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Insufficiently Advanced Alien

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"Your superior intellect is no match for our puny weapons!"
Kang, The Simpsons, "Treehouse Of Horror II"

They're in interstellar space, using an FTL drive, but the First Contact team who met up with them can't figure out how or why — by all rights they should be stuck on their homeworld because they've barely figured out atomic power, or steel, or starting fire with flint. They're an anomaly. Sometimes it's because they've stolen a technology they don't know how to create themselves. Sometimes a Precursor race gave it to them or left them instructions on how to build it. Sometimes it's a simple fluke. Sometimes it's the author being poorly versed in the concept of the importance of certain scientific discoveries for just about anything, technological prerequisites and Required Secondary Powers.

Whatever the reason, the result is someone making their way into space far earlier than other civilizations might think possible.

In many Science Fiction settings, especially in Alien Invasion genres that focus on Earth as the only home of humanity, this trope might be very essential for the progression of the plot, since any interstellar alien that wants to invade the Earth will most likely have a higher technological level that makes them have an easier time to rapidly taking down humanity (Moreso if they want to annihilate mankind since they could just lob any kind of stuff bigger than the average asteroid at relativistic speeds to achieve planetary doomsday). It also serves as an Achilles' Heel for humans to be able to fight back. After all, an alien invasion that simply involves launching weapons from a vast distance with deadly accuracy (or worse, invading aliens having the ability to change reality) will quickly end the war in their favor.

Contrast with Sufficiently Advanced Alien, naturally, and with Aliens Never Invented the Wheel, where the technology (or cultural trait) the aliens lack is just an oddity, something they always got by without. Sub-Trope to Low Culture, High Tech. This is a very common feature of Space Orcs.

Compare Humanity Is Advanced.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Saiyans of Dragon Ball were a bunch of Blood Knight barbarians that wiped out the more advanced Tuffles who shared the world of Plant/Vegeta (at least according to Dragon Ball Z). All of their technology was either salvaged from what was left of the Tuffles' civilization or given to them when Freeza recruited them into his planet-broker business. To make things even more confusing, they somehow got to Plant from Sadala according to Dragon Ball Super, back when they didn't even have stolen Tuffle technology.
  • The Zentraedi of the Macross franchise are somewhat this when introduced in Super Dimension Fortress Macross. While they can operate their machinery, they have no knowledge of how to repair it or build anything new with the technology, beyond what the automated factories spit out. It makes sense in context for the series, since the Protoculture made them for war and this lack of knowledge would make it less likely for the Zentraedi to rebel. Zentraedi who have assimilated into human society are more likely to think creatively.

    Comic Books 
  • The Horde from Strikeforce: Morituri are a race of Planet Looters who only managed to get off their homeworld by slaughtering the Sufficiently Advanced Aliens who visited them and stealing their technology.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • This is how the Kree/Skrull war got started! The already-advanced Skrulls visited the Kree homeworld to see if they were developed enough to join the Skrull trade empire; they were prepared to share their tech, but only with the superior species of the planet. Unfortunately, the human-like Kree shared their world with the equally intelligent plants, the Cotati. So the Skrulls held a contest to see who was more creative, and the Kree lost. The Kree went "Oh yeah?!!", killed the still-peaceful Skrulls and paperclipped their technology. By the time the Skrull empire finally responded (their homeworld being in the Andromeda galaxy), the Kree had already advanced enough to be able to match them in space warfare.
    • In both DC and Marvel comics, assorted alien races who have vast interstellar empires are flat out terrified at what will happen when humans get to the point of seriously moving into space given the way humanity seems to keep pumping out ridiculously powerful superhumans.
  • The Vespa in Irredeemable use teleportation technology given to them by Hornet as part of a deal he made with them to great effect as a weapon. But they don't know how it works as well as its creator Qubit. Qubit eventually uses his superior understanding of the technology to take it away from the Vespa.
  • The world that first created the Vision, in the Ultimate Marvel universe. She was just like a Cold War era satellite. She got all her advanced tech from the world she ended up in.

    Fan Works 
  • The Bolt Chronicles: Played with in "The Spaceship." The two outer space visitors Rhino meets are capable of space travel via flying saucer. However, they aren't very smart (Rhino is able to convince them that scarecrows are intelligent beings) and their equipment seems poorly maintained (their seats are patched with duct tape, their consoles have shorting lights, they buy translating collars on the cheap, and their shag-carpeted floors are worn and threadbare).

