Created By: rolranxOctober 16, 2012 Last Edited By: ArivneApril 3, 2015

Under-Utilized Phlebotinum

A new use of existing Phlebotinum is so obvious it\'s hard to believe no one realized it before.

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One of the great hallmarks of a Guile Hero in a science fiction story is the moment when, facing incredible danger, the hero comes up with a new and unique way of using his existing tools in an unexpected, yet brilliant, manner to save the day.

Unfortunately, this can sometimes bring up a serious question. If this new use of the technology is so sensible then why has it only been discovered now? Surely with so many other brilliant people using an established technology for an extensive amount of time someone else should have already realized its other applications before now.

One good way to justify this trope is to suggest that the current users of the technology are so dogmatic that they would never consider new uses, or that the protagonist has some sort of new/unique view which helps him to visualize new techniques.

This trope only applies if the technology being used is an established or commonly used technology in-universe. If a device or technology is brand new or still in development then it's not unexpected that the full implications of the technology won't be fully realized by the time of the story.

While this trope usually occurs in a science fiction setting it can be used in other situations. Fantasy worlds that rely heavily on Magic A Is Magic A and Sufficiently Analyzed Magic can also manage the magical equivalent of this trope.

Compare Reverse Polarity and Technobabble where the protagonist uses an existing technology in a new manner, but is not a logical extension of the natural technology. If no one ever reuses the technique/method developed by the protagonist again despite its proven effectiveness this can be a form of Forgotten Phlebotinum or even Reed Richards Is Useless.


Examples

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     Literature 
  • In the first novel of Dune the Baron Harkonnen uses old fashioned artillery rounds, which he claims were considered obsolete due to shields ability to easily block them, to : trap retreating soldiers in a cave by destroying the entrance. However, this doesn't seem that shocking a trick. There are plenty of times when artillery would still be a valid method of attacking non-shielded entities for any number of reasons.
  • In Robert Silverberg's Master of Life and Death, the protagonist is somehow the first to notice that the hypnotic state the most popular television programs of the future put their viewers in could be used for propaganda purposes. Seriously, nobody in the advertising or public relations field had ever noticed this before?

     Live Action Television 
  • The transporter in Star Trek falls into this trope often. It will often be used for new methods in a single episode that are never shown again. The transporter has been used to 1) beam a harmful attack to an enemy ship, 2) beam the commander of a ship off of it's bridge to the enemy ship. 3) beam individuals into space, 4) heal numerous sickness/ailments by reverting someone to the last saved 'pattern' from the transporter. 5) keep someone in a form of cryo-stasis. 6) create a perfect clone of an individual. 7) perform extended long range transportation (admittedly at health risk to the user) 8) transport someone while two ships were traveling at warp speed 9) as a site-to-site single transporter to escape being chased. Some of these fall more under Reverse The Polarity then this heading, but it's safe to say that transporter technology has some useful abilities that should be further investigated.

     Web Comics 
  • Erfworld. Parson manages to come up with numerous exploits of the Erfworld battle system, which allow him to take on and defeat more powerful forces. This is justified because Parson, coming from another world where he use to play war games with rules like that of Erfworld, has a completely different way of viewing the world and its mechanics then those raised in it.

Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • October 16, 2012
    rolranx
    this is a very rough draft. I don't like my own trope description, feel it could flow better. Any suggestions are welcome, for that matter feel free to open up the edit box and hack at it yourself lol. all I care about was getting the main points written down.
  • October 16, 2012
    Rotpar
    I don't think the Ender's Game example is good. Its not that they needed somebody to think of the tactic, they needed somebody empathic and brilliant to outmaneuver the buggers to get a chance to do it. And stressed out enough over the "game" to do the deed without compassion and doubt in the way.
  • October 17, 2012
    Arivne
    ^ Also, it was stated in the story that in all of the previous fighting between humanity and the Buggers that neither side had ever attacked the other side's planets. It was an unspoken "gentleman's agreement" to avoid mutual planetary annihilation.
    "Does the Little Doctor work against a planet?"
    Mazer's face went rigid. "Ender, the buggers never attacked a civilian population in either invasion. You decide whether it would be wise to adopt a strategy that would invite reprisals."

    By the way, the original Ender's Game short story came out in 1977, 35 years ago. It probably doesn't need to be spoilered any more.
  • October 23, 2012
    Rotpar
    I don't believe that the age of a work negates spoiler tags, aside from a few things on the Spoilers Off page; like mythology or Shakespeare, things that are ancient and extremely well-known.

