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nomoreroominhell said on August 20th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

Now write something about how superheroes having secret identities and wearing spandex is stupid.

Oh oh, or maybe how airline food is bad.

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Ninjasuperspy said on August 20th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

Cool list. And something I’ve been thinking about the more I read and watch sci-fi that is more “Fantasy in space” than “Science fiction.” I did like Shirow’s bit about cyborg super-strength (and how unlikely it was) in Ghost in the Shell. Here’s some stuff I found a while back while I was complaining about non-Alastair Reynolds sci-fi.

http://josephshoer.com/blog/2009/12/thoughts-on-space-battles/ — A presentation of realistic space combat.

http://josephshoer.com/blog/2009/12/high-orbit/ — Some slightly handwave-y fiction using the same.

Have you read “Usurper of the Sun” by Housuke Nojiri? Pretty good hard sci-fi. Everything takes place in the solar system, space travel is basically similar to what we have now and the aliens are actually _alien_.

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Far from a pet peeve for me, I’ve always kinda liked the name-of-star/number-of-planets-away-from-star naming scheme that produces “Sol III” for Earth; it seemed very logical. I do get how people’s mileage may vary here.

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malakim2099 said on August 20th, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Obviously the fighter-interceptors use sensors. ;)

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Justin Cognito said on August 20th, 2010 at 4:18 pm

I remember Global Frequency handled the bionics thing well. There’s a character with a super-strong bionic arm, but it needed to be MASSIVELY anchored to her skeletal system lest it tear itself free every time she exert effort.

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Well, sensors could work as well as they’re described in science fiction as by assuming that computers are good enough at unaided remote sensing analysis. satellites today are good enough to be able to easily distinguish between different species of plants and animals based on their spectral reflections. There’s no doubt that the secret stuff the DIA, NGSIA and CIA have is much better at automatic identification of different vehicles and maybe even people

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I recall watching an episode of Star Trek–Next Gen, I think–where at one point they say “Sensors are picking up some kind of unknown energy” (come to think of it, that may be every episode of Next Gen). At that point I just kind of stared, baffled. How can you have sensors to detect unknown things? How does that even work?

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Peztopiary said on August 20th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Aliens will probably call Earth whatever we ask them to. The same we will call their planet whatever they ask us to. They might not have called it Earth before, but by the time they get to us they’ll have been exposed to all our radio and television and they’ll probably know the nomenclature. Plus it’s polite.

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I’ve never seen earth called Sol III.

Additionally, prosthetics are getting better all the time, it probably won’t be too long before cochlear implants let formerly deaf people hear better than unmodified individuals, and so on for sight etc., no reason these things have to suddenly stop at the human level. People with prosthetic feet are already starting to run faster.

As for uploading, the idea that the uploaded person “wouldn’t really be you” is ITSELF an unquestioned assumption, and one rightly subject to quite a bit of philosophical derision. Glass houses, stones, etc.

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“How can you have sensors to detect unknown things? How does that even work?”

You mean, your eyes can’t see things you don’t already know about? What a strange world you must live in. I see unknown things all the time, or at least I did while I was younger. Not as much nowadays, but I guess the world isn’t as good at throwing curveballs these days.

re: Sol III: I assumed that “Sol” was simply the Universal Translator — why isn’t that on the list, BTW? — changing “E’kgrapotis Lkr” into its english-equivalent. Assuming that the aliens use star-based nomenclature for planets, it’s not completely random.

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But only people of Earth speak Latin. So “Sol III” makes sense.

All alien planets should just be their word for “the world,” though, same way they’d call their sun “the sun” and their moon “the moon” (if they have more than one, they’d probably come up with proper names though.) It’s like the names of tribes in North America – almost all of the names the tribes used for themselves meant “the people” or something like it.

I don’t know much about bionics, but there are people with prosthetic legs who can run faster than people with flesh and blood legs. Google Oscar Pistorius.

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What an absurdly stupid article.

You focus on a particular genre and then whine about its constraints.

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If we broke down science fiction and only accepted what everyone could agree was scientifically plausible, we would lose a lot of great stories.

Honestly technology has developed in way people never expected anyway; in what old science fiction did they have anything like the internet or even modern personal computers? Did people 200 years ago ever think we’d have cars and airplanes? How do we know that today’s inconceivable technology won’t somehow be possible in a thousand years?

