This post from Tam got me thinking about sci-fi, and I’ve fleshed out a few things about sci-fi universes that bother me, and that seem sort of universal within the genre, at least to me.
Planets in the galaxy are treated more like nations on Earth than distinct planets
We’re pretty good and branding and stereotyping “the other” here on Earth. The Irish are red-headed, temperamental, drunken brawlers with questionable potato farming skills. The Germans are technocratic, emotionless machines, driven by a sense of efficiency and motivated by perfection.
|Und de poop fetishes. Vergessen Sie das nicht!|
Italians are dark-haired cassanovas who would rather fuck than fight, and who have no work ethic and would rather cruise through a life of leisure than accomplish anything.
Americans are ignorant, stupid, nationalistic jingoists who are overweight and clueless about anything outside of their area of influence. Africans are superstitious tribal people who rub hippo manure into their ears to avoid getting AIDS and think that the rivers have spirits in them.
Of course, every one of these stereotypes is totally wrong for a million different reasons. The biggest of all is that every population is made up of individuals, and there is such great diversity among individuals that assigning set-in-stone characteristics to any group of individuals is simply impossible.
Tam put it perfectly in her article, so I won’t belabor this point any further, and instead, will quote her, because she makes the point eloquently:
All Klingons are honor-loving warriors. All dwarves are beer-swilling Lawful Good blacksmiths with, for some reason, bad fake Scottish accents. All elves are ethereal granola-munching bunny-hugging archers. But humans are people and therefore can be good or evil, horticulturalists or mechanical engineers, priests or physicists, saints or monsters.
In Dungeons & Dragons, dwarves can't be rangers and halflings can't be magic users, but humans can be any character class… …The most homogenous, conformist technological society on planet Earth has everything from tattooed yakuza to sumo wrestlers to lolita cosplayers, but you could title a documentary on Klingons “Fifty Shades of Worf.”
She goes on to make the point, and beg the question, if every Klingon is an honor-loving, noble warrior, who makes their snappy, pressed uniforms, builds their ships, mines the raw materials for the things they use, and grows their food? Who bears their children, and then raises them?
How did Romulans become, every one of them, spies, if all every one of them was doing was spying on another? Doesn’t that seem sort of pointless? Why spy on someone when you already know what he’s doing? “What did your target do today, Romulan?”
“He spied on another Romulan!”
“OHHH, that’s some news I can use to my benefit when I’m spying on my Roluman later today!”
This is a relic of human kind seeing uniformity in other cultures, out of a lack of desire to understand them, and the ease of just labeling them all one thing and being done with it. We did it to the Irish. We still do it to African Americans. It’s just easier that way. The fact that this carried over into Sci-Fi is sadly as human as can be imagined.
Societies either have little to no technology, or they have all the technology. There is no in-between.
Another thing that seems to be missing are the societies that are not primitive, but also don’t have interstellar travel just yet. Such as our present day society. In Star Trek, it seems to me that they either found “primitive” tribal type societies, or societies that had evolved to the point of having interstellar travel. There were no “in-betweeners” from my memory. You know, societies that have things like computers and the internet and satellites, but still haven’t quite perfected their first warp drive.
|We're still working on how to properly stop...|
Planets that are capable of supporting life are treated more like bioregions on a large, galactic Earth rather than as distinct planets
The biggest perpetrator of this is probably the Star Wars franchise. There is the Ice Planet of Hoth, and the Desert Planet of Tatooine, the Jungle Planet of Degoba, and the City Planet of Coriscant.
|And the "Holy shit, fuck this!" planet of wherever NASA thinks this is.|
These planets are all entirely uniform in climate, flora, and fauna. There are no bioregions. The desert planet is all desert. The ice planet, all ice. There are no planets in the Star Wars universe that have any biodiversity or geologic diversity in the slightest. Earth has ice regions, jungle regions, and desert regions. When we make movies on Earth about being in the desert, we put the movie in a desert region. In Sci-Fi, when they want to make a movie about being in the desert, they put it on a desert planet, not on a planet with many different bioregions, including deserts, which the protagonists happened to be in.
I don’t know why they do this, but I think it is because we look at things through the lens of Earth, and just end up making a theoretical universe a stand-in Earth by giving it diverse bioregions in the form of different planets. On Earth, if we want to go to the desert, we go to a bioregion that is desert. In the Sci-Fi universe, you go to the desert bioregion, also, but it just so happens that this bioregion is defined not with boundaries like rivers and mountain ranges and oceans, but by the fact that it is a planet of its own.
It strikes me as pretty weak thinking to do this, because it simply reduces a limitless universe into a surrogate Earth. I’d liken it to a massive failure of imagination.
Every planet, for the most part, has multiple dominant, intelligent species on it.
We go to Tatooine, and find all sorts of thinking, intelligent, sentient creatures on it. We go to Naboo and there are two intelligent, sentient species living there.
|Okay. Sort of...|
So it goes throughout the universe, where seemingly every planet has a couple different species of intelligent, sentient creatures on it, and this is never considered to be as impossible, as it most likely is.
The fact is, we have trouble sharing resources within our species – why would we deem it necessary to share resources outside the species, unless there was never, ever an overlap of resources (which is pretty unlikely). Even if one species was marine and the other terrestrial, eventually they’d get into a fight over fishing rights or water usage or something, and once that happened, it is likely that whichever one of the species was the weaker of the two would be wiped out.
Do you really think that the Huts would have put up with Tuskan Raiders for more than a couple of weeks before they got into their sand barge thingies and had themselves a Tuskan shoot?
|Because fuck those guys, amiright?|
Think about humans, and how they’ve never really had qualms with wiping out groups within their own species when competitions arose. Now imagine what we’d have done, if instead of human Gauls, the Romans were facing off against a species of sentient river otters? They tried to exterminate the Gauls, and only stayed their hand when the Gauls surrendered and allowed themselves to be assimilated into Rome. Do you think that the Romans would have assimilated the Otter People? Fuck no, they’d have just killed them all, or enslaved them. Either way, the only way the Otter People survive is if the Romans allow because it is to their benefit.
|THIS! IS! OTTERERIA!|
It is my firm belief that under the paradigms presented by Earth, and realistically, under the paradigm that any other civilization would be under if they were “stranded” on their own planet and unable to travel to others, two distinct species would never rise to the top and stay there for long. One would wipe the other out at some point in time, al la the Neanderthals on Earth.
|Because, seriously, i can't stress this enough: Fuck those guys!|