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June 09 2009

6 Sci-Fi Conventions That Need to Die. Firefly gets a nod for going against the norm. (Note that this is from Cracked, which tends to play a little loose with the naughty language)

[ edited by timeerkat on 2009-06-10 08:04 ]

Enjoyed the kudos for Babylon5 for doing what the show did best - breaking new ground for SciFi on TV, even in such a small way.

[ edited by Shey on 2009-06-10 15:39 ]
To be honest, I cringed at that scene of B5, since all it did was present humanity's supposed multi-facetness as superior in comparison to the aliens in B5 which remain in line with the sci-fi cliché: one-dimensional monolithic societies.

But I guess it deserves credit for reminding people that we have several religions on Earth. If someone needed to be reminded of that, well I guess TV has a lot more ground to break than we all imagined.

ETA: Oops, that came across more harsh than it was intended. I do think JMS tried in that episode to portray the other races as multi-religious as well. It just was beaten down by the big "Humanity has the longest line of differently religous people!" shot at the end.

[ edited by wiesengrund on 2009-06-10 16:16 ]
They didn't mention the obvious - in space no one can hear your spaceship's engines, or see your laser beam. I don't mind futuristic technology that's mysterious and explained, but I'd like them to get the science stuff we do know about correct.
Cool, thought-provoking list, though #5, #2, and #1 don't bother me at all.

Commandlinegamer - that doesn't bother me either; I like the sound effects. It's about representation, not realism. It's about what it might sound like if you could hear it. It didn't actually happen, anyway.
One TV Cliché that Firefly did follow is the connection between air and gravity. We saw in one episode stuff floating inside the ship until the doors were closed and then instantly gravity was restored and the floaty stuff crashed to the floor.
Why couldn't the gravity have been on when the doors were open?
B5 at least had a race that wasn't all one culture, but instead three. Still a massive oversimplification, though. Another race was arguably more realistic in that they had dozens of gods and, to a degree, you could pick and choose which ones you paid most attention to.

B5 fell victim to the "OSHA nightmare" syndrome, though. At least in the case of Firefly that was justifiable on the basis that a) Serenity was small enough to feel any major impact all over the ship, and b) the ship was often falling apart even when things didn't hit it.

...Actually, Firefly dodged the 2-dimensional thinking in "The Message" and slides past the worst of the infantry objection, too. Well done, Joss.
I think they have a pretty convincing argument for all of them. #4 tends to bother me most (though #6 can certainly be annoying too), especially when the solution to a whole episode is we need to blabla technobable us out of the situation. (Except for when it's actually done that way, then it be funny.)

#5 can be a lot of fun as well, (Newton, Einstein, Sulak is actually quite funny, certainly by Trek standards I'd say) but Simon referencing ancient Egypt did actually bother me a bit (it seemed a bit off to me).

Sound in space doesn't bother me in the least (luckily).
At least on a solar system level and a galactic level space is actually two dimensional.
Apart from Pluto, whose orbit is slightly tilted, all our planets are in one plane, a by product of how the star and planets were formed in the first place. All travel from one planet to another would be on that plane. Why would you ever go up or down? There's nothing there.
The same, more or less, applies in our Galaxy.

Since the Fireflyverse was a big solar system then all their travel would be in one plane, at least until you got into orbit around a planet.

Of course if you're in a battle with another ship then you would use ever available direction.
Tying in with the multi-culture/multi-religion thing, what wiesengrund basically said, the point sci-fi shows and films often make--that humanity is extra-special/frequent-potential-saviours among the universe's other races--is a very annoying, overused device. Why do the writers need to stroke our egos, it's not like we're in competition with any other sentient species in real life.

I can understand if it's a hopefulness thing, if the writers are merely looking to the future and dispalying that we could evolve into a species that other species would look to as an ideal, but...yeah, overused is the "Humans-are-extra-special".

Technobabble fixes can sometimes annoy, especially when they come out of left field, but worse than just a regular episode's fix is in a season/series finale, or a film, when the Deux Ex Machina is so over the top and not lead up to at all. Or worse, a completely anti-climactic fix.

Not flying your starship in full 3 dimensions is a big pet peeve as well. You do see exceptions though--it was nice to see Enterprise do that once, I think in the Season 2 finale, after Earth had been attacked, when they were headed into The Expanse and a Klingon ship followed them through an ion cloud (or whatever--some kind of space-cloud), they upside down looped behind it and fired.
Don't tell us we're over-thinking this, damnit! That's what sci-fi is for, to make us feel smarter than people watching other movies.

Pretty much ;). I find it annoying when people accuse me of 'over-thinking' a movie/tv - isn't thinking kind of the point? And #3 drives me crazy too.
Ah, that was a fun read. True, but I still love my not-so-sci-fi.
When I first read the title of this item, I thought it was a list of science fiction conventions that are a waste of vacation time and money to attend. Anyone have the nerve to compile and post that list?

I followed the Cracked links to their two SF weapons pages and I hope the U.S. Navy is better at engineering than at conjugating Latin.

