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"Lost somewhere, between immensity and eternity, is our tiny planetary home, the Earth. For the first time we have the power to decide the fate of our planet, and ourselves. This is a time of great danger, but our species is young and curious and brave. It shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries, about the cosmos, and our place within it."
— Carl Sagan
, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage
For every species bar one, Medieval Stasis
is how the world works. Changes in technology and society take hundreds of years, and any existing alien civilization or elf kingdom today looks more or less the same as it did a century ago - or will in a century more. For most races in the setting, slow change is the norm.
The great exception are humans. Somehow these talking plains apes, who have only learned to walk fully upright a few hundred thousand years ago, have mastered technology and civilization in a fraction of the time it took everyone else, despite their incredibly short individual lifespans
. Or maybe it is that very brevity that drives humans, the sense that they don't have decades to spare and need to accomplish things now
. Or the rapid generational turnover means that once we become set in our ways we don't last long enough to impose our views on successors still young enough to be open-minded to new ideas.
Extremely common in both fantasy and sci-fi.
In some cases, the trope may be an excuse for people living Twenty Minutes into the Future
to go toe-to-toe with Kardeshev II
of Humans Are Special
Compare Humanity Is Advanced
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- An important background element of Renegade. The technology available to the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod is not necessarily as advanced as that of the Citadel, but it is taken in directions that the Citadel species never went. However, the reason for this is because Earth was infested by Tiberium and humanity was locked in global warfare for about fifty years, yet still managed to survive on a planet where the very ground was trying to eat them.. Word of God also implies that Kane is behind a lot of humanity's rapid technology growth. Even so, the Scrin are supposed to be even more advanced.
- The XSGCOM series is rife with this. Being a fusion of the Stargate Verse and the X-COM series of games, humanity quickly advances. For example, the heaviest weapon that the humans can field in chapter one is a laser rifle. By the latest chapter, we have plasma micronukes, Gatling staff weapons, Power Armor with enough firepower to level Manhattan in a matter of hours, Naquadria-powered satellite weapons, our own ready-made Sarcophagi, artificial gravity, hyperdrives that outstrip comparable Goa'uld designs, Plasma Pistols (AKA "Streams of hyperkinetic death"), and so, so much more. By chapter nineteen of the sequel, humans have already destroyed a quarter of the Wraith in the Pegasus Galaxy, and we're making money by selling less advanced versions of our weapons to our allies. The true sign that we're advancing fast? The Goa'uld have taken to copying our weapons just to stay in the game, and they're still losing.
- Although it's worth noting that the reason humans are advancing so fast is because we were made that way.
- This is noted in the Mass Effect story First Contact. The specific example used were the automatically opening doors being featured on Star Trek, and then within only a year or two such doors were Defictionalized simply because people thought it was a cool idea. The asari explorer who makes first contact with humans is amazed at how swiftly the humans develop new technology so shortly after the idea for it was conceived.
- Another example from Mass Effect fanfiction is Transcendent Humanity. While the Council civilization is stuck in a time warp - largely unchanged since its inception - Humanity has advanced all the way from destroying Earth's ozone layer by burning fossil fuels to become a full-blown Type II civilization. They lift matter from the Sun for energy consumption and basic construction material. This practice has actually extended the Sun's lifespan. Most of the population - hovering around two trillion - lives in quantum substrates, but can download themselves into on-demand bodies instantly, organic or robotic, as current circumstances demand. And that's really just the mundane, daily-grind stuff. Humans did all of this not merely inspite of, but because they did not discover the 'Mass Effect'. Humans did not develop FTL, AIs, interstellar colonization, or encounter another space-faring civilization for over two thousand years, and got along just fine. So much for the Magic Space Dust...
- A main point in Ttomalss's study on Humans in Worldwar: War of Equals. According to him, no previous species that The Race has encountered has advanced as fast as the Humans and he think that Human governments stimulate innovation.
- In Animorphs, Ax cites this as a reason why the Yeerks fear human exposure, predicting within the century humans would develop FTL travel. At least as far as the books are concerned, that "within the century" is a gross overestimate.
- Makes for good snark, though:
Ax: Sometimes, humans worry me. You advance more quickly than you are capable of dealing with. We Andalites may wind up wishing we'd left you to the Yeerks.
Marco: ... so far, you Andalites pretty much have left us to the Yeerks.
- There are a couple explanations for this in-universe: The Ellimist once essentially said that some species start out later but develop faster, and other sentient races start early but advance slowly, with humanity and his race being at the respective ends. In Visser, it is suggested our development is at least partially due to the fact that our dialetic, hemispheric brains allow us to second-guess ourselves, making for carefully thought-out decisions, which are ultimately more useful than rushed decisions.
