The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés
Those of us who have read or seen a lot of science fiction have seen certain story elements pop up over and over and over. Some of these elements were actually pretty good ideas, and when handled well make for a pretty entertaining story, but have become hackneyed from overuse by the unimaginative. Others came into being through the deliberate effort to avoid another cliché. Still other ideas were lame from the get-go, and should have been dismissed from the author's thinking.
Clichés are not in themselves necessarily bad, but their overuse shows that the writer has forgotten what separates the strong tale from the hollow: "the human heart in conflict with itself," as Faulkner said. Where there is this conflict, the tale stands; where the conflict is absent, the tale falls flat, and in neither case does it matter how many ships get blown up.
The sophisticated reader (one who reads more than just SF) will note that some of these clichés are not found solely in SF, but in other genres as well, and of course the lampooning of cliches is a time-honored part of good comedy.
DISCLAIMER: The use of masculine/feminine pronouns and assignment of gender roles is not intended to preclude a reversal of gender roles. It is, however, intended to offend those who think that the Y chromosome is the root of all evil. Nyah.
This list is no longer "new and improved". The "improvements" were too much work to maintain.
The green check marks those items which are not so bad, but have been used so many times that it takes a really strong treatment to lift them out of the slush pile. They will not destroy an otherwise well-written story, and some of the classics employ these elements (and employ them well).
The triple Z marks those items which were mildly interesting the first time around, but simply provoke a response along the lines of "been there, done that" on the re-runs. Only a truly bizarre twist on these ideas can give them new life.
The green cross marks those items which are baloney, but are tolerable for the sake of dramatic effect as long as the events of the story do not depend on them.
The red question mark indicates those items which support the plot, but raise questions that should be answered in order for the story to be taken seriously. For instance, having a robot bleed oil when it gets shot is pretty lame; having a hydraulic robot leak hydraulic fluid when shot is creditable.
The bull marks those items which for one reason or another are bull. Reasons include flatly contradicting the known laws of nature, introducing an irreconcilable contradiction, requiring the characters involved to have the IQ of a banana peel, or being abysmally stupid for some other reason.
The Starfleet logo marks those items for which Star Trek has been an offender.
The piggy marks those items that are unconscionably sexist.
The Klansman hood marks those items that show racial, ethnic, or religious bigotry. (See note on this.)
Section I: Overused Plots and Storylines
Post-cataclysmic rag-tag armies struggle to kick the Rooskies out of the good ol' US of A.
Post-cataclysmic rag-tag armies struggle to survive against gangs of bandits, mutants, cyberpunks, bikers, etc.
The rag-tag rebel army/fleet struggles valiantly to overthrow the Evil Empire.
The Good Guys travel through time to stop a historical Bad Guy, usually Hitler.
The Bad Guy travels through time to kill the Hero in his childhood, or to prevent him from ever being born.
The Chronocops travel in time to catch a Bad Guy who escaped into some other era.
Scientists work feverishly to develop a cure for the Supervirus or a weapon to stop the Invincible Bad Guys.
Is stranded on Earth;
Befriends a human child or falls in love with an Earth gal;
Is pursued by shadowy malevolent Pentagon officials under the pretense of national security;
Uses his/her/its alien powers to defeat the shadowy malevolent Pentagon officials, making them look foolish without really harming them;
Makes teary farewell and returns to its home planet.
A virtual reality program is activated, and the distinction between reality and the program becomes confused or indistinguishable.
People connect their brains directly to computers and get dependent on them.
Aliens travel a zillion miles to loot the Earth of resources which exist in far greater and much more easily exploitable quantities on the many uninhabited bodies they pass on the way to Earth.
A complex computer system spontaneously becomes self-aware.
A couple files an application to the government for permission to conceive a baby.
A human falls in love with a robot.
A robot falls in love with a human.
Brain-controlling parasites attempt to wrest control of human race.
Aliens put someone on trial for the sins of humanity.
A high-tech amusement park goes lethally berserk.
Death from old age turns out to be due to some simple, single cause, leading to an easy immortality treatment, with consequent catastrophic social implications.
A great hunter decides that humans are the most entertaining prey of all, and visits Earth to bag a few.
Psychedelic drugs give somebody magical power over space, time and reality.
Aliens with completely incomprehensible motivations make war on the human race/invade Earth.
The bureaucratic/reactionary mindset stands in the way of scientific progress. A researcher overcomes it through ability, purity of heart, and use of the scientific method. Or not.
