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What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason; how infinite in faculty, in form and moving; how express and admirable in action; how like an angel in apprehension; how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals....

Much Speculative Fiction presents a galaxy filled with many aliens that are far more advanced than Puny Earthlings. This is not particularly improbable; after all, assuming they're not the very first race to make the leap, ever, any race that just got space travel recently -- which is usually the timeframe Speculative Fiction focuses on, since it's easier for us to relate to -- is going to initially be the "new kids" on the galactic scene, encountering tons of other races that have had far longer to get their things together. Even if other aliens aren't super-advanced, if you have lots of different spacefaring races in your setting, you still end up with humanity just being one non-notable race among thousands.

But the problem is, these things are actually being written by humans, for humans, and that usually means people want to see humans in an important, overarching role. To accomplish this, it is made clear that there is something special, something unique about the human character. It could be that humans are inherently noble, kind and idealistic, or that we never ever give up no matter how bad things get, or we are extremely curious and love adventure or simply that our very emotions are our strength. Whatever the case may be, humans are usually given some Western, humanistic value that somehow allows us to transcend our weaknesses and earn the admiration and/or fear of other, more advanced civilizations. Apparently everyone else is stuck in a rut, possibly as a result of being a Planet of Hats.

This will turn out very, very embarrassing to explain if extraterrestrials are actually receiving our media transmissions. Though, to be fair, it's highly likely that any other intelligent species that evolved through natural selection would also instinctively see themselves as being the best, and many of their science fiction works (or equivalent) would have the same trope for their species.

In extreme cases, fantasy writers have depicted humans as (morally) superior to the gods. This is easily accomplished by having the gods acting like two-year-olds, and badly brought up two-year-olds at that (then again, given actual mythology, this might not be too much of a stretch).

If humans know they are special, they will make it clear to the aliens in a Patrick Stewart Speech. Alternately, it might be the aliens themselves who tell humanity that they have the potential to achieve greatness beyond imagination.

May be used as a justification for Earth Is the Center of the Universe. Frequently, it's because aliens suffer Creative Sterility. As humans as a whole are not renowned for modesty this trope of course has much to do with the fact that Most Writers Are Human. It can also lead to Pinocchio Syndrome for non-humans.

This trope lies somewhere in the middle of the continuum are Humans Are Warriors and Humans Are Diplomats. Humans Are Leaders and Humanity Is Insane are specific variants.

Compare Humans Are Good. Contrast with Humans Are the Real Monsters, Humans Are Morons, Humans Are Flawed, Humanity Is Infectious and Humans Are Cthulhu. Compare and contrast Humanity Is Superior. See also Humanity on Trial, What Measure Is a Non-Human?, The Eternal Churchill.

Examples of Humans Are Special include:


Anime

  • In Transformers Super God Masterforce humanity's compassion is what inspired the Autobot Pretenders to take on human form and live on Earth.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann the humanoid form is best able to access Spiral Energy, justifying the heroes' specialness and use of Humongous Mecha at a stroke.
  • In Hellsing, Alucard rather admires humanity to a point, though he generally makes a distinction between "human dogs", "humans who become monsters" and "real humans."
    • Alucard has pointed out (at least in the manga) that only a human can kill a monster (referring to himself). So humans are, if nothing else, significant.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist Envy hears a Patrick Stewart Speech from Ed about his jealousy over humanity's incredible resilience and ability to put aside their differences. Ed is so incisive and accurate that Envy decides to kill himself.
  • A chapter of the manga Ah! My Goddess has a minor goddess visiting Earth go into raptures when she gets to taste "Earth's famous soft-serve ice cream!" They don't have ice cream in Heaven? Then what's the point of going there? For that matter, Peorth returned to Heaven with a lot of games and books she'd picked up during her stay on Earth, and was asked not to do that again, because so many of the other goddesses were distracted from their duties. Apparently we can create entertainment that the deities just can't match.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion invokes a variation upon this, explicated in the extra materials from the Play Station 2/PSP video game Neon Genesis Evangelions: "Humans" are effectively a special kind of life form that includes the Milky Way's first intelligent species (the First Ancestral Race), along with the Seeds of Life (Adam, Lilith, etc.) and the races they birthed on other worlds (Lilin, Angels, etc.). Furthermore, the FAR didn't just create the Seeds and send them off to do their thing; they went physically extinct to provide the souls for them and their offspring. Humans really are special...
  • Heroic Age: Humanity was the last species to respond to the Golden Tribe's call to leave our homeworld for the greater galaxy, but we were the only ones who did it entirely under our own power (the Silver, Bronze, and Heroic Tribes all had a bit of assistance from the Golden). Even among the four who responded, we're the only ones who consider our past to be important, rather than focusing exclusively on the future... a trait that the Golden Tribe also possessed. We were also the only species besides the Silver Tribe to be assigned a Nodos in the Golden Tribe's Batman Gambit to stabilize the galaxy.
  • In Transformers Cybertron, only humans can hear the sound made by the Plot Coupons' power. This was an addition made to the dub to fully justify the continued presence of the human companions after their initial usefulness as native guides largely ended. With this worked in, the Autobots had a legitimate need for the whole trio of Coby, Bud, and Lori to stay on and accompany them on search missions. They don't seek assistance from other humans because that would risk completely blowing The Masquerade and causing mass panic. Optimus Prime is perfectly aware that most humans would tend freak out about the presence of thousands of Super Robot refugees. So contact was initially limited to the three who had already found out (and had assisted an injured Autobot).


Comic Books

  • Parodied in the Buck Godot comic book series, where the one thing that makes Earth unique in a galaxy crowded with advanced species is that it was the only planet ever to invent the popsicle. Nonetheless, they still get the greatness-beyond-imagination speech from the Winslow at the end of one story.
  • In the Green Lantern comics, the Guardians of the Universe pick out humanity as one of the next few species to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, and note that humans make wonderful Green Lanterns. In a bit of subversion, one of the other races picked out as having potential is a species of intelligent space chipmunks, and humanity by and large doesn't seem to change much for 1000 years when the Legion of Super-Heroes comics take place.
    • Justified in a canon DCU story where it is revealed that life on Earth was originally meant to evolve a godlike, superpowered race, which ultimately ended up as humans because of genetic experiments performed by aliens in its early history. Nevertheless many humans retain the genetic potential to awaken superpowers, which is why Earth has so many superheroes.
    • Played straight in the Elseworlds story Superman: Red Son, where it is revealed that Earth is actually Krypton in its distant past and that humans ultimately evolve into one of the most technologically advanced races in the universe.
    • Note that was the opinion of the original Guardians. The new Guardians of the Universe think that, while Earth has has some imagination and great will, humans are stupid savages (like other races who hear about Earth), despite most of the reality bending stuff being related to them. The two Guardians who disagree with this opinion are Ganthlet (who is the last original Guardian) and Sayd (who is his lover and seen how good humans can be firsthand), but are now exiled from the rest. The reason being that they "coddle humans too much" and for thinking that being emotionally detached from everything is bad (which has been shown to be true).
      • Blackest Night #7 reveals they're lying. The Guardians know damn well Earth and humans are special, they just don't want anyone else to know.
    • Guardians be damned, this trope is still in full effect as Grant Morrison's work on Justice League and Final Crisis explains that humanity are to become the Fifth World of gods and replace Darkseid, Apokolips, New Genesis and such. Darkseid's initial motivation in Final Crisis was to usurp this ascension, until everything went to hell and he decided to just end it all.
    • Prior to Final Crisis Darkseid was interested in humanity because humans were one of the few species that possessed the Anti-Life Equation in their collective consciousness. He was especially interested in finding the few rare humans who possessed the entire Equation in their minds.
  • This trope is played with in the Marvel Universe.
    • When an alien conqueror sets his sights on conquering Earth. En route, he learns a stunning fact: the humans on that planet repelled the supposedly unstoppable attacks of Galactus, the feared god-like devourer of worlds not once, but multiple consecutive times. He quickly u-turns his ships and flees fearing a species capable of that kind of defense.
    • This happened a second time, in an X-Men parody of the DC series Invasion. A group of aliens move to invade the world of 'Australia', and only one does the research. He finds out that the planet has hosted several people who can harness the Phoenix Force, have fought off Galactus, beaten back the Skrulls, once hosted the Silver Surfer, etc. He ran to alert his superiors. They shot him for interrupting, claimed that whatever he said couldn't have been that important, and proceeded to have their invasion fleet wiped out by Colossus, Longshot, a drunken Havok, and Wolverine.
    • Played for laughs a second time when aliens challenge earth's greatest heroes (The West Coast Avengers) to battle with their robot to test their strength. After all of the Avengers kill the self repairing robot one after another, we find that the aliens assume that all 6 billion humans are a composite of the 6 members of the WCA, with all their powers combined, and instantly rethink their invasion plan.
      • This is based on a number of older Stan Lee Stories where a superhero fights off an alien invasion, and the aliens flee, thinking that all humans are like this, or in Iron Man's case that the humans have an army of 'robots'.
    • Played straight when the Ultimate Marvel Galactus is defeated, and Nick Fury says it makes him feel like he can challenge God.
    • Uatu, a member of the ancient Watcher race, is convinced that humanity is innately noble, to the point he broke his non-interference vow to help save them from Galactus, the Planet Eater. After being put in trial for this, he has pretended to not care about humans anymore... but always manages to indirectly aid when needed, such as the time he tricked another Cosmic Entity (The Stranger) into not killing a group of superheroes, simply by showing up to "observe" the event, which led The Stranger to conclude Uatu would not have bothered unless the humans were going to win anyway.
    • A Marvel short story had an alien marvel (pun not intended) at the attention such a fragmented backwater like Earth could be the only world in the known galaxies that produces the delicacy "ice cream." The alien in question is a trader who buys the stuff by the tanker-full.
    • Ultimate Marvel has this with Ultimate Captain Mahr Vell in the Ultimate Secret arc. He defects to the humans partly because of their enjoyable (American) culture, including Krispy Kreme donuts.
    • This was the aim of Kurt Busiek's multi-year The Avengers tenure. Essentially, if humans were allowed to reach and colonize space, they would quickly conquer it. Thus, everything from Thor's ability to open portals getting stolen to killing the Supreme Intelligence to The Crossing was an effort by Immortus to keep humans on Earth.
  • Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan initially holds that humans aren't really all that special ("In my opinion, the existence of life is a highly overrated phenomenon"). He changes his mind when he learns of Laurie's heritage, and decides that every human life is so improbable as to be miraculous.
  • In Preacher (Comic Book) two fallen angels quickly discover that life on Earth is a lot more fun than anything Heaven has to offer. One of them tells his friend that he wishes he had been kicked out sooner.