    Films — Animation 
  • Planet 51 is set on an alien world, styled after 1950s-era suburban America. Though they have ray guns and hovering cars, their knowledge of the universe is comically outdated (they think the universe is only 500 miles long), and, as far as one can tell, they have no knowledge of space travel.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: The various alien empires have advanced technology like faster-than-light travel, commonplace holograms, nanomachines, and jetpacks. Their weapons, on the other hand, are plainly inferior to those of Earth. Kree fighters get shot down by '90s-era fighter jets in Captain Marvel, the Chitauri invasion army ends up hard-pressed against opposition mostly composed of a few Badass Normals plus the local police in The Avengers (and their armada is over-killed by a single small tactical nuke; meanwhile their main fighter craft are wasted en masse by a single lightly-armed VTOL), the Asgardian anti-air artillery is shown as about on the level of WWII flak in Thor: The Dark World, the Necrocraft in Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) have inferior atmospheric performance and firepower to WWII prop planes, Thanos's entire army would've been trivially wiped out by a few artillery battalions in Avengers: Endgame (in fact War Machine and Falcon do pretty well just by flying over them and spraying (granted, sub)machine gun fire while dropping small bombs), and so on. A few films call attention to this, usually playing it for comedy:
    • Spider-Man: Homecoming: a group of blue-collar American mechanics are shown to be able to not only adapt and use Chitauri technology, but do things with it that no-one else is ever shown to be capable of.
    • Avengers: Infinity War: Rocket Raccoon is quite impressed by Bucky's M249 and asks if he can buy it from him. Bucky tells him it's not for sale.
    • Thor: Ragnarok: Skurge just will not stop bragging about his M16 rifles from the exotic land of "Tex-Ass" ("I even named them: Des and Troy; you see, when you put them together... they destroy"). His boasts are proven more or less correct by the end of the film, when he uses these regular 5.56x45mm rifles to mow down a small army of Asgardian Berserkers. Much more effective than magic swords or blasters.
    • In a case not involving weapons, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 has Star-Lord and Kraglin being awed by a Zune, because it can hold 300 songs, a huge step up from Quill's Walkman with only two tapes, or about 4 hours of music at the most. Apparently none of the countless alien civilizations they've come across has perfected portable music transportation.
    • This is justified for three reasons. One, magic explicitly exists in this universe and some primitive civilizations harvest it, allowing them to duplicate the effects of more modern technology without actually creating it and gaining the tech base for other similar advances. Two, the Celestials seem to have mucked around in the galaxy a lot. Three and most importantly, wormholes in the MCU (possibly because of the former two factors) seem to exist either just in orbit of or within the atmosphere of a lot of planets and can be traversed without the use of spaceships, meaning the barrier for interstellar travel suddenly drops to "hot air balloon."
  • In the Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic Prince of Space, the chicken-nosed invaders are capable of interplanetary travel, but invade Earth because their fuel is less efficient than something invented in Japan in the '50s. (In fact their entire plan is based around stealing it from Earth so the next generation of ships can actually invade.) Also, their weapons don't work on garishly dressed heroes who wave batons.
  • The "Prawns" of District 9. Whilst they possess high levels of technology, it isn't clear that they developed it themselves and when found aboard their mothership are in a very poor state of health and hygiene. After (nominal) incorporation into human society, they rank very much as second-class citizens and barely above animals. This is the cause of much speculation in-universe, the leading idea being the leadership caste was wiped out.
  • The aliens from Plan 9 from Outer Space have the ability to travel light years through space to arrive at Earth. Their plan to wipe out humanity is to resurrect the dead and have them attack the living humans. Over the course of the movie, they only succeed in resurrecting 3 humans, so it's unclear how they plan to wipe out huamnity without enacting this plan on a grand scale, which they don't seem to be capable of doing. Moreover, the aliens themselves act very childish, shouting about humans' "stupid, stupid minds!" In the end, the alien agents assigned to this operation are defeated by three armed men.
  • The Tenctonese from Alien Nation were a slave race who overthrew their masters and landed their ship on Earth (presumably, then, the vast majority of their people are still slaves). They are very adaptable, but this means they end up about as advanced as the humans they live amongst.
  • Aliens in Signs. Their spacecraft possess the ability to travel vast interstellar distances (to Earth), and also exhibit the ability to cloak their spacecraft with a sort of invisibility shield. They, however, may not possess the astronomical skills to observe that over 70% of the Earth's surface is covered by water, a reasonably common substance that is instantly fatal to them. Furthermore, the aliens are never seen using any sort of projectiles/energy weapons, and they appear to be completely naked. Not only would bodies of water be immediately fatal, but simple contact with water vapor in the air should have rendered it impossible for them to wander around Earth's surface. It's not surprising when the invasion is defeated almost immediately. Never mind projectiles, something simple like an axe or equivalent to break down doors is apparently too advanced for them. Additionally, melee weapons or unarmed self-defense is apparently something they've never figured out, as a lone human of average strength is able to beat several of them to death with a bat despite being outnumbered and surrounded.
  • The theory of this is put forth in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, as Elliot's brother thinks the eponymous alien may just be a worker, and isn't necessarily a great scientist or anything. E.T. is actually a botanist, but has more than enough engineering know-how to make a communication device. Then again, he ran away screaming when a can of pencils fell over and the kids did initially think he was a hairless monkey.
  • Invisible Invaders: The titular invaders get a Hand Wave that their technology (other than their spaceships, the titular capacity to be invisible, and their ability to take over the bodies of dead humans) is unable to work in our atmosphere, and thus they simply use human weapons for their campaign of world-wide sabotage. Even then, they do a pretty good job almost keeping their promise to annihilate all of humanity in just three days.
  • Heatstroke: The aliens traveled to Earth to terraform it to their liking...but run around naked (and very much not bullet proof despite 'their skin being like Kevlar') killing people with their claws and superheated breath. They only manage to stand a chance against armed soldiers because their commander would rather leave the group blind than use a light (and only brought flares instead of flashlights even then) and the dumb luck that their high body heat messes with night vision. Any time they're up against an actually well armed opponent without those advantages, they get their tails kicked.

