In a modern society, everything is so interconnected that any product is the result of that entire society. People who put products together, people who got the materials the products are made of, people who run the machines that generate the power required for those things... et cetera. Even the things people tend to forget or disassociate with the production of a product: people who write the manuals, people who act as "gofers" for all the other people, middle-management, etc.
Then consider all the people behind the construction of the tools required to do each of those things, and then who make the tools required to make those, and so on, and so on.
Suppose a large majority of mankind and its infrastructure were to be suddenly wiped out? There would be huge holes in the knowledge of how to produce things. Sure, someone might know how to fix the engine of a car, but if there's no one who knows how to make spark plugs, one is forced to hope they can find workable ones in the debris left After the End. And then there's the need for gasoline. Heck, unleaded gasoline for that matter. And tires, and antifreeze and... well you get the idea. And even if someone does know how to make those key components all that knowledge is little more than useless trivia if the raw materials can no longer be supplied. Such knowledge would quickly be forgotten as humanity focused on more important things, like finding enough food to keep from starving.
These knowledge "holes" would tend grow larger as generations went by. Society would have to rely on scavenging workable machinery without the knowledge of how it was made or the basic principles it works on, eventually resulting in Low Culture, High Tech. This is a Scavenger World, and if enough of the cogs are lost you end up with Lost Technology.
Moreover, the physical cogs don't last forever; a Scavenger World that goes on long enough usually has to invoke Ragnarok Proofing to explain why anything still works at all.
Anime and Manga
- The Big O—The technology itself is untouched, but people's memory of how to use and maintain it vanished.
- Not really a straight example, more of a subversion here: most people remembered how to use and maintain technology, which is how the city continued to exist. What was lost in The Event were people's memories of who they were and who those around them were.
- Gunnm—Rather justified by the trash of (and occasional exiles from) the apparently utopian sky city being dumped into the middle to town.
- While Gunnm looks like a scavenger world, it really isn't. Advanced technology hasn't disappeared, nor have people forgotten how to use it. The Scrapyard (actually the remains of the pillar that connected Tiphares to the surface simply happens to be a convenient source of raw materials. Of course, the Crapsack World is a Dystopia ruled by a Knight Templar Complete Monster with lots of ancient (relatively speaking) conspiracies heading towards a Gambit Pileup in current chapters with only a Blood Knight who caused it all standing between it and The End of the World as We Know It, but that's not what this trope is about.
- The colony world (or far-future Earth, depending on your interpretation) on which Mai-Otome is set seems to be in the beginning stages of this. Certain technologies—like the Otome nanites—are only available in specific cities, and there generally isn't sufficient scientific skill elsewhere to reproduce them. This is, in fact, a major plot point.
- Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Very few people know how to make or repair most of the machines in the film, and the weapons that caused this After the End scenario are hoped to remain Lost Technology. In the manga, characters are always concerned to salvage the engines from downed aircraft, and the Valley of the Wind maintains its independence from two large empires by virtue of owning a two-seat pre-collapse gunship.
- In Trigun, most of the human population of the planet "Gunsmoke" has settled near the broken remains of the spaceships that brought them there. Very few people survive who know how to fix and repair the surviving ship "plants", and the current tech level of society has apparently decayed quite a bit from the level it once had just to make the trip.
- After War Gundam X has an entire class of people called "Vultures" dedicated to scavanging technology, their After the End was a pretty bad one too. 10-Billion casualty mass colony drop. It's lucky any humans survived!
- The Two Thousand AD comic strip Nemesis the Warlock features a warlike human culture, Termight, who are at war with everyone else in the universe despite the fact that culturally and technologically, they are regressing. They fight with medieval weapons, their Humongous Mecha are recycled, one of them can only move its feet with the aid of men turning capstans etc.
- Wasteland, a comic series by Oni Press, takes place in a scavenger world thanks to "the big wet".
- Mad Max and particularly the sequels were successful and influential in bringing the Scavenger World trope to the big screen. The tone and visuals inspired many subsequent works.
- A Boy and His Dog: Despite the Talking Animal angle, definitely Not For Kids.
