5 Favorite Vintage Sci-Fi Tropes

Did you know January is Vintage Science Fiction month? I didn’t until I saw the hashtag on Twitter, which piqued my interest, because I love old sci-fi. You can feel the enthusiasm and energy in a lot of those old space travel stories, written in a time where mankind was just venturing beyond Earth’s atmosphere, and everyone was excited about the possibilities.

January is also great timing, because I’ve got a retro sci-fi short story coming out in Broadswords and Blasters Issue 12 later this month. You might find more than one of these tropes in it. Or not. Read it and see. πŸ˜‰

Space Fashion

Are you venturing into the cold reaches of space and don’t know what to wear? No need to worry. Just pop a fishbowl over your head, and you’ll be fine.

Planet Comics Issue 36 Cover
The helmets won’t protect you from evil green space giants, obviously, but they will shield you from the void of space.

In the future, nobody wears pants. That’s what I get from this picture. I guess the characters are on a planet with an atmosphere–just not one they can breathe–so exposed skin is okay. But you can definitely find vintage covers of people in straight up space who just popped a helmet on over their normal clothes and seem perfectly fine. I love it.

You know what else people in the future like? Bikinis.

Out of this World Cover

Sashes over bare chests are apparently in fashion, too, and coordinate well with space helmets.

And if bikinis aren’t your thing, how about a cute dress?

Wonder comics

It’s all about the accessories: hat, gloves, rapier. And I love that guy in the back who looks like he wandered in from the set of Robin Hood.

Anyway, when choosing your outfit, just make sure not to forget your space boots.

Space Busters Page
Not normal boots. SPACE BOOTS.

Space Cops

Space is huge. Mars is 33.9 million miles away from Earth at our closest point in orbit. The distance to other planets and solar systems is mind-boggling. Some of that is home to stars, planets, asteroids, etc., but the vast majority is just emptiness.

That’s a lot of space to commit crimes in.

Hence, we need space cops. Or space rangers. Or the space patrol.

Space Patrol Comic

Whatever you call them, their job is to cruise around space, responding to distress calls, tracking down space pirates, and thwarting alien attacks.

Space Cadet
And looking heroic while doing it

You can find a whole lot of examples of this trope in comics, novels, and television in the 50s–and I don’t get why it’s not just as popular today. We love our police dramas on TV. Setting one IN SPACE seems like a no-brainer.

Swashbuckling Adventure

Sci-Fi, especially stories set in outer space, often deals with super-advanced technology the likes of which we can only dream of. You’ve got rockets that can travel light-years in less than a day, robots so intelligent they can pass for human, fishbowl helmets that cover a person’s head in the void of space–really complex stuff.

That’s why I love when characters forget all that and just fight each other with swords.

Planet Comics 21 Cover

Or axes. I’m not picky.

Planet Stories Cover
QUEEN

A lot of this comes from the planetary romance genre, kicked off by A Princess of Mars, which is all about sword duels, daring rescues, and Western-style battles on–you guessed it–an inhabited planet Mars.

I’d consider Star Wars an example of this, too. For all the giant spaceships and moon-sized super-weapons, the fate of the galaxy often comes down to two guys using mystic superpowers and swinging lightsabers at each other.

Robots

It’s hard to find a more quintessential science fiction trope than robots. I could go on and on about all the awesome robot characters sci-fi has given us, but I’ll just link to someone else’s list instead.

This trope is great because, out of all the outlandish ideas in old sci-fi, it’s one that’s pretty close to coming true.

I mean, I own a robot. It can’t exchange sassy banter with me or protect me when I’m in danger, and I can’t give it commands with my brain…

Planet Comics pages

But I can press a button, and it vacuums my house for me. And that is awesome.

It’s also nothing compared to what more complex and expensive robots can do these days. Give it a few years, and I’m sure we’ll be giving telepathic commands to robot butlers–at least until the inevitable robot uprising, anyway.

Aliens in our Solar System

Despite using high-powered telescopes and launching far-traveling probes, scientists have found no signs of intelligent life in our solar system–which is really a bummer. Look at what we’re missing out on!

Outlaw Queen of Venus

The Outlaw Queen of Venus! She’s like some kind of Valkyrie cowgirl superhero! It’s a shame the atmosphere of Venus is mostly carbon dioxide and reaches scorching temperatures of over 400 degrees in reality, because if this is any indication, I could be living my best life there.