  • Animorphs:
    • The Howlers have advanced weaponry and interstellar spaceships despite being mentally children. They were artificially created by an Eldritch Abomination for the purpose of killing as many sentient species as possible (and they think it's a game).
    • The Yeerks were still in the Stone Age when they stole interstellar spaceships from Andalite outposts and began to spread throughout the galaxy. By the time they reach Earth though, they've had twenty-odd years to develop their own technology and the Schizo Tech is not obvious.
    • The Andalites invented morphing technology, but they use it mostly for art ("morph-dancing") and infiltration rather than combat (seeing as their natural bodies have a big-ass tailblade and guns are designed for hands with opposable thumbs). As a result, the Animorphs are a lot more capable than the Andalite military on some missions, with similar tactics - infiltrate, morph something specific, and go wild.
  • In Timothy Zahn's Blackcollar series, the Ryqril aliens are much more powerful than humanity and other species, but their technology all comes from other enslaved races—they're capable of reproducing things designed by their occupied races, but they can't invent new technology themselves above a certain level. It ends up being a big problem for them when they have to fight human guerrillas who are aware of the weak points on most of their human-designed craft.
  • Deathscent by Robin Jarvis sees Elizabethan-era humanity uplifted by mysterious "Special Ambassadors". Everyone now lives in a network of domed islands floating in space, with greatly-extended lifespans and Clock Punk livestock that chew up plants to produce food. The Ambassadors are assumed to be angels and no-one truly understands their technology, even though they haven't visited in ages. They've been hunted to extinction by the Iribeans. Evil! Brindle gloats that the whole thing is a pretty zoo with humankind as the star attraction.
  • In the Brandon Sanderson short story "Defending Elysium", there are several alien races extant which have FTL travel and communication but are otherwise far less advanced than humanity. The reason for this is that FTL travel and communications actually relies on Psychic Powers, with the mechanical apparatus mostly being a Magic Feather.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld: In The Last Hero, Ankh-Morpork devises the Disc's first spaceship - or at least the first one capable of returning. A bewildering amalgam of basic physics, magic and carpentry, it is made out of wood and powered by dragons. (A Shout-Out to Baron von Munchhausen).
    • The Krullians also devised spacecraft. Unfortunately, as they lived on the edge of a flat earth, their launch philosophy was to tip it over the rim and hope the supporting cable and winch were strong enough to be able to haul it back.
    • The ancient Umnians invented golems ... period. Once one of their shamans figured out how to animate a lump of mud and give it orders, they didn't need to develop technology, industry, or even agriculture: they just told their golems "give us X" and left it up to their servitors to figure out how to accomplish that.
  • Poul Anderson's Dominic Flandry series has many examples of "barbarians" — primitive alien species given spaceships and high-tech weaponry by a more advanced civilization, generally for use as expendable mercenaries and deniable proxies.
  • Stephen King likes this one:
    • The Byrum of Dreamcatcher are infectious spores that come to Earth in ships from a race they presumably were able to invade, though the success of even that invasion is questionable.
    • The eponymous beings in The Tommyknockers are an odd example. It's unclear how much of the principles behind their technology they actually understand, but what is clear is that they're technically advanced but dumb in a lot of common-sense ways, and a lot of their high-tech solutions are Awesome, but Impractical at best. For example, they run their entire operation off of AA, AAA, and C- and D-cell batteries with the occasional forsaken Living Battery as a supplement and even go so far as to send two of their own on a Suicide Mission into a hostile atmosphere to get more rather than rely on the electric grid. It simply never occurs to any of them to just buy a goddamn AC/DC converter. Their violent tempers don't help either. When their stupidity regarding the batteries is pointed out, they explode because they never thought of it. One character says that they have more in common with Thomas Edison than Albert Einstein, in the sense that they were a race of brutes and Smug Snakes who barely understood the advanced technology that they relied on, let alone knew how to use it to its full potential. Direct allusions are drawn to misuse of nuclear energy by humans. On a meta level, the influence that the crashed alien spacecraft exerts over the town is also metaphorical for King's struggles with alcohol and cocaine addiction when he wrote it. When he went back to read it again after sobering up, he realized that he had written a bunch of Cokeheads from Outer Space.
  • The Phinons in Dykstras War use technology that seems very counter-intuitive in its design, and there appears to be no way to negotiate with them. The reason turns out to be that they have barely animal intelligence. They evolved spacecraft-building the same way bees evolved to build hives or beavers to build dams. It's a very good design, certainly good enough to kill any nascent competitor spacefaring species like humanity before we can develop more advanced tech ourselves. But the Phinons themselves are virtually mindless.
  • An odd mish-mash in David Gemmell's Echoes of the Great Song. Although called magic, the ruling Avatars have effectively laser weapons but no good way of recharging them. They use these to dominate the humans who are at an Ancient Rome sort of level. An invasion force arrives by teleporting in a huge chunk of rock but fight using black powder muskets.
  • In Empire from the Ashes, one of the perplexing aspects of the genocidal Achuultani invaders is the odd patchwork their ships exhibit, mixing superior and inferior technologies in defiance of what the natural progression of technology should have resulted in. For instance, "they appear to possess only a very rudimentary appreciation of gravitonics and their ships do not employ gravitonic sublight drives, yet their sublight missiles employ a highly sophisticated gravitonic drive which is, in fact, superior to that of the Imperium." It is later theorized that the ships were deliberately handicapped by their overlord AI, giving them the tech required to win but also to suffer significant losses while doing so, thus perpetuating the "crisis" that enables it to exercise emergency protocols to maintain control.
  • In Everworld, there is an alien race known as the Coo-Hatch. Although they possess the ability to forge objects out of a nigh-unbreakable steel capable of cutting through any known material with little effort, the rest of their technological base leaves a lot to be desired. A high school chemistry textbook blows their minds and also allows them to develop gunpowder, which was previously undiscovered by them. Even something as simple as knot-tying and the use of a pulley system is beyond them. They claim to have learned their smithing skills from their gods, in a setting where this is quite probable.
  • The Fithp from Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's novel Footfall. If they hadn't had a Precursor artifact handy to tell them how to build stuff, they probably would still have been at the hunter-gatherer stage of civilization.
  • Humans in Frederik Pohl's Heechee Saga use abandoned Heechee technology to explore the galaxy without really knowing how it works. They (we?) also punch holes in many of the recordings and instruction manuals that the Heechee left lying around and wear them as jewelry ('prayer fans').
  • In Poul Anderson's The High Crusade, humans. An alien spaceship lands on Earth in the 1300s, and the locals manage to kill all the invaders save a single captive. They load their army onto the ship, fly out, lose track of Earth, and manage to dismantle the alien empire.
  • Larry Niven's Known Space universe: The Kzin, particularly during the Man-Kzin Wars, who culturally resemble a hybrid of lions and Apache/Viking/Zulus more than they do a species with a thriving inter-stellar empire. Spacefaring Kzinti were a backward isolated stone-age tribe that got their technology from another species (herbivore traders who were hiring them to be their strong-arm army). The Kzinti then turned around and wiped out the more advanced members of their species, enslaved their benefactors, and started a religious crusade of galactic conquest. Big on ambitions, small on planning.
  • In Terry Pratchett and Steve Baxter's The Long Earth, it seems that having the natural ability to Step between alternate Earths retards a race's technical prowess. Of the various races and subraces of "elves" and "trolls" met by Lobsang and Joshua in their voyage across the Long Earth, none seem to have gotten beyond the Neolithic era of development.note  They, especially Joshua, worry what will happen when the migrating hordes meet up with humans, who have discovered a technological method of dimensional travel and are colonizing in the opposite direction of the migration. Hint: The next book is called The Long War.
  • In Out of the Dark, a warrior race (the Shongairi) arrives to colonize Earth, having been issued a permit to do so by the largely peaceful galactic community, who were horrified by human savagery after observing the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. The Hegemony decides humans are too brutal, savage, vicious, etc. to be allowed to keep existing; so like any civilized people would, they send a warrior species to exterminate humanity, as total genocide is certainly not nearly so terrible as a few thousand humans beating each other to death with sharp objects. The Shongairi arrive in the early 21st century and are shocked at the human rate of development, far in advance of even their most generous estimates. While they still have vastly superior space technology, as well as the ability to easily infiltrate the Internet to study humans and cause chaos, they turn out to be woefully inferior in the atmosphere and on the ground. According to them, no species bothers to develop those techs much after making it out into space, as conflict between species above a certain level of development is illegal under Hegemony law, and the ultimate high ground (including the option of orbital and/or asteroid bombardment) usually serves as the deciding factor. Indeed, their opening volley wipes out many major cities, military bases, and naval vessels, with the death toll being around 2 billion. They then get complacent, which results in an entire landing force of 34 missile cruiser-sized transports being shot out of the sky by just four F-22 Raptors. It turns out human stealth technology is much better than alien radar tech, as the transports don't even see who's shooting at them. This is expanded upon in the sequel where it's theorized that the stagnation is partly intentional. The dominant herbivores of the Hegemony see no need to develop past a certain point, and this view ends up spreading to the other races, they also overengineer their tech to work reliably for centuries, and their advanced medicine means they can live for centuries too. Their Post-Scarcity Economy and limitless power generation also play a role. All this leads to a lack of the need to improve. Their computing tech, for instance, is only incrementally better than ours. While they have miniature quantum computers, they is zero indication that they have anything resembling even rudimentary AI.
  • Christopher Anvil's Pandora's Legions is based on this: while the aliens who invade Earth have higher tech, and their leaders are very, very smart, on average the typical alien isn't as bright as the typical human. Combined with the human knowledge and experience of warfare (barbed wire is a horror the aliens have never seen before, and their commander is appalled to receive reports about humans standing around laughing at them in the middle of battles due to the invaders' ineptitude), the leaders quickly reach an accommodation with humanity and bring them aboard as partners. Except not quite: the early accommodation is designed to release Earth ideas over a limited area of the alien empire, to allow the alien leaders to find the best human ideas — the "hope" of all the ideas from Pandora's Planet — and humans to bring into the empire's leadership. At one early point, the technological level of Earth humans is stated to be "0.9 Centra-level, in some respects higher". As is soon made clear, the "in some respects higher" is not just referring to military technology. It is also made clear early on how the Centrans are in space, while the Earth humans aren't: humans simply haven't gotten around to discovering the necessary theories behind the interstellar drive, while the Centrans have known them for quite some time.
  • The Centaurians in The Pentagon Wars have mastered controlled nuclear fusion and interstellar travel using efficient Ramscoops. They've never thought of computers and nuclear weapons, though. The latter can, at least, be justified by the lack of large supplies of fissionable material on their homeworld, meaning the idea of nuclear chain reactions never came to them.
  • Humans effectively start out as this in the earliest story arc or two of Perry Rhodan. Having barely managed to land the first man on the moon, Earth's first faster-than-light vessel is an auxiliary craft of the alien cruiser stranded there, soon after replaced by the alien battleship that destroyed it on its first expedition outside the solar system. However, humanity also put considerable effort into avoiding being this trope for long here, doing its level best to work on closing the technology gap and keep the position of its homeworld as secret as at all possible in the meantime.
  • In K. A. Applegate's Remnants series, the humans wonder about this when they're first attacked by the Riders, who use hoverboards without any other advanced technology. One character suggests that they're toying with them—after all, you don't bother with a tank to hunt deer, do you? As it turns out, the Riders really are primitive; we never find out how they got their hoverboards, but presumably they were originally created by the Shipwrights.
  • Pretty much everybody in space compared to humanity in Harry Turtledove's "The Road Not Taken". Anti-gravity and its (singular) spin-off Faster-Than-Light Travel is simple to discover — most species do so before gunpowder — but anti-gravity only has this one other application in stark contrast to electricity, leading to this for all species who take this road. The alien invasion force in the story possess the tech levels and mindset of Spanish conquistadors. They try to conquer mid-21st century Earth with arquebuses, cannons, and fliers that drop petards on their enemies. The results are what you would expect from that description. The story is a prequel to "Herbig-Haro", which pits a lone human against a whole planet occupied by militaristic aliens roughly on WWII level... A lone human and his A.I.-equipped interstellar spacecraft.