- At one point the series specifically says that Andalites took three times as long as humans to go from achieving powered flight to putting a man on the surface of another celestial body. Ax is astonished that humanity made that leap in less than 70 years... and when you see it put like that, it's hard not to agree with him.
- A major plot point in the Doom novelizations. Humans being the only species in the universe who aren't subject to reincarnate, this drove them to advance far more quickly than any other expected. At the end, another species is encountered which advances even faster.
- The "brevity breeds progress" factor is used in Isaac Asimov's Robot series even though there aren't any alien life forms. "Spacers" (humans who live in one of the 50 space colonies) regularly live for upwards of 300 years and have stagnated; Earthers (humans on earth) live to be 70 or so and have advanced geometrically.
- Rescue Party by Arthur C. Clarke, is built on this trope.
- Played with in a later story of his, in which humanity encounters an even faster-advancing, short-lived, explosively breeding species than themselves.
- In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, the lizard-like Race is absolutely amazed that humanity has gone from swords and chainmail to internal combustion engines and radio in only a mere 800 years, when it took their own race tens of thousands of years to make the same advances. They are also amazed that mankind is so willing to advance in the first place. To the conservative Lizards, technology needs several thousands of years to be refined, introduced, and integrated into civilian life. Mankind is willing to strap tubes full of explosives onto a box and call it a spaceship, regardless of how well it works. They also assumed that they already knew everything, so after a hundred years or so, humans are doing crazy things they never even dreamed of (like FTL travel).
- Also Subverted: as many Human characters pointed out, mankind has been just as slow advancing as the Lizards for most of its history, and wonder what exactly caused this sudden acceleration in technological advance.
- The aliens in Bruce Coville's My Teacher Is an Alien series put Humanity on Trial, not only because Humans Are the Real Monsters but also because our technological progress has been much faster than any other alien race's, which combined with the aforementioned cruelty makes the rest of the galaxy very nervous about this little Earth race.
- In Out of the Dark, aliens decide to send a warrior race to conquer humanity after being horrified by a medieval battle. Said race is considerably alarmed to find the situation rather changed when they finally arrive, centuries later, and their ground forces subsequently take a beating.
- E. E. “Doc” Smith:
- Played straight in the Skylark Series universe at least initially, with Dick Seaton going from 1930s aviation technology to FTL spaceflight in a single jump. After he gets to Osnome, it's either averted or subverted: almost everything he does from that time on relies in some part on knowledge or technology borrowed from, captured from, or granted to him by other spacefaring races, and his only edge seems to be an ability to put it together into a more seamless whole.
- The Lensman universe is, strangely enough, an aversion. The big technological leaps require outside help. As in the Skylark universe, where the humans do excel is in terms of upscaling and application.
- Inverted in Sergey Lukyanenko's short story Evening Conversation with Mr. Special Ambassador, where the aliens who originally planned to take Earth for themselves decide to leave us alone after realizing how ridiculously dumb we are compared to every other race. The titular "Special Ambassador" mentions off-hand that his grandfather invented the wheel, while looking at their starship. Basically, they make monumental discoveries every few months, if not weeks. At the end of the story, they leave but let the humans keep their ships, which are obsolete by then, in the hopes of jump-starting our progress.
- To illustrate, they need Earth because their own home world is threatened by a black hole. By the end of the story, the ambassador reveals that not only have they managed to close the black hole, but they have also managed to terraform Venus. So yeah, they don't need our heavily polluted world with dumb apes. All races who discover humanity treat us the same way we may treat a mentally-retarded person.
- In Troy Rising, this is one of the reasons the alien Glatun ally with humanity. They (the Glatun) are a race on the decline, while every analysis of humanity's potential says that the primitives from Earth a) won't be primitive much longer and b) are going to be a force to be recognized simply because humans have a history of technological advancement that no other species can match.
- Inverted in Codex Alera. The human technology and engineering of the Lost Roman Legion eventually stagnated when humans developed bonds with furies and gained various Elemental Powers. These powers allowed humans to develop a form of Magitek, but a combination of a very conservative mindset (engendered by constantly fighting against other civilizations for simple survival) and the advantages of furycraft meant that Aleran technology stagnated to the point where after two thousand years their tech hasn't changed much. By comparison, the Canim's technology is far more advanced, and is actively employed by a species that also has access to Blood Magic and superhuman speed, strength, toughness, and senses, and totally outnumbers the Alerans by a vast degree.
