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Humans Are Special / Literature

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Humanity being special in literature.


  • Averted in The Android's Dream. Humanity has only recently shed its probationary status within the Common Confederation, a loose multi-species union of hundreds of star-faring species. With only a few colonies and a small Space Navy, humanity is hardly a galactic superpower. In fact, in the story, humanity is threatened by the Nidu, who are the galactic version of a poor African country. And yet, the Nidu would be able to casually stroll in and take Earth, if they wished to, as Earth is an even poorer African country. However, it's stated that, with the right mindset and the right military budget, Earth would rival the Nidu in military power in a matter of decades. Not that it would matter on the galactic scale.
  • This theme is brought up repeatedly, in different ways, in the Animorphs series, some less serious than others:
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    • It's mentioned throughout the series that humans are much more resilient and adaptive than other sentient species. An example of this is the concept itself of turning into animals to fight the Yeerks. Elfangor expected the kids to use their powers to disguise themselves and, unnoticed, sabotage Yeerk operations. He had no idea - nor had it ever occurred to any Andalite - that the power could be weaponized and used for combat and guerrilla warfare. Or, in Marco's case, gorilla warfare.
    • Humans are the only sentient species in the series to walk on two legs without a tail for balance, so apparently we have the greatest sense of balance in the known universe.
    • Stand-alone book The Andalite Chronicles has Elfangor and his friend Arbron thoroughly confused by their human passengers' "loose and colorful skin" and "hooves held on by ropes". Apparently the Andalites had never met a species that works clothing and shoes.
      • In the same discussion, Elfangor is shocked that humans would purposefully live in places that required clothes and shoes, as though all other species only stayed in areas that were temperate for their race.
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    • Having evolved from foraging omnivores, humans have relatively strong senses of taste compared to other sentient species, and according to Ax, our culinary skills are unparalleled throughout the universe. At the end of the series, it's become common for wealthy Andalites to spend a fortune in order to come to Earth, morph a human, and eat junk food.
    • Another of humanity's special traits and the reason the Yeerks are so determined to conquer Earth is that there are so damn many of us. When the Yeerk leaders are told that the human population is five billion, their reaction is somewhere along the lines of "surely you mean five million". There are many, many more Yeerks than available hosts, and most of the lower classes are limited to things like animal bodies — conquering Earth would, at a stroke, increase the Yeerk forces by a huge factor.
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    • Yet another fact was that unlike many alien species, humanity can not only survive just about anywhere, we can eat just about anything. As opposed to Hork Bajir who only eat tree bark or Taxxons that only eat meat (and in fact cannot stop themselves from eating if they smell blood).
    • Another fact of our biology that apparently sets us apart from all other known races in this continuity are our hemispheric brains and, by extension, our dialectic minds, conveyed memorably in 'Visser':
      This mind could argue with itself. This mind could see the same event in different ways. It was insanity! A democratic brain, arguing within itself, with no sure, certain control, only a sort of uneasy compromise. A consensus of disputatious elements.
      This brain contained its own traitor!
      And, as I began to sift the memories I saw, again and again, the internal argument. The "Should I? Should I not?" debates. The paralysis of internal disagreement.
      But I also saw decisions improved as a result of uncertainty. Hesitation and internal discord leading to decisions that were wiser, more useful, than quicker decisions would have been.
      And yet that seemed a small compensation for the internal treason and confusion and conflict.
      No wonder they kill each other, I thought. They very nearly kill themselves!
      It was madness. Humans, as a species, were mad.
    • We apparently also advance technologically much faster than other species. Ax expresses amazement and disbelief when he realizes that humanity went from atmospheric flight to being able to send a ship to the moon in less than seventy years. Ax makes a prediction early in the series that, given humanity's rate of technological progress, humans would have achieved FTL travel in 50 years. It turns out he was underestimating humanity: the core concept of FTL travel (an alternate dimension called Z-Space) is discovered not even two years after he said this, to his considerable shock. In the last book (basically an extra-long epilogue), humanity's first Zero-space ship is under construction.
      Ax: (muttering darkly) Humans. You do things too quickly. We Andalites may wind up wishing we had left you for the Yeerks.
