Charles Stross, writer of the Laundry Files (starting with The Atrocity Archives), as well as the near-future thriller Halting State and space operas Saturn’s Children and Neptune’s Brood, may write another far-future space opera. But, as he said in his blog yesterday, he felt that there needs to be some sort of “Evil Overlord’s List” about standard space opera cliches that have developed over the years and so he started listing them off.

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Each list is about a different subject, starting with “Planetary civilizations” and then “Biology,” the last one being “Aliens.” As Stross says, it’s not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start. I’ll refrain from posting the entire thing here, but here is the list of cliches about “Culture”:

  • There is usually only one culture per planet
  • ... Sometimes there are two, to provide for an oppositional plot dynamic
  • ... Pay no attention to the blank spots on the map
  • ... And especially don’t go looking for the unmarked mass graves
  • Planetary natives are either Colonists or Indigenous
  • Indigenous peoples are either Primitive or Advanced (and Decadent)
  • Advanced Indigines either don’t have space travel or gave it up (see: Decadent)
  • Primitive Indigines are either Tribal or Mediaeval
  • Mediaeval Indigines invariably recapitulate the politics of the Hundred Years War
  • Visits to Mediaeval Indigenous Colonies can be approximated to a side-quest into Fantasyland
  • If the planet is a Colony it is either a Lost Colony or a New Colony
  • Lost Colonies may resemble Primitive Indigines but never Advanced
  • New Colonies resemble Tombstone, AZ, circa 1880
  • New Colonists live in log cabins, ride mules/horses and carry ~six-guns~ blasters
  • ... You can find logs (cabins, for the construction of) everywhere on planets
  • ... They’re like abandoned crates in first-person shooters
  • Psychologically speaking, everybody is either WEIRD or Primitive
  • Primitive (non-WEIRD) people are stupid and unimaginative
  • WEIRD people accept and embrace change and innovation; non-WEIRD people reject both
  • Colonies are usually modelled on WEIRD 1950s cultural norms
  • Colony People come in two genders
  • The Women on New Colonies are either:
  • ... Barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen (because colonies need babies)
  • ... Dungaree-wearing two-fisted starship-engineering-obsessed lesbians desperate to get off-world
  • The Men on New Colonies are either:
  • ... Manly plaid-shirt-wearing heterosexual farmers breaking sod in the ~west~ new world
  • ... Dastardly drunken muggers waiting behind the spaceport saloon for an unwary spacer
  • QUILTBAG: huh? Who are those people and why doesn’t somebody cure them?
  • ... (Alternatively: everybody is QUILTBAG, pale patriarchal heterosexual penis people are extinct)
  • Clothing invariably obeys some regional dress code that has been observed on Earth in the past thousand years; in extreme cases 1950s business attire will serve to avoid attracting undue attention
  • You can recognize someone’s gender on any planet because:
  • ... Women wear dresses or skirts with make-up and long hair
  • ... Men wear pants (or occasionally suits of armour)
  • ... Hijra? Hermaphrodites? Transgender? Asexual? What are those?
  • On some planets people go naked, except for body paint
  • ... This causes no problems, whether social or practical
  • Colony Planets are invariably a Crapsack World that people are desperate to escape from, unless they’re the planetary governor or some species of NPC
  • The only place worse than a Colony World is Old Earth
  • Old Earth is
  • ... An over-crowded overpopulated hell-hole
  • ... An over-regulated bureaucratic hell-hole
  • ... A poverty-stricken backwater and hell-hole
  • ... Destroyed
  • ... Lost (because everyone in the galaxy somehow forgot the way home)
  • ... Mythical (and many people think it never existed)
  • ... Somewhere to run away from
  • ... (Rarely) Somewhere to run to
  • Slavery is
  • ... Ubiquitous
  • ... No big deal
  • ... Illegal but all the bad guys do it
  • “the best thing we ever did for them; they’re much happier now”
  • Humans are free; aliens are slaves
  • Humans are slaves; aliens are free