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Mohs / One Big Lie

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The author invents one (or, at most, a very few) counterfactual physical laws and writes a story that explores the implications of these principles.


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    Comic Books 
  • Albedo: Erma Felna EDF has little that isn't based in real science, besides FTL drive. There's no energy weapons aside from the Wave-Motion Gun developed late in the series from Creator technology and practically all small arms use chemical propellants. The RPG sourcebooks suggest that armor is made from rather advanced materials though.
  • Watchmen introduces "intrinsic fields" as an explanation for Dr. Manhattan's origin and powers and invokes standard Psychic Powers at some point. The former is significant for the plot, the latter not so much.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • The Terminator has the Big Lie of the Time Displacement Equipment which allows the Time Travel story to take place. Apart from that, the biggest stretches of plausibility are the "living skin" worn by the Terminator and the "plasma weapons" seen in the brief flashes of the future. Everything else seems to be a reasonable extrapolation of contemporary technology. For instance, the Terminator is armored with an advanced metal alloy that makes it effectively Immune to Bullets, but it can be still be damaged by things like explosives or getting run over by a semi truck. Later entries in the franchise get considerably softer, with things like shapeshifting robots made out of "liquid metal," Nano Machines that can be used to remotely hack technological devices, and complicated time travel storylines.
  • The first Back to the Future movie has the flux capacitor (which makes time travel possible) as its sole science-fiction element, with everything else being grounded in the reality... until the Sequel Hook at the end shows us a flying car and a portable cold-fusion reactor. Back to the Future II features much softer and more plentiful science-fiction during the trip to 2015, though the third movie in the trilogy mostly brings things back to about the same level as the first movie.
  • Inception posits what would happen if humans could use technology to construct, control and enter each others' dreams. The entire plot comes from that sole technology, although the rules of dream-traveling are mostly Rule of Symbolism.
  • Much of the Zombie Apocalypse genre would fit here - the virus behind the apocalypse in question almost always violates a number of physical laws, but the rest of the world is usually portrayed in a relatively realistic manner, intelligence of survivors arguably aside.

