HowTo:Make Cheesy Sci-Fi
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Let's put this straight. Science fiction is to science as mongoose is to a goose (in fact, this is a bad example as both of these animals are vertebrates). Through the ages of human History, there were always people trying to predict the future. Those were called prophets, fortune tellers, alchemists, witches, quacks, whores and so forth, and properly dealt by being roasted at the stake. Then, in a certain moment between the XVIII and XIX centuries, poof, there appeared Science. Tarot cards were suddenly replaced by Bunsen burners, microscopes and test tubes. So where has all that fun gone? (The fun of predicting the future, not burning people alive). After trying romantic poetry, Lady Mary Shelley appeared with a solution, in 1816: science fiction!
Why Cheesy?It's inevitable - science fiction is just like milk: sooner or later, it always becomes cheesy. Sure, science has evolved a gazillion, but predicting the future by just imagining what will happen with the current technology does not work much better than ripping open a chicken and staring at its entrails. Of course, logic and taste are things we may easily predict that will not be extinct sometime soon. But you may also predict that logic and taste will continue being out-of-reach of the average human being in the eras to come. Here goes some other advantages of cheesy sci-fi over regular sci-fi:
- You may earn some bucks by selling your plot;
- You may see your idea being filmed by Hollywood;
- By having your idea in movie theaters, Average Joes around the whole world will start imagining the future as you, ahem, "predicted";
- You will considered a demi-god at fan-base cosplay conventions;
- You may have an entire religion based on your plot;
- You may earn much more money by action-figures and Halloween costumes;
- Damn, you really can place your hands at big money then!!!
- You will not impress the chicks but, huh, see above topic.
Lesson 1: Sci-fi and Science
You know, science is cool but it nevertheless has lots of annoying stuff that could ruin a good sci-fi script, such as reality, laws of physics and reasoning. So, here goes a list of smart-ass gibberish you have to ignore while producing your own blockbuster-merchandising-money-maker cheesy sci-fi:
Boring Laws of Physics You Have To Ignore
- Gravitation: The strength of gravitational attraction between two objects (e.g. you and a planet) is proportional to the product of their masses, and inversely proportional to the distance between them. Hence, one would expect that in a galaxy with different sized or different density planets, the gravity one experiences would vary from place to place, no? In fact this is not true. In Sci-fi all gravity is a universal constant: 9.81 m/s², the same as it is on Earth (surprise surprise!). Consequently...
- Lack of Gravity on a Space-ship: ... not only is it 9.81 m/s² on every planet you will ever visit, it is the exact same rate on every space-ship, including those which are nowhere near any planets. See also: Must Haves - Artificial Gravity Fields
- Sound does not propagate in a vacuum: hell, all of those years developing Dolby Surround Stereo Sound systems for what? Where's the fun in looking at a huge freaking explosion in utter silence? Those damn big spaceships are supposed to and will make lots of noise! Picture Luke Skywalker shooting those red lasers at tie fighters in "A New Hope", sounding just like a cotton ball falling on a shag carpet. Or the Enterprise going really, really fast, but not making a "whoosh" noise when it goes into warp. How are you supposed to tell it's going fast if it doesn't make a "whoosh" noise? So forget about this "no sound in a vacuum" stuff. Period.
- Fire does not burn in a vacuum: again, this "vacuum" thingy is only causing problems. Dammit, seems like nothing can happen in there! Such a boring place, isn't it? So let´s do something about it and brighten up that gloomy void by spreading explosions all over the space - big, napalm ones, with whole planets just turning into dust in a matter of seconds and spaceships going up like Roman candles, right in front of your eyes.
- Theory of Relativity: Einstein showed nothing can go faster than the speed of light. That means it would take centuries for space wars to be fought. But you don't have that kind of time; when they're attacked, Earth must respond with a strike on the alien home-world before the next commercial break. And of course, the theory of relativity also says that light, radio, and so forth only travel at the speed of light, so there are substantial delays when communicating between a planet and a spaceship in orbit, and it would take hours to transmit a distress call from Jupiter to Mars. But even when they are light years apart, your characters should carry on conversations with less time delay than the average phone call. That Einstein guy might have been a nice guy with neat hair, and maybe he had some clever ideas about science, but he clearly does not know the first thing about writing good stories. Fortunately, nobody understands what the hell he was talking about, so you can easily ignore everything he said. Go ahead and travel two billion light years to Andromeda and come back the next afternoon just in time for tea.
- Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle: This principle states that it is impossible to know the position and speed of a particle at the same time, because knowing one will change the other. It also has something to do with cats and boxes, but that's not important. What IS important is that this Principle technically means that you can't have a teleporter, which is a necessity (see below). To get around this, have a Heisenburg Compensator built into your teleporting-machine. Don't worry, there is no need to explain how the Compensator functions. If an annoying scientist asks you how it works, simply reply; "Very well, thank you."
Boring Laws of Physical Chemistry You Have To Ignore
- First law of thermodynamics: energy is not created out of nothing. In fact, energy is constant, it can't be created, just transformed. The sun fuses its atoms, producing sun beams that the plants absorb and transform in sugar and cellulose, which in turn animals eat and turn into meat. Matter is just a form of very concentrated energy (e=mc², now you know what this means). But let's make a deal: you have never read the previous sentences. People can act as power houses and that alien grub can turn into an whale-sized caterpillar without having to eat the corresponding energy in human flesh (hmmm... on second thought, maybe this is not that boring).
Boring Laws of Biology You Have To Ignore
- Theory of Evolution: you are free to invent alien creatures the way you want, without considering the ecosystem they live in. Any space-parasite from another galaxy is able to invade a human body and mutate it, even if the little bugger has originally evolved to invade some form of four-eyed reptile (reptile!) from its own planet. Enzymes and antibodies don't apply to germs from a far-away galaxy or an acid-blooded alien fetus that grows in a man's chest. Female aliens will always have mammaries, even if they are reptile aliens. Alien reproductive organs are also compatible with human reproductive organs, making it possible for the hero to get some nookie even when he's 20,000 light years from home. These intergalactic hook-ups are also capable of producing offspring, as opposed to the more likely scenario of producing a burning sensation as your antibodies freak out at the space ho's alien biology. Even more fundamental to ignore than reproduction, is the general shape of your non-Earthlings. Basic evolutionary theory says that other bipeds are unlikely to the point of effectual non-existence. Oh, and if you decide to be "realistic" and have bipeds, you might as well go all the way. The facial arrangement of two eyes, two nostrils and a mouth found on nearly all Earth creatures comes from an ancient common ancestor. Again, evolution makes this essentially impossible. But you can ignore that, or better yet, claim that your universe is the one where all creatures are both bipedal and have identical features to humans! You can even have naked women with hair on their butt on an Arctic world!
- Practical stuff: how many weird costumes can fit in your budget? How many actors do you have willing to act heavily dressed? For this reason, every habitable planet in the universe must have at least one intelligent species that is always mysteriously ludicrously similar to a human being except for the pointy ears/antennae/funky forehead.
- Ecology. Plants are not necessary for oxygen. A planet can be entirely covered by cities, snow, or desert, and still have enough oxygen to support life.
- Basic Medicine: The starship's doctor can always fix 135 different species worth of crewmen, despite the fact normal MD's on planet Earth in 2007 can barely handle the problems presented by a handful of races from one species. Vulcan blood is no obstacle! Just ask Spock and his dad.
- Quality of Medical Care: Strangely, in the supposedly egalitarian future, the quality of medical care will depend on your status. Starship captains can recover from everything from parasites to laser burns and still have health enough to recover from a beating with some strangely phallic piece of foam from the prop department. With about five minutes of recovery time, ranking officers are bouncing around like baby bunnies in late spring. Expendable crewmen? Wow! Don't become an expendable crewman. Utter some lines, or your ass is done for, Cochise. This is how the egalitarian culture of the future expresses its equality: slaughtering low-ranking personnel faster than a Soviet infantry wave attacking a Nazi machine gun nest. Life for the foot soldier of the future makes the darkest day of Korean War look like a trip to Space Camp courtesy of the TV show Double Dare.