- Illegal Aliens: Though initially technologically inferior to the alien races they encounter, Humans catch up quickly (albeit with the help of an alien technician) and surpass the weaponry, medical, and general technological abilities of the aliens they got most of the technology from in the first place. For example, they regenerate members of an extinct alien race, create a type of unobtanium ship armor an alien earlier on in the story was lying about to make them think alien ships were tougher than they really were, created original weapons based on an "atomic vortex" that started with a pistol that was ridiculously powerful and escalated to a cannon that could wipe out massive fleets of automated attack satellites, and generally overcame any and all opposition by races whose technology they hadn't even known about mere months before.
- In The Excalibur Alternative, human advancement is startlingly fast compared to the stasis of other races. This leads to the Federation sending a squadron to destroy humanity... except that another human group objects violently.
- In the Uplift series, pre-sentient species are genetically uplifted by extant starfaring races and are given knowledge and technology by their patrons. Since almost every sentient species goes through this process, innovation and original research are not exactly encouraged. Humans, who apparently evolved to sentience without a patron species, had to develop all of their technology up to rudimentary interstellar travel for themselves and so place a much higher value on ingenuity than the rest of the galactic civilization.
- This appears to be the case in Ender’s Game with humanity quickly advancing from just being able to leave Earth to traveling and settling faraway worlds in just 70 years. Of course, it's revealed that much of that technology is reverse-engineered and/or adapted from the Buggers. This is showcased by the following novels, which take place 3000 years later with about the same level of technology.
- That stagnation being justified to a certain point by the fact that the best and brightest of at least one generation were packed onto near-lightspeed starships and taken out of circulation for decades (possibly centuries in some cases) of relatavistic space travel before arriving on colony worlds where they were too busy with the logistics of setting up new colonies to make much headway in theoretical physics. That accounts for the first few centuries, maybe the first millenium if you're being generous; after that, it's a case of Modern Stasis / Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale.
- Then come the prequel novels that Retcon some of the inventions to being purely human in origin, including gravity lensing and the Little Doctor (originally a "gravity laser" developed for asteroid mining).
- The atevi of the Foreigner series developed their technology a lot more slowly than humans did, which puzzled humans a great deal, since the atevi are just as smart as humans while being much better at math. The humans eventually decided it was due to two things:
- The atevi are perfectionists who will concentrate on getting a technology just right before moving onto the next form of technology, while humans are completely fine with "good enough".
- The various philosophical systems of the atevi are numerologically based, so when a new scientific discovery is made their culture spends a long time completely integrating that discovery into their numerologies before moving onto the next thing.
- In Pact, this trope is cited by Johannes Lillegard as the reason why humanity is ultimately winning in their two thousand year war against the supernatural, a war which most of humanity doesn't even know that it is fighting. Because supernatural creatures root themselves in concepts, the rapid change in human society following the Industrial Revolution has resulted in them being beaten back-by the time they adjust, the concept that they've attached themselves to may well have become obsolete. Only the most powerful of them, rooted in fundamental concepts, endure-and they are powerless to act against humanity as a whole, because they have usually signed a Magically Binding Contract that they cannot attack humans that haven't penetrated the Masquerade.
Live Action TV
- Traveller : When the Terrans meet the Vilani they are Twenty Minutes into the Future. By the end they are state of the art.
- Granted, the Vilani are humans as well, they just had an over-emphasis on conservatism. The Third Imperium (ruled by a mix of both races) is a heterogenous mix of high- and low- tech planets.
- Inverted in Warhammer 40,000, the Imperium of Man uses essentially the same (admittedly advanced) technology they had 10,000 years ago. While humans do get new technology — how else should Games Workshop sell more models? — much of it is implied to be simply rediscovered old tech. Humans have basically stagnated into a Medieval-European Used Future setting where access to technology is restricted to a priest class that invents and builds all technology and views the stuff as magical in nature. Meanwhile, the alien Tau went from stone tools and fire to an FTL - capable interstellar empire in just 6,000 years.
- Supposedly, The Emperor was working on a way to access the Webway, the maze-like dimension used by the Eldar to move around the galaxy, instead of relying on the Warp. Unfortunately, just then, the Emperor's favorite son Horus decides that it's a good time to depose him and take power. During the final confrontation, the Emperor kills Horus but is himself mortally wounded. He is kept alive by the Golden Throne but is unconscious.
- To put that into context: The Emperor pretty much marched humanity through a second industrial revolution, which meant that humanity became the de-facto ruler of the galaxy, threw off superstition, advocated science and rational thinking and ushered in a golden age... and then came the Horus heresy which turned the human Empire into a savage, xenophobic and superstitious pool of stagnation.
