Tuesday, October 25, 2011

20 Things I Learned from Sci-Fi TV and Movies

Yesterday's blog post was serious. Today's won't be. Fair warning for those who dislike humor and frivolity. :)

Last week, I followed this link from New Advent to a really funny list titled "50 Things I Learned from the Movies." Some of the gems include:

9. The more a man and a woman hate each other, the more likely they will fall in love.

10. All bombs are fitted with electronic timing devices with large red readouts so you know exactly when they’re going to go off.

11. Cars that crash will almost always burst into flames.

12. A cup of black coffee or a splash of cold water in the face is enough to render the most inebriated person stone cold sober.

13. If you try hard enough, you can outrun an explosion.

That last had me in tears, because I always have something to say about people who can outrun flaming fireballs and not even be the tiniest bit crispy afterward--or, rather, about people who film that particular absurdity.

There were one or two science fiction related items on that list, but it occurred to me that the strange, interesting, fun, campy world of television and movie science fiction could really use its own list. I've been working on it, and here are my not-particularly-original observations in no special order:
20 Things I Learned from Sci-Fi TV and Movies

1. The internal clocks of every spaceship in any given galaxy/universe are always perfectly synchronized, such that you will never contact some other ship millions of miles away and inadvertently awaken the ship's captain in the middle of the night.

2. It is always possible for one ship to contact another that is millions of miles away; it is, however, frequently impossible for a ship to contact members of its own crew who are on the planet below them.

3. It is ordinarily acceptable for spaceships either never to need refueling or to run out of fuel at dramatically appropriate moments; it is not ordinarily acceptable for spaceships to need boring, routine refueling.

4. A spaceship the size of a small city will somehow carry enough water on board, or generate enough water, for all tens of thousands of crew members to shower daily. If waterless showers are ever brought up in conversation, nobody will like the idea.

5. Despite traveling many times the speed of light, spaceships will rarely arrive at their home port before they left it.

6. All time-travelers speak, read, and write modern English.

7. If one of a group of people is a time-traveler from the future sent back to prevent a catastrophe, this person will tell anybody else other than the person ultimately responsible for the catastrophe what they are doing there, until it is too late. There is never a good reason for this reticence.

8. By the time that time travel is possible, evolution has removed anybody who would think it would be fun or amusing to go back in time and mess things up just for the hell of it.

9. In any give group of people from the next century, it is more likely that one of them will secretly be a humanoid alien or robot than that one of them will--secretly or openly--be a Christian.

10. Futuristic energy weapons rarely if ever need recharging. The one exception will be when the hero or heroes are being pursued by villains and must hide because they can't fight.

11. Futuristic and/or space traveling heroes often have to hide from villains in places that shun technology or have not yet made contact with space and/or time travelers.

12. At least one person in the hiding place will turn out to be both extremely attractive and surprisingly good with technology, leading to and existential and/or romantic crisis.

13. Future science labs are staffed by two types of people: men who are geeky, nerdy, socially inept, yet somehow oddly charming, and women who could have (even if they didn't) supported their various doctoral careers while modeling, but who subdue their glamor under white lab coats, intimidatingly brilliant minds, and (frequently) unattractive glasses.

14. If one of those women is accidentally locked in the science lab with one of the nerds during a major crisis, her glasses will get broken, her lab coat will have to be used to block the toxic fumes or something from coming in under the door, and the oddly charming geek who is trapped with her will suddenly realize that she is a total babe.

15. Oddly charming science nerds have magical abilities when it comes to technology. They can overcome all issues of computer compatibility, password protection or data security, damage to the system including structural damage to the mainframe or servers, viruses and malicious attacks, insufficient power, and so on in a matter of seconds. They can also integrate a piece of unknown alien technology with their present operating systems in remarkably short lapses of time.

16. Despite their magical abilities, geeky computer guys will complain vociferously about being asked to do any of the above, leading viewers to wonder what their actual job involves other than hanging around accident prone labs with science babes.

17. No matter how brilliant the science nerds are, there will always be at least one instance where an ordinary person, possibly a military man, will know more than they do about some point of basic science--because people capable of dramatic feats of higher physics frequently forget everything they know about gravity, or thermodynamics, or simple chemical reactions.

18. In the future, the military teams that accompany science teams to fantastic planets will welcome having the chain of command repeatedly violated either by the scientists or by their civilian leaders--at least, they never seem to have a problem with it.

19. In a universe in which it is possible for artificial planets to be built, it is also still possible for weapons to jam or for spaceships' engines to overheat.

20. Despite the vacuum of space, dramatic visual fireworks, clouds of smoke, etc. are not only possible, but likely, during any major starship battle.
Those are just a few simple observations. Feel free to add your own list in the comment box or on your blog!


Rebecca said...

Have you seen "Galaxy Quest"? I wouldn't let my kids see it or anything, but it is really a gem for those of us who grew up with Star Trek, whether we loved it or hated it.

Red Cardigan said...

Yes! I think it's fun. Agreed--not for kids, but still a fun movie.

Rebecca in ID said...

Oh, and I think your list is hilarious! My dh is much more the sci-fi movie watcher, but I know enough to get your jokes. :)

Geoff G. said...

We're both huge SF geeks so I found your list to be absolutely brilliant.

6. All time-travelers speak, read, and write modern English.

The modern Doctor Who at least addresses this by saying a simultaneous translation is a "Gift of the TARDIS." There's one episode set in Pompeii where a companion tries to speak to a Roman in Latin, but he can't understand her because to him her Latin sounds like "Celtic".

The language issue was also the setup for one of my favorite ST:TNG episodes, "Darmok", where the universal translator failed because the alien language was utterly and completely steeped in metaphor and cultural references. A very clever idea and quite well executed.

