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Notes From A Human Alien: Why I Love Sci-Fi & Fantasy

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I was a nerd and a geek before it was cool. I say that not to sound superior or exclusionary – that’s the whole point of nerds and geeks, we don’t exclude; we’re the excluded – but to provide context: I was a skinny, buck-toothed, uncoordinated kid with a too-smart mouth and goofy glasses. I was always other. There was no internet to connect me to other weirdos. No one revered me for my impressive vocabulary or proper grammar. So naturally, when I discovered a genre of fiction dedicated to the alien, the strange, the fantastical, it would resonate deeply with my misunderstood little soul. My happy place wasn’t the playground or the mall. It was Tatooine or the Enterprise. I wanted to ride dragons on Pern and go adventuring in Xanth. I wanted to be anywhere but in my boring, mundane life, and yet, what I yearned for was connection.

Looking back now, I realize that what appealed to me most in all of those far-fetched tales, what appeals to me now, in fact, are the particularly human moments. They are perhaps made more relatable because they happen in the most bizarre settings. The extraordinary circumstances and odd characters provide a sharp relief for familiar, ordinary human emotions: love, fear, hate, grief, joy, uncertainty. And that’s how you get zapped into a story. The little girl I was wanted nothing more than to be transported to a far-off world or into an amazing adventure, and I now realize that that moment you look at the mutant/superhero/rebel princess/artificial intelligence and think, “I know how that feels” you are there.

I loved the movie The Avengers for a hundred different reasons (ok, Tom Hiddleston might be, like, 67 of those reasons) but this exchange was so unexpectedly fantastic because it’s a snarky little human squabble. Guess what? Even in the middle of a terrifying and epic struggle against dark forces, your coworkers can get on your damn nerves.

Or how about this poignant scene from the movie Electric Dreams (takin’ it old school here, people) in which a young architect who has inadvertently brought his computer to life is clumsily trying to woo his beautiful neighbor with the help of said computer. Are we not all Moles? Filled with yearning but unsure how to convey that to our crush? My 14 year old self certainly was. Who amongst our nerdy tribe has not also suffered the trials of navigating human emotion as Edgar the computer does? Not to mention having your work copied. Grrrrr, indeed, Edgar. Plus, I cannot lie. I just needed to include this bitchin’ Culture Club song because it still gives me the feels.

It’s not possible to talk about human connection and relationships in sci-fi and fantasy without mentioning Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Some of the most wonderful, difficult, touching, piercing moments happened on that show. To this day, I think of the Yellow Crayon Speech as one of the best testimonials of friendship ever. Xander Harris is the gold standard of best buds.

BTVS Xander and Willow yellow crayon speech
Source: (x)

Xander: The first day of kindergarten you cried because you broke the yellow crayon and you were too afraid to tell anyone. You’ve come pretty far – ending the world, not a terrific notion – but the thing is, yeah, I love you. I love crayon-breaky Willow and I love scary-veiny Willow so if I’m going out, it’s here. If you want to kill the world . . . well, then start with me. I’ve earned that.
Willow: You think I won’t?
Xander: It doesn’t matter. I’ll still love you.

Or how about the moment when a devastated Buffy faces Angelus, the soulless demon who used to be her boyfriend, having lost almost everything, including her virginity to him? This is a hell yes moment for every one of us who has ever felt lost or hopeless.

Angelus: No weapons . . . no friends . . . no hope. Take all that away and what’s left?
Buffy: Me.

Buffy Becoming Part 2 whats left
Source: (x)

Steven Spielberg always said of the classic E.T. that it was really just a story of a young boy dealing with the hurt and loneliness of his parents’ divorce. When I first saw it, all I knew was that I was transported. As an adult, I can see how my empathy was engaged, and how, years later, this scene can still tug hard at my heartstrings:

ET: “Come.”
Elliot: “Stay.”
ET, pointing to his heart: “Ouch!”
Elliot, in tears: “Ouch.”

In writerly circles, you hear talk of “finding a way in” to your story. I think when it comes to the geek nation, sci-fi and fantasy are just that. A way in to our stories. We feel weird. Alien. Other. Maybe when we’re young, we want to be anywhere but this planet. We’d love for a Tardis to show up and sweep us off on an adventure, or for a letter from Hogwarts to arrive. We want to make sense of our strangeness. Yet, what connects us most deeply to the weird and wild tales that we love is simple humanity. The parts of ourselves that we recognize in the midst of the outlandish let us know that we fit, somehow, in this big puzzle.

