Terraforming in popular culture
Terraforming is well represented in popular culture, usually in the form of science fiction. While many stories involving interstellar travel feature planets already suited to habitation by humans and supporting their own indigenous life, some authors prefer to address the unlikeliness of such a concept by instead detailing the means by which humans have converted inhospitable worlds to ones capable of supporting life through artificial means.
Author Jack Williamson is credited with inventing and popularizing the term "terraform". In July 1942, under the pseudonym Will Stewart, Williamson published a science fiction novella entitled "Collision Orbit" in Astounding Science-Fiction magazine. The series was later published as two novels, Seetee Shock (1949) and Seetee Ship (1951). American geographer Richard Cathcart successfully lobbied for formal recognition of the verb "to terraform", and it was first included in the fourth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary in 1993.
|1898||War of the Worlds||H. G. Wells||Earth||When the Martians invade the Earth, they bring with them some red weed.The weed starts to kill off Earth indigenous plant life and multiply rapidly|
|1910||«La Journée d'un Parisien au XXIe siècle» ("A Day of a Parisian in the 21st Century")||Octave Béliard||Moon||The Moon is gradually given an atmosphere, and vegetation is acclimated in order to turn the Earth's satellite into a natural reserve or sanctuary for endangered species, but also to allow human colonization.|
|1927||The Last Judgment||J. B. S. Haldane||Venus||An essay that proposes how life on Earth might end and speculates on the evolution of humanity, space exploration and colonization, and adaptation to new environments. Venus is proposed as a new home.|
|1930||Last and First Men||Olaf Stapledon||Venus||Following up where Haldane left off, Stapledon's future history provides the first example in fiction in which Venus is modified, after a long and destructive war with the original inhabitants. Stapledon imagines a native Venus that is covered in oceans.|
|1950||Farmer in the Sky||Robert A. Heinlein||Ganymede||A family emigrates from Earth to the Jovian moon Ganymede, which is being terraformed. Farmer in the Sky is a historically significant novel in relation to terraforming in popular culture, as it was one of the first to take the subject more seriously than simple fantasy, portraying terraforming with scientific and mathematical considerations.|
|1951||The Sands of Mars||Arthur C. Clarke||Mars||First instance of Martian terraforming. Clarkes fictional methods for terraforming the planet include generating heat by igniting Phobos into a second sun, and growing plants that break down the Martian sands in order to release oxygen.|
|1952||The Martian Way||Isaac Asimov||Mars||Terraforming of Mars using ice from Saturn's rings.|
|1954||The Big Rain||Poul Anderson||Venus||Terraforming Venus. Anderson considers the great time scale inherent in planetary engineering and its effects upon society. Later, the title ("big rain") became associated with scientific terraforming models.|
|1958||The Snows of Ganymede||Poul Anderson||Ganymede||Terraforming of Ganymede|
|1969||Isle of the Dead||Roger Zelazny||Illyria||Francis Sandow is the last surviving human born in the 20th century who becomes a "worldscaper" - a terraformer with godlike powers.|
|1961||Second Ending||James White||Fomalhaut IV||Fomalhaut, the fourth planet was secretly terraformed by robots over millions of years|
|1984||Greening of Mars||James Lovelock
|Mars||One of the most influential science fiction novels on the actual science of terraforming. The novel explores the formation and evolution of planets, the origin of life, and Earth's biosphere. Spacecraft are illustrated in a realistic manner, and terraforming models in the book foreshadowed future debates regarding the goals of terraforming.|
|1986-1988||Venus of Dreams
Venus of Shadows
|Pamela Sargent||Venus||Terraforming of Venus.|
|1992||Mining the Oort||Frederik Pohl||Mars||Terraforming by diverting comets from the Oort cloud to Mars|
|1992-1999||Mars Trilogy||Kim Stanley Robinson||Mars||Three novels (plus one collection of short stories) provide a lengthy description of terraforming Mars spanning centuries. The novels represent contemporary scientific and philosophical developments in the field, and also pay homage to the already existing fictional literature related to Mars.|
|written by Yū Sasuga
illustrated by Kenichi Tachibana
|Mars||In an attempt to colonize Mars, 21st century scientists were tasked with warming up the planet so that humans could survive on its surface.|
|2012||2312||Kim Stanley Robinson||Much of the Solar System||A novel set one century after the future timeline of the Mars Trilogy, centred on a pair of characters born on Mercury and Titan. Many elements of the novel deal with living in space and the colonisation of moons and asteroids throughout the solar system, but one important subplot centres on the ongoing terraforming of Venus.|
Terraforming of fictional planets in literature
- H. G. Wells alludes to what today might be called xeno-terraforming - alien life altering Earth for their own benefit - in his 1898 novel The War of the Worlds. When the Martians arrive they bring with them a red weed that spreads and (temporarily) overpowers terrestrial vegetation.