Two hostile factions colonize a planet within walking distance of each other.
The government ships criminals off to other planets.
A human male becomes pregnant.
An android discovers emotions and loses control.
A young researcher:
Gets a job at a Mega-huge Corporation or Ultra-secret Government Agency;
Learns that the employer's latest discovery has a Nasty Side Effect or involves some obvious human rights abuses;
Confronts the employer, who casually dismisses the researcher's concerns and chides her/him for not being a "team player";
Tries to blow the whistle to avert disaster;
Gets hounded by Shadowy Malevolent Goons;
Attempts to meet with inside sources, and finds them either dead or with just enough life left to utter a cryptic clue;
Watches the disaster overtake the CEO;
Testifies before Congress;
Enters the Witness Protection Program;
in roughly the order given above.
Aliens invade Earth in order to eat humans.
An AI turns on its creators.
A person from the past goes into suspended animation and wakes up in modern times, or a person from modern times goes into suspended animation and wakes up in the future.
A person travels back in time to meet a major historical personage and winds up either becoming that person or taking that person's place at a critical juncture.
The rightful monarch or long-lost heir is restored to the throne.
A sexually selective plague kills off or sterilizes almost all of the men, or almost all of the women.
A human discovers that the human race is being controlled by aliens.
The alien invasion that flounders because their technological advantage is perfectly neutralized by their lack of resources, compared to the humans.
Earth is threatened by an asteroid, and a space mission is mounted to save the planet.
Humans are seen as a menace to galactic society, having developed technology over a few short centuries compared with the thousands it took the other races.
The government bans music, painting, dancing, or some other art form; only the hero seems to care enough to do anything about it.
A technological innovation prompts a large portion of society to violently suppress it.
"Single female monster ISO single human male. Object: Mating, followed by dinner."
An entire society is run by a computer. Maybe it goes beserk.
An alien being is sent to Earth on a mission of assassination or genocide; it changes its mind after getting to know (and perhaps falling in love with) one or more humans.
The crew's memories are wiped. As they recover, they discover that they are helping the guy who did it to them.
A man escapes a VR simulation, and later discovers that he has escaped into another VR simulation.
An alien that is substantially like us doesn't understand love, and visits humans in order to learn. The lesson is completed after the alien gets a Dose of Good Luvin'.
A Bad Guy captures the Hero, and instead of killing him, attempts to brainwash him into thinking that his powers aren't real.
Section II: Overused Settings and Characterizations
Aliens whose thinking is so different from ours that no communication is possible.
Alien races that find our women attractive, while we find theirs to be repulsive.
Alien races who differ from us only in skin color and/or facial features.
Aliens that are incomprehensible to humans but understand humans perfectly.
Alien species depicted as having no ethnic, religious, cultural, philosophical or political variance, especially:
Alien species with personality traits or cultural mores that are treated as invariable laws of nature.
Alien races whose names all have lots of hard consonants.
Lots of apostrophes are packed into alien words and phrases for no apparent reason.
Humans of future have no ethnic, religious, cultural, philosophical or political variance.
Cities of future are depicted as though sanitation workers have been on strike from now until then.
The entire story setting is dominated by huge impersonal business conglomerates.
Planets with the same exact climate planet-wide (planets without atmosphere excepted).
Super-intelligent AI's that speak, behave, and act in a manner indistinguishable from the human characters.
The incredibly competent man-of-action with more skills/degrees than you can shake a blaster at.
The incredibly competent woman-of-action with large breasts, no sexual inhibitions, and more skills/degrees than you can shake a blaster at.
Shadowy malevolent Pentagon officials.
Each and every character has a tainted history.
A society consists of:
A handful of ultra-powerful ultra-rich;
Criminal lords who control everything not controlled by the ultra-rich;
Police whose only principle of operation is maintenance of the status quo;
Hordes of poor people starving in the streets;
Absolutely no middle class whatsoever.
Nonetheless, the society manages to remain at a high technological level.
Societies where all technology has been destroyed except automobiles and their equivalents, which are still running yet there are no mechanics, workshops, or gas stations.
Heroes who are so emotionally stunted that they don't care about close friends/relatives that die as long as they complete some mission.
Any character with a perpetual two-day growth of beard.
Futuristic societies where only the ultra-rich can afford quality health care, and everyone else is reduced to selling their bodily organs.
Beings of pure energy.
A society in which everyone is required to die on his or her Nth birthday.