- The British dystopian sci-fi movie Doomsday plays with this trope: The walled-off Scotland looks like something from a Mad Max sequel with no or few gunpowder weapons in use, very limited electricity and really ramshackle cars kitbashed together from old wrecks; the rest of Britain still bears a passing resemblance to what it's like today but seems to be turning slowly into this, as we see its authorities treat tanks as Lost Technology.
- Threads: The legendarily bleak British Docu Drama is indirectly based on this trope, the title threads being those that hold society together - the food we produce, the goods we make. Following a nuclear war, we follow an increasingly desperate struggle for survival in a grim world where deputised traffic wardens shoot looters on sight, a pregnant woman is forced to eat raw sheep and mill her own grain after stealing it from a government depot and the only remaining form of powered agriculture is an antique traction engine. Not to mention the horrific parody of school played on a barely functional VCR.
- The middle section of the 1930s movie Things to Come shows a scavenger society slowly breaking down - despite what the Chief thinks!
- Waterworld. Scavenged anti-aircraft machinegun used as a terrestrial (well, aquatic) attack weapon? Check. Small town/islands made of scavenged sheetmetal and random equipment? Check. Scavenged oil tanker, moved with oars? Check.
- Sky Blue: The Diggers' society works much like this; some, such as Shua and Moe, know how to assemble machines, but they mostly have to steal the parts from Ecoban.
- Hardware superimposes a Scavenger World with a functioning military-industrial complex going to hell in a handbasket. Scavenging is central to the plot: the story kicks off in war-blasted desert when a wandering scavenger finds a dismembered robot buried in the sand, and takes the pieces back to the City to sell.
- Hell Comes To Frogtown is another work inspired by Mad Max.
- The former Soviet Union in Babylon A.D.
- Post J-Day The Terminator.
- Warlords of the 21st Century, a.k.a. Battletruck.
- Terry Brooks' Shannara as a whole, with the Druid order being the only people with any knowledge of technology left. Specifically, the most recent Genesis of Shannara trilogy, which aside from the usual scavenging for supplies includes sports stadiums as the last organized holdouts of civilization.
- Ciaphas Cain: An apt example of the level of superstition around machinery can be found in the novels. At one point a techpriest worries about whether a device will work when she doesn't have any incense to light first, of course it does. Said techpriest is also something of a black sheep when we meet her because her rather pragmatic and creative approach is seen as a failure to understand the theology. Which of course had limited her advancement.
- The parts of Stephen King's The Dark Tower set in Mid-World have this flavor. It tends to become both more prominent and more dangerous as the series goes on: in the first couple of books Roland's six-guns are rare and precious artifacts, but by the fifth we've seen working robots, giant cyborg bears, weaponized Harry Potter props, and a supersonic maglev train with a yen for riddles, all of which are decaying and homicidal.
- Earth Abides by George Rippey Stewart deals with the consequence of most of the human population being wiped out by some plague. The protagonist sees mankind's technological advances undone, because the scattered survivors do not have the cohesion, nor the education or even the motivation to keep the technological marvels (electricity, indoor plumbing, metalworking etc.) running. Humanity reverts to a hunter-gatherer society.
- Curiously, we do meet a family of semi-literate farm-laborers somewhere in the Southern US who look like they're just going to carry on working the land as they have for generations (indeed, their situation may have improved insofar as they aren't working for someone else any more.) They're onnly mentioned again at the end of the book...generations after their encounter with the protagonist, their descendants still grow cotton for their departed masters despite not having the knowledge or technology to use cotton for themselves. There's also a Native American settlement in New Mexico and a cult in southern California that both appear pretty well-organized and self-sufficient.
- The People of Sparks by Jeanne Du Prau, the sequel to The City of Ember, takes place somewhere in the United States about 250 years after several successive wars and pandemics, where descendants of the survivors have reverted to old-style farming settlements, sending out 'roamers' to search pre-Disaster houses and such for supplies such as clothes.
- In The Lord of the Rings, the kingdom of Gondor has ancient cities and monuments constructed by means lost to the current dwellers due to a civilization regression.