- Space 1889 Humans Advance Swiftly indeed, compared to Martians. Even at their best, they do not seem to have advanced as quickly as humans, now they are moving backwards.
- The human Systems Alliance in Mass Effect has, within thirty-five years of discovering Imported Alien Phlebotinum on Mars, advanced to the point where it's seen as a threat to the current galactic order. Said galactic order has stood for 2800 years and has not had any significant technological advances since. In the second game it's made clear that the majority of new technologies is coming from human sources. However, this is arguably the point: every race discovered the same Phlebotinum that humanity did and has based their civilizations around it, just as the Reapers planned. It is worth noting, however, that the geth as a species are actually advancing the fastest, and being a synthetic species, they're advancing technology in ways that the Reapers didn't intend.
- At the same time, some of them are trying to be more like the Reapers, believing the latter to be perfection itself.
- In the third game, the entire Quarian fleet is under threat from a single geth dreadnought, the largest dreadnought ever built.
- This trope is actually invoked during a conversation in the first game, where Liara comments that Humans are seen as bold and aggressive by many in the galaxy, but after spending time with them, she realizes that they're just incredibly driven. Shepard replies that, unlike the Asari who can live for over 1000 years, humans have to make the most of the 150 years or so given to them and don't like to waste time sitting on their hands.
- Salarians only live for 40 years, and are stated by in-universe sources to have photographic memories and to be able to learn and think faster than other species, including humans. The salarians are not new arrivals, and discovered space travel shortly after the asari did, well over 1000 years ago. The problem is, they will overthink everything before making a decision about how to proceed. In comparison, Humanity is the only race brazen enough to admit that the real reason they want to try impossible things, is simply for no other reason than to prove they can, just for the sheer hell of it all!
- This takes a much darker turn when Humans become the first race to destroy a Mass Relay, when Shepard crashes an asteroid into one to prevent the Reapers from using the system as a beachhead to mount their invasion.
- The Precursors of the current "generation" of species, the Protheans, died out 50,000 years ago. Many of these species still remember the Protheans in their mythologies. This means they had to at least be at the Bronze Age of development (yes, there are Space Romans in this game) or somewhere thereabouts. Meanwhile, 50,000 years ago, humans hadn't gone past drawing on cave walls. Some species that remember the Protheans in their mythology (like the Asari) discovered the Citadel 2,000 years ago, while humans didn't have space travel until 200 years ago, and discovered their first mass relay a couple decades ago.
- In Sword of the Stars, humanity built a military machine called SolForce, capable of defending itself from the stagnant Hivers and Tarka who both beat us to the stars by a few millennia, in a matter of decades. Subverted in that humanity are still chump change compared to the Liir, who just popped up into the galactic scene from practically nowhere in a manner of years. In-game, the humans are second-best at research, behind the Liir and above the Hivers and Tarka. With A Murder of Crows they share the second place with the Morrigi in the beginning, but the latter's economy bonus means they zoom past humanity in research once they've started trading.
- The Zuul also advance quickly, but most of their tech is stolen or reverse-engineered from other races. It's heavily implied in The Deacon's Tale novel that their FTL is based on the human Node drive with a few alterations (supposedly, the guy who designed the drive is a traitor). The Liir, though had no choice in advancing their tech. When they were enslaved by the Suul'ka (who are their own Elders who have gone mad with power), the latter force-march them through Industrial Revolution into the space age.
- The second game reveals that the Liir actually have had spaceflight for 320,000 years. It's just that until recently the only Liir with the motivation to make use of the technology were their Suul'ka overlords. A couple centuries ago the Liir heard the psychic screams of the Suul'ka-Morrigi war and finally decided to rebel and establish colonies on other planets so that if one world's Eldest went Suul'ka the others could stop him.
- According to The Deacon's Tale novel, human space is roughly the same size as the space of the Hivers, the Liir, and the Tarka. The Hivers were in space for millennia, but have constantly fought among themselves and nuked many of their colonies, not to mention that they rely on slower-than-light ships and a Portal Network for interstellar travel while everyone else has a form of FTL drive (humans have the fastest one).
- In Galactic Civilizations (as explained in the manual), 100,000 years ago, while humanity hadn't even begun to form civilizations, the Arceans and Drengin had fission power and stargates. 100,000 years later, they haven't really advanced on either front, while humanity has come out of nowhere and, after the Arceans shared the stargate technology, humanity combined this technology with the front on which we had advanced beyond the Arceans and Drengin - fusion power - and created hyperdrive, enabling ships to independently travel faster than light for the first time since the Precursors died out.