Creatures from our mythology (e.g., centaurs, dragons) occur among the wildlife native to an alien planet.
Aliens whose sociology, values and beliefs are indistinguishable from those of an Oriental culture, e.g., feudal Japan..
The assistant to the scientist who is either deformed or dating the scientist's daughter.
Future societies that have relapsed into feudalism.
Alternative Earths where society is just like some society of the past, with some technodoodads added.
Palace guards who are ineffectual due to ineptitude or inattentiveness.
Fantastic but non-viable creatures (men with tortoiseshell backs, gigantic insects) made possible by high levels of radiation, and which don't suffer any ill effects from it.
Aliens that speak human languages without error, having taken no pains to learn how.
An alien tongue is translated into perfect English, except for gratuitious use of alien units of time and distance.
Aliens whose vocal apparatus is just like ours, so that they can speak human languages with only a slight accent.
Omnipotent pacifist aliens who impose their philosophy on us without bothering to protect us from the races they have left alone.
Men and women live in separate societies (and I'm not talking Mars and Venus, either).
Clones are inexplicably different from regular people in a particular manner (mentally unstable, don't mind being used as cannon fodder, etc.).
The vast majority of alien races consider 20ºC to be room temperature.
Societies that are utopian in every regard except for one serious drawback that completely outweighs the utopian aspects, such as having the death penalty for some really minor offense.
Disembodied live brains living in tanks.
Eyes that glow (sometimes accompanied by minor-key chords in TV and film).
Sentient artificial intelligences that wish to eliminate the human race.
Sentient artificial intelligences that select a human figure to holographically represent themselves.
Computers with voice synthesizers either use a sensuous female contralto, a threatening male baritone, or a nasally tinny neutral voice.
Bad guys who miss everything they shoot at.
Beginning warriors who hit everything they shoot at.
Characters who are always ready for intimate relations.
All genetically superior humans have an innate drive to rule, conquer, or kill everyone else.
Alien vampires that feed on brainwaves/life-force/exotic biochemicals/psychic energies that can only be obtained from sentient life forms.
Post-cataclysmic societies that treat items of the lost technology as holy relics.
Alien monsters that find humans edible, tasty, and non-toxic.
The evil duplicate of the hero, sidekick, universe, etc.
The grammatical differences between the languages used by humans and aliens are cited as conclusive proof of radically different ways of thinking.
Sentient AIs that communicate with other sentient AIs via their voice synthesizer.
The intelligent and confident woman who can be bribed with a dress.
Androids with intelligence equal to an IQ of around 1000 who can't seem to figure out human emotions, humor, or verbal contractions.
Everyone in the post-catastrophic future dresses like heavy metal musicians.
A common proverb gets "translated" into more generic terms, resulting in obfuscation of the meaning.
An alien race has a trait that greatly complicates interacting with them, but even after centuries of contact with humans they still manage to keep it secret.
The ancient spacefairing alien race that:
Has existed for zillions of years;
Went into hiding, left this universe/dimension, or went extinct so long ago that no current spacefaring race has ever met them;
Is known solely through legends, ancient artifacts of amazing technological advancement, and/or evidence that they created one or more (sometimes all) currently living races.
Aliens whose language is not pronounceable by humans, but who can still speak human langauges with relative ease.
The villain who can infallibly predict how the protagonists will react to a given turn of events.
All religious figures are:
Intolerant hatemongers who make Hitler look like Jesus;
All-tolerant lovemongers who make Jesus look like Hitler;
Ignorant, unwashed rabble.
A society of aliens and/or villains that are amazingly similar to an Infamous Human Political Movement.
Societies wherein gender roles and attitudes are completely reversed.
Most aliens breathe oxygen, just like humans do.
Bored, omnipotent, immortal beings.
An immortal being that wants to die.
People with cyborg implants will needlessly exhibit the benefits of this hardware just to relieve boredom or show off.
Children with access to the highest levels of military planning, scientific research, and governmental decision-making.
A smart, courageous, gorgeously attractive woman who is rarely if ever asked out.
Every planet seems to have a surface gravity of 9.8 meters per second squared and rotates around its axis in about 24 hours, just like Earth.
All of the spacefaring races have roughly the same level of technology.
Aliens that transform into a colorful puddle when they die.
The Free Love Utopia, populated only by fabulously good-looking people, that somehow remains free of sexually transmitted diseases, has no relationship turmoil, and is not inundated with hordes of people looking for easy sex.