      Rachel: So far, you Andalites pretty much have left us to the Yeerks.
    • According to one of the books with the Ellimist, some species (like humans) take a while to get going, then advance really quickly, and other races develop early but advance slowly in terms of technology, etc.
    • The first Visser One in the series had this to say:
      "Humans have fought thousands of wars. Thousands! We as a race have fought a mere handful. They run straight into the bullets, Visser Three, again and again. Did you know that? They attack against insane odds. They defend what can’t be defended. Outnumbered, outgunned, surrounded, hopeless, they will still fight, fight, fight till they are each and every one dead. Something you might know if you stopped posturing long enough to learn something!"
    • Not just humans, but the Earth itself as well, specifically as it relates to biodiversity. It's mentioned in one book that on the Andalite homeworld, there are only three species of bird, whereas Earth has over ten thousand. The Yeerk homeworld is also implied to have very little in the way of natural flora and fauna.
  • Isaac Asimov once said that almost every story edited by John W. Campbell had a Humans Are Special theme. He usually averted the trope by setting most of his stories in universes with no intelligent alien life. One of his short stories, "Hostess" was a deliberate subversion — humanity was "special" because it was the only species that died of old age, because we were the "hosts" of psychic parasites that were decimating the unprepared alien races in the story.
    • Asimov's primary reason for wanting to avert this trope was that Campbell himself seemed to hold the view that humans were (or should be) automatically superior in some way to any other species they encountered, and Asimov didn't want to be constantly coming into conflict with Campbell about it because he considered John a friend as well as his editor.
      I sometimes got the uncomfortable notion however, that this attitude reflected Campbell’s feelings on the smaller, Earth scale. He seemed to me to accept the natural superiority of Americans over non-Americans, and he seemed automatically to assume the picture of an American as one who was of northwest European origin.
      Isaac Asimov, in the afterword to Homo Sol in The Early Asimov, explaining why he was uncomfortable with Campbell's Humans Are Special attitude. note 
    • Speaking of Homo Sol, a short story by Asimov, it is a great example of Humans Are Special, as the much more advanced and numerous aliens who land on Earth fear humanity because of our ability to turn every new discovery and invention into a weapon. Asimov said Campbell loved the story because it made humans unique without suggesting we're inherently more intelligent or morally superior.
    • Another story is The Gentle Vultures, in which some monkey-like aliens (called Hurrians) travel through the universe helping species that have fought a nuclear war to recover themselves in exchange of a tribute. Humanity is the first species they encounter that hasn't blown itself up in a nuclear war right after discovering the use of nuclear weaponry, and they await for fifteen years for nuclear war to happen before deciding to abduct a man to understand the reason behind this. This proves to be their undoing: when the Hurrians explain the man the reason why they are there, the man viciously compares them to vultures, in that they don't help to prevent the war but instead wait till they happen to assist the survivors. This comparison wrecks the Hurrians' spirits so much (and even further when the man tells them to provoke the war like a vulture pecking on its victim's eyes) that, in spite of knowing that, when humanity invents space travel and start to expand throughout the universe, they will destroy their civilization, the Hurrians are happy to leave as fast as possible.
  • Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers also has the capacity for violence as Earth Descended humanity's most useful trait.
    • The introduction to the collection Berserker has an alien specifically state that the human propensity for war is the only reason there is still any life anywhere in the known universe. The Berserkers were the product of a similar, but apparently less wise, species and no other race is capable of stopping them.
  • Francis Carsac's Ceux de nulle part (Those from nowhere) has a human finding a crashed UFO in the woods. There, he meets the Hiss, are race of green-skinned Space Elves who ask him to procure them a large chunk of gold to fix their ship. After he does that, they offer him a ride to their home planet, the center of the League of Human Worlds ("human" in this case being any race that would rather live under a star than in a frozen universe), currently engaged in a losing Bug War against the Misliks, a race of metallic bugs that can only live at absolute zero temperatures and are extinguishing all stars. The Misliks have Psychic Powers that are deadly to anyone else. The Hiss, though, have a prophecy that says that only someone with red blood is immune to the Misliks' powers. The human agrees to test the theory and enter the room with a captive Mislik. Indeed, he survives, causing protests from a race of Human Aliens (with four fingers) who also have red blood and were promised a go at the Mislik. However, the Hiss reply that the Human Aliens chose to deliberate for a long time, while the human agreed to do this almost immediately. The Framing Device is the human telling all this to a friend of his back on Earth and then asking him to join a group of human soldiers he's recruiting for the war effort. All this time, he's sitting with his Love Interest, a beautiful woman with four fingers.