Fan Works


Film

  • The aliens of Dark City abduct and study humans because unlike them we possess individuality, and are potentially more than the sum of our memories, i.e., we have "souls". They need to discover this secret for themselves so that their race can survive, but it blows up in their faces when they end up accidentally granting one of us their reality altering powers.
  • In Penn & Teller's short film "Invisible Thread", an advanced alien race comes to Earth and puts humanity on trial, demanding to see one unique aspect of humanity that justifies their habitation of Earth. The government contacts Teller, who was a genius scientist before turning to stage magic, but he and Penn go to the military base on the belief that they're being asked to display their illusions. After every single genius from every field of human endeavor fails to impress the aliens, Penn and Teller perform their "invisible thread" trick, which satisfies the aliens. Afterwards, however, the aliens send a letter stating that they saw right through the illusion, but were amazed that any species would lie about something like "invisible thread".
  • At the end of the MST3K classic It Conquered the World, Peter Graves summarized how man could defeat a technologically advanced alien:

  Dr. Nelson: He learned, almost too late, that man is a feeling creature, and because of it, the greatest in the universe.

  • The Predator franchise boasts humans as one of the best preys in the galaxy. Sure, they're physically weak and in almost every incarnation, their technology is far behind the eponymous alien races, but those little bastards are still really hard to kill. Their adaptability is something else that's shown quite frequently, as Predators are often defeated simply because the human they're hunting uses something in their surroundings as a weapon, sometimes including the Predator's own weapon.
  • Spoofed in Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. The guys ask God to introduce them to the greatest genius in the universe so they can enlist his aid in fighting their Robot Mes. Following God's directions leads them to a pair of squat, ugly Martians. The Grim Reaper smugly asks "Did you really think the greatest genius in the universe would be from Earth?" and Ted, shrugging, replies "Yeah."


Literature

  • Heavily averted in the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. Humanity is a weak, feeble species of animals living in a universe entirely governed by things that don't bother wiping us out because we're beneath consideration.
    • To be fair, Lovecraft saw everything like this (with the possible exception of the Great Race of Yith who learnt to evade death). In "The Shadow Out of Time" we learn that even Cthulhu itself dies cold and alone beneath the Earth. It's not just humans that are insignificant on the cosmic scale, it's pretty much all life.
  • Kid Lit example: Aliens put Humanity on Trial in the My Teacher Is an Alien books, and many of the aliens want to save them because they are special, having the biggest brains in the universe while only using ten percent of them. We are considered the potentially smartest species in the galaxy, making us special in a good way. However, we are also the only known species to allow war, poverty, and all sorts of other misery. This makes us special in a very bad way. In the Twist Ending it is revealed that these two traits are connected: the other 90% of our brains were once used in allowing us to communicate telepathically, something no other species could do. However as the number of humans increased the amount of telepathic noise increased as well, threatening to drive us insane. So we instinctively suppressed this ability, and the trauma of losing our connection has made us the violent sociopaths we are today.
  • Subverted in The Hitch Hikers Guide to The Galaxy, where humanity is infamously summed up as mostly harmless.
    • And yet humans still managed to beat Krikkit and stymie Hactar's plot to destroy the universe. Slartibartfast was the leader of that effort, but it was Trillian and Arthur who did the heavy lifting.
    • So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish reveals that Ford Prefect actually wrote a lot about Earth, which someone else then edited down to "mostly harmless". In fact, his sole contribution had been the "mostly." Later the Guide received an update and suddenly all of Ford's extensive notes were there. Since he knew the planet had been destroyed some years earlier, this told him something weird was happening -- which, Ford being Ford, he wanted to witness immediately.
  • This theme is brought up repeatedly, in different ways, in the Animorphs series, some less serious than others:
    • It's mentioned throughout the series that humans are much more resilient and adaptive than other sentient species. An example of this is the concept itself of turning into animals to fight the Yeerks. Elfangor expected the kids to use their powers to disguise themselves and, unnoticed, sabotage Yeerk operations. He had no idea - nor had it ever occurred to any Andalite - that the power could be weaponized and used for combat and guerrilla warfare.
    • Humans are the only sentient species in the series to walk on two legs without a tail for balance, so apparently we have the greatest sense of balance in the known universe.
    • Having evolved from foraging omnivores, humans have relatively strong senses of taste compared to other sentient species, and according to Ax, our culinary skills are unparalleled throughout the universe. At the end of the series, it's become common for wealthy Andalites to spend a fortune in order to come to Earth, morph a human, and eat junk food.
    • Another of humanity's special traits and the reason the Yeerks are so determined to conquer Earth is that there are so damn many of us. When the Yeerk leaders are told that the human population is five billion, their reaction is somewhere along the lines of "surely you mean five million". There are many, many more Yeerks than available hosts, and most of the lower classes are limited to things like animal bodies -- conquering Earth would, at a stroke, increase the Yeerk forces by a huge factor.
    • Another fact of our biology that apparently sets us apart from all other known races in this continuity are our hemispheric brains and, by extension, our dialectic minds, conveyed memorably in 'Visser':

 This mind could argue with itself. This mind could see the same event in different ways. It was insanity! A democratic brain, arguing within itself, with no sure, certain control, only a sort of uneasy compromise. A consensus of disputatious elements.

This brain contained its own traitor!

And, as I began to sift the memories I saw, again and again, the internal argument. The "Should I? Should I not?" debates. The paralysis of internal disagreement.

But I also saw decisions improved as a result of uncertainty. Hesitation and internal discord leading to decisions that were wiser, more useful, than quicker decisions would have been.

And yet that seemed a small compensation for the internal treason and confusion and conflict.

No wonder they kill each other, I thought. They very nearly kill themselves!

It was madness. Humans, as a species, were mad.