  • Against a Dark Background takes place in a developed planetary system orbiting an intergalactic star, and the technological base is mostly quite plausible - with the exception of the Lazy Gun, a reality-warping artifact weapon born out of an ancient AI conflict that applies a variety of odd, whimsical and sometimes ironic means to assure the destruction of the target it's fired at.
  • The Expanse uses only one real physics assumption, and that is the Epstein Drive: an extremely fuel-efficient and powerful engine that allows relatively prompt travel throughout the solar system, so that trips take days or weeks instead of months. That is, until we get the Second Big Lie with the discovery of the alien protomolecule, which is something that warps time and space, generates stable wormholes, and does other things that go beyond the laws of physics.
  • 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: To build the world, Egan makes one small change to the metric of spacetime. Just to make sure that's clear—The One Big Lie is literally nothing more than a minus sign in a physics equation being changed to a plus sign. That's all. And then he derives the physical consequences of that in great detail, including that time is fundamentally no different from a spatial dimension, stars have negative and/or infinite temperature, electric fields are "corrugated", and the speed of light depends on its color. And then he writes 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 are amoebic Shapeshifting Starfish Aliens that can grow and absorb limbs at will and fission to give birth.
  • 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 '90s.
    • 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.
  • In The Witling, the planet Giri's Lie comes in the form of its denizens' Psychic Powers (namely, farsight and teleportation), which, while they actually don't violate things like conservation of energy, do circumvent the speed of light. At the end of the novel it's implied that the principle that makes them work will be reverse-engineered to build Faster-Than-Light spaceships.
  • Alexis Carew makes hay out of the fact that scientists currently have no damn clue what dark energy and dark matter really are, using them to justify hardcore Space Sailing and Wooden Ships and Iron Men via an alternate plane of existence called darkspace. The fact that most combat in the series takes place in darkspace dictates the designs of ships, which otherwise take into consideration that space is 3D and that one still has to deal with orbital mechanics in realspace (even more so than usual, since ships can only enter or exit darkspace at Lagrange points off of massive objects).
  • RCN has the Matrix, a web of Alternate Universes into which ships transit to travel faster than light, whose physics require ships' sails to be set by hand or with hydraulics (since any electrics could affect the ship's course). Everything else (excepting a Big-Lipped Alligator Moment in book three involving a clairvoyant tree) at best Speculative Science: ships and missiles are propelled by matter/antimatter annihilation and all the physics are kept consistent.
  • In Anti-Ice by Stephen Baxter, the lie is the titular substance, which is inert when cold but begins shedding mass as pure energy when heat is applied. The novel sets up an alternate history where this material comes to Earth via a comet in 1855, essentially giving the Victorian world access to a mechanically simple, relatively safe, and virtually unlimited source of power. The resulting Steampunk technology, which includes a rocket capable of reaching the moon, is all well-researched and entirely plausible assuming such an incredible power source were to be provided.
  • Isaac Asimov's novelization of Fantastic Voyage did its level best to get here (the Big Lie being the miniaturization), in spite of the movie being considerably softer, and — allowing for that it was 1966 so some of the science is outdated — did an impressive job at it. Note that this does not apply to Asimov's remake Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, which while having 'not being bound by having to work around movie plot points' as one of its reasons for existing also added in one other piece of Applied Phlebotinum unrelated to the miniaturization but key to the plot.
  • The titular device in Cylinder van Troffa by Janusz Zajdel slows down time it can also reverse time, but this is harder to do, which mostly serves as a vehicle of one-direction time travel. Right into Cold Sleep, Cold Future.
  • In qntm's Ra the "magic" relies on "nonlocality" technology, enabling easy transmission of unlimited amounts of mass and energy between networked routers but otherwise the novel largely sticks to actual physics.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • While Who taken as a whole is Science in Genre Only, the "pure historical" stories (and one pseudohistorical, "The Time Meddler") of William Hartnell's tenure belong here. Everything in them is scientifically plausible (if not necessarily historically accurate), except for the existence of the alien time traveller that bought them there in his Magic from Technology time machine (and, in "The Time Meddler", the existence of a second alien time traveller with his own time machine). The focus remains on the historical setting and how the characters interact with the time travellers, with the direct implications of time travel technology itself - altering history - being present as a background theme and the primary theme of several ("The Aztecs", "The Massacre", "The Time Meddler").
    • "The Robots of Death" is based mostly on plausible technology and science bar the Doctor's existence and presence, and possibly whatever travel mechanism bought humans to the Kaldor City planet in the first place. In particular, even the psychology of the most highly advanced and intelligent robot in the story is markedly different to that of humans and they struggle to recognise certain objects and commands. Various laws of physics are encountered in the story and dealt with realistically, like the inability to stop the sandminer while in motion for fear of it sinking, and then-cutting edge robotics research is incorporated into the story (specifically, the Uncanny Valley Effect). There is even a stage play adaptation that removes the Doctor and Leela due to rights issues, making the scifi even harder.
  • The Expanse has no significant deviations from scientific reality except for the existence of "constant thrust" technology allowing for Casual Interplanetary Travel, and even then, it's downplayed because it merely reduces the traveling speed from planet to planet from months to weeks, as opposed to the mere hours common in many Space Opera settings. There is no Inertial Dampening or Faster-Than-Light Travel and spaceship battles avert Old-School Dogfighting. The only particularly wacky piece of science fiction is the protomolecule and all of its resulting effects. We do hear sound effects in the space battles, but the sounds are muffled and that has more to do with what the audience is expecting than mistakes of the research.
  • Firefly: The Big Lies are gravity/inertia control, faster than light radio communications, 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.
  • While the first season of The 100 was Speculative Science, Season 2 moved into One Big Lie territory, with the way radiation poisoning works changed to serve the plot and/or make for a more dramatic visual. Subsequent seasons introduced more scientifically-questionable Phlebotinum, till by the end of Season 4 we were definitely in Physics Plus territory.
  • In The Leftovers, the departure of 2% of the population is the one and only confirmed supernatural event, although many people are convinced others have or will happen as a result of the anxiety, superstition and paranoia following it, and many fantastical coincidences and phenomena happen in the series which would be extremely unlikely but could be explained rationally.

    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.
  • Luke Campbell's Vergeworlds has manufactured traversable wormholes, which are arguably physically possible, and the entire fictional but consistent physical principles behind Affector technology, but is otherwise quite grounded in real physics. The game was written by a professional laser physicist, and it shows - the laser guns common in game have enormous focusing lenses and fire millisecond length pulses to explosively bore through targets, using superconducting solenoids to gain the extreme levels of energy storage and power output required.
  • Infinite Worlds: The core worlds of Homeline and Centrum have physical laws largely identical to ours, with the exception of Parachronic Conveyor technology enabling access to various other nearby alternate realities. These accessible universes can range from other "like our own but Conveyors are possible" worlds to outright fantastical worlds where conventional physics holds little sway, however.
  • Ogre is premised around the existence of Biphase Carbide armor, a super-strong composite that can survive direct tactical nuclear strikes, leading to a battlefield dominated by robotic supertanks in which nuclear weapons are standard issue. The science is otherwise mostly pretty hard.