    The reason is because the secret to anti-gravity is so illogical that the scientific method is essentially rendered useless and scientific progress is brought to a complete halt. Additionally once you have functional, controlled, antigravity technology (however primitive), you don't need many of the other technologies such as steam power, electricity, or even basic mechanics as antigravity allows you trivially overcome many of the problems those technologies were developed to solve. The story didn't progress far enough to tell whether or not humanity's technological progress would also stagnate due to this discovery; a comparatively advanced civilization such as Earth's with an established and highly diversified scientific community probably wouldn't develop that logic-jamming problem.
  • The Gbaba in David Weber's Safehold novels almost qualify. Their technology had been stagnant for at least two thousand years when humanity found them, they never demonstrated any improvement or alteration even as losses mounted as the humans tried desperately to catch up, and had humanity gotten another 50 years to innovate before the war the Gbaba would have lost. Since all evidence suggests they aren't likely to develop any new technology while humanity hides and rebuilds, Merlin is working hard to bring the people of Safehold up to a technological level capable of making the Gbaba qualify for this trope when round 2 comes along.
  • In Sixth of the Dusk the villains' plan is to create one of these. The laws of their society bar them from trading with people who haven't achieved a certain level of technological advancement, as it's deemed unavoidably exploitative. However, this world has a natural resource they'd dearly like to exploit, so they keep "accidentally" leaving around information about their technology in hope the locals will copy it and meet the qualifications long before they've advanced enough societally.
  • Space Force by Jeremy Robinson: The Chote have incredibly advanced technology created by their most advanced minds but most of them are only able to work simple machinery. Indeed, the climax of the book has the protagonists struggling to work their devices because they're too simple and designed to be worked like an assembly line.
  • The Star Trek novel Ishmael by Barbara Hambly asserts that the Klingons were a primitive race who were conquered by starfarers called the Karsids. The Klingons, being Klingons, then defeated the Karsids and appropriated all their tech, giving them advanced tech despite still being culturally barbaric, a perfect object lesson in the worth of the Prime Directive. The Klingons did eventually figure out how to build and maintain this technology on their own to the point that they can manage a sizable stellar empire and stay at par with the Federation and the Romulans, but they remain frozen culturally at their initial primitive level.
  • Parodied in a story by Brazilian author Luis Fernando Verissimo, which even starts with complaints that all sci-fi have technologically superior aliens — and the characters even try to figure the advance tech only for a subversion. For instance, the lack of forest around the spaceship isn't a forcefield, but the aliens cutting the trees to fuel the lumber-powered ship. "The little men from Grork" also don't know guns, both the wheel and the vowel (so much that they tried to spell their world's name "GRRK"), electricity, and their spaceship was originally meant to be a boat, but it went upwards instead of forward.
  • The Martians of War of the Worlds might be the earliest example. They have the technological know-how to create giant tripodal war machines and chemical weaponry, but...
    • They don't have wheels (their machines all "walk", and the mechanisms use ridiculous pulley systems where a few gears would have worked). They don't appear to have any rocket propulsion, either, just shooting cylinders at our world with mass drivers. note 
    • More a case of Science Marches On (and later adaptations make their technology more formidable), but the tripods really aren't that impressive to anyone with a 21st century understanding of engineering. Their main advantage is being fast enough to dodge a torpedo, but get taken down by the boat that fired them. The fact that they have only three legs would logically make them pretty structurally unstable, too.
    • Also, their plan to conquer Earth, devastating as it was to us, was doomed to failure. They can't function in the higher gravity and are basically blind and deaf in the brighter light and denser air to say nothing of their total lack of precaution against foreign pathogens. They're implied to be a Dying Race acting out of desperation, so there's that.
    • For that matter, they don't seem to be able to fix whatever climatological problems are killing them off on Mars, meaning they're stuck with the unsustainable strategy of flying off to neighbor planets, no matter how unsuitable for colonization, to loot them for whatever resources they can get.
    • William Flogg's sequel, Spacecraft of the First World War, explains how it happened: the Martians, or rather the Red Martians, are messing with the vastly more advanced technology left behind by their creators, the long-extinct Grey Martians, and while they can use their automatic fabricators their ability to actually understand that technology and make new designs to build with the Grey Martians' machines is limited. Humanity, on the other hand, has a working scientific community that can understand how the heat rays of the tripods and the gravity control generators that allowed the Martians in the cylinders to survive the travel worked, allowing humanity to build warships capable of reaching Mars by 1916 (where they indeed find it already in ruins, barely defended, and most of the Red Martians dead long before they got there). Note that this is in direct contradiction to what is stated about reverse-engineering the heat rays in the original novel.
  • The Lizards in the Worldwar/Colonization series have interstellar travel, but their weapons technology is about where humans were at the end of the twentieth century, and they're so conservative that they are pretty much incapable of improving it, or adapting their tactics to match rapidly advancing human technology, so we catch up with them pretty quickly when they invade in the middle of WWII. It's implied in the books that the Lizards' weapons technology isn't as advanced as their space technology because they've been at peace with themselves for thousands of years, and the other two races they conquered weren't much more advanced than Medieval Europe, so they had no need to innovate further. They were expecting us to be the same based on their last survey, just a few hundred years ago...
  • The Hive Mind fish aliens known as Squeem from the Xeelee Sequence conquer Earth at one point despite being no more intelligent and not much older than humans — but they lucked out on finding technology left over from the sufficiently advanced Xeelee.
  • Happens a few times in The Jenkinsverse, where, though technologically advanced, aliens aren't generally prepared for how tough humans are. A good example happens early in "Deathworlders", when a Brood of Hunters (predators infamous for eating other civilized beings) try to gain fame by raiding Earth, and land in the middle of a Canadian hockey game. Hunter weapons are only mildly effective against humans under the best of conditions (such as the human being unarmored and unarmed, physically unfit, and taken by surprise). Against two dozen bulky, fit humans in heavy protective hockey gear who are pissed off about getting attacked in the middle of a game? It's a slaughter... with the Hunters on the receiving end.
    • And then immediately inverted by humans themselves, who capture and reverse engineer the Hunter ships, and eventually other pieces of alien tech, despite not having the ability to actually replicate and manufacture said tech. Most of humanity's advantage on the galactic stage comes from using the tech they have in Deathworlder-crazy directions that the other spacefaring races hadn't accounted for, such as using advanced medical science to allow the human body to exercise far past the normal breaking point, essentially creating Super Soldiers, or by deliberately weaponizing the energetically reactive failure of combining warp fields and wormholes to create WERBS, a superweapon capable of destroying entire fleets of Hunter spaceships in seconds, to much more mundane examples as using guns that shoot bullets (because most other races are too delicate to weild anything with more kickback than a galactic standard pulse gun; meanwhile humanity eventually gets man-portable railguns).
  • Railhead: The Railmaker. An alien 'data-entity' of mysterious origin, with a godlike level of power allowing it to cage multiple stars to provide power to its K-Gates and other megastructures. Unfortunately for it, however, it's not only an Actual Pacifist, but the concept of war and hostility is so far from its mind that it doesn't even consider that it could be seen as a threat, and thus possesses no weapons or defences whatsoever. And, as it works to connect the civilisations of the galaxy together, it encounters the Guardians on Earth 20 Minutes into the Future, who destroy it easily with a virus as it represents a threat to their own power.
  • Cthulhu Mythos: many aliens such as the Mi-Go, the Deep Ones, and Cthulhu (+ his spawn) had wondrous technology such as space travel, biological immortality, sprawling underwater metropolises, and time travel. What they almost never had were clothes. Or external tools. Or weapons of any kind. The Mi-Go might be one of the biggest examples imaginable, as mining colonies established by this incomprehensibly advanced alien race on Earth were routinely foiled in their missions by a farmer with a hunting rifle. One of Mi-Go got killed by guard dogs.
    • Some of their abilities are implied to be biological, rather than technological; for example, space travel is stated in The Whisperer in Darkness to be made possible by the Mi-Go's "ether-resisting wings", which are "unique in their ability to traverse the heatless and airless interstellar void in full corporeal form." This is a case of Science Marches On, as the conception of space in Lovecraft's time was a bit different than what we know now. Still, given how enormously powerful organic beings like the shoggoths in At the Mountains of Madness were specified as being genetically engineered, it's possible the same applies to the Mi-Go and so on, so these abilities would still be indicative of impressive technology rather than inherent power. The Elder-Things from the same story are a notable exception to Lovecraft's tendency towards avoiding "external-looking" technology; they have spaceships and "weapons of molecular distortion." Might have been an intentional choice, as the Elder-Things were the most human of the aliens in the Mythos.
    • Yog-Sothoth's spawn in The Dunwich Horror also got killed by a guard dog.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Andromeda the Magog do not wear clothes or use weapons (although they do have language and fire) and their only battle tactic is the Zerg Rush, yet they have starships. It is later revealed that the Magog everyone is aware of are just shock troops used by their leaders who do indeed have a respectable level of technology.
  • In Blake's 7, the Liberator/Scorpio crew often cncounter primitive tribes, some descended from Earth colonists, others possibly Human Aliens.
  • Doctor Who: In "Nikola Tesla's Night of Terror", the Monsters of the Week, the Skithra, are a spacefaring race of robbers and looters who steal technology from other cultures and create nothing themselves, hence why they attempt to kidnap the human scientist Nikola Tesla.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • A major plot point in several incarnations of the story, when Ford and Arthur end up on a spaceship with the rejects from an allegedly-dying planet. Basically, the most intelligent caste tricked everyone else into evacuating their planet under the pretense that it was going to become unable to support life. They kept the manual labourers and workers, getting rid of only those who were culturally or industrially unproductive: bureaucrats, insurance salesmen, telephone sanitizers, hairdressers, advertising executives etc. These lesser castes eventually landed on prehistoric Earth, equipped with advanced technology but not knowing how to make or repair it themselves. It's suggested that these people were behind the legend of Atlantis, and eventually wiped themselves out in a spectacularly stupid manner. An aside/footnote in the novels (a Guide entry, in the TV series) explains that with this useless third of the population out of the way, the people of Golgafrincham made great cultural, scientific and technological advances before being wiped out by a virus contracted by a dirty telephone. And the exiles become humanity's ancestors instead of the cavemen.
    • Arthur himself ends up in a very similar situation later on. Stranded on a planet still in the equivalent of the Middle Ages, he at first hopes to help guide them into the industrial revolution with his advanced knowledge. Except he doesn't really know how any technology works. Eventually he accidentally invents sandwiches for them, much to their delight, so he contents himself with at least contributing that much to their quality of life.
  • A Saturday Night Live skit from the '80s featured an Alien Invasion by a race that apparently hadn't advanced past muskets. When asked how they got the spaceship they came to Earth in, one scientist says, "Our guess is they stole it." The whole thing looks like an homage to The Road Not Taken.
  • In the Stargate-verse, the ability to travel to other planets is facilitated mainly by the Stargates, which are very easy to figure out how to operate. As such, even primitive communities can travel across the stars if they have access to a gate:
    • Most humans are this, which is a major theme of the franchise. The vast majority of humans across the galaxies are at Medieval levels of technology, kept there deliberately by the Goa'uld to discourage rebellions. Earth is more advanced, being at modern levels of technology (well, 90's technology, as that was when the show was made), but still far behind the major galactic powers.
