troperville

tools

toys


main index

Narrative

Genre

Media

Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
random
In Working Order
If the alien's transmogrifier has been captured—and was not destroyed in a huge explosion—you will almost certainly want to turn it on the enemy. This could, in principle, be difficult. Alien technologies are, well, alien, and it might be hard to figure out how they work, or do basic maintenance and troubleshooting, let alone repair major damage. After all, Americans have trouble figuring out how to operate a rice cooker with Japanese instructions, let alone an alien spaceship.

Luckily, a corollary of Ragnarok-Proofing comes to the rescue. Captured alien technologies always work, and are usually very intuitive for humans to use. This is true even in emergencies, even after the working parts have been seriously damaged, and even after thousands or millions of years. Pretty handy, huh?

See also Black Box, Possession Implies Mastery, Plug 'n' Play Technology.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • In GundamSEED, weapons designed for mobile suits of one side have energy and data interface plugs that can only work with Humongous Mecha of that side. Some mobile suits are built later during the series that have a "Universal plug" that can allow weapons of all sides to work with that suit.
  • Miyazaki's Castle in the Sky, though not involving aliens, uses the same trope.

     Comic Books 
  • In the Fantastic Four's battle with Galactus, the Human Torch retrieves a weapon called the Ultimate Nullifier, from another dimension and before the dawn of time, etc. It fits nicely in a human hand and is operated by a single trigger.
    • As seen later in Quasar, he was lucky the darned thing didn't eat him. It operates mostly mentally.
  • In the Planet Hulk storyline, basicly the whole planet of Sakaar is built on this. Every piece of technology the natives have is salvaged from crashes and wreckage that's fallen through a wormhole. Subverted, though, in that quite a bit of it is beyond their ability to reproduce.

     Film 
  • In the original Total Recall (1990), the switch that vaporizes the frozen atmosphere of Mars fits nicely into a human palm, has no interlocks, and works immediately after half a million years. (Apparently the aliens were not concerned that a pebble would fall on the switch...) Handwaved in the novelization by having the system specifically set up by the aliens for the humans to use once they've reached Mars as part of an uplift program.
  • In Independence Day. Here it has been studied for the past 40 years - but not by the person who piloted it. And the ones who did study it got the diections reversed. Note that the craft has a convenient joystick when the aliens could control a human brain by touch.
  • Subverted in Cowboys and Aliens. Zeke finds what appears to be an alien sidearm, and uses it to destroy a random alien object as a test. Turns out the sidearm is actually a welding tool, and the random object is an alien grenade. Its alternate modes of fire are also amusing.
  • Played with, but decidedly subverted in District 9. The Prawns are shaped very similarly to humans. So it makes sense that in District 9 all the Prawn-made guns were very similar to human guns. Despite picking them up, aiming them at a target and pulling the trigger being relatively intuitive for humans, firing them was impossible. Play around with it all you want, but nothing but Prawn DNA running through your blood will get a Prawn gun to actually fire.
  • Somewhat inverted in Galaxy Quest: the aliens designed their technology after what they saw in a low-budget TV show because they thought it was real, then track down the actors to help them use the technology when they get into some trouble with another alien race.
    • Their pilot learns to drive the ship by... watching clips of himself, as a kid actor, pretending to drive their ship. The friendly aliens built the controls intuitively matching what they thought he was doing, and didn't bother making a manual. Luckily he actually did have a control scheme worked out in his head when he filmed it and just had to be reminded of the full details. (These are also the aliens who built a fully functional black box Deus ex Machina without having the slightest idea what it did, or even what it was supposed to do.)

