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For every species bar one, Medieval Stasis is how the world works. Changes in technology and society take hundreds of years, and any existing alien civilizations or elf kingdoms today looks more or less the same as it did a century ago - or will in a century more. For most races in the setting slow change is the norm.

The great exception are humans. Somehow these talking plains apes, who have only learned to walk fully upright a few hundred thousand years ago, have mastered technology and civilization in a fraction of the time it took everyone else, despite their incredibly short individual lifespans. Or maybe it is that very brevity that drives humans, the sense that they don't have decades to spare and need to accomplish things now.

Extremely common in both fantasy and sci-fi.

Amazingly enough, this seems to be Truth in Television, as all human technological development has really only occurred in the last 100,000 years, 5% of the approximately 2 million year lifetime of our genus, accelerating with the advent of agriculture 10,000 - 12,000 years ago and accelerating again with the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution, and having been getting faster since. Aside from language, the world of AD 1500 would have been more or less understandable to someone from 500 BC, but someone from AD 1500 would have had a lot of problems in AD 1900 (radio, relatively advanced guns, trains and early cars, atheism, medical advances...), and someone from AD 1900 would have been completely lost in AD 2000. This accelerating trend is also what leads some to predict The Singularity.

A Sub-Trope of Humans Are Special.


Examples of Humans Advance Swiftly include:


Fanfiction

  • An important background element of Renegade. The technology available to the Global Defense Initiative and the Brotherhood of Nod is noticeably more advanced than that available to the Citadel. However, the reason for this is because Earth was infested by Tiberium and humanity was locked in global warfare for about fifty years, yet still managed to survive on a planet where the very ground was trying to eat them. Because of this, humanity's tech base is significantly more advanced even before they discovered element zero and mass effect technology. Word of God also implies that Kane is behind a lot of humanity's rapid technology growth. Even so, the Scrin are supposed to be even more advanced.
  • The XSGCOM series is rife with this. Being a fusion of the Stargate Verse and the X-COM series of games, humanity quickly advances. For example, the heaviest weapon that the humans can field in chapter one is a laser rifle. By the latest chapter, we have plasma micronukes, Gatling staff weapons, Power Armor with enough firepower to level Manhattan in a matter of hours, Naquadria-powered satellite weapons, our own ready-made Sarcophagi, artificial gravity, hyperdrives that outstrip comparable Goa'uld designs, Plasma Pistols (AKA "Streams of hyperkinetic death"), and so, so much more. By chapter nineteen of the sequel, humans have already destroyed a quarter of the Wraith in the Pegasus Galaxy, and we're making money by selling less advanced versions of our weapons to our allies. The true sign that we're advancing fast? The Goa'uld have taken to copying our weapons just to stay in the game, and they're still losing.


Literature

  • In Animorphs, Ax cites this as a reason why the Yeerks fear human exposure, predicting within the century humans would develop FTL travel. At least as far as the books are concerned, that "within the century" is a gross overestimate.
    • Makes for good snark, though:

 Ax: Sometimes, humans worry me. You advance more quickly than you are capable of dealing with. We Andalites may wind up wishing we'd left you to the Yeerks.

Marco: ... so far, you Andalites pretty much have left us to the Yeerks.