    • We apparently also advance technologically much faster than other species. Ax expresses amazement and disbelief when he realizes that humanity went from atmospheric flight to being able to send a ship to the moon in less than seventy years. Ax makes a prediction early in the series that, given humanity's rate of technological progress, humans would have achieved FTL travel in 50 years. It turns out he was underestimating humanity: the core concept of FTL travel (an alternate dimension called Z-Space) is discovered not even two years after he said this, to his considerable shock. In the last book (basically an extra-long epilogue), humanity's first Zero-space ship is under construction.
  • Isaac Asimov once said that almost every story edited by John W. Campbell had a Humans Are Special theme. He usually averted the trope by setting most of his stories in universes with no intelligent alien life. One of his short stories, "Hostess" was a deliberate subversion -- humanity was "special" because it was the only species that died of old age, because we were the "hosts" of psychic parasites that were decimating the unprepared alien races in the story.
    • Asimov's primary reason for wanting to avert this trope was that Campbell himself seemed to hold the view that humans were (or should be) automatically superior in some way to any other species they encountered, and Asimov didn't want to be constantly coming into conflict with Campbell about it because he considered John a friend as well as his editor.
I sometimes got the uncomfortable notion however, that this attitude reflected Campbell’s feelings on the smaller, Earth scale. He seemed to me to accept the natural superiority of Americans over non-Americans, and he seemed automatically to assume the picture of an American as one who was of northwest European origin.
Isaac Asimov, in the afterword to Homo Sol in The Early Asimov, explaining why he was uncomfortable with Campbell's Humans Are Special attitude. [2]
    • Speaking of Homo Sol, a short story by Asimov, it is a great example of Humans Are Special, as the much more advanced and numerous aliens who land on Earth fear humanity because of our ability to turn every new discovery and invention into a weapon. Asimov said Campbell loved the story because it made humans unique without suggesting we're inherently more intelligent or morally superior.
    • Other story is The Gentle Vultures, in which some monkey-like aliens (called Hurrians) travel through the universe helping species that have fought a nuclear war to recover themselves in exchange of a tribute. Humanity is the first species they encounter that hasn't blown itself up in a nuclear war right after discovering the use of nuclear weaponry, and they await for fifteen years for nuclear war to happen before deciding to abduct a man to understand the reason behind this. This proves to be their undoing: when the Hurrians explain the man the reason why they are there, the man viciously compares them to vultures, in that they don't help to prevent the war but instead wait till they happen to assist the survivors. This comparison wrecks the Hurrians' spirits so much (and even further when the man tells them to provoke the war like a vulture pecking on its victim's eyes) that, in spite of knowing that, when humanity invents space travel and start to expand throughout the universe, they will destroy their civilization, the Hurrians are happy to leave as fast as possible.
  • Used in David Brin's Uplift series where the humans -- young, inexperienced newcomers to a very old galactic political scene -- manage to fight, win, and show the superiority of their culture (or at least their capacity for unconventional military tactics) against several alien races.
    • In this case it's not that humans are innately special, but that the human race matured naturally without being "uplifted" by another race, something that hasn't happened since the Precursors. We had to make our own mistakes and learn our own lessons, and everything we know how to do, we know because we worked it out from first principles through experimentation. Most other races learn about electricity and gravity and everything else by rote out of a huge encyclopedia, and while they are more advanced than humanity, they are effectively in technological stasis. If the Library doesn't say it can be done, it can't be done. Humans tend not to trust the Library as the ultimate repository of all knowledge; after all, they've done without it for this long!
  • This is the entire premise behind the Arthur C. Clarke short "Rescue Party".
  • In the fourth book of Rick Cook's Wiz Biz series, the protagonist is told by a dragon to save a village of humans from dragons, before realizing that his job was to save dragons from humanity in general, since we may be puny compared to a dragon, but there are a lot of us, and we learn very fast.
  • The Gordon R. Dickson short story Danger - Human featured aliens who have captured a human for study. During previous eons, humans have been found to be responsible for the destruction of galactic civilization, multiple times, and the aliens wanted to find out what trait or stimulus caused this change, in order to prevent it. Multiple security precautions are used including a sealed chamber, constant surveillance, and a single exit guarded by a 20-foot-high force field that only turns off for a short period of time during certain parts of the day. In the end, the human character, who has been repeatedly vivisected, psychoanalyzed, and generally given a rough time, snaps. He manages to escape his chamber, evade all surveillance, and somehow pass through or above the force field, completely unaffected by it. He then hijacks a nearby interstellar cargo vessel and heads back to Earth. The aliens are all suddenly feeling an existential dread as they realize that they have just provided humanity with the reason and the means to destroy galactic civilization once again.
    • Suppose "We are really, really sorry about that" won't cut it, huh?
    • The same author released a book, The Human Edge, containing a collection of short stories where humans have some special ability not completely understood by other aliens. One story in that book has one species of alien intend to start a Curb Stomp Battle, but the even-stronger aliens will intervene.
  • In the Alan Dean Foster novel Design for Great-Day, human loquaciousness is described as being their special talent. Other races can speak conversationally and use metaphors and everything else we associate with speech, but humans in particular are known for their ability to "talk the legs off an alligator and cast serious doubts on its parentage in the process". The implication is that while other races can use speech this way (it is, after all, an alien saying this of humans), humans are inherently better at it.
    • In Foster's Humanx Commonwealth universe, mankind is not inherently better or worse than the alien races they meet; but humans are very enthusiastic for fighting, even those who aren't trained warriors. And they are very adaptive. The insectoid Thranx may be better at logic and thrive in tropical climates, and the reptilian Aan are aggressive and can survive in deserts, but humans can alternate between logic and viciousness and survive everywhere with remarkable ease.
    • In his trilogy The Damned (A Call to Arms; The False Mirror; The Spoils of War) Foster portrays a galaxy full of pacifist civilizations that evolved on tame worlds. Few of these species can tolerate even mild violence without going catatonic from the experience. These alien races are slowly losing a galactic war to a race of cephalopods whose mastery of genetic engineering and mind control allows them to make slightly better soldiers than the free races. An alien expedition looking for allies to fight the cephalopods discover Earth, and is immediately struck by the hostility of the environment. By Damned universe standards, Earth is a Death World with impossibly harsh climates, high tectonic activity, high risk of meteor showers and geography that encourages political conflict. As a result, humans are far stronger, faster and more aggressive than any sentient species the aliens have ever encountered. Humans even seem to enjoy violence. The aliens are both horrified and thrilled. Naturally, they recruit us to fight our wars for them as soon as possible. The cephalopods soon discover that attempting mind control on humans does nothing to humans, and drives the aliens trying it catatonic. Later, they attempt to engineer a race of humans that are good at fighting but vulnerable to control. Unfortunately (for them) it backfires horribly when these humans develop strong pscyhic powers and turn on them. Realizing that they are eventually going to lose the war, the squids enact a Batman Gambit by unconditionally surrendering to the galactic alliance that includes the humans, having calculated that without the war to occupy the humans, restless mankind will soon become a problem for its allies. The other races armed humans with advanced weaponry and medical technology. They won't stand a chance if mankind decides to conquer them.
      • Of course intellectually humans are downright pitiful. They can't be peaceful, suck at medicine, and are pretty much dedicated combatants. Everybody else is better at something, except for combat. Of course, that lasts right up until humans develop psionic abilities. Which is later somewhat subverted, as it turns out that the Lepar, a stupid, plodding race is resistant to telepathy.
        • It should be noted, however, that the remarkable thing about human resistance to mind control is our extremely violent reaction to such attempts.
      • As later books in the series show, it's not as much violence as warfare that is considered "uncivilized" by other races. Several of the "civilized" races are shown as being perfectly capable of violence, murder and even species-wide omnicidal mania, just not the types that are very useful in fighting wars.
      • Foster also used a version of this in his novelization of The Last Starfighter to explain why the Star League is so hard up for fighter pilots as to be recruiting them from pre-contact worlds. Most Starfighters are, by the League's standards, homicidal maniacs.
  • This trope gets played in a minor key in Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novel Have Space Suit - Will Travel (See Humanity on Trial for a description of the denouement)
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers it is the fact we don't leave people behind. Ironically the bugs' special trait (aside from hive mind) is the fact that their prisoners don't die in captivity (unlike what happens to those humans capture).
  • Similarly to the Foster version above, Tanya Huff's Confederation of Valor novels have humans as one of the few species in the galaxy with the mindset capable of withstanding the rigors of combat. Only a partial example since while we may have been the first there are three other species just as capable as us, the Taykan, the Krai and in the first book the recently contact Ssilsvis. Though according to the H'san our discovery of cheese is just as noteworthy.
  • In Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book, Mowgli has to learn more than the wolves.

 the big, serious, old brown bear was delighted to have so quick a pupil, for the young wolves will only learn as much of the Law of the Jungle as applies to their own pack and tribe, and run away as soon as they can repeat the Hunting Verse--"Feet that make no noise; eyes that can see in the dark; ears that can hear the winds in their lairs, and sharp white teeth, all these things are the marks of our brothers except Tabaqui the Jackal and the Hyaena whom we hate." But Mowgli, as a man-cub, had to learn a great deal more than this.

