Lesson #12: Disabled people have amazing abilities.

I’ve recently been encouraged to get this blog going again, so here it is. I was reading my new favorite blog, Space Crip, and it got me thinking about how great it is to be disabled in sci-fi.  In most cases, it comes with awesome power and few disadvantages.  Touch has solidified the fact that autistic people are clearly superheroes. Now, Kiefer Sutherland is the father of the autistic child in question on Touch. We all know Kiefer Sutherland is a superhero, so maybe it just rubbed off on his child. The kid understands the entire universe, but his kryptonite is human communication. Even someone who is higher functioning on the autistic spectrum, like Sheldon from Big Bang Theory,  is the brightest mind physics has to offer. However, Sheldon doesn’t really understand the entire universe. Higher functioning means he’s not quite as smart as Kiefer Sutherland’s kid.

Rygel from Farscape on Thronesled

Even wheelchairs come with benefits, like Professor X’s ability to read minds. People can make any disability into a superpower, even being bitten by a radioactive spider. Did Peter Parker wither away with self-doubt after he learned he could spin webs? Did he undergo spider chemo? Of course not!  He was never a monster, but a superhero.  Man, don’t disabilities look like fun . . .

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Lesson #11: How to tell if someone is a vampire.

Living in New Orleans, zombies and vampires are both serious threats.  And its very easy for zombies and vampires to blend in to the insanity here, looking just like everyone else.  This lesson helps prevent any problems with vampires before they start.  First, assess any possible signs of vampirism, like pale skin or pointy teeth.  In the case of Muppet vampires, look for pinkish/purple-ish skin and pointy ears. Muppet vampires actually come from the planet Vulcan.  Also check if the person seems awfully interested in blood.  Dexter on Dexter would be a strong candidate for vampirism, despite his golden tan.

The big test, however, occurs in the doorway to your house.  If someone knocks on your door, and you think the person may be a vampire, just leave the door open and walk into your kitchen.  If the person follows, he or she is just rude, but not a vampire.  If the person just stands at the door, waiting for you to invite her or him in, the person may be a vampire.  In order to prevent vampire violence, it is best to never invite anyone in, not even Muppets.

Count Von Count, a flexible vampire

Count Von Count, a flexible vampire

Lesson #10: In space, no one can hear your explosions.

This is not a lesson by me, but another one I found on the web.  I thought Sci-Fi Lessons readers might love this comic.  Enjoy!

Lesson #9: Most aliens are bipedal.

The Breen from Star Trek

The Breen from Star Trek

Along with speaking English, most intelligent aliens look a remarkable amount like humans.  It is amazing that creatures developed so similarly, even though we lived in different planets and different galaxies.  Even the Breen, a species in Star Trek whose bodies are never seen except completely encased in suits, are bipedal.  The Breen are mysterious, with only guesses regarding why they were the suits and what they look like underneath.  They seem so foreign, yet at the same time, so similar in their two-legged-ness.  Not only are they bipedal, but like humans, they also have two arms and one head.  I know that the Alien Actors Guild (AAG!) only allows bipedal aliens to join, making it extremely difficult for film or television to employ non-bipedal creatures.  However, producers could make more effort towards equal representation of the non-bipedal variety.

Jabba the Hut from Star Wars

Jabba the Hut from Star Wars

Most of the time, creatures with more or less than two legs have only served as peripheral characters in film and television, barely seen at all. When they are present, they are often evil villains, like Jabba the Hut in Star Wars. Jabba was very resistant to taking the role at all, but claimed that even a negative presence in the media was better than no visibility for his species.  Jabba has not only had to overcome earthlings’ bias towards the non-legged, but also bias towards his glandular disorder and weight issues.

Pilot from Farscape

Pilot from Farscape

Farscape does the best job so far on Earth at including aliens with multiple extremities in major and positive roles.  Pilot is one of the few non-bipedal aliens to serve as a main character.  Moya, the spaceship, is also without legs, although with great propulsion, and is a major element in the show.  Indeed, the series could not exist without some form of Moya.  I hope she asked for a raise.   Although Rygel XVI isn’t exactly without two legs, the fact that the deposed Hynerian leader flies around on his Thronesled most of the time, rarely walking or showing his legs, makes him appear non-bipedal at times.

Shows are making progress towards the inclusion of more or less legs.  However, it will be a long time before the leggy or leggless creatures feel accepted in the hearts of earthlings.

Lesson #8: Zombies come in two speeds: slow and fast.

I never feared an imminent zombie attack until I moved to New Orleans.  With an above ground cemetary only blocks away, the zombies can simply walk out of their graves rather than making the effort to dig out of many feet of dirt.  However, I’m in luck, because the zombies that come out of graves only come in “slow.”  It would be far worse if there were a viral outbreak, which tends to produce the “fast” zombies.

