There are a lot of tropes I like. The ship and a crew dynamic. The con artist thinking on their feet. The fall of civilisations. But one that stands out above the others is the idea of a long retreat. Whether it’s a gruelling march through hostile territory, or a lonely trek through unfamiliar stars, long retreats keep me interested like few other tropes. Here are some stories that show this trope at its best.
Star Trek: Voyager
There’s a reason Voyager is my favourite Trek series, and the long retreat is it. Trapped seventy thousand light years from Earth, a lone starship faces a decades long journey home. Along the way they run into countless dangers, from the tribal Kazon, to the infamous Borg, and dozens of spatial anomalies. Voyager lacks the sense of urgency of some long retreats, Voyager is at its best when it remembers the desperate situation the crew have been thrust into. Check out episodes like ‘Scorpion,’ ‘Year of Hell,’ and ‘Equinox’ for the darkest moments of this journey.
The early noughties reboot stands triumphant as some of the best military SF ever put on the screen, and for the full four seasons the tension never lets up. Galactica goes down some very dark roads as the last remnants of humanity flee from the relentless Cylons. There’s not a bad performance in the batch, and Galactica has some of the bets characters in science fiction. The finale is controversial, and undercuts much of the series’ highs, but the lows are few and far between.
The Lost Fleet (Jack Campbell)
Revived from suspended animation after a century, John Geary finds himself in command of a fleet on the run. This six-part novel series has some of the best and most realistic space combat I’ve ever read, taking into account not only the vats distances of space, but the time taken for information and ammunition to travel. There are three spin-offs that continue to build on the Lost Fleet universe, and another one on the way this year. The best military Sf books out there, this is a must for any action fan.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Leaving aside all of the controversy around this film, there’s no denying that it shows a long retreat in the bets possible way. With a ticking clock, the Resistance forces flee from the First Order. Later transitioning into a last stand (another strong trope) The Last Jedi is one of the few times fuel conservation is used in Star Wars, and to great effect.
There are more stories of long retreats out there, of course, but these are the SF ones that really stand out. In fantasy, there’s Tamas’ retreat in Brian McClellan’s The Crimson Campaign, and Paul Kearney’s The Ten Thousand is explicitly modelled on Xenophon’s March of the Ten Thousand, the ancient text that basically originated this trope. Across genres, there are hundreds of other examples, often found in the middle acts of stories. It’s that darkness that appeals to me. The heroes are on the run, the forces of evil are triumphant, and hope is but a dim light at the end of the tunnel.
What do you think of long retreats? Be sure to let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to check out the stories I’ve mentioned here.