The untrained, average Joe who can take on and defeat highly trained and well-equipped operatives.
The Wise Race of Ancients who do nothing for the protagonists except offer advice.
The Wise Race of Ancients that secretly supports the protagonists.
The former Great Man of Action who is now just a washed-up drunk.
An interstellar realm is ruled by a handful of powerful families, each scheming to eliminate the rest, instead of forming alliances.
Except for the distinguishing marks on aliens and bad guys, everyone has perfect skin.
Upon arrival in a distant epoch, the time travellers can speak the local language without accent.
The city's main computer can be accessed from any of a number of public-access terminals located conveniently throughout the city.
The less technologically advanced a culture is, the more spritually advanced it is.
The modification of one custom, law, or common belief would transform Western society into Utopia.
All female scientists are good-looking; male scientists are average-looking.
Except for full-blown dictatorships, government officials of the future never abuse their powers.
Not even the soldiers or marines make vulgar jokes.
In the future, everyone's taste in music and literature extends solely to the classics.
Immortals who assume many identities over the course of human history.
Everyone's counterpart in the parallel universe has, as his/her associates, the counterparts of the same people that the primary knows in this universe.
Whenever the captain walks onto the bridge, the same people are always on duty.
Superheroes wear primary colors (red, blue, and yellow).
Supervillains wear secondary colors (green, purple, and orange).
Only bad guys have goatees.
In the future, everyone is good in bed.
Entire cities whose buildings use the same architectural design.
World governments are enlightened and efficient; nation-states are backward and primitive.
In the future, everyone either supports their government fully, or is engaged in a terrorist campaign to overthrow it.
In the future, government corruption has been eradicated.
The tribal chieftain's eldest child is a defiant free-spirited youth, and if female is the sexiest member of the tribe.
The alien's superpowers become manifest when he/she/it is expose to Terran conditions.
All alien females, galaxy-wide, use cosmetics the same way that Western women do.
Although humans still have multiple languages, each alien race has only one langauge.
Kindly enlightened races are native to beautiful planets with congenial climate; cruel, benighted races arise on ugly planets with brutal weather.
Ths ship's computer is programmed to track the location of each and every person aboard, but is never programmed to report personnel in unauthorized areas, or those who suddenly disappear.
Among the intelligent creatures, man-sized beings predominate.
The token black guy is the muscular scion of a Noble Warrior culture.
The entire population of the planet lives in one city.
The energy being takes the form of a mass of flickering lights.
Military spacecraft have a light-colored exterior, making them easy to see. Only the Bad Guys ever appreciate the danger of this.
The time traveller meets an ancestor who look so much like him that the same actor can play both characters.
In the future, all that remains of Earth's flora is a small garden, or even just one plant.
All girlfriends are hotties.
Section III: Overused story events and plot devices
Discussions, ending with a joke, about how bureaucracies are the same everywhere in the galaxy.
The most intelligent course of action is precluded by orders from high-ranking ignoramus, on the basis of a transparently flawed rationale.
Technological malfunction as a plot device.
The timer count-down on the Bad Guy Device being stopped by the hero with bare seconds left.
Alien contact is perceived or regarded as a spiritual/quasi-religious experience.
Aliens who are vastly more intelligent and advanced than we are, but we beat them anyway by "ingenuity," plain guts, or exploiting an Achilles Heel.
A teenage genius discovers an entire new field of science, and builds practical devices that use it, in his bedroom.
The psychological trauma/attitude problem of female character is cured (or at least temporarily relieved) by a Dose of Good Luvin' from the hero.
Persons of different species interbreed without difficulty.
The author lectures the viewer/reader; the lecture takes the form of a Platonic Dialogue between two characters, or of the Cosmic Message from the Ultra-enlightened Aliens to the Great Unwashed Human Masses.
A conspiracy develops, involving lots of people, and remains secret for an extended period of time.
The author attempts to wittily euphemize the phrase go screw yourself by referring to it as "a physiologically impossible act".
The availability of firearms notwithstanding, swordfighting returns as a significant method of combat.
A Big Surprise awaits the reader/viewer at the end of the tale:
The Barbaric Society is really post-cataclysmic Western civilization.
The man and woman who flee from a doomed civilization and start rebuilding on the third planet of a medium-sized yellow star are named Adam and Eve
The alien children, slaves, or pets are really the parents, masters, or owners
The head of Terran government is a disguised Bad Guy or is under direct control of the Bad Guys.