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Space combat doesn’t bother me as much as space combat while flying at FTL speeds – like they did in one episode of Star Trek Voyager.

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jwilson75503 said on August 20th, 2010 at 6:33 pm

All of these questions are and have been examined by hard SF writers in the decades before our birth, but these sorts of details aren’t particularly popular in the mass media. STARGATE SG-1 is one of the few shows to address the interplanetary cultural and language barriers, but that got old after the the dozenth stalemate from being unable to negotiate. Daniel Jackson, the linguist/anthropologist/archaeologist was reduced to being the team conscience on any episode that wasn’t about puzzles, until it became an in-joke commented on in the behind-the-scenes of the show-within-a-show, WORMHOLE EXTREME. “People on other planets do not eat apples and pears!” “Why not? They speak English, don’t they?”

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My favorite space combat usually involves both ships powering down and waiting for the other guy to make a mistake, a la sub warfare.

I always hated how in Transformers the war on Earth was over energy. Hey, you know what has more energy than Earth? THE FREAKING SUN. IT’S RIGHT THERE. PUT UP A SOLAR PANEL. AAARGH.

And about the bionics — you couldn’t life a car, but with today’s technology you could totally put a ballistic knife or a Taser on the end of somebody’s arm. Or, ideally, one on each arm.

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Yeah, I’ve seen all of these assumptions questioned tons of times before. It’s like thinking you’re the only person who knows that there’s no sound in space.

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Actually, you may be wrong about the first one:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oscar_Pistorius

Space combat is only as stupid as any other combat. That won’t stop it.

As for Earth/SOL-III either they will speak they will speak language or their own. In either case it’s like the difference between calling it Japan or Nippon (I have no means of doing the Kanji for it…)

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“how much of an opportunity did the people behind Bionic Woman remake miss by not making her an Iraq vet?”

Almost as much of an opportunity as every single opportunity the people behind the Bionic Woman remake missed.

Which is to say a goddamn huge one.

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Mine? NANNITES. Man, I hate that overused concept that really just exists to hand-wave some magical fix the author wants to have around Just Because.

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ps238principal said on August 20th, 2010 at 8:54 pm

This list really limits itself to sci-fi TV, which is really only catching up to about 1980′s “hard” sci-fi, at best.

“Bionics”: In the novels I list under “uploading” below, it’s assumed that replacing body parts is a more involved process once you start monkeying around with genetics and so on, and that if you want a superhuman arm, you have a superhuman and trademarked body to go along with it. I think a lot of writers are shying away from the whole “Six Million Dollar Man” idea and having military contractors building bodies (or enhancing existing ones) to make them more durable, faster, and generally ninja-like.

The “uploading” thing has been in two novels I’ve read recently:

“Altered Carbon,” where you have a “stack” in your spinal column that contains a backup of “you.” It’s pretty hard to destroy, so even though “you” die, your stack can be inserted into a new body and activated (though it’s best if you can afford a decent body in this SF world, or you’re stuck with the body equivalent of a Dodge Neon). And copies do arise, but in this universe they’re illegal, and those who have been copied/uploaded often refer to their past selves as if they were other persons.

The other is “Saturn Returns: Autopolis.” In that novel, some people have many copies of themselves running around. They’ll often “share minds” when they meet up, and they treat each other as individuals for the most part. Then there are others who form gestalts or collectives as larger intelligences. I don’t think the whole immortality thing would stop people from perpetuating themselves like this, were it available.

“Sensors”: What others have said. Computers get data, interpret it based on known quantities (what “life” looks like in its list of check boxes) and spits out what it thinks it’s detecting. I’d probably only gripe on the detail level, though I do like it when some vagueness exists; in Babylon-5, the detection of a “power spike” usually meant whatever you were scanning was about to shoot at you, for example. I do think rather than saying “an unknown form of energy,” it’d be better to say something like “it’s unknown what could be generating the energy output we’re detecting,” as if it were car exhaust and you had a machine trying to deduce make, model, and purpose of the engine emitting it.

“Space Combat”: Again, I’d cite B-5 for some of the more realistic TV battles, where small ships strafe capital ships, and the better fighters (ours, go team human) are basically pods with directional/rotational thrusters to allow for greater maneuverability. In the better novels I’ve read, space combat is largely about wanting someone (or a large group of someones) in space dead. I figure the TV shows won’t catch up to that until everyone groks the idea that zooming in and releasing a bunch of ball bearings towards your target is a pretty good way to make it unfriendly to supporting life. Then there are “Mass Drivers,” the super-evil nuke of space opera, which, again, B-5 used.