  • A major plot point in the Doom novelizations. Humans being the only species in the universe who aren't subject to reincarnate, this drove them to advance far more quickly than any other expected. At the end, another species is encountered which advances even faster.
  • The "brevity breeds progress" factor is used in Isaac Asimov's Robot series even though there aren't any alien life forms. "Spacers" (humans who live in one of the 50 space colonies) regularly live for upwards of 300 years and have stagnated; Earthers (humans on earth) live to be 70 or so and have advanced geometrically.
  • Rescue Party by Arthur C. Clarke, is built on this trope.
    • Played with in a later story of his, in which humanity encounters an even faster-advancing, short-lived, explosively breeding species than themselves.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar series, the lizard-like Race is absolutely amazed that humanity has gone from swords and chainmail to internal combustion engines and radio in only a mere 800 years, when it took their own race tens of thousands of years to make the same advances. They are also amazed that mankind is so willing to advance in the first place. To the conservative Lizards, technology needs several thousands of years to be refined, introduced, and integrated into civilian life. Mankind is willing to strap tubes full of explosives onto a box and call it a spaceship, regardless of how well it works. They also assumed that they already knew everything, so after a hundred years or so, humans are doing crazy things they never even dreamed of (like FTL travel).
  • The aliens in Bruce Coville's My Teacher Is an Alien series put Humanity on Trial, not only because Humans Are Bastards but also because our technological progress has been much faster than any other alien race's, which combined with the aforementioned cruelty makes the rest of the galaxy very nervous about this little Earth race.
  • In Out of the Dark, aliens decide to send a warrior race to conquer humanity after being horrified by a medieval battle. Said race is considerably alarmed to find the situation rather changed when they finally arrive, centuries later, and their ground forces subsequently take a beating.
  • E. E. "Doc" Smith plays this straight in the Skylark universe at least initially, with Dick Seaton going from 1930s aviation technology to FTL spaceflight in a single jump. After he gets to Osnome, it's either averted or subverted: almost everything he does from that time on relies in some part on knowledge or technology borrowed from, captured from, or granted to him by other spacefaring races, and his only edge seems to be an ability to put it together into a more seamless whole.
    • The Lensmen universe is, strangely enough, an aversion. The big technological leaps require outside help. As in the Skylark universe, where the humans do excel is in terms of upscaling and application.
  • Brutally inverted in Sergey Lukyanenko's short story Evening Conversation with Mr. Special Ambassador, where the aliens who originally planned to take Earth for themselves decide to leave us alone after realizing how ridiculously dumb we are compared to every other race. The titular "Special Ambassador" mentions off-hand that his grandfather invented the wheel, while looking at their starship. Basically, they make monumental discoveries every few months, if not weeks. At the end of the story, they leave but let the humans keep their ships, which are obsolete by then, in the hopes of jump-starting our progress.
    • To illustrate, they need Earth because their own homeworld is threatened by a black hole. By the end of the story, the ambassador reveals that not only have they managed to close the black hole, but they have also managed to terraform Venus. So yeah, they don't need our heavily polluted world with dumb apes. All races who discover humanity treat us the same way we may treat a mentally-retarded person.
  • In Troy Rising, this is one of the reasons the alien Glatun ally with humanity. They (the Glatun) are a race on the decline, while every analysis of humanity's potential says that the primitives from Earth a) won't be primitive much longer and b) are going to be a force to be recognized simply because humans have a history of technological advancement that no other species can match.
  • Inverted in the Codex Alera. The human technology and engineering of the Lost Roman Legion eventually stagnated when humans developed bonds with furies and gained various Elemental Powers. These powers allowed humans to develop a form of Magitek, but a combination of a very conservative mindset (engendered by constantly fighting against other civilizations for simple survival) and the advantages of furycraft meant that Aleran technology stagnated to the point where after two thousand years their tech hasn't changed much. By comparison, the Canim's technology is far more advanced, and is actively employed by a species that also has access to Blood Magic and superhuman speed, strength, toughness, and senses, and totally outnumbers the Alerans by a vast degree.
  • Illegal Aliens: Though initially technologically inferior to the alien races they encounter, Humans catch up quickly (albeit with the help of an alien technician) and surpass the weaponry, medical, and general technological abilities of the aliens they got most of the technology from in the first place. For example, they regenerate members of an extinct alien race, create a type of unobtanium ship armor an alien earlier on in the story was lying about to make them think alien ships were tougher than they really were, created original weapons based on an "atomic vortex" that started with a pistol that was ridiculously powerful and escalated to a cannon that could wipe out massive fleets of automated attack satellites, and generally overcame any and all opposition by races whose technology they hadn't even known about mere months before.
  • In The Excalibur Alternative, human advancement is startlingly fast compared to the stasis of other races. This leads to the Federation sending a squadron to destroy humanity... except that another human group objects violently.
  • In the Uplift series, pre-sentient species are genetically uplifted by extant starfaring races and are given knowledge and technology by their patrons. Since almost every sentient species goes through this process, innovation and original research are not exactly encouraged. Humans, who apparently evolved to sentience without a patron species, had to develop all of their technology up to rudimentary interstellar travel for themselves and so place a much higher value on ingenuity than the rest of the galactic civilization.
  • This appears to be the case in Ender's Game with humanity quickly advancing from just being able to leave Earth to traveling and settling faraway worlds in just 70 years. Of course, it's revealed that much of that technology is reverse-engineered and/or adapted from the Buggers. This is showcased by the following novels, which take place 3000 years later with about the same level of technology.


