(This is the ultraduction for “I Hate Your Time Machine A fiction-fueled guide to some of the worst tropes of Fantasy and Science Fiction“. If you’re here to see if I tagged you correctly for the book, just scroll to the bottom. Or read the whole thing…who am I to stop you?)
A fiction-fueled guide to some of the worst tropes of Fantasy & Science Fiction
(An ultraduction is like an introduction, only with much, much better special effects)—
Vast starships split the chasms of deepest intergalactic void, hurtling towards each other like very fast things that are also extremely big and have large guns; and let’s be clear, these are REALLY. BIG. GUNS. They are engaged in the deadliest battle in all human history, firing laser beams in frantic fusillades, each and every being sentient creature aware that they fight for the fate of the entire Universe. A billion generations yet unborn will someday awaken and point out that the only way to have a billion generations happen before the heat-death of the Universe would be to shorten the human lifespan by A LOT and that’s terrible. But then a Dragon—
—soars past, its body so huge that on could mistake it for a moon, assuming one had never seen a Moon before and hadn’t gotten good grades in Astronomy, either. My point is, it is the final battle between Freedom and Ultimate Evil, and there is nothing more exciting in the history of anything, and having read that, you can now safely buy this book, recognizing that it will be full of the most delicious sorts of Scifi & Fantasy Twaddle.
….and let me be clear: I would buy the hell out that book myself, and maybe even write it. I just didn’t, this time.
My actual situation is much less romantic: fleeing ‘civilized’ space towards Parts Unknown, with certain death at one end, and certain death at the other end.
(That’s not actually entirely true. I just stole a ship, which means they presumably want to shoot me out of the sky, and I picked a fairly arbitrary destination for fairly silly reasons. The latter isn’t 100% fatal; it’s really, really likely, in an age of faster-than-light travel to result in your death. Think of it as the modern equivalent of, say, existing around ten thousand years before recorded human history, and being an explorer who navigated by way of whatever choice felt good at the time, as opposed to by any actual, oh, say, navigation. It’s like having Stone Age technology, taking a look at a huge ocean, building raft out of flinders and mostly-comatose serpents, and saying, “I think THAT expanse of endless water looks slightly prettier than that OTHER expanse, you know, the one where we know where we’re going”.
They say that life is a journey, not a destination; they like to leave unspoken part where, at journey’s end, you arrive at Destination Death. It’s going to be a fun ride. Our unofficial motto is,
“We know exactly where we’re headed, and it’s straight down, much, much too fast. Do not bother to pack a bag, although a flash of Scotch wouldn’t go amiss.”
I am trapped in a relatively small hunk of steel and machinery, which is infinitely better than being trapped in a grave, which is where I’ll be if either the machinery, or my wits, give out. I am doing more than a few things, all of which are of interest to me, and few of which are of interest to you. (I could speak for a week about the joys of getting slightly better at knocking a little white cue ball into various solid-and-stripe-colored balls on an antique table made of slate and bounded by six perfectly-placed holes, and let me tell you, by my estimate, that is one hundred sixty-seven hours and twenty-four minutes more than anyone else would care to hear me talk about that playing billiards.)
But there’s one thing long overdue in my life, which is worthy of placing within my Poorly-Explained Time Capsule Device and sending back to the 21st century:
I am putting together a little tirade about some of my least-favorite Crimes against Science Fiction.
And why is that? Why would an actual space-pirate (did I mention that I’m a space-pirate? Granted, as Captain, Crew, and sole organic sentient life form on this vessel, I can give myself any title that I’d choose; still, it’s a joy—ah, the Space Pirate’s life is for me! If only there were someone upon whom to practice said piracy; and if only this ship had weapons, or I, a cutlass)—but I digress. The question is, why would a space escapee care at all about poorly-written science fiction?
Ah, my friend, it’s because I subscribe to a very ancient belief indeed: without science fiction and fantasy, we wouldn’t have spaceships in the first place; at least, not fun ones anyway, all full of weapons and books and grog.
Now, there is only one true Crime Against Science Fiction, and that is getting caught. And by that I mean, getting caught out, catching yourself; the real Crime Against Science Fiction (and Fantasy, and Speculative Fiction, and So Forth)—is doing something that unmakes your own story, not because you chose it, but because Cognitive Dissonance is a harsh mistress. Cunning nonsense delights; unintended nonsense simply burns a little hole in our heads and makes us wince.
I have a lot to do; but I also have a lot of time. And so I have a lot of movies to watch. (Yes, movies. Sure, we have 3D holo-viewing in the future. If, for some reason, it pleases you to think that’s what I’m doing, fine. I extended this document into your timeline with the hope of being understood; if I say ‘movie’ instead of ‘temporal-lobe-implanted-dramaturgy’, it’s because it’s the story, the story, the damn story that matters, and the medium (while game-changing in and of itself)—is just one more tool to be used in pursuit of Breaking Minds Properly.
