Under-Utilized Phlebotinum YKTTW Discussion

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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(permanent link) added: 2012-10-16 11:47:42 sponsor: rolranx edited by: Arivne (last reply: 2015-04-03 12:59:42)

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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.


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  • 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.

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