Nell Stormfront and her Air-Ironclad versus the Shopworn Tropes of Mars

The fine fellows over at SfSignal asked a question this week: What are some of the SF/F tropes that need to be retired?

One answer that stood out to me by the co-editor of Clarkesworld magazine, Nick Mamatas. Allow me to quote in part:

I remember one time looking at the back of a paperback in the grocery store and coming across the tale of a woman who was “half-vampire, half-Valkyrie.” And I thought to myself, Wait, that doesn’t make any sense. And then I thought to myself, Wait, when did half-vampire alone start making any sense to me. Then I thought, I’ve wasted my life. So, how about…

  • Military SF that’s just extant military history in disguise
  • Airships
  • Zombies (but my zombie book is different)
  • Vampires, and not just the glittery kind–all must be damned!
  • The kick-ass lady with the vampire boyfriend and the werewolf boyfriend
  • Bookish little twats whisked away to some magical world where nobody knows what a nerd they are
  • Tentacles
  • Help, Muslims are havin’ BABIES! [sic and see footnote*]
  • Aliens that are just like Japanese people…well, not like any Japanese people I’ve ever met, but like the Japanese people of bad books from a previous generation
  • Secret law enforcement groups that police the supernatural
  • A spaceship or a colony on another planet where someone goes crazy and ruins it for everybody
  • The Corporation as all-around antagonist or, for that matter, protagonist

I left this comment in the comments box, which I share with my readers:


In the far future world overrun by a population explosion of Muslims, the Caliphate has no choice but to turn to the secret law enforcement group policing the supernatural supranational corporations, a branch of the Men in Black, a heroic private corporation known as the Babes in Tight Black Leather, whose leaderess, the spunky young but angst-ridden yet spunky ninja-teen Colonel Nell, who was raised in the St. Dismas’ Home for Criminally Undesirable Girls and was tormented by the ghastly yet overweight Mrs. Slogde (secretly, the tentacle-dripping stepmother of Cthulhu) was magically transmitted to the far-future all-Muslim Earth, where everyone understands her, because she is the Chosen One Other (the first Chosen One, Buffy Paul-Maude Potter, having failed the entrance exams test of the Gum Jabby) and the reincarnation of Isis and Kwan-yin but possessed by the unquiet spirit of military arch-genius Napoleon.

Now with the help of her alien but Japanese Martian Ninja Sumo-Wrestler-Vampire Boyfriend, Susan-no-O van Broodster McGlumdark, and the support of her spunky but angst-ridden werewolf-fox-spirit Inari sidekick, Fangs Fordamemories Moody, Nell Stormfront must opposes the evil mechanizations of a mechanical but faceless world-wide supranational chain of funeral homes known as CorpseCorp, Incorporated, who are controlled by the faceless Dark Pharaoh Undeathotep, who is secretively raising an army of flesh-eating but faceless cyborg-zombies.

To this end, Nell and the Babes organize their Anti-Corpse Corps in a copse of trees filled with cops—but will the evil Vizier of the overfertile Muslim population of overpopulators overpopulate the earth before the Zombie world-war erupts and underpopulates them?

My Elves are different, since they are from Mars. I was going to have my Martians seem really, really unlike earthlings by having them live in paper houses, eat with chopsticks, and write top to bottom rather than left to right. And Mars is just like Egypt, with sandy desert waste crowding the great Nilus canal, over which cyclopean yet titanic pyramids and brooding sphinxes brood, and all sorts of ancient ruins, except that the Dark Pharoah Undeathotep went crazy and tried to Westernize, and tear down the ruins and build skyscrapers, and he just ruined the ruins for everyone.

The military action follows blow-by-blow the historical account of the War of Jenkin’s Ear, except, um,  with steam-powered Zeppelins crewed by Vampire Samurai from Mars.

But since all these tropes are being retired, curse it, instead I will write a much more original book, about an invasion from Mars, a recruit trapped into fighting this pointles war, and an oppressed group of superhuman telepaths living in hiding from the evil prejudice of an oppressive yet post-apocalyptic theocratic dictatorship. It will be called THE FOREVER WAR OF THE WORLD OF NULL A CANTICLE FOR LEIBOWITZ. No one has done anything like that before!

Oh … wait …


* Footnote on a more serious note: I know that Mr. Mamatas is just joshing around, but, is upward Islamic demographics a trope so worn that it must be retired, really? Really? It is as prevalent and overworked as Buffy the Angst-Ridden Vampire Slayer ripoffs and Harry Potter wannabes? Really?

Consulting my Audio Telly O-Tally O-Count, I recall coming across precisely ninety-nine zillion nine trillion and three science fiction stories about the Malthusian dangers of overpopulation, starting with TO LIVE FOREVER by Jack Vance, rising with the Charlton Heston flick SOYLENT GREEN for which Harry Harrison still has not been paid, peaking with Hugo-winning STAND ON ZANZIBAR by John Brunner, falling horribly with the oddness of ZARDOZ! starring Sean Connery, and ending with the somewhat lame ‘Mark of Gideon’ episode of STAR TREK.

Those dangers turned out to be nondangers, since we are not even reproducing at replacement levels.  Is pop overpop scaremongering listed as an overused trope? It is not.

And yet behold, I show you a wonder, when it is that latest and greatest of the mascot victimology groups of the Progressives, the sad Sultans of Turkey and the oppressed Oil Sheiks of OPEC, when it is those guys whose demographics on are the uptick, is it suddenly passe and drear, if not downright paranoid, to express a Mark Steynesque concern for where this leads?

This is about the only time I have heard someone mocking a second someone else for fretting about a third someone else having babies. Much, much more often I hear someone fretting about someone else having babies, and some pure quill high potency fretting, too, to the point of calling having babies high treason against Gaea.

Perhaps I am behind on my reading, but I do not recall hearing about that many sci-fi books or short stories in the last ten years which used this population extrapolation as the basis for a tale, much less hearing done so often that it falls into the overdone trope category. I recall hearing about one near-future thriller PRAYERS FOR THE ASSASSIN by Robert Ferrigno. Can one book make a trope overused? Is there another title that used this trope? Even one? Someone remind me, please.