Boring Laws of Economy You Have To Ignore
- Pretty Much Everything: A villain can build a planet-sized fortress out of nothing and not have to declare on his income taxes where he got all the cash. Aliens can create an army of clones so powerful that they could take over the entire Republic, but are content to sell their immense army for a nominal fee (paid well in advance, unknown to the organization that paid). Armies can build a city-sized floating platform and not worry about gas consumption (fortunately, Greenpeace is no big deal in the future). You never see a hero worrying about his delayed payment (cash transfers can be a real pain when you are in a distant galaxy). In fact, money seems to be infinite for everyone. And in the future, real work, that is, the type of thing that is so boring or unpleasant you have to pay people to do it, does not exist. There are no janitors, cooks, maids, accountants, management consultants, real estate brokers, or morticians in space. Everyone has an awesome job like being an Interstellar Space Marine, Rebellion Commando, Princess, Intergalactic Bounty Hunter, Starship Pilot, Galactic Senator, or a Doctor Specializing in Alien Diseases.
Lesson 2: Must Haves
Not everything listed bellow is per se cheesy. But if you manage to feature all of them at the same time, you will surely come out with something sweet.
- Artificial Gravity Fields: It is obviously impractical to float around your spaceship, so all craft have an Artificial Gravity Field fitted, so you can walk around it normally. See Boring Laws of Physics you have to ignore above.
- Pills: in the future pills seem to have a special role in the everyday life (hey, it could be a near one). In pills you'll find food, love, cure for cancer, and even a portal to a unknown parallel world you couldn't see before.
- Bad Holograms: with all that technology to build spaceships, lightsabers and videophones, nobody is capable of developing a hologram device that really works. "C'mon, what is that blurry blue fog movin' on the Captain's control room? Is the wrathing Khan hologram saying we will perish? Really? Oh, I just thought I had too many tequila pills, sorry, carry on".
- Mechas: your plot will probably revolve around a rebel small force totally outgunned. So they must be able to win with clever tricks such as stretching a rope on enemy's path, don't you think so?
- Energy beams: actually, you may not call them lasers. Everyone knows lasers don't work as weapons. So re-dub them tractor beams, atomic blasters, plasma beams, particle beams, phasers, greasers, chasers, blazers etc. And don't forget one thing: they will act as tracer bullets, and when fired will travel no faster than a thrown tennis ball.
- Teleporters: in the future, nobody seems to care about being disintegrated - that is, vaporized, killed atom by atom, vanished from existence - and having a clone created somewhere else. For some reason you can transport people but not bombs. Great budget saver because you dont't have to animate all those spaceship landings.
- Automatic Translators: Language is an obstacle for any space explorer, no doubt about it. Aliens speak among themselves, they laugh, they cry, they snort, they make clicks, they use telepathy and our poor hero can't understand. Is that fair? How is he going to catch an alien babe? How is he going to have a philosophical discussion with the energy entity that is giving him the gift of the sacred secret power? He needs an automatic translator. A kind of translator that understands any noise or silence as perfect words. And the translator is so magic that everybody moves their mouths as if speaking perfect English. Or the language you choose. Without problems like when a mollusk alien comes saying "I wish for peace", and someone pointing him the way to the bathroom.
- Control panels with aleatory blinking unnamed buttons: they blink slow, things are fine. They blink fast and bleep, oh-oh, we have a problem. Buttons are colorful, squared, rectangular or round with one thing in common: absolutely no labels! You will need a Chinese or a black person on a tight spandex to read that control panel on a blink of an eye (or button). There you go.
- Aliens: they didn't contact us in the previous 120,000 years, but in the next few decades, there's no doubt: we will find them. Lots of them. And their intelligence and technology will surely be compatible with ours: no retarded aliens, please.
- Mollusk-like Aliens: can you remember the very first time you saw a tentacle ridden with suction cups on your plate? "Mommy, what's that?". "An octopus". "Yaaay!". Yes, mollusks are scary and, in another case of outer space convergent evolution, aliens (the bad aggressive ones) must look like they were floating on the sea, eating plankton, despite being totally capable of breathing air and keeping upright and not dropping when on land, as the mushy oozes they are. Yeah, they taste good with lemon sauce, but most of all, mollusks are ugly indeed. Being ugly helps the readers root for their Gruesome destruction.
