist is that all the major factions are human (no GSSBs, Greys, or lizardfolk). There's also no Horde faction, and since the game takes place entirely in space, Space Marines are present but largely ignored. As for the precursors, little remains of their leavings and even less is understood; they're just gone.
  • Supreme Commander: The UEF are the standard The Federation, the Aeon are high tech Church Militant, the Cybrans are cyborgs, and the Seraphim are the aliens. They all have Humongous Mecha, and teleport via quantum physics.
  • The Endless Universe of Endless Space and Endless Legend. The very core of all civilizations revolves around a substance called Dust which were created eons ago by the Endless, and is used for almost anything. From building cities, creating new technologies, to a form of currency. It features multiple races of every alignment and ideology, including sentient robots and Silicon-Based Life.
  • Stellaris, likewise, lets you craft your own variation on the Standard Sci-Fi Setting. Humans are available in two flavors, the democratic, egalitarian United Nations of Earth and the Commonwealth of Man, a fascist Lost Colony inspired by Starship Troopers. Most of the pre-made alien empires fit into one of the categories listed above, and likewise, you can create your own alien species from scratch — including a Hive Mind or a race of robots (both available in assimilationist or genocidal varieties). The fallen empires, small and stagnant but extremely technologically advanced, serve as your precursors, and one possible origin for your empire has them being uplifted by a fallen empire. The Megacorp expansion lets you play as just that, and the Apocalypse expansion lets you play as Space Barbarians while introducing "marauder" clans that can unify around a Great Khan. One of the ascension paths has you tapping into your species' latent Psychic Powers. And the three endgame crises are all you classic "darker threats looming" — a Bug War, an ancient AI reawakening, and extradimensional invaders.


    Web Originals 
  • Averted/subverted in Orion's Arm, which tries to be a hard sci-fi setting without sacrificing any of the appeal of the more traditional Space Opera. The result is a transhumanist setting ruled by godlike Artificial Intelligences called Archai, which have experienced not one, but several Singularities and rule over their lesser subjects like benign deities. Advanced nanotechnology and relativistic spaceflight are commonplace, and while true FTL is impossible, wormholes and Reactionless Drive technology have been created by the Archai. Creating Life is also not that hard, and baseline unmodified humans represent only a tiny part of the extremely diverse terragen (originating-from-Earth) civilization composed of genetically modified transhumans and sentient animals and sentient human-animal hybrids, cyborgs of all kinds, sentient robots, and several kinds of infomorphic lifeforms. And that's just the lower toposophic (read: number of Singularities crossed) levels, before you get to the various planet-sized AIs, Dyson Sphere-sized AIs, and the wormhole-based AIs that are the higher toposophic beings (the 'godlings' and full godlike Archai). And that's just the terragens, not counting the handful of very alien aliens that the setting features. Basically, any technology or lifeform that isn't banned outright by physics is in there, somewhere.