    • Another example would be the Genii on Stargate Atlantis, who are more advanced than the standard but still behind Earth, having just figured out nuclear fission. Again. That is because they were once a star-faring empire, but the Wraith continuously curbed them; by the time Atlantis happens, they have to pretend to be Space Amish, while their high-tech research happens in underground bunkers.
    • Although it's less obvious, the Goa'uld are eventually shown to be this: the vast majority of Goa'uld seem to be Brilliant, but Lazy or suffer from Creative Sterility, and they have salvaged and reverse engineered nearly all of their technology from other races. In any fair fight between humans and the Goa'uld, the Goa'uld lose; their weapons are almost entirely Awesome, but Impractical. More than enough to intimidate Iron Age cultures, but when someone else has access to equivalent Phlebotinum from the Precursors or managed to engineer some of their own, the Goa'uld are in trouble. The Goa'uld actually recognize this, and so do their best to destroy potential competition before they can pose a real danger.
    • The non-rebel Jaffa, since the Goa'uld who rule over them hold back technology on a need-to-know basis, keeping them in Medieval Stasis with Schizo Tech. This is actually acknowledged in-show by SG-1, when O'Neill compares a modern FN P90, a "weapon of war" to a Jaffa staff, a "weapon of terror". Sure, a staff is big and imposing and scary, and when it hits, it causes nice damage and a flashy small explosion. It is also terribly unwieldly and, due to lack of sights, completely inaccurate. Bullets from a modern assault rifle can pierce through Jaffa metal armour and are accurate enough that a small elite team, such as SG-1, can regularly defeat hordes of Jaffa warriors tens of times bigger with ease. So yes, the Jaffa and their Goa'uld masters are heavily technologically gimped, something that Earth humans can exploit.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Pakleds from the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Samaritan Snare" appeared to be functionally witless, but managed to steal enough technology from their neighbors to maintain a rather patchwork starflight capability. It wasn't clear at the time whether these Pakleds were representative of their entire race or an anomaly (Pakleds frequently appeared as extras on DS9, but none had speaking roles), until Star Trek: Lower Decks canonized this as their hat and made them the Arc Villain for season 2. (And being an animated comedy rendition of Star Trek, the Lower Decks Pakleds are appropriately cartoonish.)
    • The Klingons beg the question: how does a race that cares more about stabbing each other than scientific advancement get into space at all, let alone become an interstellar empire? Well, according to some non-canon sources, they stole warp drive from alien invaders who tried to conquer them, making them the franchise's most prominent example although it's never really discussed. (In-canon, the reason seems to be that while there are Klingon scientists, they just, in their own weird way, see it like fighting a battle. It's also been mentioned that the warriors have been gaining increased prominence in Klingon society, squeezing out other professions like scientists.)
    • The Ornarans from "Symbiosis" have starships that they have forgotten how to repair and can barely fly competently. This is because the Brekkians have kept them addicted to a drug for generations, and they've long stopped caring about anything other than getting a continuous supply.
    • Lampshaded by the Barzans themselves in The Next Generation episode "The Price". They decide to sell their newly discovered wormhole because they have neither the experience nor the technology to exploit it and they hope this transaction would allow the end of their situation of Third World Country IN SPACE! Despite the relative lack of natural resources on their planet, they already reached a development stage where they can deal with other planets. Also, in the same episode, the Caldonian delegate decides to withdraw from negotiations when he realizes his race of scholars wouldn't be able to manage the administrative needs created by the wormhole.
    • Same with the Kazon from Voyager, who have interstellar spaceflight forcibly appropriated from their Trabe conquerors, but can't figure out how to synthesize water. Or land on a planet that has water. Or even melt an ice-asteroid. Their idea of a holding cell is literally telling the prisoners not to cross a line. These are a people so backwards that the Borg deemed them unworthy of assimilation.
    • Also from Voyager, the humans abducted in "The 37's" rebelled against their Briori captors, but destroyed the ship that could have returned them to Earth in the process. By the time Voyager reaches them their tech has advanced substantially from 1937 Earth, but still isn't up to Federation standards.
    • Another from Voyager: the Vidiians are suffering from the "phage", a disease which destroys their internal organs. They are able to steal organs from every other sentient race for transplant with no risk of rejection, a feat that even current Federation medical science cannot replicate. Despite this, they seem unable to actually cure the phage to begin with. It seems hard to believe that the Vidiians have no knowledge of virology or immunology, given that preventing organ rejection requires knowledge of immunology to begin with — more likely the writers decided not to research the matter. At one point it's revealed that Klingon tissue is resistant to the phage, setting up a plotline putting half-Klingon B'lanna Torres in jeopardy of being harvested — never mind that a simple tissue sample, along with cloning technology, would be all that the Vidiians would need. Both are within 20th century technology, let alone what the Federation has available, and yet this win-win (the Vidiians cure the phage without harvesting B'lanna, and Voyager gets a valuable ally in return) never occurs to anyone involved. Worse still, there was one point where the Vidiians kidnapped B'lanna and somehow physically split her into her component human and Klingon halves. If you can do that, surely you could have just taken a blood sample and made yourself a full-Klingon B'lanna without all the fuss. You don't even have to clone a person. Just clone organs. Or make do with animal organs, since a race capable of cross-species transplants with aliens certainly ought to be able to use livestock as organ banks.
    • The Bajorans have supposedly tens of thousands of years of recorded history, including the best part of a millenium of manned spaceflight, at the very least. Captain Picard himself noted how advanced Bajoran civilization had already been at a time where humans were still not walking upright. But their technology seems to have stagnated at some point and most of the people behave like Medieval peasant stereotypes. Of course the fact that their religion is based around worshiping Sufficiently Advanced Aliens might have something to do with this. The whole thing with the Cardassians going all Holocausty on them probably didn't help either. Gul Dukat even cites the Bajoran stagnation as a justification for the Cardassian occupation at one point, arguing that the conflict (though costly) ultimately helped Bajor. Major Kira, a former resistance fighter, doesn't buy it.
    • The Suliban on Star Trek: Enterprise also count. Phlox has encountered them and describes them as peaceful and not very technologically advanced. They're threatening because of the tech and instructions they're receiving from the "Future Guy".
    • Humans in the Mirror Universe (the Terran Empire). Instead of greeting the Vulcans peacefully, as per the "real" timeline, Mirror Zefram Cochrane (even without the evil goatee) attacked their ship and stole all the technology they could find, thereby starting the aggressive and militaristic Terran Empire on its course.
    • Another episode of Voyager had them discover a race of robots who were dying out because their creators, the Pralor, had gone extinct and the robots themselves lacked the ability to construct more of themselves. After the crew do some digging on the history involved, they discover that the robots are soldiers constructed to fight a Proxy War with another alien race (who also fought via robots), and that their inability to replicate or improve themselves was an intentional design flaw to control their population. The robots wound up turning against and wiping out their creators (they were starting to consider a peace negotiation, which would've resulted in their robots being disassembled) and are now destroying themselves by fighting a war with no purpose and rapidly-dwindling resources.
      • On their remaining tech level, the Pralor robots have significantly superior weapons and shields compared to the Voyager (a state-of-the-art light cruiser for the Federation), but their propulsion systems (sublight and warp) are grossly inferior, allowing the Voyager to just outrun them once they rescued B'Elanna. Their enemies have apparently equal capacities.
  • The Visitors in V (1983) have come to Earth to steal its water, as they're in need of unpolluted water. Despite having the technology to travel interstellar distances and steal an entire planet's worth of water, they somehow don't have the technology to avoid polluting water or to purify it.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Interestingly inverted in Space 1889. Martians were much more technologically advanced than humans of the late 19th century, but there are no sign of them going to space. So from a Martian point of view, when humans showed up in the 19th century with technology superior to what they had then, but inferior to Mars at its zenith, humans are insufficiently advanced aliens.
  • Warhammer 40,000 has a few, due to the Schizo Tech of the setting:
    • Humankind's technological peak was several thousand years ago, and its knowledge has regressed significantly following the galactic dark age that existed prior to the establishment of the Imperium. (They also had a Robot War about that time, which — as in Dune — put an end to any development or use of "Abominable Intelligence".) At best, humans can reproduce a shrinking number of ancient designs, but they don't understand the underlying principles of many devices. This is largely the fault of the Adeptus Mechanicus, a conservative Machine Cult that worships technology and views most innovation as heresy.
    • The Orks have nothing approaching a proper scientific method, consider maintenance a matter of screaming at and battering the device in question, and think a red paint job makes a vehicle move faster, yet are an interstellar culture capable of building warp-capable spaceships, teleporters and force fields. This is because the Orks were engineered to have scientific knowledge hard-wired into their DNA, giving even a basic grunt an instinctive skill of how to build and maintain a "Shoota," and Meks or Doks a similar intuitive grasp of machinery and medicine. For when this isn't enough, Orks are also unconsciously psychic, and make their most bizarre devices work because they think they should. Except when they don't.
    • The Kroot are an avian-descended race of barbaric cannibals, who were still using black powder weaponry when the technologically-advanced Tau found them, yet are capable of building and flying their Warspheres. This is because some of them made a snack of some aforementioned Ork Meks — the Kroot are able to absorb useful evolutionary traits from the prey they devour. It's heavily implied that the Kroot purposely stagnate all their technology except space travel, so their race's focus remains on acquiring good genes rather than inventing stronger weapons.
    • The Jokaero are an inversion of the trope. These orangutan-like creatures are capable of building advanced technology such as high-powered lasers small enough to fit in jewelry, to say nothing of spaceships, but no-one's been able to quite determine whether they're intelligent, even sentient, or if this is just instinctive behavior. For all of their gizmos they behave like animals, and it's impossible to study them because they'll just invent whatever they need to escape from captivity.
    • The Tau have very advanced weapons technology (they can give every footsoldier a plasma weapon, something the Imperium can only give out to the most deserving of the elite, and even then the gun is worth more than the soldier and is likely a millennia-old relic kept in working condition by religious ritual), but anything to do with the Warp (such as long-distance space travel, teleportation, psychic powers, and daemons) is beyond them (they have a minimal Warp presence for Chaos to corrupt, so the idea of humans falling to Chaos or daemons eating ships in the Warp seems far-fetched to them).
    • The Rak'Gol have primitive but functional spaceships, cybernetic enhancements and advanced weapons... and no one can figure out how they have any of those things, since they seem to operate on the level of rabid animals who just want to kill things until everything is dead. Yes, even more so than the Orcs. At least Orcs will occasionally talk to you, if only to ask you if you know where they can find a good fight. The Rak'Gol just scream and go for your throat. One theory is that they are the degenerate remnant of a more advanced civilisation, or that they've somehow stolen their technology from somewhere.
  • The Vargr in Traveller. It's not so much that they are unadvanced as that they are so erratic that it is hard to imagine them actually having time to build starships before they are wrecked by the next civil war.
  • The Space sourcebook for GURPS 3rd edition had tables for randomly generating alien civilizations; a roll of 3 on 3d6 in the "Technology Level" table would result in this trope. (4th edition sadly removed the possibility.)
  • In the Phase World space opera setting for Rifts, the United Worlds Of Warlock was founded when a spacefaring Dwarven nation who used magic to make space travel possible with 19th century riveted-iron ships met a medieval Elven nation who didn't even know what outer space was and who'd colonised several worlds via magical gateways.
  • The Hellenes in HELLAS: Worlds of Sun and Stone have spaceflight, but live very much like the ancient Greeks they are based on. Part of it is because they also have the culture of ancient Greece - sure, they have computers, but who wants to sit home and browse the Net all day when you can go out and debate philosophy face-to-face in the fora or run a nice, refreshing marathon?