Live Action TV

  • In Star Trek: Enterprise both the Klingons and the Vulcans (and thus the Romulans) are barely less advanced then they are in the era of Kirk a century later and have been in space a lot longer than humanity has. The Bajorans have also had interstellar capability for centuries longer than humanity. Humanity not only catches up with all of these races (and passes the Bajorans by in the process), they become the driving force behind technological advancement in the entire known galaxy.
    • Given that Earth had a nuclear war just a century ago, Vulcans of the ENT-era find the rapid technological advancement of the humans to be a bit worrisome.

 Soval: There are those on the High Command who wonder what Humans would achieve in the century to come, and they don't like the answer.

    • It's also shown that the war that ended with the Romulan off-shoot leaving Vulcan was nuclear in nature. Which was 2000 years ago. Not much has changed since then for the Vulcans or the Romulans, except for the warp drive. Which is strange, given that Vulcans place a lot of emphasis on science and discovery, while their Romulan cousins are as ambitious as ever.
    • It's revealed that the Klingons got a jump-start on their technology when an alien race known only as the Hur'q invaded Qo'noS. After kicking them out (to the point where there are no Hur'q to be found), the Klingons appropriate their technology and embark on a quest to conquer the galaxy. Scientists are treated like crap in their society, as are doctors, although there are some indicators that this is a fairly recent development. Archer's Klingon lawyer explains that his used to be a revered profession, as well as his father's, who was a teacher. Now, all Klingons think that honor and glory belong only to warriors (including those who slaughter defenseless civilians). The IKS Gorkon novels show how difficult it is for a doctor and an engineer (both of whom are women, although that is irrelevant in Klingon society outside of politics) to make significant changes in Klingon society due to social taboos.
    • To the other races' credit, the appearance of humans on the scene seems to light a fire under their collective asses--the Klingons advance just as much as the Federation between Kirk's time and Picard's, and the Romulans seem to be ahead of both the Federation and the Klingons.
    • Even before Star Trek: Enterprise, other cues pointed to the Klingons being nearly in Medieval Stasis: their uniforms haven't even changed in 100 years between the movies and the TNG-DS 9-VOY era. It takes them THAT LONG also to come up with new ship designs, and they are still using hardware in the Dominion War that was around in Kirk's day (the Bird of Prey and the old Battlecruiser) alongside the newer warships. Meanwhile the Federation's come up with about 100 new ships in the intervening decades.
  • In Stargate SG-1, humanity advances swiftly through reverse-engineering captured alien technology (not to mention having the Asgard just hand humanity all of their technological knowledge). That said, this trope applies because it honestly seems as if no other species has had any significant technological advances in millenia. For example, the technology used by the Goa'uld of 3000 BC (as seen in the episode "Moebius") is no different from what is being used by the Goa'uld in the present day.
    • The technology of the galaxy is fairly stagnant at the start of the series because the Goa'uld were in power, and their race had very few individuals interested in science and found their level of technology sufficient to maintain control. It's implied that most of their advanced technology came from subverting advanced races from within and "borrowing" their tech.
      • The only human civilization to consistently advance besides the Tau'ri are the Tollan, who are beating Earth humans by a few centuries (to the point where their tech is simply declared non-replicateable, while Goa'uld and Asgard tech, apparently, is replicateable). Unfortunately for them, they also seem content to take a measured path towards progress. When Anubis finds a way to counter their only means of planetary defense, they agree to help him develop phasing WMDs... instead of using those against him.
    • Later averted: in Stargate Universe, the Lucian Alliance sends ships to attack a Tau'ri outpost, and the Daedalus-class in orbit is having a tough time holding them off... even with those nifty Asgard plasma beams that can kill seemingly anything in two shots. When questioned, the writers replied that it is a mistake to think that the rest of the galaxy's technology (in particular, their shields) is just going to remain stagnant while the Tau'ri continue to advance.
      • Well, most of Lucian Alliance members are human. Now that they have appropriated old Goa'uld technology and filled the power vacuum, it's stupid for them not to advance their tech. After all, they're still struggling against Earth and the Free Jaffa Nation. The Jaffa, though, don't appear to be willing to advance, which may spell doom for them.
      • On the other hand, the Daedalus-class ship in that episode is never even shown using its Asgard plasma beams, so it's probably just bad writing. Something not uncommon in SGU.
  • In Babylon 5, Minbari were a starfaring civilization when humans were whacking at each other with swords. Now humans are almost to the level of Minbari, and the Minbari seem to not have had a significant technological advance in a long while. The same applies to the Centauri.
    • Delenn specifically mentions the human tendency to keep changing things around in Season Five. She comes back from a mission to discover that a broadcast studio has been set up in her absence. She remarks how Minbari cities remain the same for centuries, and she goes away for a few weeks and they're redecorated.
    • The Centauri are explicitly a decaying, decadent empire, while the Minbari are so much more powerful than anyone but the Vorlons and the Shadows that they don't feel a need to progress. (It is strongly implied that neither the Vorlons nor the Shadows are developing much, either.)
    • It's heavily implied that the new Warlock-class destroyers are a match for Minbari Sharlin-class War Cruisers, although EarthForce only has only 50 of those with more on the way.