A slow zombie from Night of the Living Dead

A slow zombie from Night of the Living Dead

Slow zombies don’t seem too scary.  They are unending in their persistence and desire for human brains, but nonetheless, they’re slow.  Avoid wearing anything that could make you trip, and you should be okay.  Of course, the streets and sidewalks in New Orleans are so messed up that I might not be able to make it very far.  The only frightening part of slow zombies is their numbers and relentless pursuit.  Even a lone hand, cut off from its owner, could pose a threat.  If slow zombies come at you from all angles and there are enough of them, you had better be armed with a shotgun.  Fire and explosives are also an option.  If you fear zombies entering your house, you may want to keep these items under your bed.

Fast zombies have a less refined palate and will eat any part of the human, not just the brains.  Perhaps their enhanced speed comes from their more varied diet.  Fast zombies often are a horror made by humans and thus punishing us for our scientific arrogance.  They generally come from some sort of scientific advancement gone wrong, like a vaccine in I Am Legend or the T-virus i Resident Evil.

Of course, the two speeds of zombies are not this simple.  There are fast zombies with a particular taste for brains. There are slow zombies formed by viruses.  But there is one constant in dealing with zombies: Aim for the head.

Lesson #7: The cuter something is, the more dangerous it may be.

It seems that characters in sci-fi programs have not caught on to this one yet, as they keep being drawn in by the lure of cuddly creatures.  Tribbles in Star Trek (and again in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), Gremlins, Ewoks in Star Wars, Nibbler in Futurama, and the newest adorable killer critter: Nubbins in Sci Fi Channel’s Sanctuary all have wrought havoc on those investigating new phenomena.  Galaxy Quest even paradied this lesson for those who still hadn’t learned it. Nubbins and Gremlins have overdone neotony, with their huge eyes and infant-like features and proportions lulling us into parental roles.  We almost have no choice.  It’s instinctual to love them, so we understand the failings of the characters to recognize the potential danger of our most huggable friends.

Of course, no fuzzy, cute animal is evil in it’s own right.  Instead, it is either incorrectly cared for or just trying to survive.  The rules of caring for these creatures are so vague it’s easy to mess them up.  When exactly can you feed a Gremlin?  Isn’t it always after midnight?  Between midnight and what can’t you feed them?  Can you feed them at 6 a.m.?  No one wanted Gizmo to spawn or potentially turn mean, the rules are just really vague, with no consequences given. Other cuddlies, like Nubbins and Tribbles, are just trying to survive. They don’t want to harm people or equipment, they just do.

The message of sci-fi is clear: Nothing that adorable can really be “evil” in any universe.  However, this level of cuteness is dangerous, working on the human and bipedal alien psyches to calm and comfort us, causing us to ignore potential dangers.  Be alert when surrounded by adorables.  Behold that golden retriever puppy with suspicion. Question its motives.  And never, ever feed it after midnight.

The sweetest creature of them all, Gizmo from Gremlins.

The sweetest creature of them all, Gizmo from Gremlins.

Lesson #6: Sci-Fi has a complex relationship to black leather.

John Crichton in all black leather by Season 3 of Farscape.

John Crichton in Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. He was in all black leather by Season 3 of Farscape.

This lesson is hard to explain, as it is nuanced and complex. Often, the longer a sci fi show has been on the air, the more black leather is involved. John Crichton (Ben Browder) on Farscape began the series in a U.S. space suit. However, he gradually wore more and more black leather as the series went on until he was completely in black leather by the end of the series. Similarly, Jeremiah (Luke Perry) in Jeremiah was eventually in black leather pants. It is another question how those black leather pants were made in this post-apocalyptic world. In Stargate Atlantis, Dr. Jennifer Keller (Jewel Staite) wears a black-leather fitted jacket, almost at all times. These are all “good” people (if sci-fi teaches anything, it’s that it’s very easy to tell the difference between “good” and “evil”) and also “hot” people. Only good characters played by hot people are eventually wardrobed in black leather (they weren’t wearing black leather previously but are costumed in it later). A non-hot person in black leather is a strong signifier that the audience should consider that character a “bad” person.

There are also plenty of “bad” people who wear black leather. While the hero in Farscape eventually wore more and more black leather (perhaps he became badder and badder and also hotter and hotter), the villains or potential villains came decked out in it, such as Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black) and Scorpius (Wayne Pygram). However, Aeryn Sun was also a hot person, not just a bad person. Therefore, the relationship between goodness, badness, hotness, and black leather becomes even more complicated. The Wraith, the first villains in Stargate Atlantis, wear head-to-toe black leather. They’re very bad, and not very hot. So I’ll summarize this complex relationship with the following equations:

Black leather + not hot = bad.
Black leather + hot = good or bad.
Good + (now in black leather but not previously in black leather) = hot