- Terraforming is one of the basic concepts around which Frank Herbert's Dune novels (1965-1985) are based: the Fremen's obsession with converting the desert-world Arrakis to earthlike conditions supplies the fugitive Paul Atreides with a ready-made army of followers (In later books, the focus shifts to those trying to "arrakisform" earthlike planets to support the giant sandworms and produce their desired 'spice' secretion). The Imperium's capital world Kaitain has all its weather controlled by satellites. Pardot Kynes, the Planetary Ecologist from Arrakis visited the world, and commented that the nature of the control meant it would eventually bring about disaster, which is why Arrakis should be terraformed through more natural processes.
- Roger MacBride Allen's novel The Depths of Time (2000) features a fictional planet, Solace, on which terraforming is failing and bringing about climatic and ecological collapse.
- Liz Williams' novel The Ghost Sister (2001) offers a critique of terraforming. The ruling elite of Irie St Syre, the Gaianism priestesses, believe that humanity has a right to adapt the climate and biosphere of planets to its own needs. They send out emissaries to a lost colony, Monde d'Isle, who have adapted humanity to their planet, not the other way around.
- Laura J. Mixon's novel Burning the Ice (2002) is set on an imagined frozen moon of 47 Ursae Majoris b which is being terraformed by induced global warming.
- Building Harlequin's Moon (2005), by Larry Niven and Brenda Cooper, shows the creation of a substantial moon by smashing several smaller moons together, and the very lengthy process of terraforming it over 60,000 years.
- Chris Moriarty's novel Spin Control (2006) features a fictional planet, Novalis, on which terraforming is progressing in a speed and direction which defy scientific theory.
- In These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman, the protagonist, teenage Lilac LaRoux, lives a life of luxury due to her rich father who has financed the terraforming of several planets (such as Corinth) inside the fictional universe. The story focusses on Lilac and an army commander as they are the only survivors of a spaceship crash on a planet that appears to be in the process of terraforming but has been abandoned.
Television and film
|1982||Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan||USA||Project Genesis, a device for rapidly terraforming worlds to make them suitable for settlement and food production is introduced. At the end of the film, a Genesis Device is detonated in the Mutara nebula. This results in the creation of a main sequence star and a habitable planet known as the Genesis Planet.|||
|1984||Star Trek III: The Search for Spock||USA||Spock's body has been resurrected by the terraforming device on the Genesis Planet, created at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Due to unstable "proto-matter" used in the terraforming process, the planet's evolution is accelerated, leading to the eventual premature destruction of the Genesis Planet. The nine-disc Star Trek: The Motion Picture Collection contains a director's cut of Star Trek III which has an extra featurette on the "real-science applications of terraforming".|||
|1986||Aliens||USA||In the 1979 film Alien, a ship's crew sets down on planetoid LV-426, a world so environmentally hostile that the three crew members who exit the ship must wear full life support suits. In the 1986 sequel, Aliens, the planet has been terraformed using atmosphere processing equipment to an Earth-like state. The process is described as taking "decades," but is apparently so routine that the colonies responsible for it have earned the whimsical nickname "Shake N' Bake Colonies." The Weyland Yutani corporation sports the phrase "Building Better Worlds" as its slogan, and it is implied that terraforming is a large part of its business.|||
|1988||Star Trek: The Next Generation: Home Soil||USA||USS Enterprise is instructed by the Federation to check on the terraforming colony on Velara III. However, the "lifeless" planet already has an inorganic, yet intelligent alien life living below the surface.|||
|1990||Total Recall||USA||Aliens have built a terraforming device on Mars, which when turned on, fills the atmosphere with oxygen, allowing humans to live on the surface. Total Recall was one of the first films to portray terraforming on Mars, however it was criticized for its scientific inaccuracy.|||
|1992||Red Dwarf: "Terrorform"||United Kingdom||After a crash-landing on a psi-moon, the crew of Red Dwarf face a dark world reformed after Arnold Rimmer's subconscious.|||
|1993||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Second Sight"||USA||Richard Kiley plays a terraformer who has successfully terraformed several planets.|||
