Humans are Space Orcs: A Subgenre of Science Fiction
A recent trend in science fiction writing prompts and short stories has emerged across the Internet, which is referred to by many names: Humans are Space Orcs, Earth is Space Australia, Earth is a Death World, and so on. These short story posts often propose scenarios in which humans explore their own nature and environment through an alien perspective. In traditional science fiction, aliens are usually described as ugly and dangerous, in possession of exaggerated strength or intelligence, and their homeworlds as bizarre and inhospitable. What makes this modern “Space Orcs” interpretation appealing is the idea that perhaps we are as weird to them as they are to us.
The naming conventions for this sub-genre require some context to understand. Anyone familiar with the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit knows that orcs are a mutant humanoid race that descended from elves. They are ugly, brutal, and strong. In a similar way, Australia is stereotyped as being full of fauna that can and will kill you. “Space Australia” stories deal with alien invasions that are ill-equipped to survive in our hostile environments. Additionally, as humans move toward interstellar travel, what are the chances that instead of aliens being the ugly and dangerous invaders, it turns out to be us?
In The Time Machine, the Time Traveler finds himself face-to-face with the descendants of the human race: the Eloi and the Morlocks. The Eloi were described as beautiful, frail, and childlike. “It came into my head, oddly enough” he narrates, “that my voice was too harsh and deep for them” (p. 27). The Time Traveler sees himself superior to the Eloi in both strength and intelligence. But the Morlocks he described as inhuman and malign (p. 69). They are predators, and the Time Traveler experiences a primal fear of them. Encountering these two races allows him to view himself from an outside perspective: to the Morlocks, he is prey; to the Eloi, he is a strange entertainment.
This duality of perspective is explored in some of the “Space Orcs” sample posts reproduced at the end of this document. In a /rWritingPrompts thread on Reddit, user “Verifiedvenuz” posted a prompt about aliens beginning an invasion of earth but not being able to follow through with it because they discovered that humans are really cute. One endearing short story written in the comments by user “jadefyrexiii” (which is titled Thank You For the Cookies in the sample posts) ended up mimicking the Time Traveler’s care when speaking to the Eloi: “‘Yes, earthling,’ the mysterious figure boomed and whispered all at once, careful not to burst her delicate eardrums with his natural voice as he had with the last earthling he’d met.” In both instances, the outsider sees himself as stronger and more dangerous than the native, who is frail and helpless in comparison. The added detail of bursting eardrums in the Reddit post reminds us, too, that these newer science fictions rely on modern scientific/medical knowledge that previous generations might not have had access to. It may still be soft science, but it is science, nonetheless.
Following that same line of thought, Tumblr user “bogleech” writes, “How do we know our saliva and skin oils wouldn’t be ultra-corrosive to most other sapient races? What if we actually have the strongest vocal chords and can paralyze or kill the inhabitants of other worlds just by screaming at them? What if most sentient life in the universe turns out to be vegetable-like and lives in fear of us rare “animal” races who can move so quickly and chew shit up with our teeth?” This scenario, presenting humans as the dangerous invaders, flips classic science fiction on its head. Whereas traditionally, authors use the positive language in terms of space-faring humans as explorers and scientists, searching for knowledge, “Space Orcs” stories pose the question, “Are we doing harm to the planets we visit and the people we meet?” They also remind the reader that in situations like that, we are the aliens invading a foreign planet!
The evolution of these “Space Orcs” stories stems from the introduction of fanfiction as available literature. Much of classical art is, in essence, “fan”-made art of Biblical stories. Similarly, Dante’s Divine Comedy and Milton’s Paradise Lost can be considered fanfiction of the Bible. In modern usage, if a fan doesn’t like some aspect of a story, he has the ability to write his own version and share it on Internet forums. Since no publisher or editor is involved in sharing these stories, they often come out as a garbled mess. Because of this unedited, literary free-for-all and the fact that users can change their screen names at any time, it is sometimes difficult to track down specific posts. For this reason, a transcription of notable stories and their source links have been provided at the end of this document.
Often, these stories present civil conversations between humans and aliens. Topics I have seen range from mankind’s absurd ability to lift a car in a life-or-death situation to them pack-bonding with literally anything -- including Roomba vacuums and feral alien wildlife. Most of these narratives take place in a future where first contact with aliens has already been made and space exploration is in its prime. A common theme among them is why an alien ship should always employ a human (and instructions on how to care for it), which often focus on the ingenuity and daring of mankind when faced with a seemingly impossible problem. Humans are thought to be the “hold my beer” species in these stories -- that is, if a human wants to do something fun or has a solution to an unsolvable problem, even if it is dangerous and potentially life-threatening, they will find a way to do it. This exploration into the way an outsider might view humanity lends itself to a very comforting position that, while we may not be the only life forms in the universe, we might still be the weirdest.My preliminary research involved searching through the relevant tags on both Tumblr and Archive Of Our Own. However, I discovered what looks to be a compilation of these stories in a book called Humans Wanted, edited by Vivian Caethe. The copy I ordered has yet to come in, but I expect to use it as a source in the final iteration of this essay. Additionally, I intend to use sources from the “Alien Contact” weeks to fulfill the course text requirement. Because my topic deals with outsiders to the human race, relevant course texts are currently limited.