Kat’s got a good post up about eleven things one should never put into an SF novel unless with the intention to undermine them. It’s actually a riff on a slightly different meme about fantasy novels, but like Kat I don’t write them things, so I’m gonna go with SF instead.
Let’s see if I can cook up a list of the same, and not include anything already proscribed by the Turkey City Lexicon:
1. The ancient story of Earth.
Okay, maybe sometimes it works. I’ve seen it work. But I’ve more often seen it flop. Either humanity knows where Earth is/was, which is presumable, or else we’ve lost all our tech and whatnot, and we know damn skippy and Earth would be subsumed into other myths and legends not differentiated from the colony world or whatever.
2. Humanlike aliens.
I will never, ever, ever, ever truly buy the idea of human-like aliens. I may whip out some kind of bipedal alien, occasionally, but it’s just too implausible to me that aliens would ever look like us without them doing some really fancy self-morphing. This is one reason I really hate Star Trek.
3. The rockstar hero/heroine.
I just don’t find the rockstar figure all that compelling. Spritzed hair and leather jackets? Surely there must be a more compelling style than that to arise in the galaxy sometime between now and the distant future. In fact, all it is to me is more anachronism. If your universe doesn’t have a new form of celebrity within, say, a century or two of the present, you’re not thinking (or stealing) hard enough. After all, it’s not like we all sit around listening to and lusting after operatic stars, do we? No, we don’t. And Boosey and Hawkes doesn’t run the music industry either.
4. The Superwoman.
I know, the great payoff of feminism has finally arrived, and its form is the superwoman. And she bores the crap out of me. It was pathetic and juvenile when all the male heroes were supermen, and it’s just as pathetic and juvenile now that it’s superwomen, no matter how liberated they were. We needn’t trace the steps of the past hegemony in order to usurp it completely, need we? I should think not.
5. Political Structures Anachronistic to the Tech Level of the Setting
Did I ever mention I found the Foundation trilogy outright unreadable? There’s a reason: when you transplant the Roman Empire onto space, you don’t get cool SF, you get the Roman Empire transplanted onto space. Okay, okay, I only ever read the first book, but still… it was ridiculous. Spacefaring Lords and Dukes and Kings and Imperial Stormtroopers? I think part of worldbuilding is actually thinking through to new models of politics and so on.
This may be why, for now, I’m always doing near-future or alternate history; you can be damned sure when I get to far-future, the political and economic structures will have to be different. Technology and the vastness of space demands it.
6. Magic of Any Kind in an SF setting.
I have no problem with tech so powerful the protagonists cannot explain it. Heck, that’s a major technique for me: characters who know even less than I do, grappling with explaining tech they don’t understand.
I also have no problem with magic in a fantasy setting, or with other SF objects — cute robots, say — showing up in a fantasy setting. I don’t mind a little steampunk mixed into a fantasy setting, either.
All of that’s different from science fantasy a la Star Wars’ “The Force”, or other forms of magic. I very much do mind a little magic mixed into an SF setting. It just turns me right off. Orcs should not be piloting spaceships.
The one vague exception is my desire to write a ghost story set in the future. It seems a rather difficult thing to do, but I am determined to someday pull it off. But the difference between magic and the supernatural is sticky enough not to get into here…
7. The Exemplary Society, aka The Good Society Unexamined.
Show me a utopia, and then show me the cracks. Don’t show me the cracks, and I won’t buy it for a minute. I won’t even read beyond a reasonable amount. However, I am willing to accept as believable societies with no redeeming features. I just may not be interested enough to read for too long.
8. Crap Explanations of Science.
I have a surprisingly high tolerance for (deft) discussion of science that I don’t quite actually understand. But what I cannot deal with is really implausible science. When I can tell it’s wrong, then it’s game over. Which suggests to me that I need to be reading more science stuff in order to bolster my own chops and fake science that I didn’t used to know quite as well as I will know after reading more of it. If that makes any sense.
9. Unconvincing Ideological Handwaving.
I don’t care how much poststructuralist theory rocks your world. I don’t care how big a libertarian you are. I don’t care how devoted to the Buddha you find yourself. If your book seems like its purpose is to convert me to your way of thinking, I’ll probably put it down and back away quickly.
In my own case, as I discussed with a couple of teachers during conference at Clarion West, I have only just begun to get over my own tendency to write stories that also function as vaguely socialist diatribes.
10. The Somehow Habitable Planet.
Yeah, like we’ll ever find a planet we could ever just live on, without changing it or ourselves completely. Not gonna happen, folks.
11. The Common Tongue.
It’s a great device in RPGs, but a world with only one language is more than hard to imagine. It’s more of a horror. Worlds, species, who have languages would have more than one. At least more than one. I am thinking of writing a story about a world with only one language, but it’d be central to the story, not just a contrivance to do away with the problem of a language barrier. Instant Universal Translation is also way too easy a copout.
Anyone who has any others, contribute! And yeah, I know, I’m just no fun!