Monday, November 24, 2014

Space Opera Tropes: the Precursor race. Here to stay?

It's a literary tradition in science fiction that when Hollywood and video games start regularly using a trope that's been around for ages, then it might be time to move on from that trope.

Thanks to Prometheus and Halo, a lot more of the mainstream public is now familiar with the Precursor race trope. For those who watch what's left of the History Channel, it also known as "God is an Astronaut."  The trope evolved to explain (in a retcon fashion) why so many alien races on the screen -- and in books -- have two arms, two legs, communicate with their mouths, and are basically humanoid except for the addition of fur, scales or other bits of Hollywood makeup.

And it's much less cynical to explain that aliens seeded the universe than to admit to convenient writing and tiny budgets.

But as audiences get more savvy, there's been an uptick in  this trope is a nod to the hard science fiction. It helps explain why we can interact with the aliens  — and that we all advanced our technologies at the same rate. And just to further clarify, when I say the same level of tech I mean that the gulf in technologies and sciences are close enough that one can eventually reverse engineer from the other.

Without a precursor race, pure science says the odds of us meeting a race that both resembles us AND shares the same level of tech is near nil. It's much more likely our neighbors will be vastly different, incomprehensible. Their technology will also be on a completely different level than ours. There will be no contest for the side with the better tech. On the other hand, it's much easier to live in peace with a species that shares no common resources or even knows that you exist. ... Until they accidentally wipe you out or vice versa.

The tropes of Space Opera have popped up to help tell a certain style of story to a certain audience. Over time, those tropes have evolved to keep the genre going.

For example, Old Man's War explained that FTL was actually dimensional jumping and terraforming in Firefly explained one climate planets.

You can do Space Opera without FTL (synchronized cryosleep) as in the Lockstep novel. But then again, Altered Carbon tried to have Space Opera without starships (broadcasting downloaded personalities) and that came off more as cyberpunk.

So at this point, the PC trope might be here to stay just like Starships, FTL and big laser guns.

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