  • Similarly to the Foster version above, Tanya Huff's Confederation of Valor novels have humans as one of the few species in the galaxy with the mindset capable of withstanding the rigors of combat. Only a partial example since while we may have been the first there are three other species just as capable as us, the Taykan, the Krai and in the first book the recently contact Ssilsvis. Though according to the H'san our discovery of cheese is just as noteworthy.
  • The Penn & Teller book Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends included a bonus short story involving a group of aliens who put humanity on trial, feeling that a Class-A inhabitable planet like Earth shouldn't be wasted on a Class-ZZ redundant species like humanity. The main character is challenged to come up with a single unique property of humanity, not present in any other species, that deserves to be preserved. What finally convinces the aliens? Predictably, magic tricks. The story was made into a 45 minute short called "Invisible Thread".
  • Happens by accident due to Hilarious in Hindsight in The Devil and Simon Flagg, written in 1954. Simon Flagg makes a Deal with the Devil that goes like this: Simon will ask one question, and if the devil can't answer it in 24 hours, then Simon wins. The question he asks is "Is Fermat's Last Theorem true or false?". The devil is unable to answer, and tells Simon that even the best mathematicians on other planets (which are far more advanced than Earth) can't do it. 40 years later, Andrew Wiles proved the theorem correct, making Earth the one planet in the universe to answer the question.
  • Gordon R. Dickson:
    • The short story Danger - Human featured aliens who have captured a human for study. During previous eons, humans have been found to be responsible for the destruction of galactic civilization, multiple times, and the aliens wanted to find out what trait or stimulus caused this change, in order to prevent it. Multiple security precautions are used including a sealed chamber, constant surveillance, and a single exit guarded by a 20-foot-high force field that only turns off for a short period of time during certain parts of the day. In the end, the human character, who has been repeatedly vivisected, psychoanalyzed, and generally given a rough time, snaps. He manages to escape his chamber, evade all surveillance, and somehow pass through or above the force field, completely unaffected by it. He then hijacks a nearby interstellar cargo vessel and heads back to Earth. The aliens are all suddenly feeling an existential dread as they realize that they have just provided humanity with the reason and the means to destroy galactic civilization once again.
    • The Human Edge is a collection of Dickson's short stories where humans have some special ability not completely understood by other aliens. "Danger—Human!" is one of them. Another, "Three-Part Puzzle", has one species of alien intend to start a Curb-Stomp Battle, but the even-stronger aliens will intervene.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, humanity's capacity for boredom, hallucination, and irrationality makes them "special". These traits are not quite unique, being shared with dwarfs and trolls, but are lacking in the more powerful entities like the Auditors and multi-tentacled creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions and such. Pratchett treats human behaviour as fairly infectious too, for better or worse.
    • This theme is echoed in Good Omens. Humans can be kinder than angels and eviler than demons, much to the surprise of both, and at least one demon and angel like human inventions so much, they get serious doubts about the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse is then thwarted by the sheer plebian humanity of the young Antichrist coming to dominate his Satanic genes.
  • In Doom, this is basically the main theme of the final novel and a half.
    • Humans have the awesome power of being Killed Off for Real. When the human body dies the consciousness/soul ceases to exist, or goes somewhere, but a dead human is gone. All other sentient life has their consciousness remain trapped in the defunct body with all of their senses still functioning. They can hear if they're being spoken to or feel pain if somebody abuses their corpse. Resurrection is simple enough but it's possible that there isn't enough remaining of the body to succeed or it's not a priority for others. The dead are rounded up and stored in amphitheaters where operas and other performances are held to entertain them pending a resurrection. Or horrifically tortured if captured by an enemy.