    Video Games 
  • Despite being a massive Genre Reconstruction of the Space Opera genre, the Mass Effect series is surprisingly very accurate in the overwhelming majority of its scientific fields, with its Big Lie being the 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. 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 pseudo-telekinetic powers. This is based, however loosely, on theoretical applications of dark energy, even if exaggerated quite a bit. Outside of eezo, though, most of the Applied Phlebotinum is thoroughly well-researched and pretty squarely in the realm of Speculative Science (Artificial Intelligence via quantum computing, Subspace Ansibles via quantum entanglement, and they even account for heating and cooling problems in space). The only other reasons outside of eezo why Mass Effect isn't a tier higher is the game getting a few facts incorrect either through misguided (as opposed to flat-out wrong) researchnote  or deliberate Acceptable Breaks from Reality, as the cutscenes still tend to lean on Rule of Cool (especially in space combat) since the games are thematically homages to its genre.
  • 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).
  • Half-Life mostly uses real-world science like dark energy, string theory and quantum entanglement to explain the presence of the (wormhole-based) teleportation technology that fuels the whole plot. The reason why it's not any higher on the scale is due to the presence of a few oddballs:
    • Energy weapons — particlenote  accelerator the size of an assault rifle and backpack-mounted Wave-Motion Gun that can rip apart matter on the quark level,note  both powered by an ultracompact fission reactor that can somehow utilize depleted uranium as fuel.
    • The orange crystal that started the whole mess in the first game, apparently some kind of naturally-occurring exotic matter which would be the Holy Grail of quantum physicists.
    • Combine pulse weapons are actually a Plasma Cannon firing dark matter — which too is a material of interest in real-world science, mostly by astrophysics. The source of the dark matter in this case, however, is some kind of ultra-high-tech reactor powered by spacetime itself... or something like that.
  • HighFleet is premised around ridiculously powerful and efficient engines enabling the construction of heavily armed flying warships, but most other technology is fairly realistic 60s/70s equivalent military hardware - excepting whatever destroyed Elaat's moon in the backstory.

  • Outsider: For the most part, the story avoids using elements that are known to be impossible in real life and supplemental material explicitly notes how real-life limitations affect in-universe technology. There are, however, two exceptions: the presence of hyperspace, allowing for faster-than-light travel, and Psychic Powers, which the author admits explicitly break the law of conservation of energy but are included because they're necessary for the story and it's impossible to create a version of them that's both compatible with physics and which can work in the manner the comic needs it to.
  • Quantum Vibe has a form of Artificial Gravity, somewhat poorly explained methods of travel, and the main characters are researching a means of using quantum vibrations to access Alternate Universes.
  • Questionable Content is basically a slice of life comic, but with advanced Artifical Intelligence that has reached the singularity. Several of the major characters are themselves AI, and the rights of AI entities in the context of larger society is a running theme.

    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 has an alien city discovered on Mars with technology still active.

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.


    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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. 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.)
    • The cryonic sleep itself brings it up to three.
  • 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 fiber-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.
  • Glass Onion features a form of impossibly metastable metallic hydrogen fuel, but is otherwise set in the present day.
  • Strange Days features just one technological advance, the memory-recording Superconducting 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.
  • The Hunger Games franchise shows very advanced genetic engineering of life forms which belongs to the speculative science genre, but it also has hovercrafts that use cloaking devices which make them invisible to the human eye. The ability to create and control every detail of the environment inside a hermetically closed arena is also very impressive.

  • Aurora (2015) is mostly a rather brutally realistic depiction of the difficulties of interstellar travel — with the exception of a gratuitously physics-breaking multiple gravity assist maneuver performed to decelerate from a velocity of 9,000 km/s towards the end.
  • Blindsight relies on a physically impossible method of quantum antimatter teleportation for the Theseus' engine, but is otherwise almost diamond hard.
  • 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 Foreigner (1994) series has has a Faster Than Light drive.
    • Her Alliance/Union universe (which includes the Chanur Novels) has an FTL drive which has the additional function of allowing 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 .
  • The Matador series by Steve Perry. The only lie in the series is Faster-Than-Light Travel, which carries little importance: most of the action takes place planetside and it's just a way to get the characters from one planet to another. The only other significant departure from reality is genetic engineering, with several characters being genetically enhanced "mues" and using a reaction-speeding drug in combat called Reflex, born through genetic engineering of bacteria.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Ad Astra's Attack Vector: Tactical has FTL, but it's mostly just use to set up setting background and is designed to have as little effect on combat as possible. The rest of the technology is almost all stuff that could be built today or in the near future, with exception of a rather powerful (though still quite conservative by space opera standards) fusion drive.
    • Squadron Strike, a multi-setting game by the same publisher using simplified AV: T mechanics, varies from Cold War alternate history Futurology (Rocket Punk) to mid-future Speculative Science (Newton's Cradle) to somewhat grounded Physics Plus Space Operas (Diaspora) to World of Phlebotinum (Romance of the Seven Realms).

    Video Games 

  • Freefall: Tends to limit itself to 'theoretically possible but difficult' technologies, such as genetically enhanced sapient animals, terraforming, AI and cryonics. Even artificial gravity is absent (as the name suggests), and though the Dangerous and Very Expensive (D.A.V.E.) Drive enables interstellar voyages measured in days, it is explicitly not Casual — Planet Jean was colonized by slower-than-light ships carrying Human Popsicles, and Word of God is that D.A.V.E. journeys also require freezing because it uses a sort of reverse Time Dilation that only reduces the travel time from an outside perspective.
  • The most fantastic technology in Escape from Terra is "tanglenet", though the inventor is working on a method of FTL travel as well.

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