April 4, 2011
If you’re anything like me, you love you some science fiction, fantasy, and horror. There’s nothing better than an epic space battle with battleships the size of Alaska blasting each other with nuclear-yield weapons, a suspenseful chase as a vicious killer chases the last remaining protagonist you actually like, or the swarms of eldritch sigils flying through the air as a practitioner of the dark arts invokes otherworldly powers to crush his foes.
As much as I’m a fan of the genre, there are those things that just… bug me. Really bug me. They’re things that seem to have just taken hold of the collective imagination for both writers and fans. They’ve become standard, not necessarily something you choose to use. Imagine if you suddenly found out that you didn’t need to use a ball to play baseball and could use rocks, or if you learned that cars could easily be built with three wheels and we picked four because, well, someone did it like that first.
Nightgowns and Little Girls
Look at The Ring, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Exorcist, and The Last Exorcism. What do they have in common aside from mentally tormented young girls and an overuse of the term “exorcism”? If you guessed a white nightgown, you’re right.
I can’t be certain, but I’m pretty sure The Exorcist started this one. It made sense back then. Regan was a young girl who was thought to be sick, so it makes sense mommy dearest put her in her sleeping gown to make her comfortable. But why oh why did every woman dealing with a ghost or demon (or herself a ghost) have to wear this now? It’s like the similarly ridiculous “ black trench coat = mysterious badass” mentality.
Why not a hospital gown or even regular clothes? Why not just regular pajamas? The easy answer is that such clothes can easily date a character, but a nightgown is something that, at least today, looks old. How many women out there own a nightgown like the ones worn in these films? Anyone?
We’re Fighting a Militarized Rutabaga
What’s that? An alien ship approaching your interstellar flagship? Oh no! It’s organic! It appears to have been grown by an advanced civilization. All its systems are carbon-based weapons and armor. All your ship has is a laminated alloy hull with ceramic plates for heat dissipation, high-powered coilguns, and thermonuclear missiles.
Really, though, this one is just plain annoying. It’s hard to really pin down where this one started. Stephen Baxter’s Xeelee Timeline stories have a version of this little cliché wherein the god-like Xeelee “grow” their technology, although it’s not organic, so the description is a bit vague. Babylon 5, Star Wars (New Jedi Order), and even Battlestar Galactica to an extent all used the assumption that organic technology is superior to simple metal and artificial materials designed from the ground up to perform a specific task.
Do you think “organic” is better? Would you rather wade into battle with a vest made of hardwood or advanced ceramics and Kevlar built to withstand such strain?
Would you rather have a dozen mathematicians in a room perform split second calculations for orbital reentry or have a single computer system built with accuracy to the trillionth degree?
Would you rather have an artificial weapon, like a gun that fires ferrous slugs at a fraction the speed of light, or biological weapons that are indiscriminate, can be killed by extreme temperature and radiation, and may even mutate?
I’ll stick with metal and circuits, thank you.
Where are the Brown People?
This one’s a personally sore spot for me. For a show like Star Trek, one which claims to be multicultural, to not have a single prominent Hispanic character besides the animalistic B’Elanna Torres is inexcusable. Want to know how many Hispanic characters I can count in speculative fiction?
Johnny Rico from Starship Troopers (the book, not the movie), Bender from Futurama, and Vazquez from Aliens.
Adama doesn’t count because although he’s played by a Mexican American actor, he does not portray a Hispanic character.
It seems that, in the future, there are no Mexicans, Ecuadorans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, or anything else. We’ve got Europeans, Asian-inspired culture to pander to the anime crowd, and some assorted ethnicities for flavoring. But where are the Mexicans?
Or the Costa Ricans? Brazilians? Chileans? Iraqis? Turks? Libyans? Anyone brown?
I really can’t find a good example of these demographics in speculative fiction. Sorry. Any idea?
Why do writers still use these ideas? The best explanation is that at some point, it sounded or looked cool. The nightgown made sense from a storytelling perspective. Biological technology has some useful applications. At one point, Latin Americans were a fringe minority. We know better today, and yet these ideas linger on. These are only three little clichés, but I was thinking about them this weekend. There are many more, and maybe I’ll explain some later.
In the meantime, enjoy these links, and I’ll see you on Wednesday.
- Here I am, working I job I like but facing budget cuts, and Snookie is getting paid thousand of talk about herself at a university? What?!
- While Rowling is done with the Harry Potter universe, this trailer showing the future of the Harry Potter franchise is intriguing. I’d pay good money to see a gritty send-up of the wizarding world.
- I like to cook. Really. I’m no professional, but it’s a fun hobby. However, I can’t see even a professional chef needed a cutting board with embedded rulers.
- The new Wonder Woman costume for the live-action series is… well, not good. However, this steampunk-take on Wonder Woman’s classic uniform is pretty cool.
- We have some nice black bookshelves in the apartment, but if we have the time, money, and space, I’d certainly love to get one of these awesome bookcases.
- I wish we could hang a sign like this at work. In fact, every high school and university should have one.
- Is your favorite 90’s star on Twitter? Find out with this handy list!
- And finally, I just barely watched The Hangover a few weeks ago and loved it. And now I can’t wait for the sequel. Check out the new trailer below, and I’ll see you on Wednesday!