    • All other races suffer from Medieval Stasis. They evolve and progress at a staggeringly slow pace. When the Freds scouted Earth they arrived at the end of the Middle Ages, saw a Catholic-dominated world armed with swords, and made centuries of invasion plans based on humanity remaining at this stage of development for thousands of years. They never could have anticipated mankind having nuclear weapons and early space-flight within six hundred years.
  • Out of left field, The Dresden Files. It turns out that many of the magical creatures from the Dresdenverse are incredibly set in their ways — that's one of the downsides of being immortal or even incredibly old. Humans constantly reinvent ourselves, making our True Names harder to pin down and use against us, making us more adaptable, and fueling our ingenuity. We were scary en masse with pitchforks and torches — now we have guns, planes, and nukes. For a species that was once essentially deer to be hunted, the fact that we're pointing considerable calibers of weapons (including the wizards, especially the eponymous Dresden) back at them in such a short period of time is both unique and impressive. Naturally, the Vampire Court uses these advances against the wizards via their thralls; refer to Dresdenverse. Similarly, wizards who stay aware of the advances made by "vanilla" mortals can use those advances against ancient foes who aren't aware of them or haven't internalized how quickly the mortal world has changed around them. A Warden once lured a nearly unkillable ancient horror intent on eating him to a US Government nuclear testing site in Nevada in the 1950's... and then gated himself to another dimension, leaving the unwitting abomination at ground zero.
    • Invoked by counterexample with Arianna Ortega. Harry Dresden faces her in a Wizard Duel that doesn't let her use some of her natural advantages - and, even knowing that, she still tries to use her normal tactics against Harry, and doesn't learn from her mistakes.
      Arianna But... you're cattle.
      Harry Moo.
    • Humans also seem to be special in that only their awareness and/or belief in Nevernever entities — fairies, gods, demons, shen, whatever — seems to bolster those entities' power in the physical world. In the short story "Backup", Thomas freely tells Bob about the Oblivion War, because Bob isn't a mortal and his knowledge of an entity's existence won't help that entity connect to Earthly reality at all.
    • Humans are the only terrestrial creatures with a soul; even other sentient Earth beings don't get one. They are also notable as the only creatures with truly free will, as just about every other creature either cannot act against their nature (i.e. Fae) or if they do they are changed dramatically (i.e. angels falling).
    • In a dark way, mortal magic has one thing no other magic can do: Mortal magic can summon the worst of Eldritch Abominations, the Outsiders. The things from beyond the limits of Creation itself that want Creation to end.
  • Downplayed in the EarthCent Ambassador novels. Humans are the new kids on the block and only made it to space because of help from the Benevolent A.I. Stryx, which leads to them being discriminated against by a group of species called the Natural League. Roughly the only valuable trade goods Earth produces are workers and kitchen appliances. What makes humans special is their proficiency at gaming, of all things (pro gaming competitions regularly turn into an International Showdown by Proxy with Natural League species).
  • The out-of-print novel Earth Ship & Star Song uses this trope to suggest that humanity is destined to eventually take over the galaxy because we're the only race that doesn't breed ourselves for ever-stronger psionic capabilities of one kind of another. Apparently, no matter what planet you evolved on, psychic talents and fertility are mutually exclusive at a genetic level, and since every other race in the galaxy has evolved a society which drives them to breed towards ever-increasing psionic talent even as their race's fertility rate goes through the floor, they'll all go extinct in a few generations and we'll just move in.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, humans are the only ones who communicate with all the alien species. When Mikhail comments on this, Paige points out that his ship has a name, and is called "she" — none of the aliens antromorphize — which is what makes it possible for humans to handle all sorts of aliens.
  • Subverted in Sergey Lukyanenko's short story Evening Conference with Mister Special Envoy where a Lizard Folk alien, whose Ominous Floating Spaceships are suspended above Moscow, Washington, and Beijing, is wondering why humans haven't been conquered in centuries past, despite evidence of powerful alien races in the sector. He finally realizes why, after revealing several disturbing facts, like how every other race advances at warp speed compared to us. According to the envoy, his grandfather invented the wheel. Apparently, humanity has been left alone because we're so dumb. They even leave their starships for humans to study after departing, as they're already obsolete by their standards (it's been only a few months).
