If you like science fiction and fantasy you probably have a good sense for world building, for picking up the rules of a universe that isn’t your own. If you’ve got a story that opens on a rundown bank of the Thames, near a sign that says “No Dumping Bodies In The River”, you’ll quickly realise that there are lot of dead bodies around, and probably be able to hazard a few good guesses as to why. If your characters are moving through an airport security checkpoint and every one of them is having their blood checked, you’ll quickly guess that mutants, or clones, or human-looking aliens are hiding among the populace, and that, for reasons benign or malevolent, the Powers That Be are trying to find them or at least stop them from travelling freely.
It’s a habit that for many genre readers is on automatic. If you spend a great deal of your time watching telly with, say, a four year old, you’ll even find it hard to turn those instincts off during their favourite programmes.
With that in mind, here are some of the strangest science fictional universe aimed at the under-fives.
Q Pootle 5
Q Pootle 5 follows the adventures of Q Pootle 5 and his friends on the planet Okidoke. At first glance it’s a fairly standard science fictional universe that could have come straight out of Firefly, or maybe one of the fringe parts of the Star Wars universe. But when you look a bit closer, it becomes stranger. These aliens have the technology to build spaceships and sentient robots, but the robot is clearly built out of an old oven and a toaster. One spaceship has a satellite dish that is made out of an old colander, another has an antenna that started out life as a wire coat hanger.
These aliens clearly used to be part of an advanced civilisation, but in various episodes they are in awe of the technology found in a vacuum cleaner or a set of bagpipes. Even their attempts to build something as simple as a car wash goes horrible awry, and at one point Q Pootle 5 refers to an object that is clearly a space probe as a “satellite”.
It seems clear to me that Q Pootle 5 is the story of a society living in the ruins of a once great alien empire, awash with cargo cult technology and vague memories of grandeur.
The most puzzling thing is the mice. They don’t appear to be sentient from what we can see, but for some reason they’re all wearing space helmets, which is odd because that makes them the only life forms on the planet that can’t breathe the planet’s atmosphere…
Some robots are thrown away in the rubbish dump, until one decides to repair all the others and build them a little, self contained robot world.
Let’s ignore some of the most immediate questions this premise brings up – why would anybody build a “Sporty Robot” let alone a “Messy”, “Rusty” or “Scary” one. What’s far more interesting about this show is the fresh new take it delivers on that old sci-fi staple, the singularity.
The singularity usually has two outcomes in science. The AI turns out to a be a super-intelligence that works to immeasurably improve human life by solving all our problems, or, much, much more commonly, the AI decides to kill us all.
Little Robots offers a third way, that the AI will simply want to create its own little world away from dull, boring humanity. They build themselves a metal sky, a metal sun and moon that are operated by a handle, and the robots live in their utopia there with no war, no waste, no injustice, just a metal paradise where everyone is friends.
Igam Ogam is a human child, dressed up like a cave person, surrounded by dinosaurs. Now I can already hear the palaeontologists reading this getting riled up, but don’t worry, from the very outset it’s clear this show is not supposed to take place on prehistoric Earth.
The introduction to the show clearly states it takes place on a “Topsy turvy planet”. The geography is bizarre and unearthly, the sky a strange mix of unnatural colours. Yes, there are recognisable dinosaurs, apes and sabre tooth tigers, but we can explain that away with convergent evolution, much like we’re expecting to see on the alien planets in No Man’s Sky. Indeed there are many clues that this is an engineered world, much like the ones found in Ringworld or Halo. The sun is a bright light on a stick. Rainclouds are literally on a string. Sliced bread grows on trees.
So I put it to you that Igam Ogam is a deep-space Mowgli. The only survivor of a crashed starship, able to communicate with the indigenous wildlife thanks to some form of universal translator, Igam has been raised by the local life forms as their own.
She clearly remembers Earth – a velociraptor like dinosaur is called “Doggy”, a pterosaur is named “Birdy”, after their closest Earth equivalents, but she has become accustomed to her new home on this topsy turvy world.
Bing is the story of a talking rabbit, Bing, and his adventures as a typical small child with his other friends, including a talking elephant and a talking panda. But we’re not going to talk about the fact that this is a world populated by anthropomorphised animals. Talking animals are just human substitutes in children’s TV, and if you get upset by that you probably complain about all the aliens in Star Trek speaking English and all the ones in Farscape having Australian accents.
No, what’s weird about Bing’s world isn’t that talking animal children. It’s their carers. The children of the Bing universe all have carers, but they’re not simply bigger talking animals. In fact, they’re smaller. It’s shown in show that the children are growing larger, so it’s not simply that adults are smaller. In fact, if you look closely at the carers (Bing’s is called “Flop”) you’ll see they are made things. They look knitted, or sewn together. What’s more, they’re reasonable and calm to a point any flesh and blood parent would envy.
At first I thought maybe the adults had created these perfect parents to care for their children when they could not. But actually I think it’s more sinister than that. And the answer is in the fact that all the characters are talking animals. Psych!
Bing is set in the aftermath of the B-scenario of a singularity – Skynet has awoken, and won. It’s wiped out all humanity and is now the sole sentient, intelligent entity on our world. What did humans do as the sole intelligent species on our world? We tried to create a machine that could beat us at chess. Is it such a stretch to suggest the Machine would do the same?
It’s beginning the whole cycle all over again, splicing animal DNA to try and create a life form whose intelligence can match its own, giving it the optimum upbringing and care to nurture its creation.
And who knows? One day Bing may turn on his masters, and the organics will rule once again…
Chris Farnell is a freelance writer and author who has spent rather a lot of time lately watching TV aimed at the under-fives. He is currently looking forward to the gritty, realistic reboot of Button Moon. You can follow him on twitter at @thebrainofchris and can buy his latest book, Dirty Work, here.
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