Why Humans Are Often Boring in Sci-fi

Quite a few times I’ve seen a particular image pop up online and reading a few of my friend’s comments I couldn’t help but agree with them that, yes, humans are boring. After a little bit of thought on the matter I had to conclude that they aren’t.

The picture mentioned is this:

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My apologies if you can’t read it. The text is thus: “It’s funny how science fiction universes so often treat humans as boring, default everyman species or event the weakest and dumbest.

I want to see a sci-fi universe where we’re actually considered one of the more hideous and terrifying species.

How do we know that our saliva and skin oils wouldn’t be ultra-corrosive to most other sapient races? What if we’re actually have the strongest vocal chords and can paralyse or kill the inhabitants of other worlds just by screaming at them? What if the most sentient life in the universe turns out to be vegetable-like and lives in fear of us rare “animal” races who can move quickly and chew shit up with our teeth?”

Of course there are arguements for both sides but humans are only ultimately seen as boring because as protagonists in stories they are usually placed against antagonists who are so different to them in order to justify how alien the xenos are; how different and unhuman that they can be. They need to be worthy adversaries in order to aid the portrayal of humanity’s feats, behaviours and characteristics across; this can and often is a commentary on humanity.

That’s what good science fiction is – science fiction is the framing of mankind itself in a different environment. Humanity is seen as it ultimately is because it’s in a different spotlight. Most science fiction stories aren’t so much predictions of the future but rather placing humanity on a stage and telling people to look at it.

Of course there are those who happily predict the future and still do this. Star Trek and The War of The Worlds are prime examples of this but even these force us, as an audience, to take a look at popular culture, its sociological influences, and even humanity on a base level.

Regarding aliens, try looking at the alien as if it were a human. Almost every science fiction that you see or read where the alien is the adversary you can see what humans are in comparison. In The War of The Worlds you can see in a form of dramatic andsituational irony that the aliens destroy The British Empire. One character goes as far as to describe their weapons as “bows and arrows against the lightning”, commenting on just how the most advanced humans on Earth are to the newcomer threat; these evidences and more point to the notion that the book is also an allegory towards how The British Empire (as well the European superpowers at the time) arrived and began conquering the New World.

Asides from the historical allegories you can also see humanity in other species by looking at the broad spectrum of aliens presented to you; each one is a different race. Aboard the USS Enterprise we see all manner of aliens working together as equals. Of course there’s the odd racist quip from character to character, but The Federation is, as a professional item, one large metaphor towards how every race can work equally and in tandem with no need for racism nor sexism to be involved.

Humans as the everyman species seems odd to say when you look at some science fiction settings like, for example, Warhammer 40,000. The average humans are stronger than tau, grots and eldar but weaker than orks, smarter than orks but less intelligent and slower than Eldar. Why? Why are humans so balanced? They aren’t. If you look at it from another alien race’s point of view, they will see themselves as balanced whilst the humans are weaker/stronger than themselves (in their respective skillsets). By doing this you’ll see that, as a big gribbly ork boy, you may be stronger but you’re less intelligent than the eldar, the tau and humans. As a tyranid gaunt you’re faster than humans, but less intelligent. As an eldar, more intelligent and faster than orks and tau, but weaker than orks. It’s all a matter or perspective.

Of course there are races out there in which humans are almost universally better than, like Mass Effect’s Elcors and Volus (although these still have superiority in certain manners certainly, like Shakespeare and business). 😛

Humans aren’t average. They aren’t the everyman. They aren’t the middle of the science fiction racial spectrum. A human may see it like that, but another race’s member may see their own race in the same regard too. Ultimately, humans have benefits and drawbacks and so does every other race.

When you start realising that every other alien species in science fiction also has a human element within it, you can start to realise just how special humanity is. It’s not boring. It’s amazingly rife with interest, and worthy of standing on the same level as almost every other race.

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