15. Oddly charming science nerds have magical abilities when it comes to technology. They can overcome all issues of computer compatibility, password protection or data security, damage to the system including structural damage to the mainframe or servers, viruses and malicious attacks, insufficient power, and so on in a matter of seconds. They can also integrate a piece of unknown alien technology with their present operating systems in remarkably short lapses of time.

Independence Day was terrible about this. It takes most people years of work and study of computer operating systems and networking to learn the ins and outs of how to write a good virus. It's a very specialized and technical skill. Yet we are expected to believe that Jeff Goldblum could somehow master not just connecting to the aliens' computer network but completely crashing every single element of it in a matter of hours. (Hint: hackers can't even achieve that level of destruction with our own systems)

Indygo Wolf said...

Brilliant list.

But space is not a vacuum. It has gasses and the like all through it so explosions are possible; clouds of smoke are debatable though. (I'm taking astronomy this year..)

beadgirl said...

Love, love, love Darmok.

21. Even though there is no up or down, left or right in space, spaceships will always encounter each other on the same plane. And right side up relative to each other, to boot.

Edward said...

22. Even when starships are traveling faster than light, they are nevertheless able, somehow, to see each other.

23. No matter how many systems are damaged on a starship, including life support, propulsion, and power, the artificial gravity never stops working.

Turmarion said...

I loved this! I needed a lift today, and this was it--thank you!

beadgirl, and Edward, also great!

Let me add:

24. No matter how distant in the future the action takes place, the characters seem intimately at home with 20th and 21st Century cultural references and act pretty much like typical 20th-21st Century people.

Elise said...

Also, the guy that showed up: is gonna die.

Whenever you see a new character at the beginning of Star Trek, you know that guy is gonna bite it. Sad, but true!


Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

25. Whether it's long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away or thousands of light years in the future... the British accent will survive!

Anonymous said...

26. Darts, pleats, empire waists, and ruffles have no place in sci-fi. The future is jeggings, so get used to it.

LarryD said...

27. No one has peripheral vision (ever see the old Dr Who episodes?)

freddy said...

Love these! Erin, you're brilliant.
Mine: Any humanoid machine will be more moral/ethical than nearby humans, unless said machine is, in fact, ugly.

Alice said...

Have you watched Babylon 5? It's a bit more believable in that humans haven't exactly evolved out of Original Sin and religion is treated fairly respectfully. If you haven't, do a YouTube search for "Babylon 5 A moment of perfect beauty."

Siarlys Jenkins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Siarlys Jenkins said...

This is a comprehensive list, so it is hard to add anything. I'm a perpetual fan of old Arthur C. Clarke, but I've noticed that Clarke, and some other writers who are atheists, always have to produce a deus ex machina to compensate. For example, simple evolution isn't enough to explain the leap from smart primates to tool-bearing humans, so, in the absence of a deity, an incredibly advanced civilization has to drop by, teach some promising apes to go from vegetarian to omivore, and implant subliminal hints about using bones as weapons.

Flash forward to 3010, and some abandoned artifact of this civilization is judging civilizations on autopilot. Suspected of having made a less than omniscient judgement that humanity is wanting, and being not quite omnipotent, this contraption can be short circuited by human ingenuity, this putting off Judgement Day semi permanently.

On the side, I've noticed that interstellar wars tend to be written about as if taking place with maneuvers appropriate to flat planes, rather than to three dimensional space that is mostly empty, and only worth fighting over when you get close enough to a pinpoint small planet that it looms large enough to be worth fighting over.

Oh, and in Green Lantern, each member of the corps can fly through space at infinite speed inside a green bubble of energy, but when it creates convenient challenges for the story line, they travel in slow, cumbersome spaceships that can be dismembered by Parallax, and when stranded on a distant planet, have to call for rescue, rather than flying off in their green spheres of energy.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I didn't mean to post twice. Google told me I hadn't put in the right word verification, and I took the opportunity to add the bit about Green Lantern. Excuses, excuses.

Tarcisius said...

28. (or 30.) Whenever a starship takes a hit from a weapon, collision, etc., it will always shudder (though I've seen this explained as the inability of the inertial dampeners to compensate).

29. Whenever a ship is in orbit/atmosphere, the artificial gravity magically aligns itself with the planet (unless the ship is intentionally upside-down or sideways). For an example, try Star Wars 3; when they are in the elevator shaft.

30. The space battles almost never take place at beyond visual range, even when the weapons travel at the speed of light.

31. Anti-warship nukes are slow and easily shot down by tiny fighters.

32. Almost no spacecraft uses Newtonian physics, instead relying on the "airplanes in space" movement. Note; I tend to explain this by inventing some sort of projected gravity or warp field, but I tend to rationalize everything in every sci-fi reality I've seen.

33. Aliens always attack New York (or London, depending on what side of the pond the network’s on).

34. There’s always some ancient race (possessing advanced technology) that predates the Human race (and is usually a distant relative of said race). These ancient people are always portrayed as benign, peaceful philanthropists that just happened to develop the most advance weaponry in the galaxy/universe, and/or terrifying weapons of mass destruction, genetically engineered (or evolved) hybrid evil alien horrors, etc. There are also always a few actual representatives of that race still alive, since they never die or change.

I could probably think of more, but I’d better stop now.

Tarcisius said...

One more thing; the geeky science dude described in items 15, 16, and 17 wouldn't happen to be Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis, would he? He fits all the descriptions perfectly.

Red Cardigan said...

Actually, Tarcisius, Rodney McKay of Atlantis, Seamus Zelazny Harper of Andromeda, Connor Temple of Primeval (seasons 4&5 especially),
Douglas Fargo of Eureka, and, to some extent, the vampire version of Nichola Tesla from Sanctuary all fit at least one of those, if not all of them! :)