  • The Excalibur Alternative uses both this and Humans Are Warriors. While Sir George's medieval English soldiers are useful directly in beating down other primitives while dodging the letter of the Alien Non-Interference Clause, the real threat humanity poses to the ironbound stasis of the Galactics is its comparatively ridiculous speed of innovation.
  • The Strugatsky Brothers (ok, one of the Strugatsky Brothers) novel The Expedition into Inferno plays this straight. Humans are special for a lot of reasons, almost to the degree of being superior, but their ability to be One Man Armies despite appearing to be Technical Pacifists really separates them from the pack. As The Two-Headed Yule phrases it: Do not bother a lion when he's eating, do not wake an elephant when he's sleeping, and never, ever, mess with humans."
  • Alan Dean Foster:
    • In the novel Design for Great-Day, human loquaciousness is described as being their special talent. Other races can speak conversationally and use metaphors and everything else we associate with speech, but humans in particular are known for their ability to "talk the legs off an alligator and cast serious doubts on its parentage in the process". The implication is that while other races can use speech this way (it is, after all, an alien saying this of humans), humans are inherently better at it.
    • In the Humanx Commonwealth universe, mankind is not inherently better or worse than the alien races they meet; but humans are very enthusiastic for fighting, even those who aren't trained warriors. And they are very adaptive. The insectoid Thranx may be better at logic and thrive in tropical climates, and the reptilian Aan are aggressive and can survive in deserts, but humans can alternate between logic and viciousness and survive everywhere with remarkable ease.
    • In his trilogy The Damned, Foster portrays a galaxy full of pacifist civilizations that evolved on tame worlds. Few of these species can tolerate even mild violence without going catatonic from the experience. These alien races are slowly losing a galactic war to a race of cephalopods whose mastery of genetic engineering and mind control allows them to make slightly better soldiers than the free races. An alien expedition looking for allies to fight the cephalopods discover Earth, and is immediately struck by the hostility of the environment. By Damned universe standards, Earth is a Death World with impossibly harsh climates, high tectonic activity, high risk of meteor showers and geography that encourages political conflict. As a result, humans are far stronger, faster and more aggressive than any sentient species the aliens have ever encountered. Humans even seem to enjoy violence. The aliens are both horrified and thrilled. Naturally, they recruit us to fight our wars for them as soon as possible. The cephalopods soon discover that attempting mind control on humans does nothing to humans, and drives the aliens trying it catatonic. Later, they attempt to engineer a race of humans that are good at fighting but vulnerable to control. Unfortunately (for them) it backfires horribly when these humans develop strong psychic powers and turn on them. Realizing that they are eventually going to lose the war, the squids enact a Batman Gambit by unconditionally surrendering to the galactic alliance that includes the humans, having calculated that without the war to occupy the humans, restless mankind will soon become a problem for its allies. The other races armed humans with advanced weaponry and medical technology. They won't stand a chance if mankind decides to conquer them.
      • Of course intellectually humans are downright pitiful. They can't be peaceful, suck at medicine, and are pretty much dedicated combatants. Everybody else is better at something, except for combat. Of course, that lasts right up until humans develop psionic abilities. Which is later somewhat subverted, as it turns out that the Lepar, a stupid, plodding race, is resistant to telepathy.
      • It should be noted, however, that the remarkable thing about human resistance to mind control is our extremely violent reaction to such attempts.
      • As later books in the series show, it's not as much violence as warfare that is considered "uncivilized" by other races. Several of the "civilized" races are shown as being perfectly capable of violence, murder and even species-wide omnicidal mania, just not the types that are very useful in fighting wars.
    • Foster also used a version of this in his novelization of The Last Starfighter to explain why the Star League is so hard up for fighter pilots as to be recruiting them from pre-contact worlds. Most Starfighters are, by the League's standards, homicidal maniacs.
  • In the Galactic Milieu trilogy by Julian May, this trope is arguably overused, as within 70 years of being contacted by galactic society, humans are already beyond them in technology, besides having the most powerful psychic powers in the universe. This is balanced by... take a guess.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • A subversion occurs where humanity is infamously summed up as mostly harmless.