A major figure in the conflict is really another major figure in disguise.
The Kindly Benevolent Aliens are neither.
The reputedly inhospitable Outdoors is not only inhabitable, but markedly better.
It was all just a dream/game/simulation.
The alien threat was just a hoax to unite humanity.
An ancient civilization was actually founded by space aliens.
A major historical figure (Jesus, Einstein, Lincoln, Elvis) was really a space alien.
The apparently-human leader of the robot/cyborg army is also a robot or cyborg, and this becomes manifest when his/her/its "skin" falls off.
Telepaths use their power to achieve a heightened sexual experience.
Telepaths are regarded as witches or lunatics, and are dealt with accordingly.
Inherited supernatural power (telepathy, lycanthropy, etc.) becomes pronounced at the onset of puberty.
Humans leave for the stars, forget all about Earth, and rediscover it later.
No matter how slowly the monster shambles along, or how quickly the victim runs, the monster is always right behind the victim when she/he trips or encounters an obstacle.
When fleeing danger, females trip over their own shadows while men can sprint without caution.
An alien artifact imbues human(s) with incredible abilities.
A fighter pilot, upon destroying an alien vessel, yells "yeeeeeeee-haaaaaaa!"
The time traveller helps the future society mellow out by introducing music from his period.
Time travellers go back in time to prevent some Bad Thing from happening and in the process actually cause the Bad Thing to happen.
Time travellers go back in time to prevent some Bad Thing from happening; they succeed, but cause something worse to happen.
When a player gets "killed" in a virtual reality simulation, they also die in real life.
A war gets started over a stupid misunderstanding between two sides that otherwise have no reason to fight, and no effort is made to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
The two opponents in a war have been fighting for so long that they've forgotten how the war got started in the first place, but no effort is made to resolve the crisis diplomatically.
The two opponents in a war have been fighting for decades/centuries/millenia; the main characters end the war peacefully in a matter of days or hours.
Humans have a special quality that makes us unique, so that even superbeings can learn something from us.
A pet survives the disaster, and is discovered at the end of the story.
So-called elite forces get their butts kicked by a smaller, less well-armed force.
A scientist develops an artificially intelligent computer system that can understand natural language and draw inductive conclusions from incomplete data, and uses it on projects far less practical and/or profitable than such a computer would be.
Someone gets healed by contact with aliens (often by a laying on of hands).
The greedy businessman refuses to recognize that his dangerous product/service will screw him over long before he can hope to make a profit.
The monster kills/eats the token black guy first.
Explorers are greeted as gods by the natives, who cling to this belief in spite of everything the explorers do and say.
An alien custom throws humans into confusion, even though one or more human cultures share the custom and have followed it for centuries.
Low-brow white male human bar patron of the future spouts bigoted remarks that wouldn't be tolerated today, while protagonists look on in silent dismay at the "dark side" of the human race.
A person's physical impairments vanish when they are possessed by the Alien Entity.
A technologically advanced race conquers a technologically inferior race, and puts them to work doing things that the conqueror's machines can do far more efficiently.
The gang of cute and/or misfit kids rescue the universe, where a large group of competent, organized and well-armed adults failed.
The aliens' plan to exterminate the human race is stopped at the last moment when they notice a human exhibiting some virtue, such as love, humor, etc.
A fellow has Super Powers, but can only use them when he is emotionally agitated.
The protagonists destroy the entire social structure and governmental system of the society they encounter, and only a few old fuddy-duddies complain.
A problem involving an alien is resolved in a manner dependent on the unusual and heretofore-unknown location of the alien's reproductive organs.
The human abdomen is an ideal incubator for Alien Eggs/Spawn, and this has no apparent effect on the host until the Alien Spawn erupts from their stomach in a messy fashion.
No matter how large a ship is, any monster let loose on board will learn its way around in an hour's time, enabling it to sneak up behind its victims without fail.
A female antagonist changes sides after receiving a Dose of Good Luvin' from the hero.
The crewmember who is brainwashed or otherwise subverted into sabotaging/betraying the ship is allowed to return to duty, with no concerns that they remain a security risk.
Resolving the imminent threat to mankind requires that the drunken has-been get sober.
A high-ranking matriarch, in a society that oppresses men, falls for the Hero's rugged charms.
A crewmember has a radical change of personality, but the few people who notice don't seem particularly bothered by it.
