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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What are your favorite science fiction tropes?

For all the ground that Avatar breaks, you’re gonna see a lot of familiar things there, too: space marines, the notion that anything could be valuable enough to be worth hauling out of a gravity well in huge quantities and transporting it across intersteller distances, the spy who goes native, and a lot more.

You’ll find some of Avatar’s clichés listed at Speculative Fiction Tropes at TV Tropes. I’ll leave it up to you to discover which ones.

Warning: Don’t check out that link unless you’ve got a few hours to spare, because you’re gonna get lost in it. And don’t be near any liquid consumables unless you want to invest in a new keyboard, because you are gonna laugh — a lot. Just the names of some of the exhaustively detailed tropes (complete with examples from across the geekosphere) will get you going: “San Dimas Time.” “Landfill Beyond the Stars.” “In Space Everyone Can See Your Face.” “Mike Nelson Destroyer of Worlds.” “Touched by Vorlons.”

Today’s question (and the link) comes via reader allochthon: What are your favorite science fiction tropes? Where are they done particularly well, and particularly poorly?

Have fun.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)

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  • You are actively pointing people to TV Tropes? See http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TVTropesWillRuinYourLife

    I’ve spent 4 hours one time reading everything linked to Zutara ‘Shipperdom… Yes, I’m a ‘Shipper! I might be the only hetero guy on the planet who is, but I digress.

    I’m Batman. And I can breathe in space.

  • Bluejay

    I have a love/hate relationship with tvtropes.org. It’s an entertaining timesucker, but sometimes it gets me depressed that there seems to be nothing new to say. And some of my favorite tropes are simultaneously some of my LEAST favorite; I guess it depends on the execution, or whether the tropes are cleverly subverted, etc.

    I’m tempted to come up with an exhaustive list, but for now:

    – First Contact: I’m a sucker for well-told contact stories, because I’m still hoping it’ll someday come true. Go SETI! :-)

    – Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: A story with a bunch of interesting, well-written characters, as in Firefly or the Hellboy movies, can make me forgive a lot of other flaws.

    – Space Pirates. Love ’em.

    – Used Future: The clunkier and dirtier the hardware, the better. One reason among many that the original SW trilogy beats the prequels.

    Clicking through some of these links, I stumbled upon the Chewbacca Defense. I think I’ve been on the receiving end of this tactic on occasion, and may have unconsciously used it myself at times; I hope not. I’ll try to be vigilant.

  • Shaun

    Not strictly science fiction but practiced regularly in Star Trek:


  • amanohyo

    I’ve always enjoyed the “All Myths Are True” trope. Sometimes in the middle of a conversation, I’ll pause dramatically and say “…maybe the legends were true?” or if I see something praiseworthy, “the legends were true!“… not clever and rarely appreciated by my friends and/or wife, but hey I get a kick out of it. If those lines are actually spoken in a movie, I can’t help chuckling.

    The tropes that annoy me the most are “Humans are Special,” “Token Nonhuman,” and “The MacGuffin Girl.”

  • Shadowen

    One day, a creation of mine will be described on TV Tropes.

    In the meantime, I will continue to scour the site of unsightly typos instead of working at work.

  • No!! Not TVTropes! My free time! My… ooh, neat!

    *followed by 12 hours of clicking*

    Damn youuuuuuuuuu! B)

  • Althea

    I’m fond of alternate universes/realities – discovery of same, ala “Wizard of Oz”, which isn’t sci-fi but you get the idea. “Stargate” I dig, and “Contact”. Kinda also covers the discovery of something in the real world that shouldn’t be there, like “Jurassic Park” or “Journey to the Center of the Earth”.

  • A favourite SF trope of mine is the unemotional character amid the melodrama: sometimes it’s an alien, sometimes it’s a robot. The unemotional one nearly always come to the rescue of the others, regardless of logic, but it’s an interesting ride, all the same.

    The corallery that I don’t like is where the machines, the spaceship, for instance, fall in love some one.

    Morva Shepley

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