Saturday, June 5, 2010

Things in SF I'd like to see banished

If you have read my little bio in the upper right corner (heck, if you're just a casual reader of Strange Horizons), you know that I write, read, and watch science fiction.  Here is my short list of tropes/memes/concepts/cop-outs that I wouldn't mind seeing permanently removed from the genre:

1)ACTION!  I love Star Wars.  Yes, even the prequel trilogy, Jar-Jar Binks notwithstanding.  But I must admit that the film franchise did have its negative affects.  It ushered in the "event movie" and it contributed to the short attention span of a generation.  Additionally, it set a business model for Hollywood: all sci-fi movies must essentially be action movies in space.  This line of thought was cemented when the brilliant Blade Runner tanked at the box office and only in later years did it achieve the respect and status it deserves.  Does this mean we'll never see another SF movie as incredible as say, 2001?  Probably.

2) The Geiger alien.  It was a shocking and ingenious design from a pure artist when it first appeared.  Now everything has to look like a spiky, spiny bug without any eyes.  Everything from the horrible remake of Godzilla to the aliens in the supposedly true Travis Walton story, Fire in the Sky.  Give it a rest already.

3) Special ops are trapped in an isolated place and have to fight their way out against a horde of creepy, crawly aliens from point #2.  Jim Cameron's Aliens was great.  If you can't improve upon it...and you probably can't...don't do it.

4) Spaceships the size of Manhattan.  It just doesn't make logical sense when you stop to consider it.  Unless it's a Star Destroyer, go with something more unique.

5) Time travel.  The headache I get from these types of storylines is considerable.  That and I think it's little more than a writer's crutch.  When I would read Justice Society of America from DC Comics, they would on occasion face off against a villain called Per Degaton.  He traveled through time to enact his nefarious schemes.  That was his schtick.  What it really meant was that nothing in the story arc would matter because two issues later none of it would have ever happened.  For frak's sake...
Oh and unless you're Ray Bradbury, no more "I went back in time, stepped on a butterfly, and now Gilbert Godfrey is president."

6) "Spacial anomalies."  Star Trek was always good for one of these.  You run into something "weird" in space (which probably doesn't exist) and suddenly you're zigging and zagging your way through an alternate timeline or dimension.  It's just another crutch.  Anything in continuity that gets altered or screwed up for whatever artistic and pretentious reasons can be tossed away by saying, "but it was an alternate reality."  Wimps.

7) Sending your commanding officer into danger.  Another area of Star Trek that was thankfully corrected in the shows that followed the original.  Sure, Jim Kirk was a cowboy, but there's no way that military policy would allow for the captain of the ship to head out into an unknown, probably dangerous situation.

All that aside, I do love the genre.  Here is a link to a list of SF cliches that despite their tiresome nature, never fail to please.  Among them are giant monsters, laser guns, and aliens mating with hot human women.  Like fast food I just can't give it all up. 

Post script:  As a writer, I must now use my blog as a confessional.  I am guilty of at times using the very things I dislike.  My favorite example comes from 1983.  Even at that age, I knew that I wanted to be a writer, I just couldn't convince myself to do it as a career.  I can remember my little 12 year-old self walking to the bus stop one spring morning with my mind chugging away on an SF blockbuster that I was sure would set fire to the world. The concept?  It was amazing.  It was...wait for it...computers have taken over the world!!
And my inspiration for the opus?  A song that was a hit at the time.  Here it is (shudder).

Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets


  1. #4, actually giant space ships do make a lot of sense. If you were travelling across interstellar distances it would likely take generations so you would need to support an entire community which means food, air, fuel, recreation, etc. This would take a giant ship which would effectually be a flying city. After all, you didn't travel such a long way just to say hello and fly home. You went there planning on doing something big.

    Totally agree on time travel. Not only is it done too much, it is usually very poorly conceived. The only movies that I have seen which do justice to time travel are Primer and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Even in these movies, all they really show is how ridiculous the concept is of being able to travel back in time. It is a interesting concept but really fails when you try to put a story around it.

  2. From Facebook, Dr. Rich said:
    "One notable exception to this is Babylon 5. JMS was able to pull all 7 of these cliche's out of his hat and still make them work. Of course, he used the old Sci-Fi gimmicks in a creative way, not in a lazy way."

  3. I like the post Jon. I agree with you on the large ships David. That makes sense, only if there were real Aliens though. I an't seen any yet & I keep asking the sky to come take me away but I nver see a space ship, because I don't believe they exist. :)

    You gave me an idea Jon. Shit, I have gained so much knowledge about all these Sci-Fi realated topics that people in Hollywood should scream to get there hands on me. Boy could I give them an eye & ear full. :)

  4. And the discussion continues from Facebook.

    Bernard said: "I'm most intrigued by the teleportation/cloning angle. Makes me think of Thomas Riker. And why didn't the Klingons and Romulans go nuts with that technology?"

    Dr. Rich said: "Well, if you acknowledge the last season of Enterprise as cannon (hard to do, trust me) then you know the Klingons got burned by genetic engineering. Ditto the Romulans in Nemisis (along with Universal Pictures). But then again, in ST universe, they don't reuse game changing technology after one episode or movie."


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