Tales of the ice planet

Annoying, but perhaps necessary: It’s a storytelling convention of science fiction movies and TV shows that every planet except Earth is a monoculture.

John I. Carney
3 min readMar 22

Futuristic proposed Mars habitat, with two astronauts, a domed building, and a vehicle.
NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Earth is made up of a variety of climates, from arctic to tropical.

Humanity is made up of a variety of different races, cultures, and languages.

And yet, it’s a convention of science fiction movies and TV shows that if we encounter an alien planet, or race, it’s got one climate — often it’s either an entirely-desert planet, or sometimes an entirely-frozen planet, or perhaps it looks a lot like Monument Valley. It’s got one language, one culture, and one race.

Sometimes, the planet has two races/cultures, in which case one of the following is true:

  1. The two races have been locked in mortal conflict for many generations, or
  2. One race functions as slaves to the other race.

Obviously, especially in the world of science fiction, there are certain things that have to streamlined for the sake of storytelling. In reality, if we encountered a completely alien race, it would probably take each side weeks or even months to learn the other’s language. So “Star Trek,” like many other science fiction projects before and since, assumes the invention of a “universal translator” which can instantly pick up on a new, never-before-encountered language and translate it flawlessly in real time, allowing the story to proceed in a dramatic fashion.

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Repeat to yourself “It’s just a show;

I should really just relax.”

(Theme from “Mystery Science Theater 3000”)

A monoculture, monoclimate alien race is just a shortcut to storytelling, especially when the story has to be told in a two-hour movie or a one-hour TV episode. But it still annoys me.

In the original “Star Trek,” the Klingons were depicted as human in appearance, with makeup-created swarthy skin tones. Starting with “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” in which the Klingons make only a brief appearance, they…

John I. Carney

Author of “Dislike: Faith and Dialogue in the Age of Social Media,” available at http://www.lakeneuron.com/dislike