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life: the Xenians, similar to the aliens of the Cthulhu Mythos, have a few very advanced bits of technology like cybernetic war machines (Gargantuas, Alien Aircraft), teleporters, force fields, inter-dimensional travel, and a liquid compound that heals any injury, but don't make use of many tools or seemingly any vehicles, relying instead on natural weapons and the occasional bit of Organic Technology (e.g. their "assault rifle" is modified beehive that shoots poisonous hornets). They also have massive factories for manufacturing said cybernetic war machines, but their regular citizens (the Vortigaunts) have a standard of living barely above that of Stone Age levels. For all their power a battalion of regular Marines gives their entire invasion force a good fight. Their primitiveness is lampshaded repeatedly in Freeman's Mind.
    • Inverted in Half-Life 2: human technology has stagnated at the level it was at in 1998 due to the Portal Storms and subsequent conquest and occupation of Earth by the Combine, but human scientists, even the ones working for the resource-strapped Resistance, can produce teleporters vastly superior to any teleporters that the multiverse-spanning, post-Singularity Combine can create, to the point where acquiring human teleporters is a top priority for the Combine's occupation force.
  • The adventure game Star Trek: Judgment Rites features an alien colony ship filled with seemingly retarded aliens (very humanoid ones, in best Star Trek tradition) who aren't even aware that they are on a ship at all. And the ship is about to land on top of a colonized planet. The mission actually ends up going in a completely different direction, when Kirk and his crew are transported into an alien dimension, but the origin and/or fate of the ship are never revealed.
  • The Doog in Star Control 3 barely have the intelligence to speak properly, and have probably received most if not all of their technology (whatever little they have) from their masters, the Ploxis, while being little more than enslaved brutes otherwise. And yet they have a Game-Breaker of a starship with homing projectiles and the best auto-repair system available in the galaxy.
  • The Rikti in City of Heroes have energy weapons, teleportation, anti-gravity, Independence Day-style ships that are capable of interdimensional travel, and shapeshifting. All this without ever learning how to split the atom. To be fair, they killed all their gods, so they're certainly not incompetent, but they had all of their tech given to them back in the time of the Egyptians and never had a need to develop what we would consider conventional tech. That's not to say they aren't advanced in their fields, they simply developed in what is a rather backwards fashion. Also, because they killed their gods, they're woefully behind humans when it comes to understanding and using magic (which is a real and powerful thing in this setting). But they're learning...
  • Humanity in Vangers. With the "technology" born from occult arts, they were able to build permanent portals to unknown worlds which they eagerly rushed to explore "while culturally remaining knee-deep in their own issues". This ended exactly as well as you think.
  • The Covenant from Halo.
    • Their technology is far in advance of humanity's, but it's almost all poorly copied from Forerunner artifacts, and any Covie who wants to better understand and improve even their own comparatively shoddy knock-offs runs the risk of being considered a heretic. Additionally, only two species, the Prophets and Engineers, are even allowed to do R&D, with the former suffering from a small and inbred population, and the latter deliberately designed by their original Forerunner creators to focus their high intelligence on maintenance, repairs, and incremental improvements, not wholesale invention or even properly educating other species on science. The expanded universe and Halo 4-era media show that the humans are able to upgrade Covenant technology surprisingly well (though not without a lot of effort), in part because the Covenant have so intellectually stagnated that their grasp of fundamental scientific concepts like Maxwell's equations is inferior to that of humanity's.
    • Ironically, other supplemental materials point out that the Elites in the B.C. era were already at roughly the same technology level as humans before they ever began reverse-engineering Forerunner technology, and they only did that because they were getting their asses handed to them by the Prophets and their Forerunner Dreadnought that would soon become High Charity. The Yanme'e (Drones) and Kig-Yar (Jackals and Skirmishers) also had space-faring technology before encountering the Covenant in 1112 and 1342 AD respectively, though theirs was inferior to that of 26th century humanity's.
    • The novel Halo: First Strike reveals that even the Covenant's own AIs are seriously hampered by the same religious dogma as the rest of the Covenant. When Cortana begins messing around with the default settings on the slipstream drive and the plasma weapons, increasing their effectiveness, the Covenant AI shows up, angry at this heresy. It even appears to just be a copy of a human AI with Covenant programming shoved into it; as it turns out, AI research is heavily restricted in the Covenant for religious reasons, to the point where the punishment for trying to make a fully self-aware one is death.
  • The Rakata as seen in Knights of the Old Republic faced this problem at the end of their Empire. Their galaxy-spanning dominance was based on technology that relied as much on the Force as science to operate successfully and when they lost their natural Force sensitivity, the technology ceased to function.
  • In Command & Conquer: Tiberium Wars, the Scrin are implied to be less "insufficiently advanced" and more "insufficiently prepared" - the forces assigned to protecting their mining operation were intended for a planet where all native life was either extinct or on the verge of it. Instead, they were lured to Earth a century or two early, and ran headlong into two massive, technologically advanced, and unified global militaries. Nevertheless, despite being ill-equipped to face such a force, the Scrin are able to inflict massive damage on both GDI and Nod before being routed and driven off, mainly due to the fact that GDI and Nod fail to stop fighting each other for a sensible time span during a freaking alien invasion!
  • In Meteos, the inhabitants of Boggob are still in their Stone Age. They're able to hold up against the onslaught of Meteos impacts that have annhilated countless other civilizations, however, through Ewok-level craftiness. They actually discover space travel in this way.
  • The Ceph in Crysis are a play on this. The Ceph fought in the games are vulnerable to human weapons and can be contained by near-future human militaries despite predating humanity on Earth. It turns out, however, that this is because those Ceph are only just now waking up and are hurriedly adapting to human technology and numbers and adapting to Earth's environment. And by the third game, they're easily smashing CELL military resistance. But this pales in comparison to the true Ceph based in their home galaxy, who have had five hundred million years to develop, and are pretty much gods compared with humans and the Ceph on Earth. We're only winning because we're basically fighting a lost/regressed tribe of cavemen.
  • The titular Kerbal Space Program has shades of this. They're capable of building great feats of engineering, developing spacecraft that can construct colonies on other planets and tether asteroids and bring them back to Kerbin, yet the fluff implies that the Kerbals have a very tenuous understanding of astrophysics or even reality.
    • Of course, this is part of the game's charm. It can also be handwaved that the Kerbals are becoming more intelligent as the space program progresses: for example, taking a surface sample outside of the space center will have the Kerbonaut note that the soil is made out of dirt or that seawater is wet, but a surface sample from another planet will have the Kerbonaut describe the compounds and properties of the soil in detail.
  • Starbound:
    • Florans are violent savages who find time better spent stabbing things than learning higher science, so they prefer to just scavenge technology from other races (usually after a good bout of stabbing), and what little self-developed technology they have is all in the hands of a single caste called the Greenfingers, who are apparently smart enough to compensate for their dumber brethren. That said, they can be taught better, and they're catching up.
    • Avians were granted advanced technology by unknown aliens, but the full understanding is solely in the hands of the Stargazers (their high priests), as is the only supply of the Avolite crystals said technology depends on, thus ensuring that the priesthood remains in power.
    • Novakids are an odd case, in that they have many traits of a Sufficiently Advanced Alien, including the hyper-intelligence that usually defines them, but have a couple others that hold them back heavily, especially the terrible attention span and disregard for long-term thought. As a result, Novakid "civilization" constantly swings back and forth between archaic and advanced, as individual groups of wanderers figure out something cool like space travel and then simply don't think of passing it along to following generations. Their current Space Western look seems to be a sort of cultural average for these wild swings in tech levels.
  • In NieR: Automata, Adam tells you that the alien invaders that built the machine lifeforms were so stagnant they were akin to "plants" when compared to humanity, which is why machines killed them and decided to copy human behavior instead. It's kind of telling when they were struggling against a race that was extinct before they even arrived.