  • In the Galactic Milieu trilogy by Julian May, this trope is arguably overused, as within 70 years of being contacted by galactic society, humans are already beyond them in technology, besides having the most powerful psychic powers in the universe. This is balanced by... take a guess.
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space books humanity's special traits are luck and intelligent females (as opposed to the Kzin who have domesticated their females and the Puppeteers who... just don't ask- it's gross).
    • It bears mentioning that the "luck" of humans is partly natural, partly the result of a centuries long breeding program involving population control with breeding lotteries, instituted by the Puppeteers long before first contact with humanity. The goal of the program was to prove the existence of luck as a psychic power and allow them to breed invulnerable Puppeteers. The experiment succeeds in proving the existence of the psychic power, but hyper-lucky individuals turn out to be walking hazard zones for everything around them. Of course, they only discover this after crash landing on the Ringworld because their lucky crewmate needs to explore the surface and have adventures.
    • Pak protectors (a subset of humans mutated by a virus carried in edible roots) are true super-beings, smarter than Puppeteers, able to instantly grasp any technology they encounter, super-strong, super-fast, and far better fighters than Kzinti. Humans Are Special indeed.
    • Remember that those are Pak Protectors, and pak are homo habilis. Human Protectors are so intelligent that non-human protectors are helpless before them. Of course like all protectors they only care about perpetuating their clan/species. Combine that with humanity's mastery of war in the setting and you get some magnificent bastards.
    • Humanity also seems to be really, really good at war -- at first contact, despite humanity being (at the time) very pacifist and taken almost completely by surprise, it fended off the ridiculously superior technology (and laughably bad tactics) of the Kzin invaders until managing to acquire their own advanced tech (FTL) brought a quick and decisive victory for the humans.
      • It helped that the Puppeteers were manipulating events so humans would win (including their gaining FTL technology), as part of a Plan to curb Kzinti aggression. A Kzin who finds out about this in Ringworld gets very pissed off.
      • It also helped that humanity gave up war and suppressed its knowledge because we were too good at it. Only about 10% of people pass the psych test to learn history.
      • The Kzinti are also uplifted. They were a Bronze/early Iron age race who got enough technology to build an interstellar empire with out any of the wisdom development requires. The non-sentient females are the result of genetic engineering along the lines of a male's ideal in the early bronze age, specifically always willing to mate and unable to talk back. Males were similarly altered to be larger, smarter and more aggressive.
    • Humans are also special in a very subtle way when compared to the other hominid species found in Known Space. Notably, since humans from Earth have been intentionally breeding for superior traits (like natural longevity, superior eyesight, and especially superior intelligence), when they finally hit Protector stage, they can outfight entire armies of Protectors from other hominid species.
      • Niven lampshades this in Ring World's Children by having Louis Wu horribly injured before he enters Protector stage... thus bringing Protector-Louis down to the same physical level as the other Protectors, because the injuries become permanent in the transition.
    • When Wu manages to unstrap himself from his trapped, upside-down skycycle and climb around the outside of it in a feat of monkey agility, the kzin Speaker-to-Animals asks with something like horrified awe, "What are you, Louis?" He also reveals in the same book that during the Wars, there were Kzinti cults who dressed up in human masks and skins to try to trick the human gods into answering their prayers for a change. As Speaker explains, "You kept winning."
    • There's one short story that shows humans were measurably superior as far back as Roman times. The ninth legion was kidnapped by a group of Jotok rebelling against the Kzin, and they demonstrated waaay better tactics, military discipline, strategy, and infrastructure than the Kzin or the Jotok. Pretty much the only reason they didn't destroy the Patriarchy then and there was a lack of ships.
  • The Penn & Teller book Cruel Tricks for Dear Friends included a bonus short story involving a group of aliens who put humanity on trial, feeling that a Class-A inhabitable planet like Earth shouldn't be wasted on a Class-ZZ redundant species like humanity. The main character is challenged to come up with a single unique property of humanity, not present in any other species, that deserves to be preserved. What finally convinces the aliens? Predictably, magic tricks. The story was made into a 45 minute short called "Invisible Thread".
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld, humanity's capacity for boredom, hallucination, and irrationality makes them "special". These traits are not quite unique, being shared with dwarfs and trolls, but are lacking in the more powerful entities like the Auditors and multi-tentacled creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions and such. Pratchett treats human behaviour as fairly infectious too, for better or worse.
    • This theme is echoed in Good Omens. Humans can be kinder than angels and eviler than demons, much to the surprise of both, and at least one demon and angel like human inventions so much, they get serious doubts about the Apocalypse. Which said Apocalypse is then thwarted by the sheer plebian humanity of the young Antichrist coming to dominate his Satanic genes.
  • In John Ringo's book A Hymn Before Battle, the first book of the Posleen War Series, the thing that makes humanity special is its capacity for violence (and democracy. No, I'm not kidding). This shows up in other books like Star Strike or The Last Starfighter. There is almost always a speech about how humans are vicious and psychotic... followed by a request for aid. The exception is Star Strike where the aliens don't practice war, but are psychotic so the humans turn on them and help their intended target.
    • Fred Saberhagen's Berserkers also has the capacity for violence as Earth Descended humanity's most useful trait.
    • Humanity in the Posleen verse is also the only race that doesn't have a master plan to conquer the galaxy using the other and transforming their nature. The Darhel want us broken and scattered to be used as tools when needed and kept locked up the rest of the time. The furry bear-like race is working with several others to make us more like them (including weaning us off animal products) and the Frog's plans are so secret that only they know them.
    • Humanity is the only race to invent mass production and replaceable parts, with other races opposed on cultural grounds...
    • What makes humanity special is the fact that we weren't messed with genetically by the Aldenata, unlike every other race in the known galaxy, and thus are physiologically capable of things like violence on a massive scale. The only other race capable of this, prior to Eye of the Storm is the Posleen, and we're smarter than them.
    • A quote from "The Tuloriad" "We lost . . . friends . . . because we are neither bright enough, nor generalistic enough, to match the humans. They are almost as clever as the crabs, almost as brave as ourselves, almost as sneaky as the Himmit, almost as ruthless as—or maybe more ruthless than—the Darhel, and almost as industrious as the Indowy. They are generalists and because of that, they are generally better than we are."
  • The Strugatsky Brothers (ok, one of the Strugatsky Brothers) novel The Expedition into Inferno plays this straight. Humans are special for a lot of reasons, almost to the degree of being superior, but their ability to be One Man Armies despite appearing to be Technical Pacifists really separates them from the pack. As The Two-Headed Yule phrases it: Do not bother a lion when he's eating, do not wake an elephant when he's sleeping, and never, ever, mess with humans."
  • Parodied and inverted in W.R. Thompson's story "Lost In Translation," in which an alien science fiction writer has his token human stand around and think admiringly about how special the alien race is. (He's also named "Climber Pinkskin." The human translator tactfully suggests a little editing on that one.)
  • In Tolkien's Lengendarium, God endows humanity with "strange gifts." Mortals have more freedom to choose their own destiny, and also can leave the world -- i.e., die. The latter is described as something that, eventually, the Elves and Powers That Be will come to envy.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar and Colonization series, like in "Rescue Party" above, humans are also extremely fast at cultural and technological development, compared to the three other known species.
    • Actually somewhat subverted. Characters in the books argue that humanity's speed with technology development is more because of Jared Diamond-esque environmental reasons (Earth's oceans prevented a single empire from taking over, ending competition between countries, and making society become very conservative) then humans themselves being smarter or better then other species.
      • There are also biological reasons. Humans are the only primates of the four known races. The rest are all Lizard Folk. Additionally, the Race, the Hallessi, and the Rabotevs all have a mating season, which is the only time of the year the males try to outperform their peers in order to catch a female's attention. Contrast this with humans, who are horny year-round (this is not to say that men are the only reason society advances; this is merely an example).
    • In "The Road Not Taken", another of Turtledove's short stories, humans were the only species who did not develop faster than light travel in the normal course of technological progression, despite it being actually a lot simpler than our physicists have determined. However, unlike every other civilization, they are the only ones who did develop pretty much any technology later than the steam age. It is mentioned that as soon as a race develops FTL travel, their technological advancements stop, since the FTL makes no sense in any known science, causing science to break down.
    • In its sequel, Herbig-Haro, humanity encountered a race even more advanced than they were, and were conquered themselves.
  • In The Host, humans not only have more senses than any other species the Souls use as hosts (point one in our favor) but also much more intense emotions. Meyer goes so far as to have Wanderer basically decide that although Souls give love somewhat unconditionally, humanity's tendency to be emotionally intense, confusing, irrational and even a tad fickle makes human love a lot more precious, precisely because it's rarer, harder to achieve and much more inexplicable (point two in our favor). Humans are also apparently the only species that's ever been remotely capable of retaining part of their original personalities when possessed by a Soul (point three in our favor). In contrast, the Souls, while very technologically advanced, very successful at taking over other planets, and naturally, unusually altruistic and kind... are dumb as rocks.
  • In Ben Counter's Warhammer 40000 Grey Knights novel Hammer of Daemons, when Alaric has confronted the mandrake and explained how he knew it was The Mole -- and accused it of betraying a previous Gladiator Revolt, thereby causing the death of another captive Grey Knight in celebratory games -- it defends itself on the grounds that it had to survive. Alaric says that for humans, to survive is not enough.
  • In The Bible, humanity is special because they are the only creatures who bear the image of God (one Psalm specifically states that we're just "a little lower than angels" (Though word here used is "elohim" that denotes God. Besides this, it was mostly seen as prophecy about Christ that assumed fallen body of man, hence it may be interpreted in other ways)). Word of Dante says that the other reason for our specialness is "free will".
  • The out-of-print novel Earth Ship & Star Song uses this trope to suggest that humanity is destined to eventually take over the galaxy because we're the only race that doesn't breed ourselves for ever-stronger psionic capabilities of one kind of another. Apparently, no matter what planet you evolved on, psychic talents and fertility are mutually exclusive at a genetic level, and since every other race in the galaxy has evolved a society which drives them to breed towards ever-increasing psionic talent even as their race's fertility rate goes through the floor, they'll all go extinct in a few generations and we'll just move in. Um... yeah, OK, whatever.
  • In Wen Spencer's Endless Blue, humans are the only ones who communicate with all the alien species. When Mikhail comments on this, Paige points out that his ship has a name, and is called "she" -- none of the aliens antromorphize -- which is what makes it possible for humans to handle all sorts of aliens.
  • In the Doom novels humans are unique in all the universe as having intangible souls, whereas every other species has a soul that continues existing as a ghost. Also we were the fastest developing civilization in the known universe until the Newbies are discovered.
  • 'Sacred Blood', a religious play by Russian poetess Zinaida Gippius, is about a young mermaid who finds out that while all living creatures disappear after death, humans are different - they have immortal souls, given to them by God. Even before God appeared and gave them immortal souls, they were special because they were the only ones capable of love. Thus, God (who was human himself) could love them and spill his blood for them, making them even more special.
  • In "The Interlopers" by Roger Dee (1954), "A hundred thousand nations from rim to rim of the galaxy--the least of them, as far as Clowdis had seen, older and wiser and infinitely stronger than his own upstart culture--suspended opinion when the T'sai spoke." When humans try to colonize an uninhabited world, a T'sai challenges them: "You think yourselves worthy of claiming our empty worlds. Prove it." The humans continue with the colonization attempt, refusing to be scared off, and the T'sai concedes the proof is sufficient. Humans are the only species other than themselves the T'sai have found with both intelligence and initiative ... and they've been watching us for millennia in the hope, now confirmed, that we'd be worthy to take over running the galaxy.
  • In The Secret Visitors by James White, Earth is the only planet in the entire galaxy with axial tilt, changing seasons, and interestingly varied scenery. Human art and music is renowned and envied for its variety and emotional resonance. Also, when the human characters start visiting other planets, it turns out that humans are remarkable for their fortitude in the face of physical danger, and a human ordoctor is considered a miracle worker -- galactic society has long been geared toward prevention of illness and injury, so most people find the mere prospect of injury horrifying, and in the rare cases of actual injury occuring nobody has any idea what to do.
  • The Excalibur Alternative uses both this and Humans Are Warriors. While Sir George's medieval English soldiers are useful directly in beating down other primitives while dodging the letter of the Alien Non-Interference Clause, the real threat humanity poses to the ironbound stasis of the Galactics is its comparatively ridiculous speed of innovation.
  • Heavily subverted in Sergey Lukyanenko's short story Evening Conference with Mister Special Envoy where a Lizard Folk alien, whose Ominous Floating Spaceships are suspended above Moscow, Washington, and Beijing, is wondering why humans haven't been conquered in centuries past, despite evidence of powerful alien races in the sector. He finally realizes why, after revealing several disturbing facts, like how every other race advances at warp speed compared to us. According to the envoy, his grandfather invented the wheel. Apparently, humanity has been left alone because we're so dumb. They even leave their starships for humans to study after departing, as they're already obsolete by their standards (it's been only a few months).
  • Played with in the Star Wars EU, humans are nothing particularly special biologically, but they are far and away the most numerous species in the galaxy (populations of trillions, as compared to billions, or even millions for some other species).
  • Out of left field, the Dresden Files. It turns out that many of the magical creatures from the Dresdenverse are incredibly set in their ways - that's one of the downsides of being immortal or even incredibly old. Humans constantly reinvent ourselves, making our True Names harder to pin down and use against us, making us more adaptable, and fueling our ingenuity. We were scary en-masse with pitchforks and torches - now we have guns, planes, and nukes. For a species that was once essentially deer to be hunted, the fact that we're pointing considerable calibers of weapons (including the wizards, especially the eponymous Dresden) back at them in such a short period of time is both unique and impressive. Naturally, the Red Court uses these advances against the wizards via the Reds' thralls; refer to Dresdenverse.


