As I said in earlier posts, believability is one of the three most important things for successful SciFi writing. The most important of which is believability. Put yourself in the reader’s position. It doesn’t matter what genre. You got to think that what the person is doing in the story is something you might do in the same situation. Or better still, is it something that makes common sense? If it doesn’t, then there had better be some good plot action or character flaw to justify it later.
So, would you believe a SciFi space story if all the characters constantly leave the door of the spaceship open after landing on a strange planet? Heck No! As I described in an earlier post, Close That Damn Door Behind You, leaving spaceship doors open is an invitation for certain calamity. Maybe writers do that to drive their story forward, but it doesn’t make sense to me.
Nevertheless, here is another pet peeve I have about SciFi stories. It’s akin to the damsel wondering down a darkened stairway to certain death in horror stories.
Do you remember your parents telling you not to touch something or pick up something in an unfamiliar or strange place? Well, as some of us hardheaded ones can attest, that’s a lesson for our own good. As a very young child, I had a personal coaching moment on this topic via a shocking experience with an electrical outlet. Mom said don’t touch that! But I did!
From similar experiences most of us learn when it is safe to touch or pick up a strange object. But all too often we see exceptions like SciFi characters wandering around and picking up or getting too close to strange things. And that makes the story implausible.
One example is seen in THE WAY TO EDEN episode of the original STAR TREK series where Ensign Pavel Chekhov (presumably a well-trained Star Fleet officer who should know better) is burned when he touches a pretty flower on the planet of Eden. The ensign is not the only one who violates the golden rule of not touching anything on a strange planet in this TV episode. With clouded judgement, Dr. Ton Sevrin, who commandeered the Enterprise to Eden is so overjoyed of his successful arrival that he instantly takes a shuttle craft to the planet’s surface and (after leaving the spaceship door open, I suspect) rushes out, climbs a tree, grabs a piece of fruit and chows down. Of course, he dies from food poisoning.
Now, would you do that? I guess we can excuse poor Dr. Sevrin since earlier in the episode, Mr. Spock concluded that he was insane. But Chekhov should have known better, which makes that part of the story a bit hard to believe.
And of course, another example is ALIEN, when Executive Officer Gilbert Kane and his survey crew comes across an alien spaceship on a spooky moon. Inside they find a chamber filled with undulating eggs. Don’t know about you, but I would have sent a drone or some sort of robot in to check it out. But Executive Officer Kane (who by his very title should also have known better) does the exact opposite. He comes up real close and personal to one of the moving eggs and touches the darn thing.
We all know what happened next. A small octopus like creature springs out from the egg, breaks through Kane’s helmet and with a hugging embrace, plants itself firmly on his face. At least Warrant Officer Ellen Ridley follows her training and intuition to not allow the survey crew and the incapacitated Kane from re-entering their spaceship. But she is overruled by Science Officer Ash. And the entire space crew’s fortune goes downhill from there.
Now, in all fairness it turns out that Ash is really an android with a secret assignment to bring back the alien creature. But that could have been done more safely. Nevertheless, Kane’s callous judgement as the Executive Officer is not believable.
Then, there is Grogu (aka baby Yoda) in the THE PASSENGER episode of THE MANDALORIAN. At least he had an excuse of being young and hungry for disturbing the tempting eggs of the giant spider in the underground ice cave. That’s believable. So, I can pardon Grogu’s selfish child instincts to gorge himself on some tasty spider but not the judgement of a more mature but insanely curious (or is it careless) Kane.
So, if you find yourself in a strange place and you hear menacing music in the back of your head, heed mom’s advice, don’t touch anything! Instead, check out the other two most important ingredients for a good SciFi (or any) story: a bad romance; and the need for a good travel agent.
Better still, check out the first chapter of GOD GAMES for free and be registered to buy this Upside Down SciFi Retelling of the Greatest Biblical Story Ever Told at a discounted promotion price for my December 2021 eBook Launch. Click the image below to register and get your free first chapter download!