Alien Lives Matter: Introducing the Burroughs Test

I was recently made aware of this excellent post over at SuperversiveSF by Nate Winchester (thanks to Rawle Nyanzi for bringing it to my attention.)

In the article, Nate addresses the “current year” issue of “representation” in fiction, that being where people on the Left, primarily SJWs, make the “diversity” of a film’s cast a major issue that they rate film’s by. However, as he points out (quite cleverly, I might add), there is a minority that is woefully underrepresented in science fiction (and I would say in fantasy as well): non-human characters.

I’ve spoken about this in relation to space opera before, but what Nate adds here is own own purity/quality test, based on the Bechdel Test  feminists “gifted” the entertainment world with a couple years back. Just as a work “passed” that test by having two women speak about something other than a man, the Burroughs Test is simple.

  1. There are two non-human characters.
  2. They speak to each other (and I might add that they speak in a manner we can understand, whether in a language we understand or via subtitles–i.e. not what the Star Wars Holiday Special did).
  3. They speak about something other than humans or Earth.

Now, one might think that Star Wars, an iconic space opera series known for its creative, varied aliens (and whose uncatalogued of species contains dozens of named alien species,) would easily pass this test in the films. Well, as Nate shows, you would be wrong. Even worse, the Star Wars films include precious few non-human characters with speaking roles. And how many episodes of Star Trek would pass this test? Not the majority, I would venture to guess.

This needs to change, and this lack of non-human characters is part of what led me to decide that there will be no human characters in my fiction, for the foreseeable future, at least. Some might come pretty close, but there are still no humans. So Rawle is correct in proclaiming me the king of this test. I have also written a few posts in the past on the topic of writing non-human characters, which some might find of use.

So spread this far and wide, #PulpRevolution, and SuperversiveSF folks. It’s high time we push for TRUE diversity in our science fiction and fantasy. Non-human lives matter too, after all.

(Just in case anybody misinterpreted my main point, no, we shouldn’t judge works purely based on this test. But I absolutely believe that science fiction and fantasy fiction would greatly benefit from more non-human characters.)

You can get my debut novel, A Greater Duty, which features an entirely non-human cast, right now, and its sequel, A Looming Shadow, will be dropping in November.

Also, if you sign up for my mailing list, you will get, in addition to updates, a free novelette (which actually does star humans), as well as more free short fiction down the line (which will not.)

3 thoughts on “Alien Lives Matter: Introducing the Burroughs Test

  1. Agreed. It’s sad that Star Wars doesn’t embrace it’s aliens, they’re the best part of the series. The only property that has an Alien protagonist that I can think of is Ratchet and Clank.

  2. Regarding my own work, it would depend how you define “human”. I have one story that has entirely inhuman characters, synthetic humanoids who were created to be the staff of an amusement park, but most of their dialogue revolves around human beings (or, specifically, their absence). In my series, I have a lot of no-longer-human characters, who spend most of their time dealing with other no-longer-human characters, but they aren’t aliens, they are people who have become modified by alien technology.

    So I really don’t think I have anything that would pass the test. Interesting, I may have to write something specifically to fit it now.

  3. Hmm… I think I failed it too when I rewrote SW7.

    And how many episodes of Star Trek would pass this test? Not the majority, I would venture to guess.

    Hm. Well TOS may be interesting because given the budget restrictions, a lot of their aliens had to be humans in funny clothes, but more of those may pass than you think.

    TNG – few.

    VOY – Moderate amount. Since the Doctor wasn’t real, he would often talk with Kes, Torres, or Seven about non-human topics. There were discussions around Neelix.

    ENT – hah!

    DS9 – Now THIS would probably be the motherload especially since Bajorans, Cardassians and the Dominion all take up major amounts of plot. Heck I know Dax had several conversations about Klingons with the likes of Worf & others. Quark & Rom did talk about home and their people a lot too. Dukat & Weyon would talk about the Founders or Jem’Hadar.

    Hm. DS9 is also considered (in close competition with TNG) as one of the best Trek series. Funny that…

    Heck, checking the Orville I’ve only seen 3 episodes and it’s already passed.

    Anybody got a report on ST:Discovery?

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