Created By: dranorter on February 8, 2012 Last Edited By: Ekuran on February 13, 2013
Troped

Science At The Speed Of Plot

Science, engineering, and even building technological wonders don't take any time, because taking time is boring.

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
In the real world, science is overwhelmingly mundane, be it the daily task of feeding the lab rats or the statistics bit afterwards. Making breakthroughs takes many years filled with often-uninteresting labor, and the scientists more often than not never know if or when a breakthrough will come. But that sort of thing doesn't make a very good plot device; after all, success should be a function of willpower, not patience or luck. So, in fiction, science, engineering, and even building technological wonders don't take any time, because taking time is boring. This is why someone with science powers can figure out which polarity to reverse at the last moment, or throw together a death ray in an action scene.

Of course, an author can always throw in a good Hard Work Montage to allow the viewer to skip the boring part; this trope allows the protagonists to skip it as well.

Alternately, doing science can take just long enough to create suspense. Since the "eureka" moment is the ostensibly most satisfying part of scientific work, everything after it will then be near-instantaneous; isolating the right chemical, for example, will be the hard part and then manufacturing enough of it to use will be faster than making morning coffee.

Like most Hollywood Science tropes, this usually skips important portions of the scientific method. Real science is all about meticulous certainty, but plots tend to feel better when a little elbow grease sends us straight from wild hypothesis to cool gadget.
[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Film]]
  • In The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter gets bitten by a spider and it only takes him one subway trip for his powers to manifest. A three-legged mouse gets a serum injection and overnight it grows a new leg. Dr. Connors takes the serum, grows back his arm in an hour, and in half an hour mutates into the Lizard. Gwen has to synthesize an antidote, and it only takes her under an hour.
  • Iron Man: In a time frame of weeks Tony Stark develops and constructs a miniaturized arc reactor small enough to fit in his chest in a cave, with a box of scraps

[[folder:Literature]]
  • Parodied in The Iron Dream, where the Story Within a Story is a wish-fulfillment fantasy of a para-Third Reich going from roughly 1930s technology to cloning and starships within the lifetime of it's protagonist.
  • The Lensman novels by E.E. "Doc" Smith have a lot of this -- to the point that during the playtest of the licensed GURPS adaption in 1993 there were jokes about engineers in the setting saying things like, "Hey -- if we add a tube here, we can go up two Tech Levels by the weekend!"
  • Parodied in Redshirts with the Box, a microwave-like device that just appeared in the Intrepid's science department one day. Stick the ingredients and data of a problem into it, and it will provide the solution whenever it's most dramatic. Turns out it's a result of a Star Trek-like TV show intruding on Intrepid's reality and forcing it to follow scripts featuring questionable science.

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • A big one for this is of course all the CSI series and their famous five minute forensics. Most real forensic tests take a few hours each to complete and getting the results back to the necessary people can take months simply because the labs are all constantly backlogged and most real police departments can't afford the various equipment for themselves.

[[folder:Video Games]]
  • In Batman: Arkham Asylum, the Joker is ill and wants Batman to get Mr Freeze to finish making the cure he was working on before the Penguin kidnapped him. Justified in that Mr Freeze had done an awful lot of work before Batman showed up, stymied only by a really difficult problem for which he had a hypothetical solution he couldn't actualize. Played painfully straight in that when Batman hands him the ingredient he needs, he plugs it into a machine and five seconds later gets an ample quantity of cure.
  • The Crucible in Mass Effect 3. Plans were found in an ancient Prothean archive and no one alive understands how it works, much less what it's even supposed to do, but somehow it gets built in a matter of weeks. Handwaved by the plans supposedly being very easy to follow. Plus, if you can't dig up enough people and equipment for the project it might destroy Earth completely instead of just killing the Reapers in orbit around it.
    • In Mass Effect 2, Prof. Mordin is set on the task of developing countermeasures against the Collector swarms. Regardless of whether you recruit him first or last of the initial batch of dossiers, he always produces viable results before the first major encounter with the Collectors.
  • X Com Enemy Unknown plays with this trope a bit. On the one hand it's played straight, since the scientists you have on your team work blindingly fast. On the other hand the trope is also inverted, since at several points the plot refuses to advance until the science is done...which can take weeks. Researching, constructing, and launching a Firestorm can take more than a month, and you haven't a prayer of taking down those faster UFOs until you do.