    • And yet in Life, the Universe and Everything, humans still managed to beat Krikkit and stymie Hactar's plot to destroy the universe. Slartibartfast was the leader of that effort, but it was Trillian and Arthur who did the heavy lifting.
    • In So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, when Arthur complains about the sparse entry, Ford explains that he actually wrote a lot about Earth, which someone else then promptly edited down to "mostly harmless". In fact, his sole contribution had been the "mostly." He was then stranded for 15 years with relatively little else to do Later, the Guide received an update, and suddenly all of Ford's extensive notes were there. Since he knew the planet had been destroyed some years earlier, this told him something weird was happening — which, Ford being Ford, he wanted to witness immediately.
  • In The Host, humans not only have more senses than any other species the Souls use as hosts (point one in our favor) but also much more intense emotions. Meyer goes so far as to have Wanderer basically decide that although Souls give love somewhat unconditionally, humanity's tendency to be emotionally intense, confusing, irrational and even a tad fickle makes human love a lot more precious, precisely because it's rarer, harder to achieve and much more inexplicable (point two in our favor). Humans are also apparently the only species that's ever been remotely capable of retaining part of their original personalities when possessed by a Soul (point three in our favor). In contrast, the Souls, while very technologically advanced, very successful at taking over other planets, and naturally, unusually altruistic and kind... are dumb as rocks.
  • In "The Interlopers" by Roger Dee (1954), "A hundred thousand nations from rim to rim of the galaxy—the least of them, as far as Clowdis had seen, older and wiser and infinitely stronger than his own upstart culture—suspended opinion when the T'sai spoke." When humans try to colonize an uninhabited world, a T'sai challenges them: "You think yourselves worthy of claiming our empty worlds. Prove it." The humans continue with the colonization attempt, refusing to be scared off, and the T'sai concedes the proof is sufficient. Humans are the only species other than themselves the T'sai have found with both intelligence and initiative … and they've been watching us for millennia in the hope, now confirmed, that we'd be worthy to take over running the galaxy.
  • In The Jenkinsverse, Earth is considered a Class 12 Death World. Humans are, compared to other races, insanely strong, fast, and tough, and we carry so many diseases that we're immune to that we're basically walking plague vectors.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, Mowgli has to learn more than the wolves.
    the big, serious, old brown bear was delighted to have so quick a pupil, for the young wolves will only learn as much of the Law of the Jungle as applies to their own pack and tribe, and run away as soon as they can repeat the Hunting Verse—"Feet that make no noise; eyes that can see in the dark; ears that can hear the winds in their lairs, and sharp white teeth, all these things are the marks of our brothers except Tabaqui the Jackal and the Hyaena whom we hate." But Mowgli, as a man-cub, had to learn a great deal more than this.
  • In The Kane Chronicles, humans are special because the Egyptian gods, despite their power and immortality, tend to lack originality, and often repeat events from myth (like the death and rebirth of Osiris) time and time again over the ages. This is why they prefer taking humans as hosts, since humans have a superior ability to think outside the box.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space books humanity's special traits are luck (which is artificially enhanced by the Puppeteers) and intelligent females (as opposed to the Kzin who have domesticated their females and the Puppeteers who... just don't ask- it's gross). On the subject of War, the pacifist humans the Kzin run into only got that way because humanity realized they were really, really good at war and decided to rein in their violent tendencies. When the Kzin attacked, humans proceeded to demonstrate that choosing not to fight isn't the same as being incapable of fighting, in numerous wars of failed conquest initiated by the Kzin.
  • In John Ringo's Legacy of the Aldenata, the thing that makes humanity special is that the Aldenata never messed with our genomes. Most of the species they did get to had their capacity for violence removed and the one that didn't became a Horde of Alien Locusts whom the other species are now helpless against.
  • In Sergey Lukyanenko's Line of Delirium and its sequel Emperors of Illusions, many aliens wonder how humanity has managed to survive the Vague War, when much of the galaxy was poised to wipe humans out of existence. In fact, pretty much every race is better than humanity at something (e.g. Psilons are smarter, Bulrathi as stronger, Meklar have better tech, Alkari are master pilots), and yet humanity is the dominant race in the galaxy at the time of the novels. Some people claims it's because Humans Are Average, allowing us to succeed in areas others don't. In fact, it's because this universe has been created for a human, so it only makes sense that, in this 'verse, humans are dominant.