Human spies are sent to inflitrate an alien society in order to better understand it.
When the Evil Overlord dies, none of his surviving henchmen move into the power vacuum; instead, his empire collapses.
The Good Guys, after a setback, launch their counterattack with the help of members of a rastafarian-like culture.
The death of the Bad Guy involves a long fall.
At some point the protagonists must enter a hostile region called The Forbidden Zone.
When the Heroes destroy the computer that runs an entire society, it's considered a good thing for the members of that society.
When an ordinary crewmember transforms into the Enlightened Being of Cosmic Power, he departs the scene instead of staying around to help out his still-human buddies.
A society of humans adopts an artifical means of reproduction (such as cloning), forgets about sex and intimacy, and has to learn about it at some later point.
Any weapon can be picked up and used by anyone, no matter how lacking they are in training and/or upper-body strength.
When defeat is imminent, it is avoided by a strategem, tactic, or weapon that could just as easily been used at the start of the fight.
Away teams going on dangerous missions are comprised of irreplaceable members of the ship's crew, such as the captain, medical chief, chief engineer, etc. Expendible flunkies are left behind to mind the store.
Time travel from the future into modern times winds up in the year of the show's production.
Any class of people having super powers will be persecuted by normal humanity.
The lowest-ranking members of any mission team are doomed.
A starship captain disobeys a direct order from a superior. When the dust settles, he's still a starship captain.
The episode ends with the two arch-enemies playing a game of chess.
Malignant aliens land in densely-populated regions, and are instantly targetted by a criminal (who is fatally defeated). Benevolent aliens land in the boondocks.
After a remonstration from the Good Guys, the Great Dictator confesses that he was merely trying to keep order, and reforms.
The possessed human exhibits superhuman strength.
The crewman in the leaky spacesuit is rescued with seconds of air to spare.
The stranded heroes come across a crashed space vessel. The ship is returned to a serviceable condition after only a little bit of repair work.
The characters in the distant future are interested in the period of Earth history during which the story was written.
The time-traveller gets only one chance to change the past or the future, instead of repeating the trip as many times as necessary.
In spite of chronic crewmember deaths and a complete lack of new personnel, there is no lack of manpower.
Cryogenically frozen people are never thawed on schedule. They are either revived way, way too early or way, way afterwards.
The conquering aliens are dependent on a very rare resource to maintain their empire. Earth has some of it.
Section IV: Silly Science
Super-intelligent computers blow up when the hero confuses them.
Super-intelligent computers get confused when the hero says to them "everything I say is a lie" or some other paradoxical statement.
Space vessels lack fuses, circuit breakers, and surge supressors, so that the control panels explode when some distant portion of the ship is damaged.
Computers get reprogrammed by someone who has no knowledge of the computer's operating system.
Computer terminals display the current operation (e.g., "UPLOADING VIRUS") in huge, flashing letters.
The patently obvious design flaws in a vehicle or weapon system go uncorrected during the entire life cycle of the system in question.
A vehicles and/or weapon systems is deployed in an entirely impractical environment.
Spacecraft features have been pointlessly carried over from water-borne designs, such as placing the bridge of the ship at the front or top of the vessel, so that only one bulkhead separates the bridge crew from the vacuum of space.
An untested medical treatment is used. It's 100% effective and has no side effects.
Someone acquires a medical condition that will be fatal in an amount of time expressed to the tenth significant digit; the cure is found and applied in the nick of time, enabling a 100% recovery.
A robot is shot and bleeds oil.
Spacecraft, when shot, blow up as if they had been packed with gasoline and liquid oxygen.
Computers, when shot, explode as if they had been stuffed full of Roman candles.
An item of technology is quickly reverse-engineered by a far less advanced group of researchers.
A group of aliens is smart enough to steal someone else's technology, but too stupid to make any improvements on it.
A technological development progresses from half-baked theory to useful implementation in fifteen minutes instead of fifteen months.
After thirty years of crew members being tossed around like the balls in a bingo cage, the spacecraft still has no seatbelts.
Nuclear weapons have an effect well out of proportion for reasonable yields.
Computer security protocols are overridden merely by saying "override" to the computer.
A clone grows to match the cloned person's state of physiological development in a small fraction of the time.
Clones think, act, and speak in a manner indistinguishable from that of the cloned person.
Clones come out of the cloning vat with the same haircut as the individual cloned.
AI software has unique properties that prevent it from being copied or transmitted like any other data.