     Literature 
  • Deconstructed in the novel Gateway by Frederik Pohl. Humanity finds a hollowed out asteroid orbiting within the inner Solar System. Exploring, they discover it contains almost a thousand ancient and abandoned faster-than-light alien starships of varying size, some working, many not. They find out how to make the ships go, but they have absolutely no idea how to direct them and can only select the preprogrammed destinations. They also have no idea how the ships work, how to fix them, what they run on or how much of what they run on is left. The 'prospectors' who take their chances on these ships for wealth and glory occasionally come back rich, more likely come back empty handed, often come back dead, or in most cases never come back at all. The corporation that runs the operations only makes this lethal lottery more dangerous with their futile attempts at 'reverse engineering.' Much of the novel concerns the underlying terror of not knowing where you're going, on a starship whose technology you can't understand.
  • More or less in Battlefield Earth. It's technically old Human technology being used by Primitive Screwheads After the End, not alien. But then, it's almost worse... At least alien ships would have the justification of being made by futuristic engineers for ultimate reliability and ease of use- not 20th century lowest-bidders targeting 20th century Air Force Academy graduates!
  • Niven's Known Space stories also use this pretty heavily, but with a good justification: The Thrintun and Tnuctpin artifacts are all held within Slaver stasis fields, which prevents them from aging.
  • Timothy Zahn's Spinneret book deals with a human colony planet with no metal whatsoever. It doesn't take long before it's discovered that alien machinery has been sucking up all the metal for purposes that become clear later. Said machinery is at least a hundred thousand years old, but works almost perfectly - a few ancillary machines have seized up, but the bulk of the system does its job as well as it used to when humans were still busy carving stone tools.
  • Played with in the New Jedi Order. The Yuuzhan Vong use Organic Technology that, while fairly frequently captured by the good guys, is very difficult to use properly without Vong biology and/or specialized training (though they were able to get some of it to work). The Vong, for their part, are fully capable of using "infidel" mechanical technology, though most won't except in dire need, as they find it both blasphemous and viscerally disgusting. However, half-Vong Action Girl Tahiri is fully capable of using most Vong-tech (much to the consternation of Lord Nyax, who whines about how she breaks the rules when she uses both a lightsaber and Vong weapons against him and it's just not fair), and Jacen is able to use his status as a Friend to All Living Things to make much of the Vonglife respond to him as if he was its master.

     Live Action TV 
  • In Battlestar Galactica, the reboot. Especially ridiculous as said pilot was able to out fly another, albeit slightly less hotshot, pilot comprehensively and yet no one else could even figure out how to get the thing moving without her.
    • Just because it wasn't explicitly stated. Starbuck flies a craft that, not only was "alien", but designed to operate without a pilot at all.
  • Stargate. Once reverse-engineered somehow, any tech can be used as-is, even the titular piece of Lost Technology from The Ark of Truth, which was buried for about 50 million years.
    • The reverse engineering does at least take a while, sometimes several years, and a lot of alien tech turns out to have a psychic component.
    • And then there's the fact that the Ancients had exactly the same body type as humans (to the point where your husband/wife could theoretically be an unascended/descended/whatever Ancient and you wouldn't even know), so it's perfectly logical that anything designed for them to use themselves could be operated by any human (unless it's genetically keyed, in which case it can "only" be used by any human with the ATA gene). Good thing they're friendly (read: don't give a ____ about anything that's not ascended), right?
    • Played in crossover fic XSGCOM. Humans are specially designed to be able to use Ancient technology because they are Ancient bio weapons, designed to fight Wraith and Ori
  • In the remake of The Tomorrow People, the kids use a crashlanded spaceship as a headquarters. While it cannot fly, it can act as homing beacon for Tomorrow People, heal them when they nearly drown, enhance their telepathic abilities, and whip up the best orange juice known to man.
  • Averted and yet played straight in the first season of the new Doctor Who. From a stash of alien weapons gathered by a collector of such items, all but one are hopelessly broken, and the Doctor identifies one as a hairdryer. The last one is in perfect working condition, though, and doesn't even need fiddling with the sonic screwdriver to work.
  • In the show Aquila two school kids find a small alien ship, with a dead Roman Centurion in it, it's perfectly tuned for humans but the downside is that its controls are in Latin, later they figure out that you can change the language to English thus making it a lot easier to control. So it's an alien vessel, tuned for humans, been underground for at least 2,000 years plus however long it was before the Centurion found it and it can be configured for modern languages, neat.
  • Lampshaded in Wizards of Waverly Place episode "Wizard for a Day":
    Justin: Luckily one of those aliens dropped this thing and I was quickly able to figure out how to operate their advanced technology...
    <pause>
    Justin: It's a switch.
  • In the Kamen Rider Decade/Kamen Rider Double Cross Over movie, Double takes control of a Super Shocker mammoth mecha simply by docking his modular motorcycle's front half into the mecha's forehead (and for extra points, that spot was previously occupied by a laser cannon).