I’ve chosen to illustrate some of the Crimes I most care about. Both your era and my era suffer from a plague of over-chewed content, with all the commentary you could possibly want—so much that it surrounds stories as a vast ocean surrounds the one Island you want to find; you could die, starving and dehydrated, encompassed by undrinkable water, and only a few miles away from the place you seek; but if there’s enough sea, you’ll never see land—
…since we both live in times of abundance, during which our minds are starving, I have not come to whine about the mental plagues among us. Rather, I am here to beset them, to harry them, to agitate and discombobulate and reset and reject them, to break the goddamn mindviruses and clear a door or two of perception when and where I can.
Here’s my plan: each Crime will find itself replaced by a twisted and snarkulous evil twin (or, sometimes, the jolly, murderous family ghost; or the host of skeletons busy forming their shinbones into weapons with which to batter their way out of the closet)—not the only possible answer (Gods forfend!), in fact, not even my only answer, but at least one different way of retelling the tales too-oft written by wrote, and insufficiently breached by attempts at new approaches.
I’ll add a helpful Appendix at the end, so that you can see which crimes I decided to skewer. You might spot a few extras…
Because while I make my mad dash for freedom, I’d like to offer you a few opportunities to jailbreak bits of yourself. Trust me, it’s not for your benefit; I’m not claiming to be an altruist. If I were all-wise and all-knowing, I’d be all-boring—but aside from that, I probably wouldn’t be sending missives back through the ether towards bits of my far past. The truth is, there’s a big difference between fleeing from and running towards, between moving with purpose, and simply trying to evade a hunt. So if I feel a need to warp and twist and spindle some ancient ideas, it’s because the ideas are fairly stuck in my own head, as well.
Critics destroy; Dark Lords re-make.
So below, find my stories, my not-so-secret critiques. Read them; laugh at them, if they’re funny; laugh at them even if they aren’t (it’s good for you!) – and let’s see if we can unlock each other’s skulls a bit, shall we?
Acknowledgements & Blame
And finally, we have a list of Crimes Against Science Fiction, submitted (in kind response) to various prompts I put out on Twitter. In each place where I’ve used a trope, I’ve attempted to credit the original quote, and the Twitter handle for the Villain responsible.
My notes got a bit…expansive. If I mixed anyone up, apologies in advance. I blame Twitter, which made a valiant, but ultimately doomed, effort to thwart the writing of this book by making threads needlessly difficult to copy into a word processor.
“The impressionable young woman who’s being sacrificed to the gods confesses eternal love to the dirty, swarthy, probably clap-ridden barbarian who rescues her because she looks good in a shift.”
~G. Connor Salter, @GCSalter on Twitter.
“Or my all-time favorite bit of eye rolling horsedump: You has the magic MacGuffin power…inside you…All along! All you had to do was believe in yourself.”
“Lead scientists fall in love.”
“Ordinary person gets dragged into saving the world.”
~“Shadowcat is very bored”, aka @LilyGreenbriar
“The evil guy is a brooding, grim figure in the shadows – rather than a jolly troll who playfully doesn’t give a damn.”
~Mark Ferguson, @Mark80215245
“If we could not have AIs consistently wanting to take over the world, that’d be great.”
~Matt Austin, @BitsHammer
“The Good Guys travel through time to stop a historical Bad Guy, usually Hitler.”
“Robots have preferences but not feelings (psychologically impossible).”
~Arturo Serrano, @carturo222
“Kill the alien queen and save the earth.”
“Artificial intelligence wants to annihilate us all ( I know it is the first thing they are going to do but I am ready for a different plot).”
“The humans always win.”
~Johnny Lib❄Penguin, @LeftHandUTurn
“The ‘that hot guy/girl I liked is actually the villain’ twist.
~K. B. Cox, @kristenbreecox
“Chosen ones and prophecies. If you say ‘wait, that’s a fantasy cliche, not SF,’ yes, that’s exactly my point.”
~Chris Hepler, @TheOtherHepler
“Kill the mothership and every other alien either dies or becomes nonfunctional“.
~“Stratus Strong”, aka @stratus_strong
“Elves. Just… maybe those trees don’t want to be hugged. For thousands of years.
If there’s one thing that both dwarves and goblins agree on, it’s that Elves suck, and are never useful in any decent adventure.”
~Loggity Log, @logfromblammo
Also, special thanks to @CrimsonJoe for the term “Keeper of Tomes”.