cliches, Horror Writing

Clichés: Aliens

Cliche’s are in all genres, not just horror.

Today I want to look at one that can span across horror and Sci Fi. Aliens.

Admittedly I tend to watch Sci-Fi more so than read it, I tend to absorb a bigger percentage of this genre via movies, games and television. But that aside the cliche’s of the genre shine through in all mediums.

They all look Human

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This is something that pops up more on television than in books, probably because of budgets. I grew up reading the Animorphs series and their aliens were weird slugs, bird-lizards and centaurs, vey much not human, yet you turn on the majority of sci-fi shows and the aliens are carbon-based human-like creatures.

I get very irritated when my awesome alien species turn out to be humanoid with oddly coloured skin (Blue, Green Red etc). How arrogant are we that we would assume that everything out there in the vastness of space would look similar to ourselves?

I understand the limitations of makeup and special effects in some of the older films and television series but what excuse do the more modern examples have. Guardians of the Galaxy for example (bloody awesome film, one of my favourites but also a good example of what I’m talking about) this is a modern film that has access to insane special effects, makeup, and a decent budget and they make their aliens’ funny coloured humans. I’m aware that there is source material in this instance but this raises the question, why was everyone humanoid in the source material?!? Since when do comix have a budget that would affect character design? Where are my unimaginable cosmic horrors? Where are the aliens that are truly alien?

Where is your imagination?

The only reasoning I could possibly come up with is that the creators are worried that a truly alien character would be difficult for an audience to relate to. Or, the cynical part of me thinks that the creators can’t be bothered to think how a truely alien character would function. How does a tentacle monster work? how does it move? How does it breathe? Reproduce? Communicate? Far easier to superimpose humanity on it and be done with it.

Boring. Lazy. Stop it.

Planet of the Hats

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I really get fed up with this one.

For those not familiar with the phrase a ‘planet of the hats’ is when everyone from one species does the same thing. Think Klingons all being warriors for example, who builds houses on Klingon? How does their infrastructure work when everyone is a warrior and no one is a planner? Is the Klingon planning department just full of angry warriors having meetings that end in bloodshed? While that would be cool to watch, it’s unlikely to be productive.

Look at the variety on our own planet, we have millions of people and all of them are different and we thrive because of it, if there’s a job that needs doing there will be someone with the much-needed skill set, but on a planet of the hats where the race is a warrior race and suddenly someone needs food they are screwed because there are no farmers.

Planet of the hats is one of the laziest ways to create an alien race, it basically screams to the reader/watcher/player that the creator couldn’t be bothered to create a balanced race but needed a token alien warrior that is super tough so rather than make then a warrior from planet X a well-balanced planet, and show the reader/watcher/player that this character is tough they just have all the other characters go “oh my a such-and-such they are all legendary super tough warriors.”

This not only hurts the entire race but also the individual character, people are more than their day job. But hey at least this way you don’t have to do any work establishing your character, you just say “oh that’s bob he’s an X and everyone knows that X are the scariest warriors ever. No one in the galaxy fights an X and lives”

God damn it, do some character work!

Aliens have Emotions too

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I love Spock, Spock was neat. He was a good balance for Kirk and he had some really cool moments both in sheer badassery and in personal growth. He was awesome.

BUT that does not mean that I want every single alien to be Spock. I do not want an entire race of aliens as emotionless drones just because it worked in Star Trek. Unless you can do something different with it that wasn’t done with Star Trek then you’d better do a bloody good job or once again it’s going to be seen as lazy. Not only are you doing a planet of the hats (a whole race is just one thing) but you’re doing a planet of the hats that have been done to death already.

Hive minds / Insects

Well done on not having humanoid aliens, but you realise that doesn’t mean you have to have bugs right? The hivemind alien species, mindless but for the queen (who once you kill will end all the others Phantom Menace style) is another overdone trope.

While it can be done effectively it’s difficult because like planet of the hats and emotionless aliens its been done so many times before that it’s boring unless something new is done.

Also while I’m here let’s address the kill the queen and they all die thing. HOW WOULD THAT WORK? ARE THEY VAMPIRE ALIENS? It was dumb when vampires did it and it’s dumb when aliens do it. Killing a progenitor will not and should not kill the spawn. Like all cliches, it’s lazy.

How can we get rid of this unstoppable force, something the writer has built too big and now the heroes can’t handle it realistically?  Um … kill the queen? THIS MAKES NO SENSE! What kind of creature would evolve in such a way to be so vulnerable? Look at actual hives, ants or bees for instance, if you kill the queen does the colony die? No, it bloody does not, because that would be insane!

Stop it. Just stop it. Please.

I'd love to hear what you think, please comment below.

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