[ edited by janef on 2009-06-10 21:17 ]

[ edited by janef on 2009-06-10 21:20 ]

[ edited by janef on 2009-06-10 21:20 ]

[ edited by janef on 2009-06-10 21:18 ]
Some are good, like the 2d space thing, and the monolithic culture. Others, not so much. I think that land forces is a vital component of any army, and will continue to be. You can't just win and conquer places with airplanes. I think that BSG at the start of the 3rd season gave an excellent example with why you still need land units: insurgencies, suicide bombers, etc.

Simon referencing Egypt bothered me because he was wrong. Slaves did not build the pyramids, they were either volunteers or conscripts, but not slaves. Of course maybe in 500 years they would forget that, but still, it bugged me.

I'm also annoyed that there were so few refrences to the other two most important modern Sci-Fi universes besides Firefly: BSG, and Mass Effect (which gives a great deal of thought into both using and avoiding many of the listed tropes). For example, humans are seen by other species as violent and expansionist, playing with the idea that all species are united except for humans, who have become more homogeneous.
This list makes me think of Topher and girl-version-of-Topher/Sierra's football-tossing conversation from "Haunted". Awesome. But I was very surprised that they forgot one of the most universal (and, to me, most irritating) clichés: sound in a vacuum (major applause to Joss for avoiding it).
zz9 said:
One TV Cliché that Firefly did follow is the connection between air and gravity. We saw in one episode stuff floating inside the ship until the doors were closed and then instantly gravity was restored and the floaty stuff crashed to the floor.

That was in the pilot and made perfect sense in the scene. You float in from space, lock the outer pressure doors, position yourself, then pressurize and turn on gravity at the same time.

One cliche that the article didn't mention is how other planets always seem to be on a 24 hour cycle, and how conveniently day/night on the ships always seem to match where they landed. Firefly was guilty of this a few times, although Serenity made an effort to avoid that cliche. Of course it's really hard to make things dramatic if everybody is asleep when you land.
It could be argued, with Firefly at least, that they intentionally wouldn't land until waking hours for jobs and whatnot. They could have gotten to the planets, floated around in orbit for a bit until the clients who were to meet them at the meet point would be awake and ready, then enter the atmosphere and land. Though I'm not sure how many episodes would've allowed for that lapse of time between the last we see of Serenity's crew and the ship entering or landing on the planet.

SteppeMerc, I'm not surprised Mass Effect isn't on there, a lot of these sorts of lists still exclusively focus on film and/or television. The video game industry profits so much that it outgrosses film and has for a while now, but it still isn't on everyone's cultural radar (and more people watch TV and/or movies than play video games, for now), so many columnists will still exclude games. I've heard great things and watched some trailers and videos for Mass Effect, but have yet to play it myself. No Xbox. Is it on PS3 yet, or is it a Microsoft-exclusive ? Thinking of getting a PS3, only have a PS2 and a Wii at the moment. With such a backlog of games, maybe getting a PS3 should wait another couple years.
and how conveniently day/night on the ships always seem to match where they landed.

Can't remember what episode it was, but at one point they do make reference to this, with Mal telling Inara that when they touch down, it'll actually be morning, not... whenever she thought it was. Wish I could recall the episode...
A bit nitpicky for my taste. I mean, I do get it. But quite frankly, asking someone to invent a new universe, multifaceted alien culture, use no plot tricks, and always observe realistic science and physics before you even get around to writing an engaging story seems a bit utopian to me. At least, a bit utopian for a multi-season, 22 episode per season show that lasts longer than one year.

You would either need to be stocked with the most brilliant writers ever, or somehow be able to squeeze a lot more time into writing an episode than any realistic show schedule would allow.
I had no idea we watch sci-fi in order to feel superior to other people. I enjoy speculative fiction - or whatever you prefer to call it - because of its ability to shed light on us, humans, in unusual and unexpected ways, not because it makes me feel smart or teaches me about spacecraft physics or alien sociology. Guess I've been doing it wrong.
Give me a really well done story that asks universal/philosophical questions about the nature of existence, with good acting and character development, and I'm all in with the 'suspension of disbelief', on the technical stuff.
Assuming it isn't too blatant, which would probably throw the question solidly into subjectivity-land, anyhow.
Kris, its a Microsoft exclusive. Of course now that EA bought out Bioware, you never know... it was supposed to be just for Xbox, but then they released a PC version. Pretty sure its just sticking to PC and Xbox though. I'd suggest getting the PC version, which is apparently better... if you have the power on your computer to make it run.

I mentioned it because I do not consider some media inherently superior to another. I was ranting the other day on Facebook about how M Night Shamalyan was a racist and culturally ignorant for casting whites and Indians (and a Maori, and Latina) instead of all East Asian and Inuit (or at least American Indian) in his live action Avatar: Last Airbender movie. Someone pointed out it was just a cartoon... which I didn't understand. Of course it is. And Buffy is just a tv show. Doesn't mean I'm not going to fly into a righteous rage when I feel what I love is being maligned.

[ edited by SteppeMerc on 2009-06-11 18:46 ]

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