An Earth so old it's practically a myth
March 23, 2017 10:55 PM   Subscribe

Sci-fi filter: I'm looking for far-future stories where Earth existed, but for whatever reason, it's not in play anymore.

I've tried searching old sci-fi recommendation threads, but I'm not finding exactly what I'm looking for.

The premise
1. Earth (Terra, Sol-3) existed
2. Earth existed a very long time ago
3. In fact, it was so long ago (or currently so far away), the characters of the current story aren't even sure if it was real
4. There are explicit or heavily-implied details to this mythical/legendary planet that readers could recognize it as our-Earth, but the information wouldn't necessarily be important to the protagonist or their culture
5. This serves as more of a wink-nudge easter egg from the author for the readers

tl;dr I'm looking for far-future sci-fi that has links back to Earth but only in passing reference. Any medium will do: books, comics, movies.

e.g. Le Guin's Hainish Cycle would not count, as Earth/Terra is still an active world in the Ekumen
posted by lesser weasel to Media & Arts (34 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Dune. Earth is referred to as "gone" but details are hazy.
posted by fshgrl at 11:01 PM on March 23, 2017 [11 favorites]

Asimov's Galactic Empire books, and Foundation and Earth.
posted by kerf at 11:02 PM on March 23, 2017 [7 favorites]

The later parts of Asimov's Foundation Trilogy: Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth. The first mentions the mythical planet, the second is about getting there.
posted by tillsbury at 11:03 PM on March 23, 2017 [4 favorites]

Firefly has Earth-That-Was. It's mostly a source of myth and artifacts.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:10 PM on March 23, 2017 [6 favorites]

The Hyperion series by Dan Simmons.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 11:17 PM on March 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

TVTropes: Earth That Was has oodles of possible leads in multiple media.
posted by Rhaomi at 11:25 PM on March 23, 2017 [5 favorites]

The Starglass Sequence by Mefi's own Phoebe North!
posted by meijusa at 11:49 PM on March 23, 2017 [2 favorites]

Great answers so far, thank you! I should've known TVTropes was on top of the bigger trope.

I'm also hoping for answers that are a bit more subtle about it, especially regarding points #4 and #5.

Though, admittedly, the degree of subtlety might be the difference between "in-canon myth" and "reader headcanon". Not knocking recommendations nearing the latter category if there are enough clues to make a convincing argument, however!
posted by lesser weasel at 11:54 PM on March 23, 2017

Battlestar Galactica (both the original and the reboot) would seem to fit the bill.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:04 AM on March 24, 2017 [5 favorites]

iirc, in the Stainless Steel Rat books the semi-mythical ancestral home of humanity was a planet called "Dirt".
posted by russm at 12:15 AM on March 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

This comes up in the backstory of Vernor Vinge's "Zones of Thought" novels. Earth is known to have existed, but it's in the "Slow Zone" where faster-than-light travel is impossible, so it's totally impractical to get there. By the time of A Fire upon the Deep, most reliable information about it has been lost in various societal collapses over the millenia.

The prequel, A Deepness in the Sky, is set much closer to the present day: Earth is still ancient but not quite prehistoric, and there are subtle references to e.g. software systems that can trace their ancestry back to the original UNIX.
posted by teraflop at 12:30 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Vinge's _Zones of Thought_ series, and specifically _Deepness in the Sky_, features this trope.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 12:30 AM on March 24, 2017

Hugh Howey's Wool?
posted by thebrokedown at 12:31 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's a radio play (might be a book too) called Earth Search, it does fit a lot of your criteria but I can't say too much without spoilers but in the first book earth existed but the main characters have never been there, they're trying to find it and they meet various groups along the way who have mythologised its existence and many people who don't believe it ever existed. There's other bits too but I don't want to give anything away
posted by missmagenta at 12:39 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Anne McCaffrey's Pern book series deals with people that migrated from Earth to a distant planet so long ago that they've all but forgotten that entire history.

on a related-yet-not branch, Terry Brook's Shannara series unrolls in an Earth so far in the future, and so devastated by the past, that its not even recogniseable as "Earth" and might as well be another planet.
posted by alchemist at 2:01 AM on March 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun?
posted by juv3nal at 2:24 AM on March 24, 2017 [4 favorites]

I came here to suggest Asimov too. His books span over tens of thousands of years, where humanity has expanded into space, far beyond the realms of Earth, to the extent that Earth remains a myth.

Timeline of books are:
Robot series -- Earth is still active in this era
Galactic Empire series
Foundation series (arguably his most famous books)
posted by moiraine at 2:37 AM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

In MeFi's own cstross's novel Glasshouse it's not too far in the future but a period of "Censorship Wars" involving computer viruses and similar weapons erased much of the knowledge about history.
posted by XMLicious at 2:52 AM on March 24, 2017

Oh and I forgot, most of the Asimov books have Earth only as a passing reference or a wink/ nudge to this long-forgotten planet.