  • Some of the races in Joy Ride are this. Intended as a subversion of the idea of aliens being, you know, smart. Smarter aliens do show up, though.
  • Do the Federation Expies / Take Thats from Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger count? Yes, they're in space, but the Federation starship Glorious Undertaking is... well... see the description of the ship's structure, the engine, and the computer systems, oops, pardon me, system, singular.
  • An episode of the (possibly) defunct webcomic Isometric features Dangerman fending off a comically inferior alien invasion. It is noted that these aliens do not natively understand the concept of detecting vibrational energy (what we call "sound"), have a visible spectrum that stops just short of "ultra-red" and "infra-violet" (Dangerman is perplexed by the "invisible assassin" and his bright glowing red "stealth" outfit), are apparently highly vulnerable to banana cream (said assassin's dying attack is to throw such a pie at Dangerman, to no effect), and lack the ability to jump (thus parking their craft six feet off the ground, allowing easy access). None of this seemed to be a problem before; they just picked the wrong planet to invade this time, is all.
  • Pretty much everyone in Spacetrawler, where the highly intelligent Eeb have been enslaved by the rest of the galaxy's intelligent species and put to work building all their advanced technology.
  • El Goonish Shive's Uryuoms made a lot of cool stuff, but… three words: "Sanctioned Programming Languages." After banning object-oriented programming wholesale out of certain areas, it's no wonder even a little kid on Earth can help them with their technical problems.
  • A cartoon from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, where aliens with bronze swords succumb to humans armed with iron, currently provides the page image.
  • From xkcd: Aliens visit Earth to teach us how to build the Pyramids... in the modern day''. After finding out we already have them, they offer other "advanced" technology: biplanes, blimps, and leaded gasoline.
    Human 2: Maybe we shouldn't stand right under it.

