Everybody always says that every story idea has been done before - which is totally not true, because nobody's done a "nuns raise an ostrich to be the perfect killer" story before. But even if a story idea has been done to death, you can always make it fresh and brilliant all over again, by adding just two little words: "in space."
Science fiction fans have known this forever, but it's time that everybody was told. There is no genre, no type of story, no set of story beats, that cannot be improved by adding "in space." It bears the same relation to storytelling that "in bed" does to fortune cookies. And we've got the proof, right here.
Top image: Sunrise in Space by Gucken on Deviant Art
Eventually, our descendants will all be born in space and live their entire lives on board space stations or deep-space freighters. And when that happens, all of our stories, no matter what type they are, will be told in space. Planetside will be like this exotic weird setting that people tell half-fanciful stories about, that nobody quite believes. (What do you mean, gravity was constant? Getouttahere.)
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But for now, we have to settle for taking our Earthly stories and boosting them out of our gravity well and into the endless expanse.
How can we prove that every single type of story is made better by putting it in space? Two ways. First, by explaining what awesomeness space adds to any story. And second, by listing every single type of story and proving that it's already been improved in space. Don't worry, this won't take long.
Why space is the can't-miss additive
Space, as you might have heard, is really big. It's mysterious and voidy and full of huge phenomena, many of which defy explanation. But more to the point, it's both deadly and full of limitless possibility. It's like the ocean, times infinity. You can drown in space way more easily than you can drown in the ocean, and it's way easier to get lost as well.
Also, space has really cool visuals. Here's one right now.
Space is sometimes described as "the final frontier," even though that doesn't really make sense - a frontier is more like a line, dividing one piece of territory from another, and space isn't really line-shaped. But it's still true that space is the biggest challenge that we humans face, and conquering space is the key to the survival of our species in the long run. So, you know, it's worth telling stories about space for its own sake.
There are lots of unique dangers in space, like drifting away from your ship and almost running out of oxygen, or getting caught in a gravity well you can't escape from. Or having engine trouble in the middle of nowhere. Or dodging asteroids. Or just running into some kind of interstellar phenomenon that causes everybody aboard your ship to start turning into newts or having a bad trip.
And even though space is really, really big, it can also be just like a small town, if you've got magical faster-than-light drives or stargates or hyperspace. You can zip around and meet lots of creatures, and visit lots of strange places. It's like getting on a train in France and getting off in Spain - everything's different, but it didn't take that long. And that means you can meet up with people in space and have awesome space battles, sometimes more than once. You can hang out at your neighborhood space bar.
So what does space actually add to your usual boring old story? A whole lot of possibility. Even, perhaps, an infinite amount of possibility. It adds danger, and wonder.
And space adds romance - the more that people see how small they are in the context of all that vastness, the more they want to cling to something, or someone, to create some kind of meaning in their tiny lives.
Space adds instant swashbuckling, even if the buckle is actually on a spacesuit instead of a swash.
Space adds gravitas - because everything is so very silent in the vacuum (unless you're going to wimp out and have sound in space.) And there's a grandeur to everything floating through the darkness, punctuated only by the tiny pinpricks of starlight and the clouds of hot gas off in the distance.
Most of all, space is both exciting and incredibly slow, like rafting through sulfuric acid.
Every single story idea, and what space adds to it
Seriously, what have you got? Name a story idea and we'll prove that space has already made it better. If we forget anything, please name it in the comments and we'll add space to it right away.
A middle-class family comes together for the holidays and deals with their issues... in space!
Almost every space TV opera show has done a "family reunion" episode, and some of them are surprisingly great. Plus check out House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds for a great/weird family reunion, in space.
Suburban angst... in space!
Most of Glasshouse by Charles Stross is basically exactly this. And it's awesome, in a way that suburban angst often isn't, but also captures some of what's great about suburban angst. This book really should be a movie.
Murder mystery... in space!
Murder mysteries in space are pretty much a whole trope of their own - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine even did a "locked-room murder" episode. Blake's 7 did Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None in space. And so on.
Someone has a crisis of faith and identity... in space!
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell is this, and so much more. It's got a religious crisis as well as rape trauma and cultural weirdness, all against the backdrop of a space exploration mission that went terribly wrong.
A rampaging serial killer... in space!
They already did a Friday the 13th movie in space, and it was pretty fun. Plus some of us really like the final third of Danny Boyle's Sunshine, with the slasher aboard the solar ship.
Post-apocalyptic survival... in space!
Everybody loves post-apocalyptic stories these days, even though they bear no relation to what's happening in the real world. It's sort of inexplicable. Anyway, the Battlestar Galactica reboot pretty much proved once and for all that the post-apocalyptic genre and the space war genre go together like spaceships and a dwindling human race.
Acid-trip journey of self-discovery... in space!
I guess they made some movies in the 1960s about people having trippy experiences and tweaking the fabric of perception that didn't take place in outer space. I just can't think of any that are as famous as 2001: A Space Odyssey. How big a floating baby does your movie have?
Save the whales... in space!
Well, there's Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. But also, Silent Running. And a number of other environmentalist classics that take place in space or involve space travel an integral part of the story. Like Le Guin's The Word for World is Forest.
Dances With Wolves... in space!
Okay, you're going to make us actually name the most popular movie of the past decade? Really?
Cowboys... in space!
You could argue that Star Trek is basically Lone Ranger in space - Gene Roddenberry used to compare it to Wagon Train - but you don't even need Trek. There's Firefly, which is the most successful TV show of all time, measured in totally subjective terms.
Small town conformity... in space!
A petty tyrant rules a small town with an iron fist, and everybody has to go along, except possibly for one rebel. As young adult dystopian fiction moves into space opera, you're seeing this type of theme (along with conformity and oppressive social expectations) crop up more often. See: Across the Universe by Beth Reavis.
Lord of the Flies... in space!
Space madness is a common enough trope, but kids going space mad has been done too. Toby Litt's Journey into Space comes to mind immediately.
Horror... in space!
Alien is usually credited with giving birth (so to speak) to this genre, although there are some pre-Alien examples of space horror out there. Since Alien, there's been a slew of incredible space horror films, plus a thriving literary genre.
Lord of the Rings... in space!
Umm... Star Wars? Basically. There's no ring, as such, but Star Wars does take a lot of high fantasy tropes and transplant them wholesale into outer space.
Zombies... in space!
There's the popular Dead Space video game series, which is bound to become a movie some decade.
Time travel... in space!
Well, there's Doctor Who. And a lot of Star Trek.
Space... in space!
Sometimes, you just need more space, so you have to add some space to your space. When that happens, usually you just have to add inner space inside the characters, or a doorway between universes that leads to more space, or possibly a lot of trippy double-exposed images of space. Whatever. It can be done - space is so huge, it can even contain space.