Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Top 5 Desert Worlds

It's damn hot. Unseasonably hot these past few days - up into the upper 20's and as high as 30, and that's just here on the coast, and it's only the beginning of June. Normally, even at this time of year we get a little rain now and then, but not lately. The wildfire warnings are already in effect and it won't be long until someone starts grousing about impending water shortages, drought and catastrophic global warming (forgetting, of course, the unusually cold and protracted winter we just had, which followed an unusually cold and wet entire 2008). Being a geek, the weather, of course, has got me thinking about some of the famous hot, dry places of SF, leading to this week's list: The Top 5 Desert Worlds. Grab yer sunscreen & shades and enjoy.

5) Kakrafoon - from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Any scorched dustball that warrants a mention in that most famous of handbooks for interstellar travellers (especially in connection with the all-important Towel entry, no less!) automatically merits a place on the list.

4) the Planet of the Dead - from Doctor Who - Planet of the Dead
Nothing but blazing sun and endless dunes. And those dunes aren't sand - try the ground-up, digested remains of every living and unliving thing that used to be on the face of that world after the cloud of space-folding, flying, do-nothing-but-devour-everything-in-sight creatures got through with the place. Even before the monsters make their appearance, that world was frightening for its unrelenting emptiness and oppresive heat.

3) the Moon of Vega - from Spaceballs
Not only is this rock the place where Yogurt acts as the keeper of a greater magic - the Schwartz! (you may now gasp in awe) - it is also the centre of his massive intergalactic movie tie-in merchandizing operation. Merchandizing? Yes, merchandizing. With the help of his trusty sidekicks, the Dinks, Yogurt hawks everything from breakfast cereals to lunchboxes to flamethrowers. When you touch down in your flying winnebago, make sure to save a few spacebucks to buy a talking Yogurt doll for the kids. Oh yeah, and the vast, sandy wastes of the moon do a pretty good job at hiding you from the imperious forces of Planet Spaceball, no matter how hard the comb the desert.

2) Tatooine - from Star Wars
Baking under two suns, this is where it all began, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Yeah it's populated by Jawas, Tusken Raiders, galactic gangsters, sarlaccs and other critters, but more importantly it's the home of a young slave who would discover power and plunge the galaxy into darkness, and a farm boy who dreamed big and went on to save it. Because of the movie's deep footprint in pop culture, Tatooine is probably the most well-known desert planet outside of the SF community.

1) Dune/Arrakis - from Dune
Dune is home to the sandworms (was, before its destruction at the end of the series) and their spice, a commodity so vital for interstellar travel that the entire galactic empire's economy hinges on it. And that's putting aside the importance of the spice arising from its ability to allow some to see the future to varying degrees, or its addictive properties. The planet has also forged the unstoppable desert fighters, the Fremen, who would become the army Paul Muad'dib Atreides would use to avenge his father, usurp the throne and seize control of the galaxy. In terms of the amount of effort that went into worldbuilding for the story, this planet is a real feat of imaginative detail for an ecology. As desert planets go, Tatooine may be the best known among mainstreamers, but in the geek community Dune has had a solid reputation for decades as the setting for a powerful story and, within its story, as a world that's had the greatest influence on its universe.

Honourable mentions:
-Haven from Firefly/Serenity
-the Drazi Homeworld from Babylon 5
-Mars (okay, not a hot desert, which is why it didn't make the list, but a desert none-the-less and the setting for countless great SF tales)

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