  • Played with in The Lord of the Rings. Humans are the newest of the Free Peoples and the most easily swayed to darkness. Elves are more beautiful, longer-lived and blessed with innate wisdom and heightened senses, but Men have the "Gift of Men", which is mortality and the freedom to do whatever they want with the life they have.
  • Parodied and inverted in W.R. Thompson's story "Lost In Translation", in which an alien science fiction writer has his token human stand around and think admiringly about how special the alien race is. (He's also named "Climber Pinkskin". The human translator tactfully suggests a little editing on that one.)
  • Averted in the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, where human preconceptions of how the universe works and humanity's place in it have a tendency to get dashed or exposed as mere comforting delusions by an uncaring universe. (That said, the Puny Earthlings trope is also averted in quite a few of the original stories, ironically supporting the aversion of this trope further in a way: humans don't even have a claim to specialness on grounds of somehow sucking uniquely!)
  • The Master Key: As the Demon says:
    Now I happen to know all about Mars, because I can traverse all space and have had ample leisure to investigate the different planets. Mars is not peopled at all, nor is any other of the planets you recognize in the heavens. Some contain low orders of beasts, to be sure, but Earth alone has an intelligent, thinking, reasoning population.
  • In Mistborn, Preservation created mankind by making them special: He gave up a little bit more of his soul to give mankind sentience and the ability to destroy and preserve, or destroy to preserve, as Ruin (his evil counterpart) and him were bound to the nature of their power so a human could take up his power and sacrifice themselves to kill Ruin so both their power could be taken up by another human!
  • Kid Lit example: Aliens put Humanity on Trial in the My Teacher Is an Alien books, and many of the aliens want to save them because they are special, having the biggest brains in the universe while only using ten percent of them. We are considered the potentially smartest species in the galaxy, making us special in a good way. However, we are also the only known species to allow war, poverty, and all sorts of other misery. This makes us special in a very bad way. In the Twist Ending it is revealed that these two traits are connected: the other 90% of our brains were once used in allowing us to communicate telepathically, something no other species could do. However as the number of humans increased the amount of telepathic noise increased as well, threatening to drive us insane. So we instinctively suppressed this ability, and the trauma of losing our connection has made us the violent sociopaths we are today.
  • Project Tau: It's a running theme throughout the book.
    • The shock and anger displayed by both Chatton and Renfield upon learning of Kata's real identity is solely because they realize they've been doing what they did to a human, not a clone. When Kata says he plans to take Tau with him when he leaves, neither scientist can understand why Kata would risk his life to steal a Project.
    • Kata's original status as a human leads him to treat Tau with a certain amount of arrogance at the beginning.
  • This is the entire premise behind the Arthur C. Clarke short "Rescue Party".
    • It's told entirely from the alien point of view. They are trying to save humanity from a disaster only to find out that humans have already saved themselves. It was published in 1946. Back then the most advanced rocket was the German V-2 and the number of electronic computers in the world could be counted on one hand.
    • Subverted at the end, however.
  • In The Secret Visitors by James White, Earth is the only planet in the entire galaxy with axial tilt, changing seasons, and interestingly varied scenery. Human art and music is renowned and envied for its variety and emotional resonance. Also, when the human characters start visiting other planets, it turns out that humans are remarkable for their fortitude in the face of physical danger, and a human doctor is considered a miracle worker — galactic society has long been geared toward prevention of illness and injury, so most people find the mere prospect of injury horrifying, and in the rare cases of actual injury occurring nobody has any idea what to do.
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers it is the fact we don't leave people behind. Ironically the bugs' special trait (aside from hive mind) is the fact that their prisoners don't die in captivity (unlike what happens to those humans capture).
  • Played with in the Star Wars EU, humans are nothing particularly special biologically, but they are far and away the most numerous species in the galaxy (populations of trillions, as compared to billions, or even millions for some other species).