|1993||Red Dwarf: "Rimmerworld"||United Kingdom||Arnold Rimmer, trapped on a desert planet for 600 years, uses a seeding pod's genetic and terraforming equipment to create a world of his own clones.|||
|1995||Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Past Tense"||USA||Venus is mentioned as currently being terraformed.|||
|1996||The Arrival||USA||Aliens have built multiple terraforming facilities on Earth, disguised as power plants, causing global warming by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. They plan to alter the Earth to match their own ecological needs.|||
|1998-1999||Cowboy Bebop||Japan, USA, Canada, Europe, United Kingdom||Many episodes take place on numerous terraformed worlds including Venus, Mars, Ganymede, Io, Callisto, and Titan. While terraforming is ubiquitous, it is depicted as having varying scales, effects, and degrees of success on a case by case basis, sometimes spectacularly so in the case of Ganymede and Venus.|||
|2000||Red Planet||USA, Australia||After humanity faces heavy overpopulation and pollution on Earth, uncrewed space probes loaded with algae are sent to Mars with the aim of terraforming and creating a breathable atmosphere.|||
|2000||Titan A.E.||USA||A human invention called "Project Titan"; Titan spacecraft have the capacity to create a new Earth.|||
|2000||Stargate SG-1: Scorched Earth||USA, Canada||Episode centers around an attempt by an extinct alien culture to repopulate an already inhabited planet using terraforming techniques.|||
|2002–03 and 2005||Firefly and its film sequel Serenity||various||The original planet Earth (known in the series as "Earth-That-Was") "got used up," forcing most or all of humanity to find a new star system. In the new system, they terraformed - and apparently are still terraforming - many planets and moons. Each one has been terraformed with varying degrees of success; the inner planets boast a lush climate while the outer edges of the large solar system are populated by desolate, dry moons reminiscent of the Wild West, or can be, as in the case of St. Alban's (featured in the episode The Message), bitterly cold. The movie goes one step further by actually showing what terraforming might look like, as well as stating that the process took decades. The series takes place in the early 26th century. Possibly of note is a mention in an early Firefly episode ("The Train Job") of "each [terraformed moon or planet] ha[ving] its... quirks," including environmentally-triggered diseases such as Bodin's Malady.|||
|2006||Origin: Spirits of the Past||Japan||Origin: Spirits of the Past is the story of Agito, a young boy living in a dystopian Japan set 300 years in the future. This apocalypse was brought about by extensive genetic engineering on trees, conducted at a research facility on Earth's moon, in order to produce trees capable of growing in harsh, arid conditions. The trees became conscious and spread to Earth in a fiery holocaust, wiping out most of modern civilization and fragmenting the moon.|||
|2007||Battle for Terra||USA||The human colonists deploy a massive spider-like terraformer, which converts the existing atmosphere, which is poisonous to humans, into a nitrogen-oxygen mix similar to Earth's. The (apparently) only existing device is capable of converting the entire atmosphere of an Earth-like planet. The gas conversion technology also exists on smaller scales, seen inside the Ark (the colony ship).|||
|2008||Doctor Who: The Doctor's Daughter||United Kingdom||The TARDIS takes The Doctor, Donna and Martha to the planet Messaline where a generations-old war between humans and Hath rages on. The Hath and humans were initially meant to live in a peaceful colony, but were divided over a dispute about "the Source" (a terraforming device), which both sides believe to be theirs.|||
|2008–2013||Fringe||USA||Future descendants of modern humans travel back through time to 2015 due to rapidly dwindling natural resources and excessive pollution on Earth in their own time. Being from the distant future, their atmosphere requirements are significantly different from those of modern humans; their goal is to use huge farms of devices that can terraform the Earth's atmosphere into one more suitable for their needs, sacrificing modern humanity in the process.|||
|2013||Defiance||USA||The entire Earth was subjected to terraforming events, many of which were designed to replicate alien environments. Due to the nature in which these terraforming devices were activated, it created a mostly new world: altering the physical landscape of the world, causing severe and odd weather patterns, and hybridizing plants and animals to create vicious and terrifying replacements.|||
