Terraforming in popular culture

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Terraforming is well represented in popular culture, usually in the form of science fiction. [1] [2] 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.

Terraforming hypothetical planetary engineering process

Terraforming or terraformation of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to the environment of Earth to make it habitable by Earth-like life.

Popular culture is generally recognized by members of a society as a set of the practices, beliefs and objects that are dominant or ubiquitous in a society at a given point in time. Popular culture also encompasses the activities and feelings produced as a result of interaction with these dominant objects. Heavily influenced in modern times by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of people in a given society. Therefore, popular culture has a way of influencing an individual's attitudes towards certain topics. However, there are various ways to define pop culture. Because of this, popular culture is something that can be defined in a variety of conflicting ways by different people across different contexts. It is generally viewed in contrast to other forms of culture such as folk culture, working-class culture, or high culture, and also through different theoretical perspectives such as psychoanalysis, structuralism, postmodernism, and more. The most common pop-culture categories are: entertainment, sports, news, politics, fashion/clothes, technology, and slang.

Science fiction genre of fiction

Science fiction is a genre of speculative fiction, typically dealing with imaginative concepts such as advanced science and technology, space exploration, time travel, and extraterrestrial life. Science fiction often explores the potential consequences of scientific and other innovations, and has been called a "literature of ideas".


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). [3] 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. [4]

Jack Williamson American science fiction writer

John Stewart Williamson, who wrote as Jack Williamson, was an American science fiction writer, often called the "Dean of Science Fiction" after the death of Robert Heinlein in 1988. Early in his career he sometimes used the pseudonyms Will Stewart and Nils O. Sonderlund.

Novella written, fictional, prose narrative normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel

A novella is a text of written, fictional, narrative prose normally longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words.

"Collision Orbit" is a science fiction short story by American writer Jack Williamson. It was published in the July 1942 edition of Astounding Science Fiction magazine.


1898War of the Worlds H. G. Wells EarthWhen 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") [5] Octave Béliard MoonThe 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.
1927The Last Judgment J. B. S. Haldane VenusAn 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. [6]
1930 Last and First Men Olaf Stapledon VenusFollowing 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. [7] Stapledon imagines a native Venus that is covered in oceans.
1950 Farmer in the Sky Robert A. Heinlein GanymedeA 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. [8]
1951 The Sands of Mars Arthur C. Clarke MarsFirst 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. [9]
1952 The Martian Way Isaac Asimov MarsTerraforming of Mars using ice from Saturn's rings. [10]
1954The Big Rain Poul Anderson VenusTerraforming 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. [9]
1958 The Snows of Ganymede Poul Anderson GanymedeTerraforming of Ganymede [10]
1969 Isle of the Dead Roger Zelazny IllyriaFrancis Sandow is the last surviving human born in the 20th century who becomes a "worldscaper" - a terraformer with godlike powers. [10]
1984Greening of Mars James Lovelock
Michael Allaby
MarsOne 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. [11]
1986-1988Venus of Dreams
Venus of Shadows
Pamela Sargent VenusTerraforming of Venus. [10]
1992 Mining the Oort Frederik Pohl MarsTerraforming by diverting comets from the Oort cloud to Mars
1992-1999 Mars Trilogy Kim Stanley Robinson MarsThree 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. [9]
2011 Terra Formars


written by Yū Sasuga

illustrated by Kenichi Tachibana

MarsIn an attempt to colonize Mars, 21st century scientists were tasked with warming up the planet so that humans could survive on its surface.
20122312 Kim Stanley Robinson Much of the Solar SystemA 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 Science fiction writer from England

Herbert George Wells was an English writer. He was prolific in many genres, writing dozens of novels, short stories, and works of social commentary, satire, biography, and autobiography, and even including two books on recreational war games. He is now best remembered for his science fiction novels and is often called a "father of science fiction", along with Jules Verne and Hugo Gernsback.

The red weed is a fictional plant native to Mars in the novel The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells. It is this plant that supposedly gives Mars its dull red colour. It is one of the several types of plants brought to Earth possibly accidentally by the invading Martians, but the only one that truly was able to adapt and grow widespread on Earth. When it is exposed to water, it grows and reproduces explosively, flooding the neighboring countryside as it clogs streams and rivers. The narrator mentions near the end of "The Man on Putney Hill" that the weed glows purple at night. He tries eating some, but it has a metallic taste. Though it engulfed the native plant life of Earth, it also succumbed to the effects of Earth bacteria.

Frank Herbert American writer

Franklin Patrick Herbert, Jr. was an American science fiction writer best known for the novel Dune and its five sequels. Though he became famous for his long novels, he was also a newspaper journalist, photographer, short story writer, book reviewer, ecological consultant and lecturer.

Television and film

1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan USAProject 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 USASpock'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". [12]
1986 Aliens USAIn 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 USAUSS 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 USAAliens have built a terraforming device on Mars, which when turned on, fills the atmosphere with oxygen, allowing humans to live on the surface. [10] Total Recall was one of the first films to portray terraforming on Mars, however it was criticized for its scientific inaccuracy. [13]
1992 Red Dwarf : "Terrorform"United KingdomAfter 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 USAAliens 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 KingdomMany 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, AustraliaAfter 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. USAA human invention called "Project Titan"; Titan spacecraft have the capacity to create a new Earth.
2000 Stargate SG-1: Scorched Earth USA, CanadaEpisode 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 variousThe 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 JapanOrigin: 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 USAThe 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 KingdomThe 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 USAFuture 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 USAThe 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 USAKal-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.

Video Games

Deforming terrain, as used in such games as Perimeter and Red Faction , is occasionally known as terraforming but is not related to planetary engineering.

<i>Perimeter</i> (video game) video game

Perimeter is a real-time strategy video game developed by Russian studio K-D Lab for Microsoft Windows. It is published by 1C Company and Codemasters, and was released in 2004.

<i>Red Faction</i> video game series

Red Faction is a series of shooter video games developed by Volition and owned by THQ Nordic. Originating in 2001, the Red Faction games have spanned Microsoft Windows, macOS and consoles, including the PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. The series is known for its heavy theme including revolutionary undertones.

Planetary engineering is the application of technology for the purpose of influencing the global environments of a planet. Its objectives usually involve increasing the habitability of other worlds or mitigating decreases in habitability to Earth.

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, [14] 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.
2004 Perimetr Strategy
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 MultipleTerraforming (or unterraforming) planets [15] 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 puzzleTerraforming planets made of hexagonal tiles by using tools and different weather conditions to reach planet-specific goals. [16]
2014 WildStar MMORPGMajor plot concept on the planet Nexus.

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 MultipleThe 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.
1995-2008The 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.
1999-2008The 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 combatMars 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/FPSMars 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/MMOThe 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 RPGAfter 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.


  1. Flatow 2004.
  2. Pak 2016
  3. Fogg 1995 , p. 16.
  4. Fogg 1995 , p. 9.
  5. Béliard 1910
  6. Fogg 1995 , p. 13.
  7. Fogg 1995 , pp. 13–16.
  8. Fogg 1995 , pp. 17–19.
  9. 1 2 3 Fogg 1995 , p. 19.
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 Bly 2005 , p. 261.
  11. Fogg 1995 , pp. 19–22.
  12. Goodale 2002.
  13. Muirhead & Reeves-Stevens 2004 , p. 228.
  14. http://www.gamespot.com/features/alpha_dd/060498/page2.html
  15. "Terraforming". SporeNormous. 2008. Archived from the original on 2008-06-29. Retrieved 2008-07-04.
  16. "Terraform". HolgEntertain. 2014. Retrieved 2014-01-10.

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