[[folder:Webcomics]]

[[folder:Western Animation]]
  • In Justice League: Doom, when the phasing device is activated, its pointed out that there was literally only one field test and it had never been designed to be used the way it was.
  • In The Legend of Korra, Hiroshi Sato develops the first heavier than air aircraft in the world of Avatar and makes them capable of bombing war ships accurately while he's at it. In Real Life, the latter was a complex process of trial and error that took decades until after the Wright Brothers.
  • During the Danny Phantom finale, the pressure from the Disasteroid manages to inspire the whole world to deter it with space missiles and space missions at amazingly fast rates. Handwaved by Jasmine saying "If it weren't for Vlad's money, we wouldn't be doing this so fast", however there is little excuse for being able to do all this and have Danny propose/create a machine that covers the entire Earth in the time allotted before the Disasteroid would crush Earth.
  • The Looney Tunes Show has the episode "Peel Of Fortune," wherein Bugs Bunny constructs a time machine in his garage in a matter of seconds to undo history so that Daffy Duck never invents the electric carrot peeler.
  • In Wild Kratts, it doesn't take anything more than just finding an animal and stating a fact about it before Aviva can make a corresponding gadget to model it. Doubly so, because the Kratts can instantly start using those devices without any prior training to learn how to pilot them regardless of complexity.
Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • February 10, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Parodied in The Iron Dream, where the Story Within A Story is a wish-fullfillment fantasy of a para- Third Reich going from roughly 1930s technology to cloning and starships within the lifetime of it's protagonist.

  • February 11, 2012
    Sailor11sedna
    Futurama spoofs this. In one instance, Farnsworth remembers he made the proposed machine last year. In another, an invention to stop an outbreak of time skips is completed immediately thanks to said time skips.
  • March 12, 2012
    dranorter
    Other potential names: Science at the speed of thought. Science On Demand. Science is Easy. Science While You Wait. erm, Instant Sciencefication. Innovation As Needed. And The Science Gets Done.

    I kind of like that last one I guess...
  • March 12, 2012
    LooneyToons
    The Lensman novels by E.E. "Doc" Smith have a lot of this -- to the point that during the playtest of the licensed GURPS adapation in 1993 there were jokes about engineers in the setting saying things like, "Hey -- if we add a tube here, we can go up two Tech Levels by the weekend!"
  • March 12, 2012
    JohnDiFool
    Video Games: You can rush-build various wonders in the Civilization series in just one turn, if you have enough resources (gold or population) to do it.
  • March 12, 2012
    chicagomel
    ^ Ditto with games on Facebook like Kingdoms of Camelot. Normally things take hours or days, but pop for the gems and you can get an instant finish.

    • A big one for this is of course all the CSI series and their famous five minute forensics. Most real forensic tests take a few hours each to complete and getting the results back to the necessary people can take months simply because the labs are all constantly backlogged and most real police departments can't afford the various equipment for themselves.
  • March 12, 2012
    surgoshan
    Science At The Speed Of Plot, that way you can cover the rare slow trope (for laughs or for drama).
  • March 12, 2012
    TomWalpertac2
  • March 12, 2012
    aurora369
    The theory of technological singularity posits this is possible in Real Life with help of advanced computers.
  • March 12, 2012
    SharleeD
    Instant Science Just Add Montage?
  • March 12, 2012
    arromdee
    I don't think Civilization counts, considering how many years long the turns are.
  • March 13, 2012
    dranorter
    The video game examples are a little uncertain, since paying extra to speed science up is actually sort of realistic. Not that truthiness unmakes a trope...

