main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Mohs: One Big Lie
One Big Lie: The author invents one (or, at most, a very few) counterfactual physical laws and writes a story that explores the implications of these principles.


Anime and Manga
  • Patlabor's only "lie" is the existence of giant humanoid robots that can support their own weight, and even then it's more plausible than, say Gundam.note 

  • The Iron Man movies use the Big Lie of the miniaturized Arc Reactor, a palm-sized power source that, in the words of the first movie, can "power [a] heart for fifty lifetimes... or something bigger for fifteen minutes." You can also consider the Powered Armor that the Arc Reactor powers as the Big Lie instead, as its capabilities are beyond what's possible in real life and this is the technology that the movies explore the consequences of - namely, that every military in the world wants one and every arms dealer wants to sell one. Or you could consider the repulsors to be the Big Lie. The whole thing is softened considerably in the context of the other Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, though, as they imply that the reactor is based on a Science In Genre Only alien artifact.
  • The Rocketeer similarly goes on a jet pack whose exhaust is cool enough that it doesn't roast the wearer but has enough thrust to launch them in the air. One of the realistic implications is that in order to control the flight, one needs a rudder (in the form of a helmet), something Howard Hughes couldn't figure out.

  • Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth series operates on a great deal of Phlebotinum mixed with just enough hard sci fi elements to keep things sounding plausible. For example, FTL Travel is performed by means of Artificial Gravity generators that violate conservation of energy, but the rules for employing them are very strict, and most other technologies are based on things resembling known physics, or are logical extensions of the use of Artificial Gravity. However, once the Precursors start to show up with their Lost Technology, things get really fanciful really fast. Examples: constructed artificial planetoids that can traverse the galaxy in a week and fire star system-destroying bursts of energy across intergalactic space, entire planets that warp through alternate dimensions, etc.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold features a little Time Travel, but is chiefly focused on exploring the fictional future society.
  • Ilivais X likely falls within this. Though it's set only somewhat late in the 21st century, a Lensman Arms Race at the time the Aztecs fought of Cortez elevates the technology several millenia beyond what it should be (notably, space travel occuring in the 1700s). Most of the technology is fairly plausible- the Humongous Mecha are, for the most part, incapable of walking on land and usually meant solely for flight (even the ones that can move on land have some vertical thrust), cities prone to disasters are suspended in the air via satellites, hovering vehicles operate on a computerized maglev system, mechanical and organic regeneration occurs with Nanomachines, advanced neuroscience allows the Drive Cores to work, etc. The End Codes are not explained at all, however, as they apparently stop time for anything that doesn't have an End Code itself, though it generally drains the user's energy very quickly. It's presumed the titular mech's teleportation works this way, which is only possible with its Cyclic Engine, but that isn't explained either aside from stating it took a long time to make. The latter is essentially the MacGuffin of the story.
  • Greg Egan is a master of this trope, with a frightening ability to consider the deep consequences of alternate physics. Orthogonal in particular shows this off: "All" he did was make one small change to the geometry of spacetime, such that any distinction between space and time dimensions becomes just an accident of where the tangent of your world line happens to be pointing. And then he derived the physical consequences of that in great detail, including that stars have negative temperature, electric fields are "corrugated", and the speed of light depends on its color. And then he actually wrote a story in this universe, where it's understood that sometimes people just go out in a huge explosion when they die and it's a natural consequence of how the universe works, and where all the characters were some kind of amoebic creatures that can grow limbs at will and that split to give birth, and it didn't feel any less... human.
  • Julie Cross's Tempest: A Novel includes people with a genetic quirk which allows the people born with it to travel through time. Experienced users can bounce off alternate timelines, and create the illusion that the time traveler can travel through time at will. Naturally this makes for a confusing story rather quickly.
  • Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel and other works involving Three Laws Compliant robots use artificial consciousness (a "positronic" brain made of an iridium alloy) alongside much simpler (and in some cases, now outmoded) technologies. Although artificial consciousness may someday be achieved, a mass-produced and highly portable one that is economically more viable than human labor or simpler electronic automation is not very plausible. Again, since the stories are concerned more with the psychological and sociological consequences of robotics than with the technical aspects, the stories do not particularly suffer for this One Big Lie.
  • In the Star Carrier series by Ian Douglas, the lie is spacetime manipulation technology, which allows for, among other things, gravitic weapons, deflector shields (which work by bending ordnance back in on itself, destroying missiles and deflecting kinetic and beam weapons), inertial dampers, and Reactionless Drive (which takes the form of "pulled by an artificial singularity" on small ships and an Alcubierre drive on larger ones).
  • Beggars in Spain, by Nancy Kress, falls here. Its premise is that it is possible to genetically engineer human beings who have no need—and in fact have lost the capacity—to sleep. In her story, the emotional instabilities, judgment impairment and memory loss caused by lack of sleep simply don't occur when a person never slept in the first place, which is why the Beggars trilogy belongs in this level of hardness regardless of what was known of sleep science (or genetic engineering!) when it was published in The Nineties.
    • It arguably falls in Level 4 as well, because it starts off with a small fib—the existence of cold fusion, perfected by Kenzo Yagai some time before the novel opens in 2008—and then expands into quite a bit of phlebotinum over the course of the trilogy, such as nanomachines, bio-augmentation that results in humanity becoming autotrophic, bioweapons that permanently rewrite neurochemistry, and soy-based replacements for every sort of foodstuff.
  • Michael Crichton's works usually fall somewhere between this and Speculative Science. His standard formula is set in the real world, focusing on what at least appears to be exhaustively researched existing science and pushing it just a little bit past believability. However works such as Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain, Sphere, and Timeline are firmly in this category.

