#3. One Planet, One Culture... Except Earth
Our intrepid space explorers make contact with a new planet named Generisis III (cool planets always have numbers) and make contact with the sentient species, the Latexx Foreheadians. Assuming peaceful contact is made, the heroes will be spending a lot of time learning about the Foreheadian culture, language, religion, and all other aspects of Foreheadian life.
But wait a minute. Earth has hundreds of languages, cultures and religions. There's not even a single culture which has "dominance," and the most common trade language (English) is barely spoken by half the planet. So why in sci-fi do we still have races who are "warlike" or "profiteers" that live on a "desert planet" or an "ice planet." Apparently all civilizations eventually just consolidate everything to avoid confusion?
Babylon 5 did an entire episode on showcasing how each race has only ONE religion (to their credit, they say "dominant"), then the following scene is tacked onto the end, drawing full attention to the fact that Earth, unlike the rest of the galaxy, has religions and cultures shotgunned all over the landscape.
Why They Should Stop:
This is a lazy leftover from other genres of writing. Planets in science fiction tend to serve the same purpose that kingdoms, nations or towns do in other fiction. Writers keep it that way because it's easier to write about a new planet if you treat it as if it only consists of five square miles and 50 people.
Even Star Trek, which is supposed to be all about enlightened understanding of these new cultures, still flies their ship from one two-dimensional, monolithic planet to another. If they find some planet with multiple races, it's always to teach some basic lesson about racism, and always for the purposes of that one specific episode.
Once again the genre that's supposed to be expanding our horizons, manages to make the universe seem like a very simple, boring place.
#2. Space is an Ocean... a 2D Ocean
Captain's log, stardate who cares: After laying a new course to Madeupia IV, we hit an ion storm, damaging the port side bulkhead. Waiting on the other side were a band of pirates whose ships circled around us and began firing. After a fierce battle we found ourselves adrift. Unless we contact a rescue ship soon, the sailors may get space scurvy.
From the first moment we started writing about spaceships, space has been treated as perfectly analogous to an ocean. Everyone uses nautical terms. Ships that lose power stop moving and are "adrift." And even stranger, the ships move in two dimensions.
In this clip, watch Jango Fett release "depth charges" that first float out behind him, then unleash a flat, Frisbee-shaped disc of destruction that Obi-Wan barely evades. After all, where else would he go? It's only outer freaking space.
Why They Should Stop:
As with the above, this is another leftover from genres that pre-date sci-fi, basically borrowing conventions from pirate movies (the writers would call it an "homage," we suppose). But the comparison only goes so far. There's not a whole lot of good nautical words to describe things that are "above" and "below" you without implying a universal "up" or "down," which space obviously doesn't have. So it goes from charming homage to something that doesn't make any damned sense within that universe.
Even in Star Trek II, when Spock points out that Khan's thinking is "two dimensional," the enterprise still has to "surface" to fire at Khan's ship instead of just shooting from underneath it.
Are they worried we'll get confused if spaceships fought using all of the cool techniques free 3D movement would afford them? Give it a try, guys. When blockades are literally a "ring" around something and nobody in the movie thinks to just move "up" and around the ring, it's hard to keep thinking of the heroes as the best and brightest.
Which brings us to...
#1. Infantry? Really?
Exciting music swells as we see our heroes gearing up for a battle. Spaceships then plummet from orbit, dropping platoons of laser armed infantry onto the battlefield. What ensues next is an epic battle, with a storm of laser fire between ranks of foot soldiers. Some battles may involve futuristic tanks or planes, others seem like a high-tech version of Braveheart.
As you can see, these highly advanced armies still move in block formations of infantry, using tactics that were considered primitive by Robert E. Lee.
Why It Needs to Stop:
Sci-fi film makers love to make their battle scenes in the style of classic war films (George Lucas modeled his X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter battles around old World War I dogfighting movies). But isn't sci-fi supposed to give us something different?
This isn't nitpicking here; it stretches credulity when the typical audience member can think of better ways to fight battles than what's going on up on the screen. Who can watch the good guys in Starship Troopers standing 10 feet away from the bugs, shooting at them ineffectually with rifles and not think of how the current U.S. Air Force would have just bombed the bugs out of existence in one afternoon?
It becomes clear that the U.S. Army, or even the French Army, could beat this highly advanced sci-fi team over their lunch break.
Yes, we realize that even today's plane vs. plane dogfights take place with the aircraft miles apart, and doing it realistically on film wouldn't be all that much fun to watch. But that's the point; your sci-fi battle shouldn't be recycling either classic war movies or modern war footage. You should be giving us something new.
Isn't that what it's all supposed to be about? It's sci-fi, guys. Stop recycling The Longest Day and give us something that will blow our minds.
Before the entirety of geekdom gets its panties in a wad, here's a peace offering: 5 Deadly Sci-Fi Gadgets You Can Build At Home. Or find out about how the military is tapping its inner nerd, in 5 Famous Sci-Fi Weapons That They're Actually Building.
And stop by Cracked.com's Top Picks to seem some quality Arcturian poontang.