AI software is able to bypass the security protocols of the operating system in which it runs.
On-board computers always know exactly how long it will take for the malfunction to blow up the ship.
Computers that exist in the far future or are alleged to be 'cutting edge,' will demonstrate less functionality than a Commodore 64.
Two races have never contacted each other, cannot speak each other's language, and cannot possibly have worked out compatible protocols for transmission of data; nonetheless, their computers enable them to communicate over their ships' viewscreens upon first contact.
Twentieth century firearms are abandoned, even though the high-tech replacement is significantly more complex to engineer, more costly to build, and is not appreciably deadlier, longer-ranged, or more accurate.
When an extra or a minor character is shot, they fall over immediately dead; when a major character is shot, they either survive with a nasty-looking wound, or they linger long enough to utter some parting words.
Lasers are visible when travelling through the vacuum of outer space.
A robot that can't climb stairs is deployed in an area where stairs are common.
A tactical system that can only deal with targets visible to the naked eye is still considered worthwhile.
A tactical system of the future that has no targetting capabilities is still considered satisfactory.
"Reversing the polarity" is the solution to virtually every engineering problem.
Laser beams travel about as quickly as an arrow.
Heroes/ships can dodge laser beams because the beams travel about as quickly as an arrow.
Alien artifacts still work after being abandoned for a million years.
Spaceships make a whoosh as they go by.
Huge, expensive spacecraft are used to transport inexpensive goods in tiny quantities.
Stars go shooting past the spaceship as it flies through space.
A large dose of radiation results in super powers instead of super tumors.
A large dose of radiation causes an individual creature to "evolve" into a more advanced form.
The solution for a problem solved four weeks ago is thrown away and never seen again.
When a character is aged prematurely, or cured of premature aging, hair that has already grown changes color to match.
A space vessel is sent out on missions before its systems are fully operational.
The Hero knows how to defuse the bomb, but can't remember which of two wires to cut.
When a computer is working on a difficult problem, the increased power requirements cause the room lights to dim or flicker.
Robots that despite their size and function are designed with exactly the same features as a human (two arms and legs, ten fingers, two eyes, same joint system, etc.)
Somebody lifts a car (or some other heavy object) with his bionic arm, even though the rest of his body is normal flesh and bone and couldn't possibly support the load.
The plans for a complicated device can be downloaded onto a 1.44 Meg floppy.
Increasing a computer beyond a certain level of speed, memory capacity, or complexity causes it to become self-aware.
Creatures capable of changing their shapes can also alter their mass while they're at it.
A hole the size of a barn is made in the hull of a space ship; decompression of the ship's atmosphere takes a half minute or so.
A hole the size of a dime is made in the hull of a space ship; decompression of the ship's atmosphere takes a half minute or so.
A large nuclear explosion can be obtained by putting several smaller devices together.
The same energy beam which causes rocks, buildings and robots to violently explode produces only a puff of smoke and a bit of burnt flesh and clothing when used on a living being.
The sewers/ventilation ducts provide easy access throughout the city/ship/castle.
All computers have madly whirling tape drives.
When something explodes in space, the shock wave is ring-shaped.
When an orbiting space vessel is crippled or otherwise put out of action, it immediately starts falling out of orbit.
A shape-shifter whose natural form is homogeneous can be knocked out with a blow to the head when in humanoid form.
The narrow energy beam disintegrates the entire person it hits, and his clothing and possessions, but doesn't leave so much as a stain on the chair he is sitting in or the ground he is standing on.
Instead of a solid physical door, jail cells of the future are secured with force fields, turning every power failure into a jailbreak.
Space vessels bank in order to make turns.
When the ship goes to red alert, the lights dim and turn red, and this never causes trouble for crewmembers who spend every other waking moment under normal lighting conditions.
In spite of the tremendous safety hazard presented, glassware is permitted in large quantities on ships that make use of artificial gravity.
Colored irregular crystals are the power source of the future.
The artificial gravity is the last system of all to fail.
Alien life forms that increase their mass without ingesting anything.
When two ships meet, they are both oriented with 'up' in the same direction, unless one is disabled, in which case it always lists.
Computer security passwords are entered by saying them out loud. The possibility of bugs or spies never hinders this practice.
The matter transmission device cannot duplicate live organisms, except by accident. Duplicating the circumstances of the accident never succeeds.
Data processing devices emit a quasi-random series of innocuous sounds when processing information. Every character that is printed on the computer screen is accompanied by a sound.