“Sol III”: Chances are you’ll call your planet whatever you want in your language, and it’ll be the name of your planet, just like other races, unless you’re both human; “Mars” will probably always be “Mars.” There’s a very good novel called “Illegal Aliens” by Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio where an extraterrestrial notes that most races’ names for their homeworlds stem from something like “earth” or “dirt” or “soil.” It’s kind of like how a lot of races/tribes derived their names from whatever their language described as “the people.”

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mygif

You mean, your eyes can’t see things you don’t already know about? What a strange world you must live in. I see unknown things all the time, or at least I did while I was younger.

You mean, your eyes are capable of processing energy other than the “visible” spectrum of light, including forms of energy that neither you nor your entire species has been subjected to and thus could not, evolutionarily speaking, have some kind of adaption to?

What a strange world you claim to live in.

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On the “bionics” front, the novels handled it better than the TV seriesesesses (argh, I hate pluralising sometimes) did, and even the earlier “Six Million Dollar Man” episodes hewed more closely to what was physically possible than the later ones.

On “war in space”, don’t forget that there’s nowhere to hide in space. Unless you’re willing to freeze to death and be absolutely still, the heat from your life support and engines will show up against the -270degC background of empty space even with our current imaging infrared cameras. Who’s moving where is actually easier to track in space than it is in an atmosphere… and there’s no horizon to hide below, either.

— Steve

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You know, it’s… I love going on about this kind of thing as much as the next guy, but people ‘question’ (and I think by question, you mean ‘try and justify within the context of the universe’) these assumptions all the time. The justifications might have holes in them or might not make SENSE, but they’re usually THERE. For space combat and interstellar war and geo-politics, see basically everything David Weber has ever written (short form: in a universe where the economic costs of interstellar travel are roughly equivalent to the costs of intercontinental travel in the early 20th century, war TOTALLY makes sense) and for cloning, uploading, bionics, and all that posthuman jazz… two words. Charlie Stross.

The Sol III thing is actually interesting, and it depends a little bit on whether the aliens in question call our planet what WE call it, call it what THEY want to call it, or if we’re simply getting a translation from a common-use star-based lexicon.

I will note that here, on Earth, countries that speak different languages absolutely do not have commonly agreed upon names even though they are proper nouns. Germany isn’t Germany if you’re a German (and you’re not a German if you’re a German either) and Japan isn’t Japan for the same reasons. If we don’t bother to try and call our fellow humans what they call themselves, why should aliens extend us the same courtesy?

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The other thing that bugs me about uploading is that the software is always completely stable. It’s been a while since I’ve seen an actual BSOD, but there’s still all kinds of memory hogs and freezes and virii that I absolutely do not want happening to my brain. I’d probably demand at least ten nines (99.99999999% reliability) before I’d agree to be uploaded.

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I don’t have a problem with space warfare, mechanically speaking, though it probably *wouldn’t* be anything like submarine combat. You still have to contend with being a big, obvious heat radiator in an environment with no real temperature, per se, and it’ll be reasonably easy for opposing vessels to visually detect each other occluding stars.

I just can’t see any worthwhile justification. Waging interstellar war over resources is likely to be economic suicide (and if you can afford to do it, do you really need to do it?), and ideological motives are made ridiculous by the distances involved. It’s much easier to just *ignore* the heretics.

What’s more likely is cultural trade. Or trade in technological whizzbang which nobody will be able to conclude doesn’t work until the sellers are laughing and waving their ovipositors at us from the heliopause.

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ps238principal said on August 21st, 2010 at 11:16 am

@nemryn: Much like in movies regarding computers, data loss does happen but usually when it’s plot-relevant. I’ve read many novels where an uploaded person has had data loss, resulting in them not being able to remember Important Plot Point X or lacking the personality flaw that made him/her a jerk and the story has this whole “redemption by techno-amnesia” arc going on.

It’s been used in other ways as well, but those seem to be the primary ones.

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Uploading to a new body via computer has always been one of my pet peeves. When you “move” a file, you don’t really move it, you duplicate it in a new location. That leaves the original you stuck in your dying (or otherwise undesirable) body while some new fellow who thinks he’s you takes all of your stuff. Unless you’re already dead, this is possibly the Worst Idea Ever.