    Tabletop Games 
  • Averted in Tabletop RPG Cthulhu Tech: for the expressed purpose of avoiding this trope, the alien Migou design their guns and mecha to require no less than six limbs to operate.
    • The Paranoia module "Clones in Space" similarly avoids this trope, with alien guns designed for three arms; the Troubleshooters can use them, but only at significant risk of explosive malfunction.
  • Warhammer40000: Da Orkz are the master of this trope. They can pretty much use anything made by other species. An example of this would be the Looted Leman Russ Tank, originally belonging to the Imperial Guard. Subverted, though: it's not that da orkz understand how to operate it, they work because da orkz simply believe that they work. Which also means nobody else can use anything made by da orkz, because they shouldn't work at all. This isn't perfect either; a looted vehicle has a 1 in 6 chance every turn of going completely out of control.
    • Averted with the Tau: one commando raid ended in failure after the Imperials tried to pull a Grand Theft Prototype on their battlesuits, and getting fried when the suit didn't recognize their DNA.
    • Just about anything made from an STC (a set of building instructions from the bygone era of highly advanced technology) will continue to work properly after thousands of years (unless they're corrupted), which is why they're of such value to the Imperium.
  • Played with slightly in 3E Dungeons & Dragons, which requires a Use Magic Device check to operate any magical item that's found (it's assumed that the characters are experimenting with different activation words and handgrips), but even the strangest and most alien artifacts will yield with a high enough roll.

