Rockets and Rocks

Observation: In science fiction, alien civilizations come in exactly two flavors:

1) Well ahead of our current level of technology
2) Stone age

Aliens are never wowed about their first color TV, their new computer with 64 whopping K of RAM, their exciting new plorg*-less carriage, or the telegraph.

I know there are exceptions to this rule, but they’re few and far between. That Star Trek: TNG episode where Riker is on some kind of 50s-ish planet is one of the exceptions. What others are there?


* — A four-legged creature similar to a horse.

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6 Responses to Rockets and Rocks

  1. David Thiel says:

    I believe that the various “Trek” shows have more than their share, though the one you mentioned (“First Contact,” same title as the movie, but different plot) was top of mind for me as well. “Enterprise” had several episodes in which they encountered pre-warp drive, Earth-like societies. And of course, the original “Trek” had the crew going to “Nazi World,” “Gangster World,” “Roman World” and “Paramount Studio Back Lot World.”

    I’d add a third flavor: worlds that look exactly like present-day Earth. The old “Trek” episode “Miri” has an alien planet which, through a staggering coincidence that only Spock would be worthy to calculate, just happened to have landmasses absolutely identical to our own. While “Twilight Zone” was infamous for “it was Earth all along!” stories, they also pulled the opposite trick: a world that we think is ours is really theirs. (Agnes Moorehead’s episode “The Invaders” is the classic example.) Here I’d add “Land of the Giants,” in which Earthlings land on another planet that’s more or less exactly like ’60s Earth, but with an oppressive (or at least, more oppressive) government in charge, and everyone and everything about 20 times bigger.

  2. Kevin Church says:

    I’m going to give another Trek example: the novel Prime Directive featured a civilization that was basically at the height of their Cold War. (Quite a good book too, excluding the slightly dodgy way of explaining away some things.)

    David Brin’s Culture novels all touch on the idea of civilizations needing to reach a certain point before they’re contacted and brought into the galactic community, but there’s no explicit example of planets that aren’t quite there yet.

  3. Topher says:

    SNL had a skit with Shatner where they aliens landed and was demonstrating their superiority by brandishing a blunderbus that can fire a metal ball a minute, several hundred feet. Shatner explained to them what an Uzi was, which was actually kind of funny. Dunno if that counts, but yeah.

  4. T. Derscheid says:

    There’s a fun little David Gerrold novel out there called, uh, [consults Google], Chess With A Dragon, in which humanity discovers that using the intergalactic version of AOL is a per-hour cost, not a flat rate. Humanity’s just one race among a lot of different ones.

  5. Matt says:

    if you haven’t read it you’d like Susan Sontag’s take on science fiction films (older ones of course). I think the essay is called The Imagination of Destruction, but don’t quote me on it. It’s available in her collection Against Interpretation and Other Essays. There are funny sections where she reduces the science fiction model to its bare essentials.

  6. Phreedh says:

    In the second episode of Farscape (I, ET) there’s a scenario where the alien culture isn’t any of the two extremes and where they are amazed to see an “alien” (ie the human Crichton). Pretty neat episode from what I remember.

    And oh, I just happened to end up here when cruising around BGG on a bored friday afternoon at work. =)