- In Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer, the United States is on its way to becoming like this after an asteroid hits the moon and causes climate change around the world.
- Cormac McCarthy's The Road is exactly this. The story follows a man and his son walking south through the ash-covered ruins of America after an unspecified cataclysm, scavenging whatever food they can find and avoiding bandits who steal and murder to survive. Many people have even resorted to cannibalism.
- Robert McCammon's Swan Song takes place After the End, where people barter old calendars for rubber bands because nobody has produced anything since before World War III.
- A Canticle for Leibowitz features this trope heavily, being a classic of the post-apocalyptic genre.
- Also averted, since the novel goes on long enough that the world regains it's mastery of science. It's heavily implied that the remnants of technology the priests preserved was instrumental in the reconstruction of a technologically advanced society. (Whether or not this is a good thing is left as an open question).
- The Kinetic Novel Planetarian also takes place After the End and involves Junkers, with one critical difference: instead of restoring technology, the Junkers pilfer it (as well as other valuables) from the ruins for fun and profit. Well, as fun as dodging autonomous killer robots can be, anyway.
- Mortal Engines takes place After Several Ends; futuristic technology is scavenged from ancient ruins and traded.
- Somewhat averted by S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series. The laws of physics have been altered by Sufficiently Advanced Aliens posing as pagan deities so that electrical circuits, internal combustion engines, gunpowder, and nuclear decay no longer function as expected, leading to the collapse of civilization. But still the wreckage of technological society is useful: the survivors scavenge the wreckage for useable parts and metal alloys difficult or impossible to manufacture under the new conditions. The results are swords made from automobile leaf springs, catapaults powered by heavy duty springs salvaged from truck chassis, windmills and water wheels using gears salvaged from automotive transmissions, etc.
- So far the Emberverse is only 28 years into the Change, so a lot of the more durable stuff like the machine parts mentioned above are still in play, and more valuable soft goods like books are being preserved in most civilized areas (a few universities are mentioned to have survived, so at least the knowledge of high-tech society has been preserved). How well things are preserved down the line is still very much in the air.
- Sylvia Engdahl's Children of the Star trilogy shows off just such a world.
- Alice, Girl from the Future features a planet which suffered a collective memory loss 300 years ago. The king uses a dentist's chair as a throne... his guards are using chamberpots as helmets.
- Theodore Cogswell's story The Spectre General extends the concept to an interstellar scale, with a Galactic Protectorate rising on the ruins of The Empire and using technology it can no longer duplicate or reliably maintain until it makes contact with a lost outpost that has preserved the old technical knowledge.
- Deathlands. The Trader specialises in tracking down Stockpiles left by the now defunct US government and selling the contents to the various Big Bad wannabies. As this included pre-Apocalpse weapons that can be used against him he now realises it was a major mistake.
- In Ship Breaker by Pablo Bacigalupi, the world is like this. After Hollywood Global Warming led to changes in sea levels, many cities were destroyed. The protagonist, Nailer, lives in what once was Louisiana and takes apart former oil rigs for scrap metal. They run into a problem when they find a ship that has a living person in it.
- Also the short story The Calorie Man. Oil supplies have run out so the protagonist makes a living scavenging useful items from the now abandoned suburbs before they're reclaimed for cropland.
- The multi-author Death Zone series (taking place in the same universe as STALKER but 50 years later) involves five anomalous zones which are formed after an unknown cataclysm wipes out 4 major cities (plus the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone) and covers the areas with gravity bubbles. The zones feature many anomalies and rogue nanotechnology, as well as survivors called stalkers scrounging for supplies and hunting for tech. Unlike a typical example of this trope, the outside world is mostly fine, and supplies are often smuggled into the zones. However, most of the novels barely feature anything beyond the zones, so the atmosphere of the stories often makes it seem as if there is nothing else.
Live Action Television
- Babylon 5: Implied in "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars". Far in Earth's future, a "great burn-out" has pushed humanity back into the medieval age. The Rangers try to slowly reintroduce technology, but have to rely on extraterrestrial help to come by supplies like gasoline
- The Tribe deals with a world After the End, where a virus wiped out every person beyond the age of 18. The remaining kids and children, of course, struggle with exactly this trope.