- Subterranean Civilizations: the mole-people. They do exist, it's a fact, carving tunnels under the earth, with their greasy skin and small blind eyes. Those guys are bad, not as bad as the mollusks, but they have something terrible in mind. Always the same evil and dirty (he he) plan: To take the surface (where they are totally defenseless) and turn all the people from above into slaves.
- Paranormals: the future is the paradise of faith healers. Science will finally bend and recognize the value of Spiritism, vital force, psychokinesis, prophecy and sheer magic.
- Spandex: You're not really into the cheesy sci-fi spirit if you don't put the entire cast on spandex. Tight clothing is a really important detail to keep the audience satisfied. Hey, sure, the main hero has a protuberant tummy (excess bacon pills, his badness), but believe me, this is no issue. The hero may look less manly? Hell no! Think about the girls on spandex. Just picture them running from a crazy orange octopus, in slow motion. Bouncing. See, that's the beauty of it!
- Old wise people and a kid that is the "chosen one": Yeah, old geezers know everything there is to know. They speak in riddles, always near a campfire. They read the future through bird bones, and also have no teeth. Despite that, everybody takes seriously what they say. You should too. Now, the "chosen one" has to be an annoying little brat that refuses his "chosenoneness" but in the end, will see the meaning of his powers and finally save the day (consequently, the universe).
- Monarchy: Kings, princes, emperors. Royalty makes everything noble on a cheesy sci-fi. As the states and countries disappears, the planets become whole nations, where everybody speaks the same language on a place with 550 billion inhabitants, and obey only one lord. 'Tis amazingly simple.
- Robots. Robots are faster than humans, stronger than humans, and smarter than humans, but they will be told what to do by the inferior humans. Robots which do not know their place are automatically evil, and want to destroy/enslave all humans.
- Invincible Foes, for example an unstoppable alien race, an overwhelmingly powerful space ship, or a weapon capable of destroying entire planets. These invincible enemies always have a single weak point which, when attacked, will result in their total defeat.
- Slavery: if it is just for the clones, which are basically just twin brothers of someone else, no big moral issue is raised. The abolitionist movement was never heard of in the universe of cheesy sci-fi.
- Alien liquors: After Galactic War 7 is averted, you need a fine drink to toast the megasafety of the system cluster over. I'd recommend a brilliantly transparent bottle of Alturian Blue-Ale, circa GY14,763. Cheers!
- A little girl who helps the protagonist in a battle. Everyone needs one of these. They, for some reason, are always there, throwing the good guy a knife, right when it looks like he's dead.
- Space babes: Honestly, you can't expect someone who just saved the known universe/galaxy/earth/the federation from certain doom to play doctor with someone his own species. You need chicks/guys with pointy ears or three jugs (or two schlongs). Or green skin. Or a tail. Or all of previous. Who knows? He/she's an alien. Preferably the kind who needs to be taught how to kiss.
Lesson 3: Must Haven'tsUtterly uncool stuff that, for the glory of progress, will eventually be extinct in our brilliant future:
- Alien ambassadors, who travel from one place to another without incident. Dude, if some alien diplomat steps on your starship wanting a lift to some peace conference, expect hella trouble.
- Hot Alien Chicks, who know what a "kiss" is. Apparently they rely on humans to teach them.
- Cheese: except on pills. Camembert considered acceptable only if necessary.
- In fact, all edible-looking food. Alien food is fine.
- Ordinary pets: absolutely no dogs, no cats and no parrots (hmm... the latter maybe for space pirates, but it has to be half robot.) Just three-eyed purple monkeys, slugs, cuddly spiders and Pokemon-like creatures.
- The wheel: made obsolete by rockets and levitation (but people will still ride animals).
- Gunpowder: hey, we have lasers! And swords! And laser swords! Also, there are no nuclear weapons in the future. There's no point, not when you have weapons as powerful as swords to fight with.
- Door knobs: automatic doors, that's the word! Who cares about privacy, or power outages?
- Stairs. Nobody climbs stairs, they use the elevator, or teleporter pads, or maybe some type of vacuum tube thingy. The technology to make stairs was lost in the Great Human-Alien War of 2437.