Tabletop Games
  • Eclipse Phase is, in the main, Speculative Science based on forecast trends of technological development. However, post-singularity beings and aliens are capable of doing stuff that runs straight into Clarke's Third Law, most notably the Pandora Gates.
    • The use of quantum entanglement for FTL communications is a bit iffy too, though at least they acknowledged that attempting to communicate using an entangled particle would collapse the two.

  • Firefly: The Big Lies are gravity/inertia control and Psychic Powers.
  • Revolution: This U.S. TV series seems to fit here: the impetus for the series is some strange effect which disabled all electronic devices on Earth, and the efforts of the protagonists to reverse it. In "The Dark Tower", the protagonists do reverse it by using the Tower to shut down the nanites. Unfortunately, Randall Flynn then uses the opportunity to launch Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles at Philadelphia and Atlanta.
  • Intelligence: A computer chip can be inserted into people with a particular genetic mutation, allowing them to access the information grid. Apart from that, the series is Like Reality Unless Noted.

Video Games
  • The Mass Effect has its eponymous mass effect, which is the source for almost all advanced technology. By manipulating the mass of matter, one can create FTL, artificial gravity, hover technology, force fields, handheld weapons that fire grains of dust with the force of bullets, and it also provides an extremely efficient energy source. The effect is created when running a current through Element Zero, and people whose bodies are laced with the substance (either by accident or on purpose) can use the electric potential of their nervous system to gain apparently psychic powers. (This is based, loosely, on theoretical applications of dark energy, exaggerated quite a bit).
  • The X-Universe literature, including the official encyclopedia, has the big lie as spacetime manipulation, allowing for tractor beams, ships' cargo bays being Bigger on the Inside, and artificial wormholes (allowing the jumpgates and jumpdrive). The games' gameplay uses space sim-typical Rule of Cool physics, however (the constant thrust = constant speed model rather than Newtonian).


Western Animation
  • StarCom: The US Space Force, developed with the cooperation of NASA, had the hardest science fiction ever seen in a Merchandise-Driven cartoon. FTL travel exists, but it can only be used between the planets of the solar system, and one episode had an alien city discovered on Mars with technology still active. Unfortunately, the series was Too Good to Last, running for only one season in 1987.

One Small Fib: These stories include only a single counterfactual device (often FTL Travel), but this mechanism is not a major driver of the plot.