    I tried to make the description fit the slightly broader title Science At The Speed Of Thought without it degenerating into 'science gets done just in time to save everyone' (oh hey I don't know the tropes for all that last-minute-save stuff.)
  • March 13, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Reed Richards does this all the time, which is why he's useless.
  • March 13, 2012
    surgoshan
    • In Batman Arkham Asylum, the Joker is ill and wants Batman to get Mr Freeze to finish making the cure he was working on before the Penguin kidnapped him. Justified in that Mr Freeze had done an awful lot of work before Batman showed up, stymied only by a really difficult problem for which he had a hypothetical solution he couldn't actualize. Played painfully straight in that when Batman hands him the ingredient he needs, he plugs it into a machine and five seconds later gets an ample quantity of cure.
  • March 13, 2012
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Isn't this just Law Of Conservation Of Detail applied to science?
  • March 13, 2012
    Desertopa
    Not necessarily. If you work out exactly how you need to bounce the graviton particle beam off the deflector dish in the middle of an emergency, you're actually getting all the science done in that short a time frame, not just leaving out the uninteresting bits for the benefit of the viewers.
  • March 13, 2012
    Deboss
    Perhaps it should mention the not needing testing or experimentation of solutions? A montage doesn't seem like this since montages are there to imply significant time has passed.

    Justice League Doom: When the phasing device is activated, it's pointed out that there was literally one field test and it had never been designed to be used the way it was.
  • March 15, 2012
    dranorter
    Thanks Dessertopa & Deboss, to me at least this is definitely different from Consevation Of Detail: Science, and the fact that it's not a montage cuts to the heart of the matter so I added that in the summary.