    Anyway, the point still stands, the Ender's Game example isn't good. They were aware of that tactic, but they chose not to do it.
  • October 23, 2012
    rolranx
    yes I agree it's not a good example. but I have run into this many times in the past, I just can't remember them very well. I'm about to add one or two better ones, but can anyone come up with some examples?
  • October 23, 2012
    Nocturna
    I don't think we need this. It's essentially complaining about reveals/plot points/plot holes you don't like.
  • October 23, 2012
    SKJAM
    In Robert Silverberg's Master of Life and Death, the protagonist is somehow the first to notice that the hypnotic state the most popular television programs of the future put their viewers in could be used for propaganda purposes. Seriously, nobody in the advertising or public relations field had ever noticed this before?
  • October 23, 2012
    arromdee
    Robert Heinlein's Time Enough For Love (I think it's that one since it's the first one where he uses time travel) has a conversation somewhat like this: "Sure you can time travel. With the way this drive works, you can..." "But that isn't time travel". "It's not?"

    Readers schooled in science will 1) understand that the claim that faster than light travel implies time travel is correct, and 2) wonder why in the world nobody in that universe has thought of this before.

    (This badly needs someone who remembers the reference in more detail to look it up.)
  • October 23, 2012
    arromdee
    "someone else should have already realized it's other applications before now."

    it's --> its
  • October 23, 2012
    rolranx
    made the too fixes. Tried to look up the conversation referenced by arrodee but I'm afraid I couldn't find anything accurate enough, I may have to wait till someone who better recognizes the series can help elaborate on it.

    ps. if it's is the only grammar mistake that exists I'll be shocked. me and grammar (I considered fixing this to "grammar and I" but decided not to) don't get along you see... ;)
  • August 3, 2014
    DAN004
    Uh...
  • August 3, 2014
    Generality
    The current title sounds like Forgotten Phlebotinum. This should be something like Easily Solved Phlebotinum. By the way, this will probably be a YMMV trope.

    • In the end of The Fifth Element, the protagonists have gathered the four elemental stones in the appointed place and now have to activate them. It takes them an agonizingly long time to figure out to expose each to its own element- water for water, fire for fire, etc.
  • August 3, 2014
    DAN004
    Can somebody tell me what this is?
  • August 4, 2014
    Arivne
    ^ I have changed the Laconic to make it clearer.

    The OP rolranx left TV Tropes back in 2012 and this proposal Up For Grabs. I am going to change the Description to delete the whole "Foreshadowing" and "having the use make sense" bit (since the trope isn't really about that) so that it's shorter and hopefully clearer.
  • August 4, 2014
    Arivne
    • Capitalized the title and Laconic.
    • Condensed the Laconic.
    • Corrected spelling (forshadowed, explots, it's).
    • Blue Linked (Technobable, Reed Richard Is Useless).
    • Added blank line(s) for readability.
    • Examples section formatting
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Added a space between asterisks and the first word following them.
      • Namespaced and italicized work name(s).
      • Namespaced Creator names.
    • Capitalized (baron harkonnen).
    • Changed "teleporter" to "transporter" in the Star Trek example.
    • How To Write An Example - State the source
    • Added [[/folder]] to the end of a media section folder so it would display properly.
  • August 4, 2014
    Arivne
  • August 4, 2014
    DAN004
    So in short, this is about finding new ways on how to use a phlebotinum?
  • August 4, 2014
    randomsurfer
    re Time Enough for Love: I think this is the passage. Lazarus is having a conversation with an AI named Minerva.
    "Lazarus, I learned from Dora [Lazarus's ship's AI] when she taught me the mathematics of n-space astrogation, that every jump transition involves a decision as to whether to re-enter the time axis."
    "Yes, certainly. Since you are cut off from the framework of the speed-of-light you could go as many years astray as there are light-years involved in the jump. But that's not a time machine."
    "It isn't?"
    "Hmm - It's a disturbing thought - it feels like intentionally making a bad landing. I wish Andy Libby were here. Minerva, why didn't you mention this before?"
    "Should I have put it in your Zwicky Box? You turned down time travel forward...and I ruled out time travel into the past because you said you wanted [to experience] something new.

    Parenthetically (I didn't remember the reference, I'm just very good at searching.)
  • April 3, 2015
    DAN004
    Bump, maybe
  • April 3, 2015
    Koveras
    • In Claymore, when Yuma figures out how to manipulate other warriors' yoki to make their wounds heal faster, it's treated as a great discovery that gives the Ghosts an edge in their rebellion against the Organization. Apparently, in the 130 generations of Claymores that came before Yuma, not a single one of them had figured out how to combine offensive yoki manipulation with the defensive types' regeneration abilities to greatly increase the survivability of individual fighters. Possibly justified by the individual Claymores' long-term survival being the last thing the Organization wants.
  • April 3, 2015
    Rjinswand
    ^^^ I don't think this is about any instance of finding new use of phlebotinum (e.g. when [[Spider-Man]] finds new ways to use his web fluid). It's only when the phlebotinum was well-known for some time, and no one until now had thought of using it a certain way. I might be wrong though.

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