A Non-Exhaustive List of Science Fiction Tropes to Avoid

Ah, science fiction. Whether gritty or corny, dystopian or utopian, it has an ability to entrance like no other genre of speculative fiction. At least most of the time. Well, some of the time. Well…ninety percent of anything is crap, right? Anyway here’s a bunch of tropes that annoy me in science fiction stories. It’s by no means exhaustive, nor is it a bible to follow religiously, but it is a point of reference I think I should have if I want to write good science fiction.

You may like some of these, and that’s OK, but try to examine why you like them and how they can be done better. Tropes are tools, but even the most innocuous tool can injure you if you don’t use it correctly.

  • AI Takes Over/Destroys World: Yawn. Been there done that. Besides, who’s to say an AI that got “smarter” than us would really want to take over the world? If you program it correctly, it should be perfectly friendly. I’m more afraid of the person controlling the AI than the AI itself.
  • Reputation Economies: AKA “Who the Hell is Karl Marx?” Listen, if you’ve been on the internet for even half a second it becomes very clear that social capital is still capital. If you’re looking for an alternative to capitalism for your futuristic utopia, this ain’t it.
  • 3D Printers Create Socialism: You probably haven’t looked to hard at the actual material causes of capitalism if you think that having “matter recycling” or whatever futuristic nonsense is necessary for socialism to work. Moreover, you probably haven’t thought too hard about the implications of such technology if you think that the matter necessary to create things would not be hoarded by capitalists.
  • Binary Humans, Nonbinary Aliens: Speculative fiction is cool because it lets you explore other ways of looking at the world. One of the ways to do that is with aliens. That being said, you have to be careful not to imply that actual people on Earth are less than human. By all means, have an alien species that has different gender norms than us, but don’t forget that there are humans who don’t conform to binary notions of gender as well.
  • Racism Except its Clones or Whatever: If you want to write a story about a dispossessed group, write about them. Ursula K Le Guin did this to great (and sometimes not so great) effect. Metaphors aren’t 100% necessary unless you’re worrying about offending people in which case you are contributing to erasure and probably offending people anyway.
  • Corporate Owned Future: What a horrible dystopia! That we are already living in. The corporate owned present is bad enough. Why don’t we imagine a future where someone else, or even no one, is in charge?
  • The Apocalypes: The world sucks right now, but I’d rather not hear about how it will end. Can we instead write stories about how to save it?

There have been some stories that have done these tropes quite well, but the current over-saturation of certain tropes is not doing science fiction any favors as a genre. The Apocalypse sub-genre is particularly over-saturated right now, and I would love to have more hopeful stories in general. Which of course means I’m going to try writing some myself.

In future posts I may go more into depth about why each trope annoys the heck out of me, but for now, this is a good list and a reference to keep in mind for my writing.