Tabletop Games

  • Traveller : When the Terrans meet the Vilani they are Twenty Minutes Into the Future. By the end they are state of the art.
    • Granted, the Vilani are humans as well, they just had an over-emphasis on conservatism. The Third Imperium (ruled by a mix of both races) is a heterogenous mix of high- and low- tech planets.
  • Averted in Warhammer 40000, the Imperium of Man uses essentially the same technology they had 10,000 years ago while the Tau went from the stone age to an FTL - capable interstellar empire in just 6,000 years. While they do get new technology -- how else should Games Workshop sell more models -- much of it is implied to be rediscovered old tech, and human society has basically stagnated with the latest 'big thing' being the Age of Apostasy some five millennia ago.
    • Supposedly, The Emperor was working on a way to access the Webway, the maze-like dimension used by the Eldar to move around the galaxy, instead of relying on the Warp. Unfortunately, just then, the Emperor's favorite son Horus decides that it's a good time to depose him and take power. During the final confrontation, the Emperor kills Horus but is himself mortally wounded. He is kept alive by the Golden Throne but is unconscious.


Video Games

  • The human Systems Alliance in Mass Effect has, within thirty-five years of discovering Imported Alien Phlebotinum on Mars, advanced to the point where it's seen as a threat to the current galactic order. Said galactic order has stood for 2800 years and has not had any significant technological advances since. In the second game it's made clear that the majority of new technologies is coming from human sources. However, this is arguably the point: every race discovered the same Phlebotinum that humanity did and has based their civilisations around it, just as the Reapers planned. It is worth noting, however, that the geth as a species are actually advancing the fastest, and being a synthetic species, they're advancing technology in ways that the Reapers didn't intend.
    • At the same time, some of them are trying to be more like the Reapers, believing the latter to be perfection itself.
    • In the third game, the entire quarian fleet is under threat from a single geth dreadnought, the largest dreadnought ever built.
  • In Sword of the Stars, humanity built a military machine called SolForce, capable of defending itself from the stagnant Hivers and Tarka who both beat us to the stars by a few millennia, in a matter of decades. Subverted in that humanity are still chump change compared to the Liir, who just popped up into the galactic scene from practically nowhere in a manner of years. In-game, the humans are second-best at research, behind the Liir and above the Hivers and Tarka. With A Murder of Crows they share the second place with the Morrigi in the beginning, but the latter's economy bonus means they zoom past humanity in research once they've started trading.
    • The Zuul also advance quickly, but most of their tech is stolen or reverse-engineered from other races. It's heavily implied in The Deacon's Tale novel that their FTL is based on the human Node drive with a few alterations (supposedly, the guy who designed the drive is a traitor). The Liir, though had no choice in advancing their tech. When they were enslaved by the Suul'ka (who are their own Elders who have gone mad with power), the latter force-march them through Industrial Revolution into the space age.
    • According to The Deacon's Tale novel, human space is roughly the same size as the space of the Hivers, the Liir, and the Tarka. The Hivers were in space for millennia, but have constantly fought among themselves and nuked many of their colonies.
