Planetary romance – the Hero and the Environment


Of the many sub-genres of science fiction and fantasy, I’ve to say that planetary romance is one of my favorite since the first time I read the Barsoom stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was far younger back then, less prone to analyze plot and development of such works, but the “magic” of that novels still works for me, even after many years. Planetary romance is little more than a label, applied to a variety of very different works. That said, it will be pretentious to craft an absolute definition of this sub-genre. I will use this post to state some of the ideas that I get about the main tropes, hoping to raise some question and sparkle a bit of interest in it.

We have the main character, the hero of this environment. A man or a woman that will reach, often by very nebulous ways, an unknown planet. Being this character the hero, we know for sure that a number of tropes will apply; maximum respect for a man or a woman able to adapt in a matter of seconds to an unknown environment. But what does it means?

Let’s see the main factors; atmosphere composition, local star influence, gravity influence, wildlife and civilized non-humans.

It stands to reason that Earth-like planets should be similar but nonidentical. The atmosphere of planet X will be constituted by the same gas, but with some difference when it comes to composition. Having more or less oxygen (more or less carbon dioxide) could make a lot of difference for our imaginary hero. The same could be said about pressure and what about the protection against ultraviolet radiation (and other deadly stuff)? We are used to Earth’s peculiar kind of atmosphere, what will happen with some real differences? Possible negative effects on our hero: asthma, death by asphyxia, seizure, convulsions.

What about the local star? Depending on its type, the distance from the planet, the balance of magnetic fields and the composition of the atmosphere, we may have a different level of ultraviolet radiation, a different strength of the solar wind and a different input of cosmic rays. The possible combinations of such factors could shape the whole ecosystem of the planet and contribute to raising (or to lowering) the choices that our hero may survive in the new environment. Possible negative effects on our hero: blindness, death by radiation poisoning.

Gravity is a factor often underrated in fiction, maybe for an excessive use of super-science devices onboard spaceships. Even a small difference from the standard G-force, say between 0.95 and 1.05 G, can be easily perceived by our hero. Just imagine how can be problematic a bigger deviation! This will affect even the most basic tasks (walking, jumping, running), not to mention more complicated actions (ballistic, navigation). Possible negative effects on our hero: bone structure and/or muscle structure damage, blood circulation, coordination.


The wildlife in the new planet is always a strong point in this kind of narrative. Exotic in form and in color, absolutely new for our hero, and more than often, used for providing a lot of entertainment in terms of hard-won fights. But what about the basics of such wildlife? DNA and RNA should differ from the models we already know and that leaves room for a whole lot of consequences. What if our hero is absolutely toxic for any lifeform on the planet? What if his/her presence drives mad the local predators? And again, is there any choice that the load of bacteria and viruses that all human carry around could trigger a reaction in the local biome? Possible negative effects on our hero: eating and drinking, without proper enzymes, could be impossible.

Last but not least, the local non-human civilization. Please remember, what we get here is the one-human-against-the-world scenario. Usually the hero is somewhat superior to the locals, but what if the said local simply refuse to recognize the newcomer? What if they perceive a stranger as a threat and put aside any other conflict in order to get rid of the hero? And again, what are the chances that the local civilization could be understandable for our hero? I will return on the subject with a more specific post, just let our hero take a look around and familiarize with the new planet. As you may see, once removed the basic tropes life becomes far more interesting.



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