- Probably part of the inspiration behind Scrapheap Challenge or, as it was known in the US, Junkyard Wars) -- two teams comprised of three engineers go into a junkyard and build anything ranging from buggies to firetrucks, and they always end up looking like something from a Scavenger World.
- The Colony is a simulation of life in a world where most of the population has been killed by a virus. The objective is for a group of strangers to build a working society using stuff left behind in a (mostly) empty city.
- Jericho follows the immediate aftermath of an apocalypse, but there is a bit of this: improvised or scavenged sources of electricity, scavenged weapons, no food outside of what can be grown locally, etc.
- Falling Skies takes place in a world six months after an Alien Invasion has destroyed most major cities and wiped out a large majority of humanity. The survivors first priority (as well as making sure to avoid the aliens) is raiding stores and warehouses for remaining food and weapons. In the pilot, the protagonist is captured by a gang of outlaws. The leader offers him a beer, which the protagonist is surprised to learn is cold. Apparently, the outlaws managed to salvage a working generator and a fridge. The survivors also have to extract fuel from cars to use in their own vehicles (all pre-microchip, as the aliens used EMP on a massive scale).
- In The Walking Dead as a result of Zombie Apocalypse.
- The Aftermath episode "World Without Oil" explores the hypothetical scenario of what would happen if the earth's oil reservoirs suddenly disappeared. It involves society's slippage into one of these as people scavenge the dumpsters for electronics from which they can extract precious metals as well as plastic products that they can reuse.
- BattleTech started out this way, with the destruction of almost all the infrastructure to build the instellar starships (FTL warship shipyards were all lost), and most of the factories to produce advanced technology were destroyed or abandoned, causing mechs and tanks to be pilfered for spare parts. Things eventually got better with the discovery of a data disc containing schematics for the destroyed factories and the underlying science for some equipment. Battlefield Salvage is still a critical component of most games.
- The RPG Deadlands: Hell on Earth takes place After the End, and has hosts of broken machinery that not many people know how to use. (Then again, unless it helps keep your head out of an irradiated zombie's mouth, most people don't care.) Enter the Junkers, "techno-shamans" who duct-tape together odd amalgams of old tech and enchant it back into working order. A player character can even be a Junker, and Junkers are known for (re-)creating odd bits of technology that seem at odds with the rest of the world's current level of knowledge.
- In Warhammer 40,000, much of the Imperium of Man's technology is ancient and only kept running by a specialized religious priesthood performing maintenance by ritual. It gets a bit ridiculous, to the point where they worship tanks. Big, impressive, Titan-killing tanks, but tanks nonetheless.
- The Adeptus Mechanicus don't worship tanks directly, but rather the "machine spirit" (but only as an alternate manifestation of the Emperor, because it would be heresy otherwise). The Imperium falls somewhere between Scavenger World and Lost Technology; because they're not actually scavenging existing technology for the most part (except for a few ancient and notable pieces of equipment); but rather are dependent upon use of ancient "templates" used by their automated manufacturing plants. The technological caste functions more as archeologists than researchers; and any "advances" are not due to modification of existing designs, but re-discovery of lost templates. Scavenger World applies best to the really big weapons systems like Titans and superheavy combat vehicles; where there are no templates left, and thus no ability to manufacture more.
- And then there's the Orks, a technological spacefaring race... with no heavy industry and no understanding of physics. Their spaceships are salvaged hulks with jerry-rigged engines, and all their weapons and ground vehicles (apart from the ones they manage to steal intact) are cobbled together from mismatched bits of battlefield salvage by a bunch of idiot savants. And somehow it all manages to work.
- It's actually the opposite for Orkz. All Orkz have knowledge of basic physics and mechanics literally encoded into their genes, thus every Ork can smelt metal to make their choppa & scrounge enough junk together to make a functioning shoota. Some Orkz, the Mekz, have an even greater instinctive understanding of these principles, and can make teleporters, laser & plasma weaponry, massive walkers & even spaceships (with assistance of course). The problem is, the Ork doing the building doesn't really understand what he's doing, because its mostly subconscious, which is why Ork technology looks so ramshackle & generally isnt standardized.
