My Favorite Science Fiction Tropes

I’m going to tell you something that I don’t think you’ll believe: I’m an incredible nerd. I know: how could such a monument to concentrated sex appeal and charisma possibly indulge in fiction grounded in the fringes of popular media? I grew up loving Science Fiction (SciFi) and as an adult, I still love SciFi. Don’t believe me? If you’re ever bored and have three hours to kill, ask me about my advanced theory on the T-1000 from Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

My love of SciFi started as a child watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. I wouldn’t come out and call myself a Trekkie, but I get where their love stems from and I appreciate their passion for the subject. When you really think about what Star Trek is, it’s inspiring. Gene Roddenberry created a mythos about many peoples and species coming together for the common goal of exploring space and embracing innovation for everyone. The voyagers of the SS Enterprise existed in a time when no one lusted for money or power, no one needed for anything, and they went on expeditions for the singular purpose of betterment of everyone. It doesn’t stop there either. I was an avid reader of the X-Men comic books. In the pages of X-Men I learned equality, tolerance, acceptance, and to have a distaste for racism and classism. The X-Men, a fictional team of people who were different, taught me to be a man who had love for his fellow human beings and to welcome everyone into my realm of influence.

When I read SciFi, I am able to adopt a healthy perspective through distraction. Star Wars has an incredible message about embracing empowerment from within on a platform of a visually stunning story. Pacific Rim saw the countries of the Pacific Rim, although politically very different, come together to fight a common threat and embracing unity. Jean-Claude Van Damme’s “Universal Soldier” has an implied message of fighting against programming to do the right thing. The list goes on and on.

For this week’s blog, I wanted to toast Science Fiction by sharing my favorite tropes, or literary devices, used in SciFi novels, television shows, and movies.

No. 5: Clones & Cloning. Does anyone remember Dolly the Sheep? Long story short: in 1995, scientists cloned an actual adult sheep through nuclear transfer. It was Science Fiction actually bleeding into the waking world. In fact, with Dolly’s birth, cloning was no longer Science Fiction — it was Science Fact. One human being existed, and through the miracle of science, they had a perfectly identical copy. That, in and of itself, is fascinating, but good stories aren’t just based on fascination. Good stories are rooted in conflict — actually, without conflict, you have no story. How do you add conflict to the idea of a clone? You make them an evil clone (or a good clone inverse). Just about every major media science fiction franchise has adopted the cloning trope and there have been volumes of great stories because of it.

Famous examples of cloning in SciFi: the Star Wars Clone Wars, Star Trek: Nemesis, X-Men, the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie “The Replicant,” and even dramatic soap opera Guiding Light.

No. 4: Space Travel & Exploration. This one sounds kind of weak, but allow me to elaborate. Do you remember the TV Show Lost in Space? They were exploring space and got lost, that’s where the conflict exists. I’m not saying that people going into space is the exciting part for me, but for the problems that can occur. When the Millennium Falcon comes out of hyperspace in an asteroid field, when the X-Men went to the Shi’ar Empire in the Phoenix Saga, and to a smaller degree, when Achilles and Alexander take their fight to space in Robot Jox. Space is such a substantial concept to wrap your head around — if anything goes wrong, you are lost to the vacuum of space for ever.

To further elaborate on the space travel trope, there is the adventure part of it too. In Guardians of the Galaxy, half the fun of that movie was watching the crew go from planet to planet on their quest. In terms of world building, space travel makes the whole universe feel a lot bigger and pockets of “anything could happen” make the ability for the story teller to do much, much more.

No. 3: Time Travel. When I was a boy, my mother encouraged me to read abridged versions of classic novels and one of my favorites was The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. Great Science Fiction pushes the envelope of what is possible and time travel is no exception. Who wouldn’t want to climb into a time machine and go whenever you wanted to go. If you could, what would you do with that ability? Go back and see the dawn of time? Pet a dinosaur? Maybe meet Jesus? The trope of time travel opens up possibilities in our own imagination, fun little day dreams about what we would do in our own lives if we could go back. I mentioned before about how conflict is what makes a story worth reading. In time travel, the conflict of having an objective, but having to complete that objective without challenging the present or future is the fun. Remember Back to the Future? Marty had to encourage his parents to do the pants-off-dance-off, because his life depended on it. Bill and Ted just wanted to research a history paper and the future actually depended on them. Wild, isn’t it?

No. 2: Cyborgs & Super-Soldiers. I often ask myself which is the more bad-ass cyborg: the Terminator or Robocop? For argument sake, a cyborg is defined as an organic being with mechanical attributes or upgrades. While the Terminator is a machine endo-skeleton, the skin and hair on the machine is living, so it counts. On the other side of that, Robocop was a man who was integrated into a machine. The idea of the cyborg as a villain is fascinating because its an insurmountable problem that the protagonist always seems to surmount. When the cyborg is the hero, I find myself rooting for the humanity shining despite of the medical enhancements; kind of like when the Chairman of OCP asks Robocop what his name is, and Robocop says “Murphy.”

In the movie Universal Soldier, Luc Devereaux is a soldier who died in Vietnam, turned into a weapon by the US Military. I’ve included the Super-Soldier part of this category specifically for the movie Universal Soldier, because I have a hard time reconciling the UniSols as cyborgs. Some folks say they are, others say they aren’t. The way I see it, the UniSols are super-soldiers with auxiliary mechanical enhancements, but not necessarily cybernetic organisms. Semantics, I know, but as a fan of Science Fiction, these are the things that keep me thinking about the genre.

No. 1: Mecha & Giant Robots. This is what brought me to the dance. I became a fan of Science Fiction because of Star Trek, but shows like Transformers and the Go-Bots planted the seeds to be open to SciFi. As a boy, I’d watch Transformers religiously. My father was a long-haul driver, and so Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus were heroes in my young mind, because they turned into trucks. Maybe some part of my young mind thought that because Dad drove trucks, that Optimus Prime and Ultra Magnus were heroes like my father was to me.

From Transformers, I began consuming a movie called Robot Jox. This movie is balls to the wall giant robot excitement. In my early teens I’d discovered that there are a ton of great SciFi animations revolving around giant robots, called Mecha. From the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers to Pacific Rim, giant robots have been a sure fire way to get my pulse racing! Will I end up writing a story revolving around giant robots? Possibly.

Those are my favorite SciFi tropes and thank you for reading about them. I sincerely hope you all have a fun and safe Fourth of July holiday!

Until your next trip across the Millerverse.

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