In Space
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Basic Information

IN SPACE!!! (aka Recycled In Space) refers to a trope or setting where a concept from elsewhere in human experience is given sufficient makeover to set it amongst the stars or on another world, but still kept intact enough that you can trace the conceptual evolution and thus be able to riff off related tropes and expectations. By default this transforms anything into science fiction, but sometimes it's functionally more like transforming the sci-fi into an older genre.


  • Firefly (TV show) is obviously The Western in space. Other successful properties have chosen to mask their origins a bit more.
  • Star Trek was originally pitched as "Wagon Train to the Stars", but only a few rare episodes make this connection overt.
  • Battlestar Galactica feels more explicitly like Wagon Train to the Stars.
  • The Star Wars (movies) draw extensively from both spaghetti westerns and the Kurosawa samurai films that inspired those, and also work some fantasy into the mix as well via the Jedi knights, and based their starship combat on WWII. Later tv-spin-off The Mandalorian leans heavily into The Western again.
  • The Aliens movie franchise started with horror-film in space, then pivoted to war-movie in space… and then the allegory got a little less clear with some of the later and spin-off films.
  • Warhammer 40k started as just Warhammer Fantasy (itself derived from Tolkein and D&D) in space. It's grown some of its own dystopian baggage over the years, but there's still space-elves and space-orks so the origins are abundantly clear.
  • Honor Harrington novels are meant to re-create the age of sail classics in space - apparently particularly inspired by C.S. Forrester's Hornblower novels.


1. TV Tropes wiki calls this "Recycled IN SPACE!".

Game and Story Use

  • You can choose to do this very overtly, or very subtly.
    • Overt references work great for convention games and one-shot scenarios, where you have to get the concepts across quickly. It can also work great for parody or light-hearted games. Too overt may come off as campy or gimmicky, and it's possible you or your players or audience may think that's bad. If the entire play group is into both sci-fi and the genre being transposed into space, they may enjoy even heavy-handed referencing.
    • Too subtle may cause players or readers to not pick up on it, and miss the point. This generally isn't a problem in fiction, as long as the underlying story is strong. It may add a nice extra layer to your story for those who choose to engage with it on a deeper level. Too much subtly can potentially be more problematic in RPGs, because if the players don't know what the GM is trying to do, they may fail to pick up on clues, or take actions that go against the grain of the intended setting or genre. Like, if the GM wants to do a Noir Detective Mystery but the players are mostly interested in starship dogfights, there's a potential that no one will get enough of the core experience they're hoping for.
    • Finding the right balance can be tricky. Luckily, RPGs give us a third option: you can be subtle with it in play, but discuss it upfront during character creation or session zero so the players have it on their radar and know what to expect.
  • Often elements of other genres can be ported-over and transformed to match corresponding space-based analogs.
  • Sci-fi can be given a loose "era feel" by some of the background assumptions - use slow, less reliable FTL and no FTL-comms and you get an age of sail analogue, reliable slow FTL travel but no communications gets you into the age of steam and adding limited bandwidth FTL-comms gives you the early C20 "telegraph age" (especially if you limit the capacity to send and receive from ships underway). A remote, poorly organised frontier can give you a "western" theme, with optional lower tech alien species for the colonial era. Bordering humanity on competent, possibly more powerful and apparently more united aliens gives a Renaissance feeling (with the aliens standing in for China and the Ottomans) … decaying those powers then gives a later, colonial vibe playing with the Western infiltration and demolition of both powers. There's really quite a lot of history that can be easily recycled if you look for it…
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