Live Action TV

  • This conceit has been the defining philosophy of every incarnation of Star Trek.
    • DS9, as befitting its Darker and Edgier premise, lapsed into Humans Are the Real Monsters on occasion, however.
    • In Star Trek: Enterprise Captain Archer reveals that while humans may not always be special they are, however, NOT gazelles.
    • Deliciously deconstructed in the final season of Enterprise, with Human Supremacism being the driving ideology of both the Terran Empire in the Mirror Universe and the fascist "Terra Prime" organization.
      • It's never satisfactorily explained how the Federation reconciles its multiculturalism with its humanism. For a race so assured of their own superiority, the humans sure put up with a lot of barbarism.
  • In Doctor Who, humanity's ability to survive and adapt is what draws the Daleks to repeatedly try to conquer Earth.

  The Doctor: Indomitable! That's the word! Indomitable!

    • The Doctor expresses contempt for Puny Earthlings ("stupid apes") during his darker moments. He does have a point, since Time Lords are superior in nearly every way. However, he has a certain degree of admiration for humans that inspires him to help them over and over again. They're just so special!
    • However, this theme is horribly subverted in the Tenth Doctor episode Midnight.
    • And we invented edible ball-bearings! No other species in the galaxy ever thought of that.
    • Towards the end of the Tenth Doctor's run, human Wilfred marvels at the Doctor's long life and many adventures. He says "We must look like ants to you." The Doctor responds "I think you look like giants."
    • The irony being that the entire premise of the show is that the Doctor, an alien, is having to almost constantly save humanity from extinction. It has even been lampshaded somewhat in the new series and in Torchwood, where human characters faced with seemingly-unstoppable alien menaces openly wonder whether the Doctor will show up in time to save them.

  Gwen Cooper: There's one thing I always wanted to ask Jack. Back in the old days. I wanted to know about that Doctor of his. The man who appears out of nowhere and saves the world; except sometimes he doesn't. All those times in history where there was no sign of him.. I wanted to know why not. But I don't need to ask anymore. I know the answer now: Sometimes the Doctor must look at this planet and turn away in shame.

  • Suggested in Babylon 5 a couple times. Once as the ability to build communities out of disparate elements wherever we go, where other races might make military bases or choose to live apart from themselves and others. Londo Mollari also gives a rather tear jerking speech about how much he admires the humans for their seemingly futile yet terribly noble struggle to survive in the Earth-Minbari War.
    • A particularly annoying example in one of the earlier episodes of season one has every species on the station inviting the others to take part in celebrations of their dominant religious faiths. While the Rubber Forehead Aliens all follow a single religion, the humans, at the end, bring out an almost goofily long line of representatives from every conceivable Earthly religion. One assumes this was meant to be heartwarming, but it's so heavy-handed it comes across as smug and self-congratulatory.
    • The Vorlons tell Delenn that the humans would be important in the upcoming shadow war. Unfortunately that is not demonstrated convincingly; individual humans are important, and B4 and B5 are important. But humans in general seem to stay out of things.
  • In Red Dwarf, humans (the few that remain) are not only special among other races, but the forefathers of literally every other race in the universe.
  • In the V franchise, this was the explanation of why the Visitors didn't use their conversion process on all of humanity to make them compliant. According to Diana, humans are unusually strong-willed compared to other species, which makes mass conversion impractical -- at least for the time being.
    • In the 2009 reimagining, Anna desperately tries to figure out why her Bliss won't work on humans. She barely manages to Bliss a single human, although she is bleeding from the effort. She then tries to do the same to all 6 billion of us. It takes a Half-Human Hybrid to successfully do that.
  • Prime example: Stargate SG-1: Humans are the dominant race in the galaxy, with the Jaffa running a close second. Of course, it is worth noting that the Jaffa are themselves an offshoot of humanity, bred by the Goa'uld thousands of years ago to suit their purposes. Every other race they meet is either extremely arrogant, Always Chaotic Evil, has questionable morals, or are otherwise 'inferior' to humans. Probably the only exception are the Asgard, who also owe their their lives to the humans multiple times, despite being Sufficiently Advanced Aliens; and they commit species-scale suicide at the end anyway. Even the Ancients themselves (also humans, of a "previous evolution", who actually bootstrapped the evolution of humans on Earth), while being the show's legendary race and "gods" who ascended to a higher plane of existence, are labeled as wrong in their morals, for the most part. (They are so adamantly against interfering with the mortal plane that they would sooner allow all life in the galaxy to be destroyed than step in.) Compare Rousseau Was Right.
    • Earth Humans specifically, commonly referred to as the Tau'ri, are particularly special. In the Milky Way galaxy, almost every planet is hindered in advancement by the Goa'uld except for Earth and few others, which got a chance to develop freely. Other unhindered worlds are often beyond Earth standards technologically, but the Tau'ri are notable for their determination. The situation with the Wraith in the Pegasus galaxy is similar, where their feeding on humans limits the population growth of most societies. So, in the end it's not so much "humans are special" but "earthlings are special".
    • More to the point, there's very few other species than humans. The only major ones are Wraith, Goa'uld, and Asgard. A few others exist, but 95% of everyone is a human or a related species in the three known galaxies. Earth Humanity is special because we have the ATA Gene, and the main reason for that is because we're the most crowded planet in the three galaxies. Human settlements of a few hundred to thousand is the norm, and the ATA gene is recessive.
  • Farscape has a good example in Crichton. While his alien friends make constant reference to how deficient humans are and can't understand how they manage to survive at all, they're saved time and time again by Crichton's defining human trait - ignorance! Quite simply, Crichton knows so very little about the region he's arrived in, more often than not, his successes are due to the fact that he just doesn't know when he's been beaten... and his own personal Crazy Awesome traits.
    • Not to mention the episode where Crichton gets to save the day because his inferior human vision makes him less susceptible to a particular effect caused by a special kind of light.