  • The Terry Bisson short story "They're Made of Meat" is Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Two alien explorers discuss the human race and are appalled over the fact that humanity is the only sentient species in the known universe who are entirely corporeal. They compare humanity to two other races - one which starts out as corporeal being before they Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence and another that has a corporeal body and a brain made of electron plasma. This terrifies and disgusts them enough that they erase all knowledge of humanity and break their vows to contact all sentient life.
  • In Tolkien's Lengendarium, God endows humanity with "strange gifts." Mortals have more freedom to choose their own destiny, and also can leave the world — i.e., die. The latter is described as something that, eventually, the Elves and Powers That Be will come to envy.
  • Tortall Universe: In The Realms of the Gods, last book of The Immortals, it's revealed that Mortalsnote  are Special and able to do things that gods and Immortals — mythical things like dragons — can't, like resist the effects of Chaos vents. This is because mortals are half-Chaos by nature.
  • In Harry Turtledove's World War and Colonization series, like in "Rescue Party" above, humans are also extremely fast at cultural and technological development, compared to the three other known species.
    • Actually somewhat subverted. Characters in the books argue that humanity's speed with technology development is more because of Jared Diamond-esque environmental reasons (Earth's oceans prevented a single empire from taking over, ending competition between countries, and making society become very conservative) than humans themselves being smarter or better then other species.
      • There are also biological reasons. Humans are the only primates of the four known races. The rest are all Lizard Folk. Additionally, the Race, the Hallessi, and the Rabotevs all have a mating season, which is the only time of the year the males try to outperform their peers in order to catch a female's attention. Contrast this with humans, who are horny year-round (this is not to say that men are the only reason society advances; this is merely an example).
    • In "The Road Not Taken", another of Turtledove's short stories, humans were the only species who did not develop faster than light travel in the normal course of technological progression, despite it being actually a lot simpler than our physicists have determined. However, unlike every other civilization, they are the only ones who did develop pretty much any technology later than the steam age. It is mentioned that as soon as a race develops FTL travel, their technological advancements stop, since the FTL makes no sense in any known science, causing science to break down.
  • Used in David Brin's Uplift series where the humans — young, inexperienced newcomers to a very old galactic political scene — manage to fight, win, and show the superiority of their culture (or at least their capacity for unconventional military tactics) against several alien races.
    • In this case it's not that humans are innately special, but that the human race matured naturally without being "uplifted" by another race, something that hasn't happened since the Precursors. We had to make our own mistakes and learn our own lessons, and everything we know how to do, we know because we worked it out from first principles through experimentation. Most other races learn about electricity and gravity and everything else by rote out of a huge encyclopedia, and while they are more advanced than humanity, they are effectively in technological stasis. If the Library doesn't say it can be done, it can't be done. Humans tend not to trust the Library as the ultimate repository of all knowledge; after all, they've done without it for this long!
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40,000 Grey Knights novel Hammer of Daemons, when Alaric has confronted the mandrake and explained how he knew it was The Mole — and accused it of betraying a previous Gladiator Revolt, thereby causing the death of another captive Grey Knight in celebratory games — it defends itself on the grounds that it had to survive. Alaric says that for humans, to survive is not enough (though see below for just how much humans prioritise survival in this setting…).
  • In the fourth book of Rick Cook's Wiz Biz series, the protagonist is told by a dragon to save a village of humans from dragons, before realizing that his job was to save dragons from humanity in general, since we may be puny compared to a dragon, but there are a lot of us, and we learn very fast.
  • In Year Zero, we are the only race in the universe who can make proper music. We have just the right pitch, rhythm etc, while no other species even comes close. Even the songs we consider bad still make the top hit charts.
  • This is revealed to be the case in Scales of Empire by Kylie Chan. After we learn that the dragons have multimillennial lifespans, FTL travel, can breed with anything and have incredible psychic powers, it turns out that Earth's large moon and the resultant increased relevance of sight mean that we have less acute senses of smell and taste than other species...meaning that potatoes instantly become a valuable trade artefact because they have subtle flavours that humans can't perceive, and spices are a debilitating weapon on both dragons and the Jerkass aliens known as cats (and in the latter's case, tear gas is potentially lethal). To the point where humanity is able to more or less instantly demand an end to the dragons' habit of breeding other species out of existence and have a reasonable chance of compliance; only humans can handle chilli safely, and that gives us an edge.

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