There are a lot of terms of different types of science fiction and fantasy and people can get quite pedantic about these different sub-genres and exactly how to define them. Off the top of my head there is cyberpunk, hard science fiction, military science fiction and sword and sorcery. A common example is Star Wars which it is rightly pointed out is actually a fantasy work and not real science-fiction at all. This is why you get the more specific “hard science fiction” so as to avoid comparisons with stories that are merely adventures in outer space. Although I don’t often get into this, there are important distinctions that need to be made though people reading merely for enjoyment don’t much need to bother about sub-genres.
This post is not really about the though genre but about works set in outer space specifically and what is often a lack of imagination I have observed in many works within the genre. This is related to outer space merely being a substitute for the ocean and the planets being substitutes for the earth’s different climate regions.
As I’ve already mentioned Star Wars, this is a great place to start as it is the most obvious. Think of the most well-known planets in the original trilogy. There is Tatooine (desert), Hoth (polar) and Endor (forest). Even Coruscant as a planet is entirely urban and Naboo is basically a planet-sized Italy with a weird race of water rabbits. All these regions exist on our own Earth and often on the same continent. Australia alone has temperate, polar and tropical regions. Outside of the fantasy of space ships and lasers, there is no real reason to have any of these places on a different planet.
Further in Star Wars we also have the example of outer space as an ocean and spaceships being a substitute for a navy. Naval ship types are often used such as frigates, corvettes and destroyers. Even submarines are somewhat represented with vessels capable of cloaking. They also use similar ranks and designations and naval language. I am not saying there is anything wrong with this as it makes sense but just pointing out that outer space is essentially a substitute ocean in fictional terms.
If this was just Star Wars, it would be one thing but it is many more. Even the great Dune (which certainly influenced Star Wars) is set on a planet entirely covered by desert. The meat of the story could have been told without any science-fiction elements at all as a fantasy set in a desert. I have watched little of Star Trek over the years but my memories of the visits to different planets are the same. They always go to a place that seems to be entirely made up of one climate region and no others.
The Mass Effect video game series allowed limited exploration of different planets throughout the galaxy. The player couldn’t land on any planet but the ones they could were almost always limited to an area that could be found somewhere on earth. A few of the planets were more inventive and managed to come across as genuinely alien but more often than not they looked no different to places found on Earth. I should be forgiving of the developers here as the game did have to put some limitations on the scope or there would never have been a game in the first place. But it would have been nice to see some planets that looked like genuine analogues to earth with diverse but still decidedly alien environments.
This is not all the examples I could come up with and here are certainly exceptions with more thoughtful world building, but these examples are certainly some of the best known. What this means in practice is that outer space is a substitute for earth and as in the title — simply fantasy with a different wallpaper. I’m sure I’m far from the first to notice too.
I will end with a tangent about outer space in general. As more and more of the lies about our world are exposed, I am increasingly of the opinion that humans not only never will but never have ventured outside Earth. I am not sure that I would say they’ve never gone into outer space but only into low Earth orbit or whatever term you use for the upper atmosphere. I wouldn’t even be surprised to one day learn that no unmanned probes have ever left Earth and I certainly now doubt man has ever set foot on the moon. This doesn’t mean I claim to know what really happened but that it has not been repeated by the USA or any other capable nation with all the advances in technology since is quite enough for me without getting into the details.
Further still, the idea of aliens existing at all is something I’m even more inclined to doubt. Think only that if there were aliens, there is no reason why they should suddenly become a reality in more recent history. If they did exist and were capable of space travel, they could have come at any time in human history and we probably would have known about it. I am aware of the rationalisations for why this didn’t happen in franchises like Star Trek and Stargate but they don’t add up. So outer space and aliens even in hard science fiction are just more fantasies to me. A wallpaper.