|2013||Man of Steel||USA||Kal-El, of the planet Krypton (dying due to natural resource exhaustion and harvesting of the planet's core), is sent to Earth by his father, Jor-El, to escape the planet's destruction and rogue military leader General Zod. Kal-El lives his life as an outcast, and forced to use his supernatural abilities (obtained through living under a yellow sun (The Sun)) to stop General Zod in his scheme to terraform Earth to become a new Krypton, killing life on Earth so the people of Krypton can have a second chance.|||
As a game mechanic
|1990||SimEarth: The Living Planet||Life simulation||Management of Earth under a Gaia hypothesis model. In full game mode, no win condition and a time frame from planetary formation to the point where the Sun becomes a red giant; in some versions, beyond that. Several more limited scenarios, such as terraforming Mars or Venus, or Daisyworld.|
|1990-2003||Spaceward Ho!||Spacebound 4X||Ultra-streamlined galactic conquest. The profit limits of each world are measured in gravity (constant) and temperature (improves with investment, "terraforming.")|
|1992||SimLife: The Genetic Playground||Life simulation||Control over genetics and evolution, with the ultimate goal of fashioning a self-sustaining ecosystem.|
|1992||Dune||Strategy/adventure||Wide-scale experiments in introducing vegetation to the desert world Arrakis amidst a struggle for it.|
|1993||Master of Orion||Spacebound 4X||Abstract terraforming as the cornerstone of a competible space empire. Investment can multiply a planet's population limit and therefore its output. Greater increases are researched through most of the game, and being absolute (e.g. +60, not +60% to a size 30 planet), they make all worlds desirable. Bonuses for installing and enhancing biospheres.|
|1994||Outpost||Construction and management simulation||Terraforming facilities as an optional late-stage extra in constructing a colony on an alien planet.|
|1996||Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares||Spacebound 4X||Terraforming works indirectly by shifting a planet's classification towards Earth-like. A highly developed empire may become a lush garden as a side effect. Increased micromanagement scatters planet enhancements into Civilization-style installations.|
|1999||Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri||4X||Clearing native fungus and building infrastructure as part of colonizing an alien planet. Native life can be treated as allies or as enemies. Regional landscaping: planting forests, constructing canals or isthmuses or adjusting mountains. Making the atmosphere breathable was considered, but not implemented.|
|2000||SimMars||Strategy||A cancelled game of Mars exploration, colonization and terraforming. A trailer was bundled with SimCity 3000.|
|2002||Haegemonia: Legions of Iron||Real-time strategy||In the game, there are 3 major races: Humans, Kariaks and Darzoks. Each race will terraform planets differently in order to promote growth and productivity. Humans prefer conditions like those of Earth (ocean, forest, Gaian), Kariaks prefer harsh conditions (rocky, acidic, Arctic), and Darzoks prefer absolutely barren planets.|
|2002||OGame||Real-time text-based MMO||Terraformer can be built and upgraded to increase usable surface on planets. Requires increasing amounts of resources. Ingame description tells that the terraformation process is done by using nanomachines.|
|2003||Master of Orion III||Spacebound 4X||Redesigned terraforming with more details than in the previous installments. Tracking planetary fertility by region rather than identifying each planet by one dominant biome.|
|2007||UFO: Afterlight||Real-time tactics||Resource management and squad-level combat on Mars. The construction of terraforming stations makes harsher areas of the planet traversable. En masse they create green plains and oceans in the cheerfully unscientific span of a year.|
|2008||Spore||Multiple||Terraforming (or unterraforming) planets in a matter of seconds in the spacebound sandbox phase. A handful of tools to affect heat and humidity, then introduce life. Planetary landscaping.|
|2012||Terraform||Turn-based puzzle||Terraforming planets made of hexagonal tiles by using tools and different weather conditions to reach planet-specific goals.|
|2014||WildStar||MMORPG||Major plot concept on the planet Nexus.|
|2018-03-15||Surviving Mars||simulation video game||DLC|
As a plot element
|1989||Millennium 2.2||Strategy||Colonization of the Solar System with the ultimate goal of returning Earth to habitability.|
|1992||Star Control II||Multiple||The fungoid Mycon terraform geologically active worlds to their liking, shattering the crust, giving direct access to the mantle.|
|1995||Millennia: Altered Destinies||Simulation?||The invention of the terraformer usually kills its species; it must be copied, prevented and reintroduced later to a more mature society. Success marks the end of guarding sentient species against an invader and begins the more tedious task of balancing them against each other.|