 Chrichton (as a battle cry): Humans! Are! Superiooor!

  • In Power Rangers first few seasons, earth-born humans are special mostly because we're one of one only three or four planets in the universe to not be conquered by the Big Bad Dimension Lord. Also hinted that something about Earth is really special given that we have more than a dozen Ranger teams, whereas most other planets are lucky if they have a full team rather than a single ranger.
  • In Kamen Rider Blade, several Undead enjoy assuming human form because humans (and the Human Undead they're decended from) are unique due to the fact they have emotions that most Undead lack in their natural state.
  • In 3rd Rock from the Sun, Dick decides to extend the aliens mission on Earth indefinitely because he finds us so fascinating. Apparently, we're the only species they've ever encountered to possess complex inter-personal relationships and emotions.


Tabletop Games

  • Baseline humanity in New World of Darkness has few things going for it, but a big one is that we're the only species with the divine spark, which lets us shape observed reality to an extent (and what keeps most of the incredibly powerful Cosmic Horrors at bay).
    • Mage: The Awakening has a certain opposing view between the mages of the libertarian Free Council and the authoritarian Silver Ladder. The Free Council mages believe Humans Are Special, with human works and endeavors containing arcane knowledge. The Silver Ladder mages believe humans aren't special, but that they should be, and being denied the arcane power they deserve is the ultimate crime.
    • A big one is that only a human has the capacity to become a mortal Demiurge. The supernatural races can't create a Promethean because they lack human passion, or have powers that would tend to shortcut the drive and obsession necessary to pull it off.
  • In the pen-and-paper roleplaying game Teenagers From Outer Space, the aliens all have superpowers, but Earthlings have a few special abilities of their own, and to top it all off, Earth is universally acclaimed as the single coolest planet in the entire galaxy. (Which is why the aliens go there.)
    • Humans also have the ability to "fake out", i.e. convince an alien of just about anything, like draping carpets over your head makes for impressive evening wear, or that kissing is a perfectly socially acceptable way of greeting anyone. After all, humans are the coolest species in the universe, so they should know, right?
    • It seems humanity is the only species to actually invent popular culture/entertainment at all. Hence, we have the best music, movies, clothes, soft drinks, etc. and any alien species will either import what humans invented in this line, or copy it. One of the sample characters is a Rubber Forehead Alien High School Hustler who explains that she can get the best tech from her homeworld simply by sending Earth music or fashion to them in trade.
  • In Warhammer 40000, humanity's special trait? The fact that they're more efficient bastards than everyone else. Traits other settings associate with humans - dynamic society, adapting technology, and optimism - are actually given to the alien Tau. Human civilization has been in decline for the past ten thousand years, a Machine Cult of Techno Wizards quashes innovation and doesn't fully understand what technology still works, and humanity has dubbed the current era "The Time of Ending." The only things mankind has going for it are numbers and a willingness to do whatever it takes to win, no matter how many worlds get snuffed out in the process. Exterminatus anyone?
  • In Dungeons and Dragons, humans are treated as foolish and immature due to their abbreviated lifespans. Yet, they're truly capable of anything, as the rapid pace of their lives leads them to be quickly adaptable as a race, and driven to professional excellence as individuals.
    • In 1st and 2nd edition, they had no special abilities whatsoever, but could run the full range of ability scores, could belong to any class, and had no limit to what level they could gain in their class. Other races could belong to two classes at once in predetermined combinations, but only humans could change their classes after creation (although it was a pretty grueling process, requiring you to start from scratch until you regained the level you switched at).
    • In 3rd edition, humans again have no special racial powers, but instead gain a bonus feat of their choosing and can develop an extra skill, allowing them to excel right from the start. While other races have specific favored classes that don't count against multiclassing penalties, a human's favored class is whatever class he has the most levels in, making multiclassing a bit easier.
    • In 4th edition, other races get bonuses to two predetermined ability scores and two predetermined skills, 2-4 passive abilities, and a bonus activated power (normally an 'encounter' power). Humans get a bonus to only one ability score, none as such to skills, and only a small bonus to all non-armor defenses as a true 'racial' ability...but by being able to assign that ability score bonus to whichever ability they choose and start out with training in an extra class skill, a bonus feat, and an extra first-level at-will attack power from their class list (which is a pretty big deal as for most classes this means going from having two such convenient always-ready attack modes available ever to having three), they can be easily competent in any class of their liking whereas other races' perks tend to encourage them to stick to the niches they're 'naturally' best suited for. They also get feats that are useful for anyone such as "human perserverence" and "stubbon servior". Humans are special in fourth and maybe third!
      • As of Essentials humans now have a true racial ability "Heroic Effort". With it if you miss with an attack or fail a saving throw you can add a +4 bonus to the roll but you must give up the bonus at-will to get it. A good power, but if it is better then the bonus at-will or not is up to you.
    • Pathfinder, as D&D 3.75, gives humans an absolutely amazing racial power. Like in 3.5, humans have an extra skill point per level and an extra feat. Humans also have no ability score penalty and a +2 to any one stat, allowing them to be amongst the best at every single class. There's no natural proclivity to lack in the area for a single class. Since ability scores are purchased in a non-linear fashion, making up for a racial deficiency is quite costly.
    • All these examples ignore an additional trait humans have; they have no particular enemies or hatreds. If the Game Master is the hacky-slashy kind that doesn't take into account role playing motivations, it's useless, but if (s)he does, then every PC who isn't human is going to run into Fantastic Racism which makes certain NPC or Monster creatures hostile right off the bat. If the GM really pays attention, it can even be a combat advantage.

  Dwarf: "Why are the orcs all after me?"

  • Earthdawn is unique in that humans are mysterious nomads, of which the other races are wary of. Their racial powers are nearly nonexistent, save for their ability to crib abilities from other classes.
  • Subverted in SLA Industries where humans are even less special than the sewer-dwelling mutants, have no homeworld and seem to be kept around for the novelty value. (and for a cheap workforce)
  • Played with in Exalted; the very thing that makes humanity Special and allowed them to rise up to overthrow the Primordials at the behest of the gods is that they were NOT special; humanity was created as a servant race -to- the servant race of gods, weaker than almost everything else in the world, barely capable of using the magic of Essence. A mayfly race intended to be born, pray, and die, totally dependent upon the gods, providing them with needed power through prayer, so the gods would serve the Primordials. As a result ... binding them into servitude was deemed unnecessary, and when they were given power by the gods, they were able to rise up and throw down the Primordials. Humanity is Special specifically because Humans Suck, in effect.
  • The human creature type in Magic: The Gathering is a relatively new addition to the game. Previously it was simply ommited for the fact that humans run the full gamut of colors, classes and power and have no synergy with each other.
    • Even after our adition to the game lore, the human race plays a mostly insignificant role in most settings (the ocational legendary human in a given set might as well be replaced by any other creature), interestingly enough, most Planeswalkers (both in-game and lore-exclusive) are humans despite there being no mention at all about humans being special in any given way (other than the writers being human themselves).
  • The small press RPG JAGS Wonderland plays this for horror. Originally, Wonderland was expelled from the universe as we know it for being based on imagination and whimsy rather than physics and logic. The Caretakers were perfectly fine with this, as they didn't wish to dirty their hands with that logic malarkey. And then humanity came along -- creatures of logic that could imagine and dream -- and the Caretakers decided, "Well, we can't have that..."