As far as warfare goes, the old reasons are the best. Unless you have enough Plotonium (trademark and patent pending) on hand to justify really rapid terraforming, prime real estate is always going to run a little short of demand.

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My nitpick about space warfare: blockades. Seriously, how big a blockade can you put up in open space before it’s not easier to go around than the Maginot Line?

Or how about straight through? When ships fly FTL how can you even create a blockade worth a damn?

I could just about concede an orbital blockade, given the right mix of technology, but anything less specific than that and you run into the whole “space is really, really big” problem.

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War makes as much sense in space as anywhere else, for one simple reason. You see those guys over there? Screw those guys. Let’s kill ‘em.

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I keep seeing articles like this, and frankly, people who think those are “unquestioned assumptions of science fiction” just don’t read much science fiction.

The whole “bionics give you superstrength” trope was covered VERY thoroughly in CYBORG, a ’70s novel by Martin Caidin, which was later adapted into a dumbed-down TV show. Dumbed-down as it may have been, though, I’ll lay odds that a good number of prosthetic researchers were inspired to follow their career path because of it.

Caidin was very careful to show that steve Austin’s advantages were largely stamina. He couldn’t run much faster than a normal person, for instance — but he could JUST KEEP GOING, because his legs were powered by a NUCLEAR POWER CELL. He also discussed just what the lifting limits were on Austin’s bionic arm — and, IIRC, noted that, yes, they’d also had to rebuild a good chunk of his spinal column and ribcage. (I clearly remember that Austin’s metal ribcage served as an antenna array for a radio.)
As for uploading — I wish I could remember the title of the book I read within the last year or so. A guy is dying of something incurable, has his brain copied into an android or an upgraded clone or some such, signs over his legal existance to his replicant, and goes off to live out his days in a low-G hospice in orbit or on the moon or something. The story follows both of them, and yes, the replicant is just as ‘real’ and considers himself as much the Real Person as the original.

And then someone finds a cure for the original’s incurable condition….

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Makeshift_Robot said on August 21st, 2010 at 3:04 pm

This is kind of a weird thing to be complaining about, just because the “unquestioned assumptions” you’re questioning are a feature of the kind of science fiction that has a strong narrative as its entire goal. In those stories, space combat exists so you can externalize a conflict; sensors can detect life forms so that there’s a reason to put a ship on a planet. The future is magic.

In hard SF, these things shouldn’t be around, but they usually aren’t, because it’s hard SF.

So what is the actual problem here?

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Patrick C. said on August 21st, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Man, people really like to bitch about other peoples’ free content.

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If your bionic space marines upload into blue cat-people, I have some bad news for you…

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Pointing out weaknesses in an argument does not count as bitching about free content.

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Calling the article “absurdly stupid” and not elaborating pretty much does.

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There are many different veins of science fiction, each with different approaches to questions like these.

In, say, visual space opera like STAR WARS, TREK, etc., the reason space combat looks like WWII dogfights is because that is entertaining and neat. You can see all the participants in relation to each other, you can have ships that are damaged but not destroyed, there can be maneuvers and “Dive! Dive!” and all sorts of stuff that is fun. Realism takes a back seat, as it sometimes should.

In prose, you can maybe pull off the “everyone’s far away and launching remote missiles” thing, but still, the easiest way to describe something we’ve never seen is by analogy to something else, so we make space combat like naval combat or dogfighting or something people have seen before.

Uploading/cloning would be a philsophical question as much as anything- nobody could say for sure that their original self was gone, because they’d have all those memories and experiences, but the original self might experience it, but he wouldn’t be around to complain so… it’s like the afterlife. Nobody knows because nobody comes back to talk about it.

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Only one guy did that, and Patrick said “people.”

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I would say that if the sun is referred to as Sol, then shudn’t Earth be called Terra?

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Mary Warner said on August 22nd, 2010 at 2:23 am

One thing that really annoys me is when the ‘sensors’ detect ‘life energy’ (or sometimes ‘organic energy’). It’s nothing but gobbledygook. I’m surprised you didn’t mention matter transporters. Not only is the science behind them pretty ludicrous, but they have a lot in common with the uploading issue. Matter transporters take a person apart, presumably killing him, and then create a duplicate somewhere else. I guess it’s logical that the duplicate would feel like he were the same person (if the process worked well enough), but would he be?
I think John Varley dealt with the uploading issues really well back in the ’70s. Particularly in The Phantom Of Kansas and The Ophiuchi Hotline.

