It’s a big universe out there, and based on what we’ve experienced on Earth, the planets that await discovery are complex, varied places places, teeming with disparate life forms, climates, and terrain, and, probably, strange edibles that will make tourists long for a familiar fast-food chain. The difficulty of encapsulating such infinite complexity is probably why so many sci-fi writers prefer to pack their universes with single-climate planets. This despite the scientific unlikelihood that a spherical hunk of rock and metal orbiting a sustained hydrogen explosion would lack what’s known to wonks as latitudinal variations.
On the other hand, we could argue that Mars is a classic “Desert Planet,” and that, at various times in its history, Earth itself was a Lava Planet, an Ice Planet—and may soon be a Water Planet—so what do we know? In any case, if you’ve a yen for a simplified travel experience that allows you to pack precisely one outfit, here are some quick and dirty travel guides to our favorite single-climate planets in science fiction
Solaris (Solaris, by Stanislaw Lem)
Introduction: Peaceful, serene Solaris is not technically an Ocean World, despite being completely covered in gently lapping plasma. It is also not strictly a planet. It is better described as a massive sentient being shaped like a planet.. This means that humans visiting Solaris are more or less like fleas infesting your cat.
Where to Go: There is nowhere to go, but don’t fret: Solaris brings the entertainment to you! Within a few days of arrival, tourists may expect visitations from various specters of their past; patience is all that is required. Those hoping for a visit from their childhood pets or passed-on loved ones, however, had better brace themselves, as Solaris tends to be a bit… darker in its impish choices for ghost-summoning.
Getting There and Getting Around: Getting there requires access to a spaceship. Getting around is difficult, but there is a significant chance you will be insane by the time you reach the surface anyway.
Arrakis (Dune, by Frank Herbert)
Introduction: Contrary to popular misconception, Arrakis is not barren, as it does have water aquifers and some limited plant life. However, as most wells tend to dry up within moments and any visit to the surface is likely to end with your demise via sandworm or Fremen attack, your trip to Arrakis will be both extremely exciting and extremely short.
Where to Go: Surprisingly, there is much to see on Arrakis, assuming you can survive thirst, sandworms, and Fremens. Arrakeen houses the Grand Palace, which dates back to the days of the Old Empire. The Temple of Alia, while difficult to access, is an impressive sight; don’t miss the Sun-Sweep Window.
Getting There and Getting Around: It’s dangerous and expensive, but the best, or at least most memorable, way to get around Arrakis is to ride a sandworm. The process is fascinating, and, assuming you survive the experience, it will be the sort of story you dine out on for decades to come. You will not, however, survive the experience.
Hoth (The Empire Strikes Back, by George Lucas)
Introduction: Hoth is the quintessential Ice Planet, made of ice, snow, and various intermediate states of water hovering somewhere between ice and snow. Somehow, there are living things on this wintery hellhole, things which have apparently evolved to subsist entirely on ice, cold, and misery spiced with the occasional captured Jedi Knight.
Where to Go: The destroyed Rebel Base is the only structure on Hoth. Abandoned now, the frozen bodies of its defenders lie alongside the toppled ruins of Imperial Walkers, making for beautiful (if slightly morbid) selfie opportunities. Don’t forget that you will be walking around an enormous graveyard.
Getting There and Getting Around: The only ways to get around Hoth are by specially-equipped Speeder or on a Tauntaun. Tauntauns are bipedal reptiles, and riding one takes practice and a tolerance for bad odors. There is a very good chance your Tauntaun will be attacked and eaten by Hoth’s only other lifeform, the fearsome Wampa. You will be eaten shortly afterwards, following a refrigeration ceremony, during which you will be hung upside-down in the Wampa’s cave until you achieve the optimal temperature for consumption, at which point your journey ends.
Future Earth (Waterworld)
Introduction: Waterworld is actually our own familiar Earth, some centuries after our degenerate behaviors have caused the polar ice caps to melt and cover the entire planet in ocean. Primitive and violent societies persist on floating platforms,but a lucky few have evolved mutations that make life on the water easier, such as supplementary gills. The only products available to purchase on Waterworld are cigarettes, the only potable water is processed from urine, and yet it is one of the most expensive single-climate planets to visit.
Where to Go: There is only one place to go on Waterworld, and that is the all-encompassing, madness-inducing ocean. Everything you own will be damp and rusted. You could visit the oil tanker Exxon Valdez, which mysteriously still exists in this world, but your visit will likely end with your execution by the Smokers who control it—although if you are lucky and fast, you might get to ride on of their improbable jet skis.
Getting There and Getting Around: Getting to Waterworld currently requires a time machine; patience and access to life-extension technology might also do the trick. Getting around requires a boat, jet skis, or the ability to communicate with dolphins.
Ursa Beta Minor (The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, by Douglas Adams)
Introduction: The Pleasure Planet Ursa Beta Minor was designed, manufactured, and terraformed to be the ultimate vacation destination. The planet is comprised completely of warm oceans and thin strips of beach front. It is always Saturday afternoon, and the bars are always open. In fact, as you read this, you’re wondering why anyone would travel to any other single-climate planet, and frankly we have to agree with you.
Where to Go: Aside from the beaches and the bars, there is only one other destination: Light City, the capital city. While in Light City, visit the headquarters of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which will be very disappointing, but afterwards you can stroll down Life Boulevard and walk past the shops that literally no one is wealthy enough to afford.
Getting There and Getting Around: You’ll need a ship equipped with some sort of Infinite Improbability Drive, or at least a Bistromatic Drive. Once in orbit, you can only arrive by air, as the owners really want you to see Light City from up there, or else the whole trip is a waste.
Fishermarch (The Paradox Trilogy, by Rachel Bach)
Introduction: A vast wasteland of water, Fishermarch is one enormous ocean that teems with endless aquatic life. The assumption is that this life is universally non-sentient, as Fishermarch is both a vacation spot for water-lovers and a source of fresh and flash-frozen fish stocks for passing spaceships in need of provisions.
Where to Go: Once you are on Fishermarch, you have been everywhere. Floating platforms provide the only “land.” There is no beach. Find a cabana and have a drink. This is not a destination for those prone to seasickness.
Getting There and Getting Around: Getting there requires space travel. Getting around requires a boat or vestigial fins. Upon arrival, try not to think too hard about the sheer volume of water all around you. Then try not to die of sheer boredom.
Where do you want to go today?