What are some of your favorite human moments from sci-fi and fantasy? Share in the comments!

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About Nanea Hoffman (287 Articles)
Nanea Hoffman is the founder of Sweatpants & Coffee. She writes, she makes things, and she drinks an inordinate amount of coffee. She is also extremely fond of sweatpants. She believes in love, peace, joy, comfort, and caffeinated beverages.

7 Comments on Notes From A Human Alien: Why I Love Sci-Fi & Fantasy

  1. Guardians of the Galaxy is full of moments of human connection, it’s about a bunch of misfit outcasts who never felt like they fit into their own worlds but come together beautifully. Peter Quill is human dropped unto an alien world to grow up alone. Rocket an anthropomorphic raccoon whose best friend is a sentient tree-creature named Groot. Groot is mostly non-verbal, yet Rocket seems to understand him and treats him like anyone else. They eventually meet Drax whose sole focus is revenge, it has be suggested that Drax is on the spectrum due to his literal speech and lack of understanding metaphors, Rocket picks up on this immediately and explains it to Peter who loves to use sarcasm and metaphor. Then you have Gamora, who is the last of her family who says she has always been surrounded by enemies but finally finds friends in this group of Guardians. Vastly different creatures and characters who come together seeing human connection and comfort, Groot exclaiming “We are Groot” is proof of this deep connection they all feel for each other.

  2. The yellow crayon gets me every time. Oh how I love Xander Harris, and the entire Scooby Squad. Buffy helped me a lot in my early 20’s – watching her deal with her mother’s death, helped me cope with the death of my own many years later. It’s odd that my favorite season is one of the least popular (her college years, I blame Riley for the lack of popularity) but she did so much growing that season, and I related to her 100%. From bad choice in men, to mistakes she made, sure I wasn’t sleeping with a vampire, etc but I had the same self loathing she did and she taught me to spring back from it.

    It wasn’t until recently I realize that for so many years I was obsessed with sci-fi and fantasy. The more I spoke with my husband about likes and dislikes of tv and genres etc, I started spouting off that I liked Star Wars, and Star Trek that I loved supernatural type shows like Buffy and well, Supernatural. Now with finally discovering Dr. Who, Torchwood, etc I am still having fun with the sci-fi elements. The more I discover the more I realize I love the escape into fantasy, space travel etc, and never realized why until you put it so well here!

    Thank you for this article, it’s spot on!

    Oddly enough my father is the polar opposite he doesn’t like “things that can’t really happen.” Which makes me laugh. So we bond over Mad Men, House of Cards and the crazy drama shows that “might happen” but probably won’t. I guess he just likes seeing humans deal with stuff vs. aliens. 😉

    • Kelly, the episode dealing with the death of Buffy’s mom is, I think, some of the best writing ever. I connected to it in a very visceral way. And yes to everything you said about her in college! For whatever reason, it was almost comforting for me to see this badass vampire slayer going through the same school and relationship crap as the rest of us. I love escapism, I love the fantastical, but I love those things especially when they reflect the human, difficult parts of me back to myself. (Oh, and my husband feels the same as your father does. Phooey on them! In this house, we characterize it thusly: I pretty much always think a show could be made better if it had a spaceship or monsters in it. He pretty much always thinks a show would be better without those things. :P)


    I was in middle school when I got hooked and I literally thought it was the coolest show ever. Vampires and girls kicking a**? How could you not love it?

    It wasn’t until I got older that I realized that Buffy wasn’t everyone else’s cup of tea too aka “you watch THAT?”

    And Buffy and Angel? Heart. Broken.

    So like yourself…I was a nerd before it was ‘cool’ to be nerdy. Geeking out hard from a young age!

    I’m so glad I found your blog – new fan right here!
    P.S. LOVE that sweater in the photo – where can I get it from?

  4. You are like, totally my spirit animal. And i might turn gay because of you.
    Seriously, aren’t all sci fi/fantasy/speculative fiction fans hoping there’s a better race than human out there somewhere?

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