- Rust: you really may find good use for a V2 rocket found in 2912. It will fly. And explode. And save the world.
- Artists: people still seem to care about music, paintings and books. But for some unknown reason, all new artists disappeared sometime in the 21st century. They can quote Shakespeare or hear Ozzy Osbourne, but no new stuff was added to the culture pool since this mysterious disaster that washed away all artists.
- Paper: yeah, you may been writing a book, but you ought to know that the printing press will be extinct soon. As well as toilet paper.
- Toilets: did you ever asked why you never see anybody in a fatuous urge in the future? Well, pills don't make much volume. A small plastic cup does the job and nobody notices anything.
- Showers: don't ask why, they are just too low-tech. Happily there's no smell in books or movies. However, there is one notable exception to the "No Showers" rule, and that is that they are permissible if the person showering is a hot naked chick. People who are neither hot, naked, nor chicks do not shower in the future.
- Regular beds: in the future, people just can't sleep without their cryogenic chambers. Not really comfy, but mattresses and pillows just don't fit the spaceship's inner decoration.
- Electrical plugs: it would ruin any plot if your hero could just turn off the evil gigacomputer by just pulling out its plug.
- Autopilots. In the 29th century, spaceship piloting and weapons targeting need to be done manually, not automatically like in 20th century aircraft.
- Seatbelts. When a large spaceship either crashes or comes under enemy fire, everyone should be thrown out of their chairs. This may result in more injuries, but hey, they have the medical technology.
- TV. Although current trends suggest that by the year 2037, human beings will spend pretty much all of their waking hours watching TV, nobody ever watches TV in the future. There is no point- since they already are in the future they no longer need to watch cheesy sci-fi shows about the future. What kind of future would it be if everyone sat around wishing they lived in a more advanced time? Not a very good one, obviously.
- Obnoxious family members. Children are always adorable, exceptionally smart and so resposible that you can trust them with the keys to your intergalactic space cruiser. Nobody's sure why- either they've genetically engineered them, or launched the dumb ones into space. There are no surly, hormonal teenagers, or awful mothers-in-law or insane aunts. Normal family problems just don't exist. If you do have family troubles, it will inevitably be because one of your family members is evil- an evil parent, evil twin, or an evil clone. Anything else, and you risk going into "deep" sci-fi, and no-one likes that stuff.
- Christian and Jews: surpassed by more up-to-date creeds in knightly honor, mind power and ghosts in general.
Lesson 4: Hands to The Job!
So you are full of basic premises, the rest is just stitching those clichés together. Start with the default basic plot, a-common-fellow-that-in-fact-is-the-chosen-one-and-will-find-a-master-to-make-him-a-real-hero- to-save-the-universe-against-an-evil-ruler. It always works. Just change the order of words and invent fancy names for old ideas: in Star Wars, they have light sabers. In your work, they have "quantum swords", "neutrino blades", or "photon nunchucks". The secret to the success (and not being sued) is always borrowing words from science that describe things people don't understand. In the fifties, "atomic-anything" was the hot stuff. Now you may label your technologies with words such as:
And so forth. You can pick up a science magazine and search for random words you find interesting. There's no problem if you don't have any clue what it means, your reader will probably be as hopeless lost as you are. In sum, the art of cheesy sci-fi has nothing to do with creating new stuff, it's just changing names. And voilà: you've got your cheesy sci-fi. Here's an example:
“Captain, the enemy’s [alpha / theta / zeta] [beam / ray] has penetrated our [diluvium / polarized / electro] [shields / armor / hull]! I am now [recalibrating / repolarizing / desensitizing / deodorizing] the ship’s [forward / aft / starboard / port] primary [thruster / generator / life support / garbage disposal] systems to provide additional power to the auxiliary systems and reroute a [proton / photon / neutrino / electrino / Tarantino] burst through our backup [deflector dish / transporter beam / communications beacon / hyperdrive / TiVo] and disrupt their fire!”
Use this same basic dialogue over and over, randomly varying the names of exotic particles, waves, and so forth.
- Tales of The Future Past (same idea, but carried on by a professional).