Although, the lack of intelligent life might be a blessing in disguise.

Vintage Comic Panel

A lot of old sci-fi features invasions of monstrous aliens from Venus, Mars–take your pick of any planet in the solar system, really. Today, alien invasion stories tend to give the invaders a home in another galaxy.

But yeah, kind of disappointing that we don’t have alien neighbors in our solar system. Unless they’re so advanced that they can hide from us, which, given the hot mess that is the human race… I can’t really say I blame them.

Resources

  • The Digital Comics Museum – a collection of vintage, public domain comics. There’s a lot of awesome stuff here in every genre you can think of, all free to read.
  • Pulp Covers – a treasure trove of old pulp covers. The site’s tagline is “The Best of the Worst,” which is so true.
  • Vintage SciFi Month – check out the hashtag on Twitter for links to book reviews of fantastic old sci-fi novels.

Do you have a favorite vintage sci-fi book or movie? Love classic Star Trek? How about Flash Gordon? Let me know in the comments!

Published by

Kristen Brand

If Kristen Brand could have any superpower, she'd want telekinesis so she wouldn't have to move from her computer to pour a new cup of tea. She spends far too much time on the internet, and when she's not writing, she's usually reading novels or comic books. Icon by @heckosart.

17 thoughts on “5 Favorite Vintage Sci-Fi Tropes”

  1. what a great post! I love all these covers and the ridiculous clothing! Now that I think about it, cosplaying a vintage cover art pose could be a thing i might need to do.

    I’ve read a bunch of random Vintage books, my current favorite is Nova by Samuel Delany. It’s a space adventure, this guy is looking for a crew who is crazy enough to go on the mission he proposes, and of course he has a rival who wants to sabotage the mission! Characters are absolutely fantastic, it is a ton of fun to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I stumbled on this post through Vintage SciFi Month on Twitter. Fun! I always love a good fishbowl helmet! You gotta love the design sensibilities of old pulp SF…

    Oh and I have discovered so much awesomeness (?) at pulpcovers.com. πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber! And thanks for the Heinlein rec. I’ve been meaning to read something by him for a while. I think I might have one of his books on my shelves somewhere…

      Like

      1. Heinlein wrote some of his stuff for young readers such as “Have Spacesuit Will Travel”. That was the 1st one I read, when I was the same age as the protagonist, 18 years old. I was hooked and then read ALL his stuff!

        Some of his dystopian future novels are also really good. He does an especially good job of fleshing out the characters, I think. They are heroic, intelligent and frequently funny.

        I know you like strong female characters, “Podkayne of Mars” is a very good one. Several of his novels had been brought to film like the Puppet Masters (a favorite) and Starship Troopers (Hollywood’s version was interesting, but book was much better.

        Ironically for me, “Stranger in a Strange Land” while culturally impactive in the sixties and seventies, I don’t think is one of his better novels.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. That’s such good info, thanks! Puppet Masters is one of the two I have on my bookshelf, so I’ll have to check that out first. And I love the sound of Podkanye of Mars. Thank you for the recommendations!

        Like

  3. Heh, I loved this post. Also, did you know that January is #VintageScifiMonth? If you tweet this article again, I’d bet the folks using that hashtag would love to read it. πŸ™‚

    Like

  4. I love old pulp covers. They’re great.
    On the topic of alien neighbors hiding from us, I read somewhere (I forget where) that a hypothetical alien race, if it was advanced enough, could hide from us the same way hunters hide from prey. If a hunter sprays himself with deer musk, for example, they can render themselves invisible to the animal, even if they’re standing two feet away in plain view. Or insects who use pheromones to camouflage themselves from other insects. It seems super obvious to us, but the insects don’t have the capacity to see beyond what they’re senses tell them. The same principle could apply to the aliens. By manipulating our crude senses with their advance technology they could also be rendered functionally invisible, walking among us without our even knowing…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The covers! like them the stories always tell more about the time they are written in than about the future. The future, even a little ways in, is pretty much incomprehensible to the past. That’s why its explained in contemporary terms. That’s why in the future, even on space ships with both sexes, even on missions lasting for years….nobody ever gets laid! that has got to be more incredible than FTL drive….and as contrary to nature. The covers, “Bodice rippers for adolescent males”. “Bodice Ripper” is the term for the standard iconic romance fiction cover.

    Liked by 1 person

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