Science Fiction is the genre of limitless possibilities. Literally, without limits on time, space, character or plot. If the author can dream it, they can do it. Why, then, are some clichés so hard to kill in SciFi? Because they are as seductive as the Tenth Doctor when he stutters. It’s easier to blaze from a well-marked trail, and readers expect to see something at least vaguely familiar in the story.
Used well, used sparingly, or even turned inside out, these tropes can make for some awesome literature. Overuse them, and your plot deserves a squash in the trash compactor.
Here are some well-known science fiction plots, accompanied by a recommendation that either subverts the trope or does it well.
1. It Was All The Twilight Zone
Surprise! They were all living in a marble the entire time. Or on the fungus between a giant’s toes, or in the fur of a giant animal, or in a jar of tang. Duuuude. It’s so trippy. The show did this trope already, and they did it well. There’s no need to go whacking your readers over the head with how everything they thought they knew about the novel was actually wrong the whole time.
For a good twist ending: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
2. Future You is Just Like Past You!
A thousand years into the future, people are still . . . people. The same sort of government, the same religions, nothing about gender roles have changed and everyone still works Monday through Friday. Nothing but the technology has evolved because this is SciFi dang it! What, is it supposed to have subtle commentary about social issues? Even though that tech is pretty cool and spacey (tame riding Velociraptor robot pets!) are we really supposed to believe that in all this time humans have trod the same old rut when it comes to everything else?
Book recommendation: The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
3. Inhuman Races Doing Very Human Things
It’s amazing how anthropomorphic aliens can be. Jobs, cities, culture, evolution, mealtimes, binary genders, even democratic high council structures that seem *super* familiar to us Earthlings. This works well, because mostly they speak English too (or universal translators have been created, so no worries!) On that note, it’s also fascinating how often they really, really want to conquer Earth. Obviously, this planet is just the place to be. Haha, it’s not like there are millions of other habitable planets in the galaxy . . . oh, wait.
For some species who are nothing like human and don’t particularly care how they govern things on Earth: A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge
4. Calculate the Gravity of Disappointment
Science Fiction has limitless possibilities built into it, this is true. HOWEVER. Limitless is not the same as ‘do whaTeVER you want and bounce around the plot like a doped-up pinball’. Once the world is built the rules are established, and it’s not a good move to go breaking your own rules for plot convenience. No deus ex machina allowed in SciFi. Just the machina part.
Hard science, established rules, awesome plot, try The Three Body Problem by Cixin Liu
Are there any Science Fiction tropes that you’d like to drop-kick into a wormhole? Let’s hear it! If you like reading about tropes, you can find Young Adult, Horror, and Romance elsewhere on the site.
If you’d like some more awesome SciFi, we have Five Science Fiction Book Recommendations for Readers Who Don’t Like Science Fiction