- There is also the fact that Ork technology is at least partially powered by the gestalt psychic field which connects all of the Orks, and allows them to compensate for mechanical deficiencies in their machines. For example, an Ork can cobble together a gun from spare parts and an ammo magazine, and it will work reasonably well; it will also work for a non-Ork, but not nearly as well. It also means that certain mechanical principles which shouldn't actually work do so because the Orks really believe they should, the most notable examples being "The red ones go faster" (painting a vehicle red makes it go faster) and the instance when an Ork raiding party successfully stole and flew to their base a human ship that had been drifting in space because it was out of fuel.
- d20 Apocalypse (an expansion for d20 Modern) specializes in the post-apocalyptic setting, and features rules on scavenging supplies and bartering with them.
- Gamma World Scrounging stuff from pre-apocalyptic ruins was the game's usual equivalent of dungeon-crawling.
- In Exalted, the River Province of Creation is more widely known as the Scavenger Lands, because it's the only place with a fairly large stock of half functioning First Age tech (much of which has not yet been recovered) available in societally usable quantities.
- The Fallout series is set in a post-apocalyptic Scavenger World in which getting an old car to run is a major quest. However, it's a world that's on its way to fill the holes: in the good endings of both Fallout and Fallout 2 new cities are created, new governments established and it's implied that things are going better. It should be noted that the scarcity that seems to have hit the automotive industry has apparently left the weaponry one untouched, at least judging by the ludicrous amounts of energy blasters, miniguns and assault rifles scattered all over the place. They did manage a Hand Wave with one character late in the game, a blacksmith who produces his own gunpowder and loads it into recycled shells to make new bullets for sale.
It was said at various points in the game that the Brotherhood of Steel had limited weapons manufacturing facilities in their bunker, not to mention the gun "runners" (who despite the name are machinists, not smugglers) in the LA Boneyard, and Jacob at the hub implying he has a number of contacts off-map.
Fallout 3 takes place on the opposite coast of America, and is much closer to this trope. Megaton for instance is a town with houses, furniture and outer walls made out of scrap metal from an old airport. It also affects gameplay too, as buildings that you've picked through for supplies stay empty. The armor used by Raiders and Super Mutants are made from scavenged materials, such as car parts and old tires. One piece of concept art for the Super Mutant Behemoth depicted it wielding a car engine attached to a chain as a makeshift flail.
Fallout 3 also introduces the crafting of unique weapons made from scavenged household items, such as a flaming sword made from a lawnmower blade and motorcycle parts, or a leaf blower/vacuum/fire hose contraption that allows you to use any in game item as a weapon.
The survival of weapons is justified due to them often being stashed in secure places such as safes and lockers that would protect them and the fact that they have few moving parts (laser rifles and such have virtually none), whereas a car would be left in the elements and have lots of complex gears and such such could be destroyed. What's harder to explain is the number of working computers... Very few computers in the first two game are operational (or even usable by the player).
- Battle Tanx: Nominally what the world is supposed to be. Yet somehow EVERYONE seems to be effective enough scavengers to all have tanks...
- The Blastia in Tales of Vesperia. It's stated that there is no known way to create the Barrier Blastia used to keep monsters away from cities, along with most other Blastia. This is because excessive blastia use in the past created a planet-eating Eldritch Abomination, so the knowledge was destroyed and the surviving blastia were all given to one family so that they could be regulated.
- This happened in EVE Online's backstory: When the wormhole connecting the New Eden and Earth collapsed, most of the colonies died off or regressed back to pre-industrial status due to the lack of self-sufficient infrastructure. It got better, but there's still plenty of Lost Technology to be found.
- This trope is invoked constantly in Xenogears. Lesser technology, including Gears, is scavenged by previous civilizations that died out. More advanced technology is scavenged from the ship and cargo that originally crash-landed and brought humanity to this planet 10,000 years prior, as seen in the intro movie. In fact, all of the technology that had ever been used in the game comes from the Eldridge; the Galactic Federation that produced it was pretty high up on the Kardashev Scale.