  • Alien and its sequel. Spaceships have slow FTL travel, during which the crew lie in cryonic sleep for months or even years. The many discovered planets go by numbers, but almost none of them are naturally inhabitable. Technology is otherwise quite plausible. The Alien's physiology stretches credibility a little, with its rapid growth an ability to infect seemingly any species.
    • Other films diverge from the first two in various ways, and become somewhat less hard as a result. Things like the chestbursters taking on features of their host, super-rapid growth into adult aliens, stealth warships, etc etc require disbelief to be suspended somewhat higher. Novels and comics set in the Aliens/Predator extended universe inevitably follow the Rule of Cool and the authors are not usually interested in detailing the consequences of their ideas.
    • Arguably, the Artificial Gravity on board the Nostromo bumps the count to two small fibs. (When they're taking off from the planetoid, Carter says "engaging artificial gravity" as they exit the planet's gravity well.)
  • Silent Running's one small fib is Artificial Gravity, probably because filming in zero-G was impossible for the filmmakers.
  • Avatar has aliens who share the same basic body resemblance as humans (walking on two legs, two arms, head, vaguely similar facial layout), and FTL communication but no travel, with the latter playing no part in the actual film and only existing in backstory.
    • It also has the titular avatar project, which allows humans to project their minds into na'vi bodies, and the na'vi's ability to connect their minds to those of their mounts with their fibre-optic ponytails. If one considers the brain to be essentially a computer, this is all just about justifiable in a science fiction context, as informational exchange does make evolutionary and possibly technological sense. The remote control of the avatar bodies stretches plausibility the most, but without it there would be no film.
    • There are also the floating mountains, which are explained as being partially composed of a room temperature superconductor and levitated by magnetic forces. While this is barely theoretically possible, if such things really existed, they would not behave as they do in the film (for example, the massive forces required to levitate an entire mountain would destroy the aircraft that try to fly amongst them).
      • That assumes that the rest of the composition is very dense. They mention, in the movie, that the atmosphere is much thicker than Earth-Normal. It is entirely possible the mountains density is low enough that the magnetic forces are able to overcome the higher gravity with the aid of Air Buoyancy (making the mountains essentially Mag-lev Blimps).
      • Also, the gravity on Pandora is actually only 4/5 that of Earth, meaning that the "floating density" of the floating mountains can be that little bit higher again. And the magnetic forces are enough to mess with the navigational systems of aircraft and ground vehicles moving through the area.
  • Strange Days features just one technological advance, the memory-recording Semiconducting QUantum Interference Device or SQUID, and it's primarily social science fiction in which the new tech is basically just a greatly improved version of the recording technologies of today. The plot is nothing you haven't seen in a million cop stories.

  • In the universe of the 1632 series, the plot device behind the transposition of the West Virginia town to the middle of the Thirty Years' War is only ever mentioned in the preface to the original novel. Everything else in the story is based on fact or speculation.
  • Many Hal Clement novels, such as Mission Of Gravity, Close to Critical, are set in a universe featuring FTL, but only as a background element explaining the presence of humans in other star system. The planets themselves are designed by straightforward extrapolation of known physics to situations vastly unlike those of Earth.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's The Songs of Distant Earth is an interstellar saga without faster-than-light travel. The only piece of fictional science Clarke uses in the story is Zero-Point Energy, and that only to get around the need to carry a civilization's worth of rocket fuel for interstellar travel otherwise.
  • C. J. Cherryh's Alliance/Union universe (which includes the Chanur Novels) has a faster-than-light drive (which also allows for instantaneous changes in velocity).
  • Poul Anderson's Tau Zero, while it does have the molecular interpenetration anchor (which isn't important to the plot) and G-force nullification (which is), tries its damndest to get the science of a Bussard Ramscoop right.
  • Robert Charles Wilson's short story "Divided by Infinity" takes the idea of quantum immortality (a legitimate — although not universally accepted — implication of quantum mechanics) and starts running with it. It is shifted off the hardest end of the scale by the otherdimensional books at Ziegler's bookshop, however.
  • Robert Reed's Great Ship universe is a very "hard" setting (no Faster-Than-Light Travel or Subspace Ansible, for example), though it has one device which defies the most fundamental laws of physics - the Great Ship's true propulsion method - and hyperfiber, a fantastic metal which gains its strength by dissipating impact energy through multiple dimensions note .

Video Games


Back to Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness.
Physics PlusMohs Scale of Science Fiction HardnessSpeculative Science

alternative title(s): One Big Lie
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
Privacy Policy