  • In Galactic Civilizations (as explained in the manual), 100,000 years ago, while humanity hadn't even begun to form civilizations, the Arceans and Drengin had fission power and stargates. 100,000 years later, they haven't really advanced on either front, while humanity has come out of nowhere and, after the Arceans shared the stargate technology, humanity combined this technology with the front on which we had advanced beyond the Arceans and Drengin - fusion power - and created hyperdrive, enabling ships to independently travel faster than light for the first time since the Precursors died out.
    • And then they went ahead and picked up the Idiot Ball, broadcasting the plans for the drive to the entire galaxy. Cue the sequel, when humanity and all other races were beaten into submission by the Drengin, whose massive war machine was now able to sweep across the galaxy. Had humans not shared their discovery, the entire galaxy would be ripe for the taking. Of course, then the game would be pretty boring.
  • While not the youngest race in the X-Universe, the Terrans managed to build their own Portal Network, BigDumbObjects, and sentient AI in the space of 700 years - the only other race that can boast the same technological achievements being the Precursors. The Paranid, who were at the whole space-flight thing for longer, advance more slowly.


Webcomics

  • This is one of the driving themes behind Schlock Mercenary.
  • Addressed directly in the 'Galimaufry' arc of Buck Godot: Zap Gun for Hire, where a historical treatise mentions that several races do, indeed, act like this: bursting onto the galactic scene, developing, conquering, and evolving at a staggering rate, while the older, more stagnant races just look on and roll their eyes. Because inevitably, those swiftly-developing races will quickly burn themselves out, blow themselves up, or just plain Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, thus restoring the status quo. Meanwhile, the more sedate races often hang around for millenia. Humanity is an odd one out, since they do indeed shake things up, but display no signs of slowing down. As it turns out, there's a reason for that... (DUM DUM DUMMM!)


Web Original

  • The To'ul'h civilization has been agricultural for over 100,000 years and the Muuh civilization has been spacefaring for tens of millions of years by the time Terragens arrive on the scene in Orions Arm. Over that time, the To'ul'h have made gradual but small advances, and the Muuh have been extremely stolid and unchanging. Yet in their 10,000 years in space, the terragens (not humans per se, but still, humanity's creations and descendants) have crossed six singularities.
    • The To'uls at least had the excuse of evolving on a planet with no fossil fuels and chaotic weather that made air travel impractical. Once the terragens bootstrapped them they proved as prolific as their patrons.
  • A critical element of The Salvation War, wherein the demons from Hell periodically send recon into Earth to make sure the "cattle" that they feed on are still progressing as expected. They do this regularly, by their standards - which means once every two hundred years, for an immortal species like they are. Despite the gradual advances of human technology over many thousands of years, they're still unable to mount any kind of serious counter to anything the demons possess, what with their superhuman strength and toughness, sheer numbers, and supernatural abilities. As a result, when Yahweh declares open season on humanity, the demons roll onto Earth expecting at best to be facing armies still using muzzle-loading cannons, muskets, and swords. Instead, they meet jet fighters, gunships, tanks, and rocket artillery.
    • Even with those advantages, the forces humans have in the initial deployment area are almost overwhelmed by the initial demonic assault. Only desperate measures (like local suicide bombers, who are angry at God betraying them) allow the tide of battle to be turned. Once Hell is invaded, the human forces are almost forced to turn to nuclear weapons (and they do use nerve gas in one battle) because Earth is literally running out of ammunition.
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