- Played with in Borderlands: people on Pandora tend to scavenge and salvage gear and tech, but it's implied that it's because Pandora never really had an industrial base to begin with, and most of the people on planet were convicts. Also, it's implied that this situation is fairly unique to Pandora; it's mentioned at least once that Pandora got supply drops from off-world.
- The main protagonist of Septerra Core grew up on a world shell where the most common way to make a living was by scavenging scraps dropped from the higher, more affluent world shells.
- Mass Effect: The Krogan homeworld of Tuchanka is this—essentially a planet-sized postapocalyptic junkheap whose inhabitants no longer care about making things but instead concern themselves with fighting over the few remaining scraps of technology.
- And the Krogan like it this way, because it apparently proves how tough they are.
- Phantasy Star Zero has a LOT of this. The world's gone to pot, and pretty much everything remotely advanced has been scavenged from the ruins. Scavenging ruins for relics (whether usable or reverse-engineerable) is a full-time profession, often as a civil service. In fact, one of the major storyline quests involves scavenging a suitable CAST body for an ally from a ruined city.
- Phantom Dust has technology that looks like it was jumbled together from all sorts of tech. They seem to be set for equipment, though, so the few scavanging missions you go on usually has food, recipes, or medication as the goal.
- In Chrono Trigger, there is a sidequest early on which involves locating food for a group of survivors in the Bad Future. Unfortunately, by the time you do find it, it's all spoiled because no one was left to run the refrigeration (or it simply didn't work). Also, it's worth noting that the reason you're doing this is because the survivors have been heretofore relying upon a machine that replenished their health instantly, but as the party notes, it could break down at any time, and no one knows anything about fixing it.
- Breath Of Fire III has intensive use of machines built from scrap parts from an unknown origin and people don't have the knowledge to reproduce them.
- The settings of Planetarian. The viewpoint character's job is raiding depeopled ruins of cities to find MREs, or just anything that is potentially valuable. It's not an easy job because the competition is cutthroat, and the ruins are patrolled by autonomous death-machines that's supposed to defend the cities, even if they are pointless because the cities are no longer inhabited After the End.
- I Am Alive is the most scavenger-y of them all. How many bullets do you usually find at a time? ONE.
- The facbook game Wasteland Empires is all over this like white on rice, at least for the first four tiers, after that it appears you start a steep learning curve with recovering the old technology.
- A released X: Rebirth screenshot shows a Split Python (a destroyer from the X3 trilogy) stripped for supplies, with power lines leading from the ship to a nearby installation. The shutdown of the jumpgate network at the end of the Terran Conflict may have set off a dark age for small colony worlds.
- A Moment of Peace is a Lighter and Softer version of a post-apocalyptic scavenger world.
- Post-Nuke takes place on what remains of Earth after a nuclear war. The main character wanders around with his dog, and can't trust anybody. Everybody is trying to get what little there's left, and so it's hard to make friends. Some are even continuing the war...
- The world of Aurora Danse Macabre, thanks to a yet unexplained apocalypse.
- These pieces of concept art by Keith Thompson.
- Leslie Fish's song "The Discards", from Firestorm: Songs of the Third World War, describes a post-apocalyptic encounter between super-sophisticated transports, "sleek and bossy, all stuffed with high-tech gear", and scavenged vehicles composed mainly of "armor, wheels, and gun".
- In fact, several songs from that album fall into the Scavenger World category: notably "Black Powder and Alcohol", "Blue Bread Mold", and "Hello! Remember Us?"
- Definitely Sarcasm Modeselling to recycling companies. It has been described as one of the most efficient recycling methods ever. Unfortunately.
- It is a common phenomenon for bright eyed Archeologists to get to ruins and start exploring only to find that the locals, more interested in cannibalizing material for shelter or in getting rich by scraping the decorations off some Ozymandian palace then in getting PHds were there centuries before.
- A number of famous artworks have changed hands several times being scavenged or plundered each time. As this is a favorite source of Misplaced Nationalism we need say no more.