The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés

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This is a page intended to blue-shift popular tropes used in Science Fiction that are documented on the wiki. All of the original entries come from The Grand List of Overused Science Fiction Clichés.

It should be noted that these are not "clichés" in the sense that we describe them. Clichés are a priori bad; trite and overused. What is described below is merely a list of Tropes, which are neither good nor bad.


Those of us who have read or seen a lot of Science Fiction have seen certain story elements pop up over and over and over. Some of these elements were actually pretty good ideas - indeed, some of them are even Truth in Television now, thanks to the marching on of science - and when handled well make for a pretty entertaining story, but have become hackneyed from overuse by the unimaginative. Others came into being through the deliberate effort to avoid another cliché. Still other ideas were lame from the get-go, and should have been dismissed from the author's thinking.

Clichés are not in themselves necessarily bad, but their overuse shows that the writer has forgotten what separates the strong tale from the hollow: "the human heart in conflict with itself," as Faulkner said. Where there is this conflict, the tale stands; where the conflict is absent, the tale falls flat, and in neither case does it matter how many ships get blown up.

The sophisticated reader will note that some of these clichés are not found solely in SF, but in other genres as well, and of course the lampooning of clichés is a time-honored part of good comedy.


The Symbols:[1]
Green tick.svg The green check marks those items which are not so bad, but have been used so many times that it takes a really strong treatment to lift them out of the slush pile. They will not destroy an otherwise well-written story, and some of the classics employ these elements (and employ them well).
McCormick Sleep.svg The triple Z marks those items which were mildly interesting the first time around, but simply provoke a response along the lines of "been there, done that" on the re-runs. Only a truly bizarre twist on these ideas can give them new life.
Green x.svg The green cross marks those items which are baloney, but are tolerable for the sake of dramatic effect as long as the events of the story do not depend on them.
Vraagteken.svg The red question mark indicates those items which support the plot, but raise questions that should be answered in order for the story to be taken seriously. For instance, having a robot bleed oil when it gets shot is pretty lame; having a hydraulic robot leak hydraulic fluid when shot is creditable.
Bull icon 05.svg The bull marks those items which for one reason or another are bull. Reasons include flatly contradicting the known laws of nature, introducing an irreconcilable contradiction, requiring the characters involved to have the IQ of a banana peel, or being abysmally stupid for some other reason.
Delta-shield.svg The Starfleet logo marks those items for which Star Trek has been an offender.
Pig icon 05.svg The piggy marks those items that are unconscionably sexist.
Racism icon-fr.svg The Klansman hood marks those items that show racial, ethnic, or religious bigotry.

Sections[edit | hide | hide all]


Section V: Rejected suggestions that I get a whole lot

  1. The ship is crewed by a bunch of white guys.
    Reason for rejection: Every SF production reflects the culture which produced it. For instance, in Japanese SF flicks, most of the characters are Japanese, except for a token non-Japanese (who comes from South America in two productions I can name). I would prefer that a production reflect the culture that produced it instead of resorting to tokenism (Delta-shield.svg).
  2. Explosions in space make noise.
    Reason for rejection: Explosions consist, in part, of a quantity of superheated gases which expand outward at a high rate of speed. When this matter strikes the observer, the observer will hear something. Until someone place a microphone in space, detonates something nearby, and reports that no sound was detected, this idea remains in the reject pile.


© 2009 by John VanSickle. Permission to quote for non-commerical[sic] use is granted, provided that this copyright notice is included. Permission to link from non-commericial[sic] Web pages is granted. Permission to translate for non-commericial[sic] use is granted, provided that the resulting page credits the authors. All other rights reserved.


  1. We use equivalent icons from Wikimedia Commons to those used on the original list.