Don’t Touch That! by James Scott


As I said in earlier posts, believability is one of the three most important things for successful SciFi writing.  You got to think that what the person is doing in the story is something you might do in the same situation.   Or better still, is it something that makes common sense?

So, would you believe a SciFi space story if all the characters constantly leave the door of the spaceship open after landing on a strange planet?  Heck No!   As I described in an earlier post, Close That Damn Door Behind You, leaving spaceship doors open is an invitation for certain calamity.   Maybe writers do that to drive their story forward, but it doesn’t make sense to me.  

Nevertheless, here is another pet peeve I have about SciFi stories.  It’s akin to the damsel wondering down a darkened stairway to certain death in horror stories.   

Do you remember your parents telling you not to touch something or pick up something in an unfamiliar or strange place?   Well, as some of us hardheaded ones can attest, that’s a lesson for our own good.   As a very young child, I had a personal coaching moment on this topic via a shocking experience with an electrical outlet.  And from similar groundings (sorry) we learn when it is safe to touch or pickup a strange object . . .  some of us that is.  I say some of us because we see, all too often, SciFi characters wondering around and picking up or getting too close to strange things.  

One example is seen in THE WAY TO EDEN episode of the Original STAR TREK series where Ensign Pavel Chekhov (presumably a well-trained Star Fleet officer who should know better) is burned when he touches a pretty flower on the planet of Eden.  The ensign is not the only one who violates the golden rule of not touching anything on a strange planet in this TV episode.   With clouded judgement, Dr. Ton Sevrin, who commandeered the Enterprise to Eden is so overjoyed of his successful arrival that he instantly takes a shuttle craft to the planet’s surface and (after leaving the spaceship door open, I suspect) rushes out, climbs a tree, grabs a piece of fruit and chows down.  Of course, he dies from food poisoning.  

Now, would you do that?   I guess we can excuse the good Dr. Sevrin since, earlier in the episode, Mr. Spock concluded that he was insane.   But Chekhov should have known better, which makes that part of the story a bit hard to believe.  

We all know what happened next.   A small octopus like creature springs out from the egg, breaks through Kane’s helmet and with a hugging embrace, plants itself firmly on his face.   At least Warrant Officer Ellen Ridley follows her training and intuition to not allow the survey crew and the incapacitated Kane from re-entering their spaceship. But she is overruled by Science Officer Ash.  And the entire space crew’s fortune goes down hill from there.  

Now, in all fairness it turns out that Ash is really an android with a secret assignment to bring back the alien creature. But that could have been done more safely.  Nevertheless, Kane’s callous judgement as the Executive Officer is not believable.

Then, there is Grogu (aka baby Yoda) in the THE PASSENGER episode of THE MANDALORIAN.  At least he had an excuse of being young and hungry for disturbing the tempting eggs of the giant spider in the underground ice cave.  That’s believable.  So, I can pardon Grogu’s selfish child instincts to gorge himself on some tasty spider but not the judgement of a more mature but insanely curious (or is it careless) Kane.

So, if you find yourself in a strange place and you hear menacing music in the back of your head, heed mom’s advice, don’t touch anything!

Written by James Scott

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