     Video games 
  • The Mothership Zeta mission in Fallout 3. Your character can use the guns the aliens dropped, and their shock sticks, and even explode their various engines, dismantle their Death Ray and even fight another alien warship. And then in the end you get to keep the spaceship! You don't get to fly it anywhere else though (leave the DC Wasteland? Never!)
    • Like most weapons, alien weapons will degrade with use. Fortunately, they're just as easy to repair with spare parts (taken from spare weapons) as human-made weapons.
  • Averted (and explained) in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars. One of the intelligence reports for GDI details how one of the Scrin tripods was captured: after a commando had blown up one of its legs with plastic charge, an engineer moved in and established control over it, using a computer program originally used to decode the Tacitus back in Firestorm. It works just as easily for The Brotherhood.
  • In the X-Com series, it is in your best interest to quickly research alien items, and THEN this is in full effect. You can manufacture them after that, but why should you if you can just take them from the hands of dead aliens? Even so, some items like armor can only be used to research human-usable equivalents, and it's taken a tad far in some cases. For example, every alien enemy fought in-game that can carry weapons and grenades is at least vaguely humanoid, and certainly has an opposable thumb fairly similar to ours (and it works pretty well, so why should we be the only ones to evolve it?). The fluff is even explicit about the fact that most of them are genetically engineered and/or selectively bred to be more obedient than smart, so AK47 levels of simplicity to operate would be a necessity. Your troops still can't pick one up from a dead alien grunt and use it until they've been researched.
    • UFO Aftermath takes this one step further: research descriptions suggest that the scientists have added a stock, a grip and a trigger to the plasma gun so that it can be used by humans. Also, alien armor won't work for humans due to their environmental systems (Reticulans need lower gravity and more oxygen) so they had to build that from scratch.
      • Similarly, the Wargot weapons in Aftershock require a little additional modification for human or cyborg use, as the Wargot inexplicably possess an additional 'finger' on their elbow-equivalents, in order to operate an additional trigger system. It's never really explained why, but it could well be an attempt to avoid this trope.
      • The 2012 reboot averts this; when an alien dies its equipment self-destructs and the researchers are reverse-engineering the fragments. You still need to figure out how to capture one intact in order to use their plasma weaponry. The game also takes pains to point out that, in most cases, alien weaponry is designed for alien physiology, which is a little different from human physiology, and even then, humans can adapt alien technology to new applications, such as sniper rifles and plasma light machine guns.
      • In addition, it's pointed out in the research briefings that scientists aren't bothering to figure out all the ins and outs of the various alien technologies; there isn't time for that. All they're doing is figure out just enough to use them, and no more. The most straight-forward example is UFO Flight Computers, which have an internal programming language that scientists don't even bother trying to decode beyond a cursory attempt: the hardware is far more useful than the software, and while they're still looking into it when they have time, they're ready to move on to other projects.
    • In Xenonauts, while alien technology generally can't be used straight away without Doing Research on it, a soldier can simply pick up an alien plasma rifle and use it in the same battle with no problem at all. It is only after the battle ends when alien weaponry becomes non-functional.
  • The mass relays and the Citadel itself in Mass Effect. Oddly, despite having colonized the Citadel and turned it into a sprawling center of interstellar commerce, not to mention the galactic seat of power, none of the major races in the game seem to have it figured for what it really is - ostensibly a doomsday device. Justified, as the Reapers have set up an alien race to maintain the the Citadel so that the aliens who find it don't have to learn more about the Citadel and realize what it actually is.
    • Another example of this is the lost planet Ilos. Even after thousands of years with nobody there, everything from elevators to VI computers are still working. Of course, the VI is very degraded, and it supposedly shut down nonessential systems and life support to keep things going, but did you see how much moss was on its interface panel?
  • The existence of this trope is a plot point in the Halo series, with the Forerunner technology that apparently can only be used by humans.
    • Averted with Covenant weapons: While humans can use them, they never quite figure out how to reload the battery-powered ones, making them Throw Away Guns (the covenant plugs them into charging stations, they actually can't be reloaded in the field). Most of them can't use them to their full potential because of the Prophets religion on not tampering with Forerunner tech.
  • PlanetSide has the Ancient Vanu Caverns. All the technology in them still functions perfectly fine, despite the Vanu being gone for god knows how long. After The Bending, many of the caverns were relocated from under the surface of Auraxis to truly odd locations - such as being inside an asteroid in the depths of interstellar space. This has had no effect on the cavern systems, courtesy of their self-repairing nanites

     Western Animation 
  • Averted and then played straight (for laughs) on the pilot of Megas XLR. The Earth's last defense forces capture the Glorft's new superweapon prototype, the Avatar, and take some time to rebuild it into the MEGAS, which they can use. In the ensuing conflict, Megas is beheaded and then teleported back in time to the 1930s where it sits buried in a scrapyard for about 70 years. Coop has to rebuild the control panel from scratch, but he has no trouble at all interacting with partially alien technology from hundreds of years in the future, or adapting it to video game controllers or the dashboard of a Plymouth Barracuda. He even adds new weapons of his own design. Somewhat justified in that Coop is a Genius Ditz.
    • And subverted in that only Coop is capable of piloting MEGAS after all he's done with it.
  • Lampshaded in at least one episode of Invader Zim. Dib was hacking into an Irken ship and said "I sure hope the Irkens happen to have the same Operating System as I do."

     Real Life 
  • Real Life: The US Air Force ran a program during the Cold War codenamed Constant Peg, which basically involved Soviet aircraft, primary of the MiG-21 and MiG-23 varieties, acquired from a number of sources (e.g. Egypt, which changed sides in the late 1970s) for analysis and pilot training. The pilots had to write their own checklists and one piece of advice was "You can touch the shiny switches, but don't touch the red or rusty ones". A number died in accidents.


Emergency WeaponChoice of Two WeaponsMagic Knight
Invulnerable KnucklesCombat TropesJust Toying with Them

random
TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from thestaff@tvtropes.org.
Privacy Policy
35735
1