It is only until the last books in the Foundation series where the characters explicitly are looking for Earth (Foundation's Edge, Foundation and Earth -- clue's in the title).
posted by moiraine at 3:00 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

It is briefly mentioned as being distant, ancient, and mostly forgotten in Ancillary Justice.
posted by ubersturm at 3:13 AM on March 24, 2017

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Earth still exists, but became uninhabited many years before the story.
posted by dayintoday at 3:38 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Arthur C Clarke: The Songs of Distant Earth. Wikipedia says: "The novel is set in the early 3800s and takes place almost entirely on the faraway oceanic planet of Thalassa. Thalassa has a small human population sent there by way of an embryonic seed pod, one of many sent out from Earth in an attempt to continue the human race before the Earth was destroyed...."
posted by aqsakal at 4:10 AM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

Relatively obscure but I enjoyed them: Melissa Scott, the Silence Leigh trilogy -- it mixes magic and science, and finding Earth (that most people either don't believe exists or is too lost to find) is the long-running plot of the story.
posted by AzraelBrown at 4:29 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch series. Earth is referred to, though not by name, and is clearly a dull backwater no one bothers with anymore.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 4:54 AM on March 24, 2017

It's been a while, but I believe L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Ecolitan Matter Series fits your criteria. As would The Hammer of Darkness, also by Modesitt.
posted by zinon at 6:24 AM on March 24, 2017

Reynolds' Revelation Space series has interstellar sub-lightspeed travel, subject to time dilation. This means that the story lines sometimes span hundreds of thousands of years of galactic time with main characters experience just weeks or years of subjective time. So there's a galaxy full of ancient and even completely lapsed human civilizations plus a few entities here and there that might have actually experienced Earth in the 21st century.
posted by paper chromatographologist at 6:56 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Algebraist by Iain M Banks! Doesn't fit all your criteria, but definitely has the winks for the reader
posted by Mistress at 7:21 AM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

The back story of EVE Online is that humanity had spread across our galaxy and then discovered a wormhole to another, entirely virgin galaxy, which they went through and began to settle. Then that wormhole suddenly collapsed, cutting off the new settlements from the Milky Way.

This caused, in the new galaxy, a complete social collapse and technological reversion to the point of space flight being a lost technology. Over a matter of millennia, civilization was rebuilt and rediscovered on multiple worlds, and these former colonies once again meet in space, where they go to war. There are even mysterious hyperadvanced "aliens" who are really a small group of humans that never lost the secret of space flight and had been continuing to develop while everyone else rebuilt from nothing.

The collapsed wormhole is still evident in space as an artifact, and legends of humanity have come through it from elsewhere in prehistory are common to all cultures, but no real record of what life was like on the other side of the wormhole remain.

It's a neat story though, in practise, the lore is heavily underused in the game as it is actually played. There are EVE novels, though I haven't read them and suspect they are of about equal quality to the usual video game tie-in fare.
posted by 256 at 7:34 AM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Earth" is just a vague passing reference in a list of planets in 'Emphyrio' by Jack Vance.
posted by ovvl at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2017

Many of Andre Norton's SF novels are set in a vast interstellar multi-species civilization that has no memory of Earth. Star Rangers (aka The Last Planet) involves a group of refugees fleeing a civil war stumbling upon an Earth now mostly occupied by nomadic tribes. Thinking upon it, some elements are rather similar to the finale of Battlestar Galactica but without the implied bestiality.
posted by suelac at 9:07 AM on March 24, 2017

At the beginning of Invader Zim, we learn that Earth is so remote from the (POV at the time) Irken Empire that its location is literally a post-it note hanging off the side of the big LED map of the galaxy, with "planet?" scrawled on it. The leaders actually call it "a planet so mysterious, no one has even heard of it!" The titular character is sent off there on an essentially imaginary mission of conquest explicitly as a way of getting rid of him for good. (However, the show then switches to Earth POV.)

I have a real soft spot for SF stories that invert the usual "Earth is the best and special-est and founder of the galaxy" trope, where instead the other peoples mock or ignore our crappy planet, so this is an entertaining Ask for me to read. Thanks!
posted by praemunire at 9:18 AM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

In Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat books humanity has spread across the galaxy from "the legendary planet called Earth or Dirt, the fabled home of mankind. "
posted by ActingTheGoat at 12:22 PM on March 24, 2017 [1 favorite]

Once upon a time, there was a fellow named George R. R. Martin who wrote some amazingly good science fiction stories back in the 1970s. Most of the stories took place in a universe where Earth is "legendary": people know about it, but nobody seems interested in going there.

I think he published a few short story collections, most notably one called Sandkings, that were worth checking out. Plus a 'fix-up' novel called Tuf Voyaging (about an eccentric fellow who came into possession of a 30km long "seedship" of the long-vanished Ecological Engineering Corps).

It's good stuff if you can find it. I often wonder what happened to Martin.
posted by doctor tough love at 12:30 PM on March 24, 2017 [2 favorites]

John Scalzi's new book The Collapsing Empire. I finished it last night and loved it! Can't wait for the next one (but will have to, since this one was only released a few days ago).
posted by eloeth-starr at 2:01 PM on March 25, 2017

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