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The Human Factor - Her Most Regal Majesty, the Queen of Snark
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The Human Factor
There's a trend in SF writing that I'm finding more and more annoying. Babylon 5 had it. The new Dr. Who positively revels in it. Even Sherri S. Tepper, who you'd think would know better, indulges. I'm talking about speciesism, of course.

The premise is that the human race are basically the cat's pyjamas when it comes to creativity, will to survive, or whatever. And it really doesn't ring true. Pretty much any species hardy enough to have climbed up evolution's thorny ladder to sentience is going to have to have an enormous will to survive and to persevere against the odds. The ones that didn't would be the also rans. There's a slightly better case to be made in the case of creativity or artistry, but it could just as easily be the case that the reason we haven't made contact with alien life is because we're a race of galactic dullards who the other sentient species don't invite to parties because we have nothing of interest or merit to say. Or because we pick fights and throw up in the dip.

The really ironic thing in the case of the Doctor is that arguably he's far better at all of the things he loves, nay lurves, humanity for than they are. He's pretty much the ultimate optimist/survivor.

We wouldn't say these things about a country or race on Earth, not without being labelled racists, at any rate. We're aware that the manifestation of any such qualities are usually a product of circumstance. (Artists are a huge luxury - only the rich can afford them.) Is there any reason to assume that this wouldn't hold true for the wider universe?

Just for once I'd like to see a setting in which humans are the rednecks of the galaxy, looked upon with scorn and pity by Civilisation.
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al_fruitbat From: al_fruitbat Date: June 24th, 2007 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
I assume everyone's read singing meat?
sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 24th, 2007 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, that's nice.
ewx From: ewx Date: June 24th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC) (Link)

I have thought much the same on occasion and B5 is a major offender.

Baxter's Xeelee books do a fairly good job of avoiding this problem: the humans not only are also-rans compared to some of the species out there, but they repeatedly pick fights that they can't possibly win with beings who they'd wish were allies if they knew what was really going on: the humans may be able to punt neutron stars around but the big boys are throwing whole galaxies.

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al_fruitbat From: al_fruitbat Date: June 24th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC) (Link)
I loved the banquet of cannibals in The State of the Art. And the Mind's fondness for Star Trek - or the enormous diamond which is fabricated so someone could 'own' it, left around on the ship for others to bang their toes on, then when they leave is left in geostationary orbit around Saturn ('to fuck with their minds when they find it').

senji From: senji Date: June 26th, 2007 12:50 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think the Gap series has one good human, possibly two. But I'm not sure this is the right place to go into Gap spoilers….
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sesquipedality From: sesquipedality Date: June 24th, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it's a more common trope in Fantasy. Blame Tolkien's elves.
the_whybird From: the_whybird Date: June 25th, 2007 12:32 pm (UTC) (Link)
I once ran a Firefly-style sci-fi RPG called Tales From The Border World, which featured humans as a bunch of arrogant newbies who'd just discovered space travel and who spent a decade or two running around pretending to be Captain Kirk before the other aliens got sick of them and virus-bombed Earth so that they could have some peace.
zenmeisterin From: zenmeisterin Date: June 25th, 2007 02:49 pm (UTC) (Link)
I completely agree with you there. To the point where I have actually sat down and written up a few background bits for a setting I had in mind whereby humans were not the perfect, most flexible and diverse species. But I've come to realise that people aren't so interested in that. They want to feel special, they want to be told that they (even by proxy where 'they' is the species more than the individual) are in their own way, the best: not at everything, but overall.

Of course when writing about these things it's easiest to come from your own perspective. It's easier to create race that are all artisans, or all a bit shorter than the human average. I think it's sloppiness, personally.

Meh, humans/terrans are always the least interesting option in any game/book/setting/whatever because they're always the middle of the road. I vastly prefer playing something with a different approach.
naggy From: naggy Date: June 26th, 2007 12:45 am (UTC) (Link)
Actually, in many modern sci-fi universes, humans are not necessarily better, but a common theme is that it's our ability to cross cultural divides that makes us strongest - and our greatest weaknesses are when we fail to do so. That's the main strength of humanity in B5, not in their military, planning, physical capabilities, etc. Same with Star Trek.

In B5, I'd say that the Narn show a greater will to survive during the series (humans do in the back story), and a great deal of the technical innovation is by the Minbari. Many characters display creativity - human and otherwise.
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