When is the premise of a story too ridiculous for you?

Here’s another question for you guys: When do you find a work of fiction’s (book, game, etc) premise so ridiculous that it prevents you from picking it up?


For me, as a science fiction/fantasy/anime/video game geek, an open-minded attitude towards far-fetched concepts comes with the territory. I mean, I’m currently playing a game about demon-fighting schoolchildren who summon their guardian spirits by pantomiming suicide! Even by JRPG standards, that has to take the cake for bizarreness. But on this blog, I’ve also mentioned a TV series about people who cross the galaxy by walking through wormholes, a time-travel-steampunk American Civil War game, and an anime about a biplane-flying pig, none of which cause me any problems.


Yet  one concept never fails to make me howl with disbelief: a foreign power invading the continental United States (most famously, Red Dawn). Aliens with the technology to fly dozens of light-years are landing on the White House lawn instead of lobbing giant rocks from orbit? No worries! Giant two-legged robot lizards are tearing up California? Pass the popcorn! But the moment the first jackboot touches down on American soil, having apparently teleported past a US Navy and Air Force that are the most powerful in human history, is the moment I say, “Not interested.”


The underlying principle here is similar to the Uncanny Valley. Just as we are repelled by robots and animated characters who look like humans, but aren’t quite right, so I roll my eyes at settings that are obviously meant to be the real world, but aren’t quite right. In other words, I have a much higher threshold for suspending disbelief in real-world settings, and these scenarios (as with any other that suggests the author failed to grasp the basics of a real-world issue, whether it’s politics or a financial crisis) fall egregiously foul of that. And that is why it will be a very long time before I ever look at THQ’s Homefront, not to say Red Dawn itself.

3 thoughts on “When is the premise of a story too ridiculous for you?”

  1. There’s a time and place for ridiculous I believe.

    I personally appreciate the lengths someone can go to in order to delve into a highly imaginative setting. In fact, I do just that. I’ve written the odd short story before, shared amongst friends that understood myself and my erratic ways, and knew they’d be in for a treat. I don’t think your problem is with a premise of being too ridiculous, I think the problem is when the plothole becomes too overt and the real world setting is broken – aka immersion breaking (of which I really hate that I-word).

    My problem with alien invasions in movies is they never play out like a game of XCom. Movies centre around the US of A. In comparison with XCom, I can have a base nestled away in somewhere out central America, and have a terror mission pop up in Sydney, for instance. Sure enough, it is a bit of a flight to get there, and I basically have to drop everything to tackle the enemy threat, with mere minutes to plan and prepare (ie: diverting Skyranger, or rearming with different equipment like added electroflares) lest I fail.

    1. Yeah, that’s a good way of putting it — it’s not ridiculousness that I mind (see my love for the Rule of the Ridiculous), it’s when it clashes with a purported real-world setting.

      It’s understandable for books and movies — if you only have screen time to follow a handful of characters in one location, that location is going to be the audience’s home (US for summer blockbusters, Tokyo for anime, UK for HG Wells) — but how cool would an X-Com miniseries or movie be? The closest we’ve come is bits and pieces of Stargate SG-1 and Transformers.

  2. I guess fiction writers miss the Cold War, when people had that very fear in them. Unrealistic, yeah, but at the time it didn’t seem so.

    But not only is it unrealistic to get those boots on the ground so easily, it’s unrealistic to want to. What possible rationale could justify the cost of doing that?

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