    A nice example is in A Miracle Of Science when Benjamin Prester throws together a lightning gun.
  • March 15, 2012
    dranorter
    Oh! Another cool example is that Mad Scientists generally are capable of ridiculously fast "science", especially at the moment they go mad. As seen in Girl Genius, A Miracle Of Science, Narbonic. This is troped as The Spark Of Genius.
  • March 15, 2012
    captainsandwich
    This reminds me of how long it took in Dragon Ball Z for that spaceship to get fixed
  • March 15, 2012
    KTera
    • The Crucible in Mass Effect 3. Plans were found in an ancient Prothean archive and no one alive understands how it works, much less what it's even supposed to do, but somehow it gets build in a matter of weeks. Handwaved by the plans supposedly being very easy to follow. Plus, if you can't dig up enough people and equipment for the project it might destroy Earth completely instead of just killing the Reapers in orbit around it.
  • March 21, 2012
    Westrim
    bump
  • March 21, 2012
    NESBoy
    Obligatory Xkcd link.
  • July 20, 2012
    eedwardgrey3
    In Legend Of Korra Hiroshi Sato develops the first heavier than air aircraft in the world of Avatar and makes them capable of bombing war ships accurately while he's at it. In Real Life the latter was a complex process of trial and error that took decades until after the Wright Brothers.
  • July 20, 2012
    randomsurfer
    In the Tom Swift books Tom causally "invents" new things on the fly all the time as the situation requires.
  • July 20, 2012
    DennisDunjinman
    During the Danny Phantom finale, the pressure from the Disasteroid manages to inspire the whole world to deter it with space missiles and space missions at amazingly fast rates. Handwaved by Jasmine saying "If it weren't for Vlad's money, we wouldn't be doing this so fast", however there is little excuse for being able to do all this and have Danny propose/create a machine that covers the entire Earth in the time allotted before the Disasteroid would crush Earth.
  • July 20, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    • The Amazing Spider-Man: Peter gets bitten by a spider and it only takes him one subway trip for his powers to manifest. A three-legged mouse gets a serum injection and overnight it grows a new leg. Dr. Connors takes the serum, grows back his arm in an hour, and in half an hour mutates into the Lizard. Gwen has to synthesize an antidote, and it only takes her under an hour.
  • July 20, 2012
    Koveras
    • In Mass Effect 2, Prof. Mordin is set on the task of developing countermeasures against the Collector swarms. Regardless of whether you recruit him first or last of the initial batch of dossiers, he always produces viable results before the first major encounter with the Collectors.
  • July 20, 2012
    DennisDunjinman
    In Wild Kratts, it doesn't take anything more than just finding an animal and stating a fact about it before Aviva can make a corresponding gadget to model it. Doubly so, because the Kratts can instantly start using those devices without any prior training to learn how to pilot them regardless of complexity.
  • July 21, 2012
    DennisDunjinman
    Invoked and lampshaded for the second season premiere of FETCH! with Ruff Ruffman. A misunderstanding about a "mold" problem has Ruff state that his show will be off the air in 24 hours if the FETC Hers don't fix it in time. After some investigative work, an actual scientist (this being an educational reality show) tells the FETC Hers that they will have to wait 48 hours for the collected microbe samples to incubate and become conclusive evidence. Ruff declares that would take too long and speeds things up through "the magic of television" by cutting to footage taken two days later despite his deadline passing in that time frame.
  • July 21, 2012
    surgoshan
    This has been inactive since March. I think it's a good trope, but if it's going to happen, looks like someone's going to have to take it over.
  • February 1, 2013
    Westrim
    Bumping for examples. Found this on my list of tropes I commented on, I guess I'll take over it.
  • February 1, 2013
    oneuglybunny
    Western Animation
    • The Looney Tunes Show has the episode "Peel Of Fortune," wherein Bugs Bunny constructs a time machine in his garage in a matter of seconds to undo history so that Daffy Duck never invents the electric carrot peeler.
  • February 1, 2013
    StarSword
    Literature:
    • Parodied in Redshirts with the Box, a microwave-like device that just appeared in the Intrepid's science department one day. Stick the ingredients and data of a problem into it, and it will provide the solution whenever it's most dramatic. Turns out it's a result of a Star Trek-like TV show intruding on Intrepid's reality and forcing it to follow scripts featuring questionable science.
  • February 1, 2013
    zarpaulus
  • February 2, 2013
    Koveras
    @Westrim: If you add all the examples to the write-up, I will give you my hat...
  • February 5, 2013
    randomsurfer
    In an early issue of The Incredible Hulk Dr. Banner and Rick Jones take less than a full afternoon to build a secret bunker in which to house Banner at night when he transforms. A little later Jones does it himself, with no help, in a few hours.
  • February 5, 2013
    1810072342
    Perhaps you can add to this the way that science professors (especially in video games) will always finish the weapon that can destroy the Big Bad just before they go to fight said Big Bad and not beforehand.
  • February 5, 2013
    nitrokitty
    • In X Com Enemy Unknown, researching advanced alien technology only takes a few weeks at most. Even for just reverse engineering, that's quite fast.
  • February 11, 2013
    shoruke
    X Com Enemy Unknown plays with this trope a bit. On the one hand it's played straight, since the scientists you have on your team work blindingly fast. On the other hand the trope is also inverted, since at several points the plot refuses to advance until the science is done... which can take weeks. Researching, constructing, and launching a Firestorm can take more than a month, and you haven't a prayer of taking down those faster UF Os until you do.
  • February 11, 2013
    nitrokitty
    Add the examples to the write up and you get a hat.
  • February 12, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ Seconded.
  • February 13, 2013
    Westrim
    Here I come to finally add the examples in, and I find that someone else already got it done. Thank you.
  • February 13, 2013
    Westrim
    Okay, I'll give this a few hours for any final comments or additions but this is launching within the day.
  • February 13, 2013
    Koveras
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=j6mxutwgw86iphitre4xlfgi&trope=ScienceAtTheSpeedOfPlot