|1995-2008||The Command & Conquer Tiberian series||Real-time strategy||Earth ravaged by the alien substance Tiberium, a self-replicating mineral extractor crystal that works on a planetary scale.|
|1997||Outpost 2: Divided Destiny||Real-time strategy||A failed attempt at terraforming an alien planet precipitates the game's events as inhabitants flee "the Blight" and lava flows.|
|1999-2008||The X series||Space flight simulator game||Earth has built a race of terraformer ships which have started to build colonies on uninhabited planets throughout the X Universe. These robotic machines then turn on their owners due to a programming error and wage a war against them, destroying the Terran colonies and attacking Earth itself. They now exist as the Xenon.|
|2000||Armored Core 2||Third-person shooter||Mars is undergoing the last stages terraformation during the events of the game. It has a breathable atmosphere, surface temperatures comparable to Earth's and a sizable ocean.|
|2001||Hostile Waters: Antaeus Rising||Strategy/Third-person shooter||As we delve deeper in the plot, the genetically-engineered "alien" Species, after having turned against their masters (Cabal), begin to drop the ambient temperatures of the island chicane where they operate. And in addition to pumping toxins into the air and increasing ground radiation levels, to bypass their in-built sensitivity to heat (which in itself was a safety feature to prevent them from spreading too far). The effects of terraforming become more and more pronounced with every mission, until the final islands come to resemble nothing on our planet Earth, as we know it.|
|2002-2008||Escape Velocity Nova||Space trading and combat||Mars saw the first use of terraforming technology, becoming a ball of toxic algae sludge. Other planets have been terraformed and colonized using the now-corrected processes. An optional sidequest involves hauling terraforming equipment to a barren world that becomes more hospitable.|
|2004||Half-Life 2||First-person shooter||Earth under terraformation by the Combine Empire for new inhabitants. Examples include the draining of the oceans (evidence of a receding shoreline can be seen near the coast) and depletion of natural resources. A "Suppression Field" prevents humans from reproducing.|
|2006||Resistance: Fall of Man||First-person shooter||The "Chimera" cool the Earth for their purposes, making it snow in London in July.|
|2007||Crysis||First-person shooter||An alien ship begins forming an ice sphere around the island it has landed on, affecting weather patterns and ultimately making the Earth more habitable for them.|
|2008||Fallout 3||RPG/First-person shooter||A prototype module capable of terraforming large areas of land and creating life itself from inanimate matter, designed to be used following a nuclear war, is central to the game's storyline. (The G.E.C.K. aka Garden Eden Creation Kit)|
|2009||Red Faction: Guerrilla||RPG/FPS||Mars is in the process of being terraformed to allow colonists and miners to walk the surface of the planet without any advanced protection. Light vegetation can be seen in certain parts of the game.|
|2013||Defiance||Shooter/MMO||The entire Earth was subjected to terraforming events, many of which were designed to replicate alien environments. Due to the nature in which these terraforming devices were activated, it created a mostly new world: altering the physical landscape of the world, causing severe and odd weather patterns, and hybridizing plants and animals to create vicious and terrifying replacements.|
|2013||Warframe||Third-person shooter||The Orokin were an advanced race of people capable of terraforming the entirety of the Solar System, most notable Venus, which was transformed into a cold planet through a network of coolant liquid rivers. They also deployed terraforming drones en route to the Tau Ceti system, that finally gained sentience and rebelled against their masters..|
|2017||Horizon Zero Dawn||Action RPG||After the end of all life on Earth due to the Faro Plague, an AI is responsible to recreate and restore all life on Earth, terraforming it from lifelessness.|
|2019||The Outer Worlds||Action RPG||After colony ships depart Earth to colonize Halcyon, they terraform planets to better fit human life. It is explained in the setting that terraforming is a relatively new science for humanity and the results are unpredictable, with the hostile moon of Monarch as an in-universe example of terraforming gone wrong with its hostile creatures and a sulfurous atmosphere that causes chronic health problems. Despite this terraforming allowing genetically modified crops to be grown, it is later discovered that food grown on these terraformed worlds is not nutritious enough to sustain all the colonists, leading to a food shortage crisis.|
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- Pak 2016
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