Video Games

  • The Terrans (Earth & Sol system humans) in the X-Universe games have superior technology compared to the other races, they're the only race (besides the ancients) to build their own jumpgates, they have the largest navy, and the most well defended sectors; Earth is guarded by a massive torus wrapped around it in geosynchronous orbit, has massive guns, and you can see thousands of capital ships orbiting the Earth behind the Torus. The Argon Federation, the Lost Colony of humans and the large human faction, lacks the Terrans technological superiority, but they still manage to win huge areas of space despite their (usually) inferior capital ships.
  • Explored in several of the Super Robot Wars games, most prominently the Alpha and Original Generation series. In addition to the more run-of-the-mill conceit that humans are supposedly an aggressive and warlike species (given our history), the aliens often hang a lampshade on the fact that Earth is home to a suspiciously large number of WMD-class Humongous Mecha (because the games are a crossover between different mecha anime series). This may lead them to believe that Humans Are the Real Monsters, which usually doesn't end well.
  • The early Warcraft games used this especially Warcraft I where everything else on Azeroth was Always Chaotic Evil. Even in Warcraft II the humans were the most heroic of the races of the Alliance. Later games went on to show some humans could be pretty villainous and orcs could be heroic.
    • Humans can use arcane magic (and even demonic magic in some cases) freely, without becoming truly addicted or falling into a blood rage, as the various elven races, orcs, or draenei do. Humans are also some of the strongest wielders of holy magic, with only the Naaru (who are the physical embodiment of the Light) and the Draenei (who spent millenia being specifically trained by the Naaru to wield holy magic) rivalling them in their power. On the other end of the spectrum, corrupted humans are capable of far greater terrors than orcs or even the demonic Eredar are capable of, as shown by Arthas.
  • In Advent Rising the human race is presented as being the closest to perfection; a race of latent demigods. This leads to humanity being the center of attention of many alien races and near-extermination. One of two surviving humans then proceeds to open a can o' whup-ass on the genocidal aliens with the above-mentioned demi-god powers.
  • In The Journeyman Project: Legacy of Time, the actions taken by both the series' hero and the series' Anti-Villain characters are shown to be the reasonable responses to the still-kind-of-violent races of the Symbiotry of Peaceful Worlds. The actions of the humans, who have gotten over their petty squabbles faster than any other race in the galaxy, grant them the privilege of protecting the Legacy, until the other races can prove themselves worthy of it.
  • Humanity in Mass Effect have started numerous colonies across the galaxy and have taken a large role in galactic politics in less than thirty years. This has lead to resentment from many aliens, most notably Saren.
    • However, Mass Effect also subverts this trope in a rather clever fashion. Not only does Kaidan lampshade it when he mentions that other races are just as varied - "They're like us." - but it's implied that Earth is itself in the early stages of becoming a Planet of Hats (the hat is tenacity) as a result of its tentative acceptance into a larger galactic community. (Captain Anderson is in fact British, according to the first novel, but Earth is monocultural enough that this is not readily apparent.)
    • It's confirmed in Mass Effect 2 that humanity really is special compared to the other races of the galaxy. Considering that this judgment is made by a Cosmic Horror that has chosen humanity as the centerpiece of its plans... this is one of those occasions where being special is not a good thing. It is made clear that humans have a LOT more variance and flexibility in their genome, and therefore a lot more potential for mutations and evolution. Better, at least, than the other known races and the Protheans.
      • One of your teammates will happily enlighten you about this observation, stating that for most species you can look at an individual and make an educated guess about their temperament, intelligence, strength etc based on their species (though all species of course have outliers). Not so with humans, who have far more variance in all these factors than other species. This makes them perfect to use as lab rats because you get a wider range of outcomes from a smaller test pool.
    • It Gets Worse in Mass Effect 3. The Reapers have the perfect plan to exterminate all galactic sentience that they have executed possibly hundreds (or even thousands) of times (use a Reaper vanguard to open the citadel), but is foiled by humans. Then their backup plan (build a new Reaper out of humans to open the Citadel) is also foiled by humans. Then their backup backup plan (in the Alpha Relay) is also foiled by humans. So they abandon their well-laid plans that have worked for millions of years and just Zerg Rush Earth. That is how much humanity has outright pissed off the Reapers. Sure, you could capture the Citadel and use it's control over the relay network to cripple galactic transit, but humans are that much of a threat that they have to be eliminated first.
    • If anything, Mass Effect might well be a deconstruction. Humanity is special, but that just puts humanity at the top of the menu as the prime entree when the Reapers get around to eating the galaxy. It's also clear that other races might have been considered ahead of humanity if not for unforeseen events. The genophage neutered the Krogan hordes, the Drell population was too small due to their homeworld being devastated and the Quarians immune systems are now too weak due to being driven off world by the Geth.
  • In The Elder Scrolls all the other races of Tamriel are united under a human Empire. There are mythic reasons involving a creator god's reincarnation and his nephew taking a shining to a human rebel queen, but it helps that while humans can have lots of kids in a few decades, your average elf only breeds when their population is low, so humans plain have more soldiers.
  • Played straight on the 3 campaigns of Guild Wars since the Player Character can only be human, the lore mentions that when humans appeared they had no thick hides, sharp claws or fangs to defend themselves from monsters, but they worshipped the gods who created Tyria and in turn those gods gave them the gift of magic to defend themselves, thanks to this, humans were able to dominate the 3 continents, it is also mentioned that the humans's comings and goings are of great interest to said gods althought they no longer directly intervene. It is also human heroes the ones who defeat the fallen god Abaddon and it is the human Kormir the one who consumes his power and ascends to goddess.
    • From Eye of the North onward this is been steadily subverted with the introduction of several races like the Asura, Norn and Sylvari, the Charr had already been introduced on the first campaign, Prophecies, Guild Wars 2 is confirmed to have all of those as playable races, details on the story show that humans have been pushed back because of the emergence of ancient dragons allowing other races to gain foothold on previously human-controlled territories, as it is mentioned "all races are now on equal footing".
  • Mega Man Zero explores this. The Big Bad of the first game, Copy-X, although technically a Reploid himself, favors the survival of humans over his own kind, leading to the main conflict in the series. However, freedom fighter Zero, who directly opposes Copy-X, holds this view as well, thinking that, as a machine designed solely to wage war, he cannot change the world, but instead believes in the humans who can.
    • Though, humans have not that much competition with only Reploids being a rival 'race.' And some as Copy-X are programmed to serve/support humans so it's not their choice to do so.
  • Lucasarts' The Dig uses this trope. The aliens who Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence as immortal Energy Beings eventually find that they are doomed to be mere observers for all time without physical bodies. They want to come back home, but can't find the way, and the only surviving alien is certain that if the humans open the gateway, they too will find themselves unable to tear themselves away from the beauty of Spacetime Six and ultimately be trapped as surely as the aliens were. Fortunately, Humans Are Special and have Heroic Willpower (or sheer bloody-minded stubbornness) that allows them to resist the siren's song and hold the gate open for the aliens' return.
  • Big Bad Allied Mastercomputer from the videogame adaptation of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream deeply envies humans because they can experience life in a way that AM, despite all its power and knowledge, can never hope to know. AM can't really see, taste, smell, move, or touch anything, and is a prisoner of the miles of circuitry that make up its physical form. Ironically, in the Bad Endings of the game, just like in the original story, AM inflicts a similar fate on the sole surviving human by turning them into an immortal blob.
  • In Conquest Frontier Wars manual on of the Celareon (energy beings) gives a long speech about humans and their virtues ending with "They may not look it, but they are a formidable enemy from the rest of the galaxy"
  • Halo also contains this in that, as recently revealed, Humans are almost genetically identical to the Forerunner, the Precursor civilization that was god-like technologically and is actually worshiped as gods by the genocidal Covenant. While not direct descendants, the fact Humanity is almost an exact genetic match, plus the fact that they are the only species which can operate Forerunner technology, AND the fact that the last act of the Forerunner known as Librarian was to save Humanity from certain death, they definitely qualify for this trope.
    • The Forerunner Saga novels take it even further: humanity was a major space-faring power back when the Forerunners were at their prime, and a combined Human-San'Shyuum (Prophet) alliance was able to defeat the Flood, and drive it back away from the galaxy. Humanity was also on the verge of understanding Precursor tech (the Precursors were... well, Precursors to the Forerunners), which had stumped the Forerunners for millenia. The only reason humanity isn't a Sufficiently Advanced Species is that the Forerunners attacked the Human-San'Shyuum Empire, won (because the Empire was busy driving the Flood away), and de-evolved humanity while quarantining them on their homeworld, essentially "resetting" the species' development. Holy... crap.
  • Robot Dinosaurs That Shoot Beams When They Roar: The protagonists learned something in their quest: Humans are DINO-TASTIC!
  • Despite getting its ass kicked pretty hard in Universe At War, the Masari attest to the potential humanity possesses. Now all it has to do is restore that 90% of its lost population.
  • Indicated in Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, in which the arrival of humanity is the only thing that can break the Planetmind's tragic cycle of nearly coming to full sapience, and then killing off most life on the surface in the process.
  • In Nexus The Jupiter incident, humans are set up by the remains of the Precursors to enable the destruction of the Cosmic Horrors they have created. Slightly subverted in that the majority of humanity is out of commission, and it falls to a Lost Colony to aid the protagonist. Humans are far from being the strongest race here. The Noah colony is much more advanced than Earth simply because they were given this technology by the Vardrags to fight the Gorgs. The Vardrags consider humans useful because Humans Are Warriors.
  • In the Backstory of Galactic Civilizations, it was the humans who have managed to develop a hyperdrive, thus allowing them to travel anywhere in the galaxy, as opposed to the Portal Network used by every other race. Then some idiot decided to transmit the findings to everyone else.
    • The Word of God states another reason why humanity is unique - in their adaptiveness, they can splendidly get along with the good races, but if pushed, they can be as cruel and ruthless as the Drengin.
  • In Starcraft, the Terrans are the descendants of Earth's unwanted sent on rickety colonisation ships to the toughest corners of the galaxy. Basically, Australians in space, these folks are an incredibly divided Ragtag Bunch of Misfits surviving on leftover junk and brotherhood while fighting the Zerg, the Protoss and each other. Yet, they hold their own.
    • Later deconstructed by the fact that because of their developing psychic abilities, they are attacked by the Zerg, who wish to assimilate them so they can eliminate the Protoss and overrun the galaxy.
  • Both played straight and averted in Master of Orion series. Humans managed to dominate the Orion Sector twice and claim to be the direct descendants of the Precursors. However, their backstory states that they actually were created by another ancient race as a specialized bioweapon. Moreover, their creators were disappointed with the result, so the first humans were sent away into some backwards corner of the galaxy and quickly forgotten.