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Candlejack said on August 22nd, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Heh. I always kind of wanted to see a Star Trek show based around a rogue crew on a probably stolen ship, using all the one-off tricks and error discovered on other Star Trek shows to their advantage. And transporter tricks would have been the big one, because just by running old patterns, your entire crew could be returned to prime physical condition (uninjured, undiseased, and unaged) every time they transported. It’s like immortality, yo! And if you need extra people, just use the transporter to copy some of your better crewmen (and then hope one of the set gets killed before there are fights over who’s the real dude, but whatev).

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Calling Earth Terra is a pretty common science fiction thing.

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That’s “Holy Terra,” heretic scum.

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The unquestioned assumption that always annoys me is gender roles–that human gender roles and relative power won’t change any more than they have, that the science which can make men into superhuman fighting machines just can’t be used on women, that aliens would all also follow a human gender binary and division of labor.

That last one gets monkeyed with more often than the others, though half the time for fetishistic reasons.

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As someone mentioned earlier, almost everyone’s name for themselves comes out as ‘us’ or ‘humans’. Most peoples’ names for foreigners translates to ‘them’, ‘barbarian’ or ‘non-human’
Our term for the primary star in our system is Sun. Why does it get the privilege of not being some mere ‘star’? Because it is ours! Pardon the hell out of our primitive ancestors for not having vast knowledge of astronomy, you insensitive jerk!
As far as Lindsey’s female super warriors go, a super warrior would, by necessity, have to have a massively souped up cardiovascular system to maintain its more than human level of activity. Would you really want women super soldiers with inhuman BP around during their periods? Besides, based on several current sociological trends, there will be no males working in anything requiring a university education in a few hundred years. There seems to be no desire whatsoever to address the increasing number of males dropping out of university and, at the same time, no desire to make a stand for Western civilization against the encroachment of fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim (more Muslim though, let’s be honest here).

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Ahh, what? “no desire to make a stand for Western civilization” What does that even mean?

I’ll add two additional unquestioned assumptions: 1. the idea that science can fix one plot specific problem in a specific way, but not another fairly unconsequential plot specific problem (hyper menstrating female super soldiers? you can reprogram a human physically far outside normally existing parameters, but menstration can’t be adjusted? WTF?)

2. A “current sociological trend” that continues unabated like an immutable physical law until it reaches a patently absurd conculsion, like no males graduating college, and the decline of western civilization from encroaching fundamentalism (or something. Seriously, WTF?).

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Lindsey said:

“The unquestioned assumption that always annoys me is gender roles–that human gender roles and relative power won’t change any more than they have…,”

Um. What? Did you first read E. E. Smith and never look at sci-fi again? Because your statement is simply nonsense.

In Star Trek TNG and all later iterations, human females are, among other things, Starfleet captains and admirals, doctors, lawyers, diplomats, teachers, scientists, engineers, warriors, and politicians. I can’t think of a “gender role” that wasn’t at some point played by members of both genders in all of TNG DS9 and Voyager.

“… that the science which can make men into superhuman fighting machines just can’t be used on women…,”

“The Bionic Woman”, John Scalzi novels, “Neuromancer”.

“…that aliens would all also follow a human gender binary and division of labor.”

The Daleks. The Cylons. The Bugs of Starship Troopers. The Soro and Gubru of Brin’s Uplift novels. The Cetagandans (arguably no longer strictly human) of the Vorkosigan Saga. The aliens of “Alien” and “Aliens” and we shall not speak of any other films in the series. The Azadians and Idirans of Banks’ Culture series. Any race that eliminates gender as part of its recruitment procedure (Borg, Cybermen), any life form that does not *have* gender to begin with (oh, so many, let’s go with Lovecraft’s Elder Things, Brin’s Jophur, Star Trek’s Organians, Hoyle’s Black Cloud).

Please. Challenging “unquestioned” assumptions about gender in sci-fi is as old as sci-fi. Gilman’s “Herland” is a hundred years old. Don’t they make people read “The Left Hand of Darkness” in high school anymore?

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John Magnum said on August 6th, 2012 at 9:45 pm

I can’t remember the book, I read it when I was quite young, but I remember that in the big galactic empire (in which humans were an extremely minor nonentity), there was a universal language except they used each species’ own name untranslated for their planets, because they all tended to translate into “the world”.

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