- While not the youngest race in the X-Universe, the Terrans managed to build their own Portal Network, Big Dumb Objects, and sentient AI in the space of 700 years - the only other race that can boast the same technological achievements being the Precursors. The Paranid, who were at the whole space-flight thing for longer, advance more slowly.
- The Covenant of the Halo universe revere their Forerunner-derived technology, to the point that it would be blasphemy to even suggest merely changing the settings. They had a huge 3000 year old head start over humanity, but by the end of the war, humans were beginning to not only reverse-engineer, but improve upon captured Covenant technology.
- Outside of religious dogma, the other big factor seemingly constricting the Covenant's advancement was that R&D in general was mostly reserved for only two species; the Engineers, whom by the deliberate design of their original Forerunner creators were far more interested in improving the functionality of pre-existing technology as opposed to creating new inventions, and the Prophets, whom despite their intelligence were simply far too few in number to ever match humanity's collective brainpower.
- By the events of Halo 4, human technology has advanced to the point where their flagship (complete with Forerunner-derived engines) is able to ram through Covenant ships without taking a scratch (though the vast majority of human technology is still nowhere near that advanced yet). In contrast, during the original Human-Covenant War, it took no less than a three-to-one ship advantage for the humans to survive a space battle. For their part, the splintered remnants of the Covenant are still mostly trying to recover the pre-Covenant scientific traditions that had been hobbled by the Prophets, though a few canon Q&A snippets from the Waypoint forums seem to imply that at least the Arbiter's human-friendly faction has made some headway in this regard.
- In Starcraft, humans made a start in the sector as a few tens-of-thousands about 200 years ago, but are now a credible power. in comparison, its debatable whether the Zerg advance at all (and all of the maybe advancement in the games at least has been at the hands of Kerrigan), and the Protoss advance so slowly that it takes a major war to get anything moving at all (and half the new weapons in the second game are apparently stuff they've had stashed away for centuries).
- One of the great advantages of humanity in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. In a matter of months, humanity goes from being armed with conventional weapons - akin to peashooters when compared to the aliens' equipment - to reverse-engineering their armor, power sources, weaponry, and psionics to field soldiers better armed than the enemy's frontline troops, and equipping fighter craft that are better-armed than their battleships. That was all part of the Ethereals' plan; they wanted an intelligent, strong species to add to their collective, and humans were ideal to that end. Too bad for them that humanity proves too good at the job.
- Specifically, they wanted a strong, smart race that was also capable of using the Gift, since most of their other subjects are, basically, failures.
- This is one of the driving themes behind Schlock Mercenary.
- Addressed directly in the 'Galimaufry' arc of Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, where a historical treatise mentions that several races do, indeed, act like this: bursting onto the galactic scene, developing, conquering, and evolving at a staggering rate, while the older, more stagnant races just look on and roll their eyes. Because inevitably, those swiftly-developing races will quickly burn themselves out, blow themselves up, or just plain Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, thus restoring the status quo. Meanwhile, the more sedate races often hang around for millenia. Humanity is an odd one out, since they do indeed shake things up, but display no signs of slowing down. As it turns out, there's a reason for that... (DUM DUM DUMMM!)
- The To'ul'h civilization has been agricultural for over 100,000 years and the Muuh civilization has been spacefaring for tens of millions of years by the time Terragens arrive on the scene in Orion's Arm. Over that time, the To'ul'h have made gradual but small advances, and the Muuh have been extremely stolid and unchanging. Yet in their 10,000 years in space, the terragens (not humans per se, but still, humanity's creations and descendants) have crossed six singularities.
- The To'uls at least had the excuse of evolving on a planet with no fossil fuels and chaotic weather that made air travel impractical. Once the terragens bootstrapped them they proved as prolific as their patrons.
- A critical element of The Salvation War, wherein the demons from Hell periodically send recon into Earth to make sure the "cattle" that they feed on are still progressing as expected. They do this regularly, by their standards - which means once every two hundred years, for an immortal species like they are. Despite the gradual advances of human technology over many thousands of years, they're still unable to mount any kind of serious counter to anything the demons possess, what with their superhuman strength and toughness, sheer numbers, and supernatural abilities. As a result, when Yahweh declares open season on humanity, the demons roll onto Earth expecting at best to be facing armies still using muzzle-loading cannons, muskets, and swords. Instead, they meet jet fighters, gunships, tanks, and rocket artillery.
- In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, humanity has benefited from being the winner in two different alien invasions. The captured alien technology has aided in the advancement of the general tech level for planet Earth in general, to the point that the last species that tried to invade now see Earth as a threat to their own empire, rather than as a target for conquest.