Web Comics

  • Subverted in Killroy and Tina where Earth's only cosmic significance is as the most awesome red-light district in the universe.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, humans are doing very well for themselves for a race that's had Wormgate access less than a thousand years, with the eponymous firm's engineer having invented a device that made those same Wormgates obsolete accidentally breaking a six-million-year-old treaty with Andromeda that only the Wormgate's owners had known existed (lucky they'd broken it first).
  • Lampooned here in Spacetrawler. We're not special, just pathetic.
  • According to Dr. Tomorrow in The Mercury Men, humans are unique and special among all the races in the galaxy. They are the only race that has discovered space flight.
  • The With More, With Less arc in Harbourmaster deconstructs this. The entomorphs do like quite a bit about humans and Aquaans, but feel they ought to be wary of them anyway. No matter what any given human's psyche is, they're the dominant side of the relationship, whether they seek/desire it or not, just by having the more powerful technology. That power makes it functionally impossible for humans to do more than "let" the entomorphs determine their own affairs and keep sovereignty over the world of Tethys in general. After all, even pure benevolence is no perfect ward against the malignity that carelessness can bring...
  • Parodied and/or Deconstructed by Three Panel Soul: "Wait, friend! My powers of smell tell me that this food has been poisoned!"

Web Original

  • On 4Chan's /tg/ board, there is the occassional thread about "HFY", which features precisely this trope. The trend seems to have been inspired, in part, by the story The Gift of Mercy.


Western Animation

  • Used as the explanation for why the Drej blew up Earth in Titan A.E.. Sorta-kinda a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy, in that the Drej wouldn't have had to worry about us if we hadn't been pissed off over them blowing up our planet.
  • Parodied in a Simpsons Halloween Special where humans are renowned simply for their "t-shirt producing" properties.
  • Earth is lauded by the Nibblonians in Futurama as the "Home of the Pizza Bagel."
    • Though Nibbler does describe Earth and humans as, "a mud ball inhabited by psychotic apes."
    • David X. Cohen stated on the DVD commentary that "other planets have pizza or bagels but only Earth came up with the pizza bagel."
  • In Galaxy Rangers, Humans are special - in a really bad way. The series Big Bad, the Queen of the Crowns want to use human Life Energy to power her army of Slaverlords (because it usually takes multiple members of any other species to create one, but only one human). Races who are not actively hunting humans for Her Majesty consider human beings to be completely and utterly unpredictable and insane. A popular fan theory states the only reason the Andorians and the Kiwi bothered to ally with humans was because Earth was crazy enough to come up with weapons capable of matching the Queen's brutality

Real Life

Please note that a measure of bias is to be expected from the following entries, having been written by humans and using a human perspective.

  • The most obvious difference between humans and every other species on the planet is our sapience -- but then, that hardly counts, since any intelligent aliens (which is what this trope is about) would have that too, by definition (and it's not like we can really know that other creatures don't have sapience too). Ditto opposable thumbs and toolmaking, agriculture, language, music, art, etc. in the vast majority of examples.
    • These two videos 1 2 cover unique aspects of humans.
  • One real physical advantage enjoyed by humanity is our endurance. Humans are able just keep going far longer than most other species. A prehistoric technique called persistence hunting takes advantage of this; it essentially entails following around an animal that you want to eat until it collapses from sheer exhaustion (then killing and eating it).
    • The only animals that can match us in this regard are wolves -- even horses, which are commonly thought of as high-endurance animals due to their ability to travel at high speeds even while carrying heavy loads, can't match human endurance over a period of days rather than hours.
      • Actually, Spotted hyenas do it as well, though faster than humans or wolves, and thus shorter (between about 3 and 10 km depending on the prey).
  • Humans are also highly adaptable. We might not be the best at climbing, running, or swimming, but very few species can beat us in all three. And while we might not have the special advantages of creatures made to thrive in extreme heat or cold, we can tolerate a greater range of temperatures than most species can, which has probably contributed to the early spread of humanity across the whole planet.
    • And it's not just our ability to survive in a wider variety of temperatures, but that we can build and make things that let us live in more extreme climates. Humans can make all kinds of clothes for temperature regulation, and there are different types of houses for different types of condtions. Our use of electricity to heat and cool homes has certainly helped.
      • You don't need modern technology: humans colonized every continent (except Antarctica) and most major islands, with climates ranging from the arctic tundra to desert to jungle to mountain to plain to forest, equipped with nothing more sophisticated than rocks, sticks, and bones.
  • Another uniquely human trait is our ability to throw things with a reasonable balance of distance, accuracy, and power. It often gets overlooked because it's so basic an ability to us that we amuse ourselves by skipping rocks, shooting paper balls at garbage cans, or tossing balls at milk bottles in order to win large stuffed animals. And yet that simple ability is something that absolutely no other animal on the entire planet, including our closest relatives, can do, or ever did before our own ancestors.
    • Just one of the many unique benefits of opposable thumbs. *Thumbs up!*
    • And our arms are designed to throw things.
      • Precisely - it's not just the thumbs, apes and monkeys have thumbs, but they can't really *throw* something like a spear (or a football), just sort of "fling", because their shoulders are linked to their necks much more strongly by various tendons. The de-coupling of the shoulders and neck not only lets us rotate the shoulder and throw, but helps in running, so we can keep a steady head while the rest of our body rotates. And Now You Know.
  • In the cases where we can't escape from a predator using the environment or chase it off with thrown projectiles, our agility and range of motion can serve us very well in a fight. Very few animals can spin, bend, and twist their bodies in as many directions or as quickly as we can. We don't tend to think of humans as being particularly capable fighters compared to most animals, but bear in mind that modern humans are rarely in peak physical condition. In the wild, we might very well come off as Weak but Skilled.
    • Humans actually have some of the densest muscles of any land mammal. We just tend not to think of ourselves as being big scary predators because we don't have the claws, fangs, and thick fur. Case in point: an average sized man weighs 168-183 lbs which just happens to be very close to the weight of a female Asian Black Bear (148-198 lbs) or male Jaguar (124-211 lbs).
    • The difference in arm strength between a man and a great ape is misleading since most of the human muscle mass is in the back and legs. Great apes may have enough strength to rip an opponent's arms, yet they are poor walkers, unable to run on ground, unable to punch (their arms are evolved for gripping and tearing) and barely able to swim.
  • We have unusually sharp senses on the whole. We have incredibly good eyesight for mammals (though not as good as many birds), above-average hearing, and a decent sense of smell (though we tend not to rely on it much compared to sight and sound). One of the reasons we tend not to consider this is that dogs -- one of the species we interact most closely with -- have better hearing and smell.
    • There is another advantage with our eyesight and hearing that often isn't considered: our eyes can see an unusually large part of the spectrum, and our hearing covers an unusually broad band of frequencies.
      • Well to be fair our spectrum of eyesight is only broad compared to other mammals, we are practically colorblind compared to birds, lizards, and even fish. Tetrapods in general have a base five color system to humans base three. Of course mammals compensate by having much better hearing than any other group. So since our hearing is broad for a mammal when mammals have the best hearing around... any alien we meet would think human hearing is more like a superpower.
  • Another thing that makes humans special in real life is language. Sure, many animals can communicate in a limited way but no species comes close to our ability to share thoughts.
    • And another, is our ability to learn from the past, namely by recording our ancestors' innovative achievements and building on them in turn. Apes and monkeys have a lot of similar advantages to humans, but in thousands of years, they're still using the same techniques to get fruit, bugs ect. While in thousands of years we've gone from the invention of the wheel to space travel. It's called the Ratchet effect.
    • Our range of sounds is pretty unique as well, although some birds can match us in that field.
    • With language comes our unsurpassed ability to work together. While some animals can act together, none come near the level of coordination and sheer numbers that humans can. Sure, a couple of lions are scary and dangerous, but even the weakest human tribe can easily brings dozens of combatans to the fight, operating as one through almost mind-reading communication and far-reaching planning capabilities. The only thing more dangerous than a group of humans is a larger group of humans.
  • Although humans are not the only toolmaking species on the planet -- chimpanzees have been seen twisting grass blades together to make a prong for retrieving maggots -- we are, without question, the best toolmakers on the planet. No other species can hope to compete with communications satellites, nuclear missiles, and the Toyota Land Cruiser. One reason for this may be our desire to teach each other how to make things; chimps learn toolmaking by observing other chimps making tools, but they have no desire to deliberately impart their knowledge and skills to each other, and as a result there is enormous cultural loss from one generation to the next. In that regard, our greatest strength may be our ability to think inside the box.
  • If there are other sentient, intelligent organisms in the universe who have developed a data system similar to the internet, they probably have pages describing how they are special as well.
  • Depending on religious beliefs, a human could be anything from the most advanced life form on the planet to a creature made in God's image to a god himself.



 How does it feel to be one of only 7 billion confirmed intelligent beings in a universe at least 92 billion light years across?

Notes

  1. The speech is actually Sarcasm Mode, but it fits this trope too well not to use straight
  2. In this afterword he also mentions his future attempts to avoid conflict with Campbell by the aforementioned method of removing aliens from the picture, bringing up the Foundation series as an example.
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