     Web Original 
  • In the second episode of the Dropout series Very Important People Vic interviews Denzel, an alien who somehow made it to Earth despite lacking any apparent advanced technology or knowledge and who thinks stop signs and parental pressure are concepts humans would have trouble grasping.
    Vic: We got a photo of you being "invisible" and it does look like a white sheet just sort of draped over your head. Sort of like a ghost on Halloween.

    Western Animation 

  • The Simpsons:
    • The opening quote is from the second Halloween Episode, where humans destroy all their weapons after achieving world peace and Earth is in turn invaded by Kang and Kodos — armed with clubs and slings.
      Kang: [pursued by Moe] Ah! He's got a board with a nail in it!
    • In another special, Kang and Kodos abduct Marge using a lasso rather than an abduction ray.
    • In the first "Treehouse of Horror" special, Kang and Kodos show the Simpsons their "state of the art" entertainment facility. It's just Pong. When the family point this out, the aliens retort by asking if their people have developed travel between galaxies.
  • The Mooninites and Plutonians from Aqua Teen Hunger Force both qualify, though for the latter it's less a case of them being insufficiently advanced and more them being so incompetent that they don't know how to use most of the features in their ship.
  • An episode of Duckman has Ajax abducted by "inferior beings" from the planet Betamax. They're dumb enough to consider Ajax's nonsensical ramblings to be wisdom of the highest order (though they have developed big screen televisions, because they have their priorities straight). When asked how they managed to acquire a spaceship, they claim it's a rental.
  • Futurama:
    • Parodied with some Space Amish who have built a wooden, horsedrawn starship. No attempt is made to explain this.
    • The people of Osiris IV reportedly visited the ancient Egyptians, who taught them the secrets of building pyramids and space travel. (Yes, they traveled through space to learn how to travel through space; wrap your head around that one.)
  • In the Star Trek: Lower Decks episode "Temporal Edict", this is something of a Running Gag with the Gelrakians.
    "Swords and spears? How did these guys get on board?"


Pantry Doors

"They seem to have trouble with Pantry Doors."

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / InsurmountableWaistHeightFence

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