Although computer keyboards of the future will still have the space bar, nobody will use it anymore.
The spaceship that is really a living creature with a significant amount of intelligence.
Laser guns have recoil.
The stolen alien technology is already compatible with our power systems and can be installed and used immediately.
Beam weapons can only be fired in a narrow beam in a continuous direction, and can never be swept across a target or fired at a wide angle.
The alien forces are dependent on the mothership, such that destroying the mothership disables them.
Every inhabited planet rotates around its axis about as quickly as Earth does, give or take a couple hours.
The chemicals in the lab are mostly colorful. The poisonous ones are always bright green.
Computer displays project their contents onto the face of the viewer.
Dimming the lights on the bridge conserves enough power to enable a significant increase in the speed of a multi-ton spacecraft.
You can get from the common areas of a ship to the most sensitive areas via the ventilation and maintenance ducts. There are never any security precautions in place to prevent this.
A computer can be destroyed by shooting its display screen.
Computer bugs are always catastrophic and life-threatening. They are never merely minor and annoying.
When the alien's speech is translated for the crewmembers, the alien's lips move according to the language of the crew member. Additionally, we don't hear the alien's actual speech.
When a spacecraft is found adrift in space, there is always enough power remaining in it to turn on the lights, artificial gravity, and life support. One or more of these systems is usually on when the heroes board the ship.
Don't know the code for the lock? Just shoot the keypad. The door will open.
A robot or other AI speaks progressively more slowly as it shuts down from some malfunction.
The harder an AI thinks, the faster its lights blink.
The ships of two species that have never met can dock without a few days of round-the-clock engineering work.
The weapon that vaporizes people at a high setting only stuns them (without injury) at a low setting.
Telepathy works on alien creatures with a radically different nervous system.
The inside of your space helmet is well-lit so that other people can see your face clearly. Never mind that this is unnecessary, and makes it harder for you to see what you're doing.
Section V: Rejected suggestions that I get a whole lot
The ship is crewed by a bunch of white guys.
Reason for rejection: Every SF production reflects the culture which produced it. For instance, in Japanese SF flicks, most of the characters are Japanese, except for a token non-Japanese (who comes from South America in two productions I can name). I would prefer that a production reflect the culture that produced it instead of resorting to tokenism ().
Explosions in space make noise.
Reason for rejection: Explosions consist, in part, of a quantity of superheated gases which expand outward at a high rate of speed. When this matter strikes the observer, the observer will hear something. Until someone place a microphone in space, detonates something nearby, and reports that no sound was detected, this idea remains in the reject pile.
Shveta Thakrar has kindly asked that I replace the swastika with another symbol. Shveta reminded me that the swastika, prior to its adoption by the Nazi Party, was a symbol having no racial overtones among many different cultures, and out of respect for those cultures she asked me to replace it. I told her that I would work on it.
Although those readers outside of the United States may be unfamiliar with it, there is in our country an organization known as the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that was first founded after the American Civil War in order to prevent the newly-enfranchised black populace from participating in electoral politics; this was done in support of the Democratic Party, since at the time virtually all blacks voted Republican, and because the political establishment of the former Confederate States was firmly in Democratic hands, the KKK was given free reign to beat, rape, and murder blacks, which they did until Republican President Ulyssees Grant sent the Army after them. Klan activity diminished considerably, and once Southern blacks switched their party allegience to the Democrats (in exchange for public welfare benefits), the Democratic party had no further need for the Klan and ceased supporting them. The KKK resurfaced in the 1920's as a gang of disgruntled racists with no clear goals other than lashing out at people who are not of European descent. Their support and influence is minimal now, even in those regions where they are strongest.
The graphic is derived from the pointed hood that KKK members wore in order to hide their identities. Unlike the swastika, the Klansman's hood has never stood for anything except for ignorant prejudice against differing people, so I have adopted it in place of the swastika.
The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés is a cooperative effort. Due to my failure to keep track of things, not all of the people received credit for the clichés they pointed out. But here are the ones I can credit:
Axis of Praxis
Chistopher L. Bennett
J. Devil Bishop
Fernando Peña D'Andrea
Brian P. Dunn
William George Ferguson
Matteus S. Gadd
Peter H. Granzeau
Joseph W. Jackson
Lee Ann Rucker
Adam Louis Stephanides
Iain A. Sutherland
William R. Thompson
Art van Scheppingen
Roger M. Wilcox
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