Aesoptinum

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A form of Phlebotinum with a moral component which exists only so that the author can build a moral lesson out of it.


When listing examples below, please remember that Aesoptinium is a type of Phlebotinum, and thus a substance or technology providing a vehicle for an Aesop. Many examples have been deleted which were just regular old moral lessons.

Compare with Powered by a Forsaken Child; sometimes these tropes overlap. May or may not turn into a Fantastic Aesop. Can result in a Phlebotinum Muncher or Mary Suetopia.

Examples of Aesoptinum include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]


Comic Books[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • In Serenity, the chemical "Pax" was created by the Alliance to sedate the populace. In case that wasn't objectionable enough to the audience, its first wide-spread test failed spectacularly, resulting in nearly the entire population of a planet developing severe amotivational disorder and simply sitting quietly until they starved to death. The survivors were rendered insane and horrifically violent, becoming the Reavers.
  • The movie world of Logan's Run is utopic, no hunger, want, or need to work. The catch? Everything is run by a Computer, Children 0–7 years are raised in tubes, Youth 7-14 are set to run wild, and once you become 30 a gem on your palm (or Palm Flower) turns black and you're sent to compete to be "Renewed". Unfortunately, The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard and kills all contestants for being "too old". Most of the people living there were for the arrangement, except for Runners, who want to escape to Sanctuary and live longer.
  • The drug Prozium in Equilibrium subdues emotions to prevent such things as violence and war. This is helped along by the banning of anything with an Emotional Content rating of ten, which can include anything even remotely artistic, and anyone caught with such contraband is burned alive (or shot repeatedly if they try to make things difficult). Naturally, there's an underground resistance that the main character eventually champions after he stops taking his meds.
  • In Ghost in the Shell Innocence, the gynoids' sentience is due to their containing copies of the ghosts of abducted preteen girls. The ghost-copying procedure eventually kills the girls. Even more disturbingly, they were first brainwashed into near-robots so that the gynoids wouldn't be too human-like - and that they were intended to be Sexbots. Despite all this, a surviving girl and her rescuer are actually chastised by the heroine, as she says that the real victims were the robots.
    • The reason she claims the robots as victims is because the abductee turned them into (unwilling?) kamikazes. Every robot that was copied from her killed itself (and sometimes others with them) in order to draw attention to the company, hoping that the investigation would save them. The question that the Major was posing was that, even if they were copies--they still essentially had ghosts, and causing them to kill themselves was wrong.
    • The gynoids were all that was left of the brainwashed children - for the sake of comparison, imagine if a doctor would seek to reveal an asylum's unethical experiments by brainwashing the victimized patients to commit murders and suicides. Sure, it would draw the attenton all right, but it would also harm the very people it was supposed to save even further.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has a fountain of youth that requires a human sacrifice to work.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Truffula Trees. You know, the ones for which The Lorax speaks. They're used for making thneeds.
  • The central premise of Ursula K Le Guin's short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas was a city whose happiness depended upon the suffering of one innocent child.
  • Subtly parodied (along with Phlebotinum in general) in the novel Generation Dead, as the proposals by scientists to "explain" the whole "teenagers suddenly coming back as zombies" phenomenon, which are mentioned in asides throughout the book, tend towards this. Choice examples include proposals that it was caused by "too much fast food", "too many First-Person Shooter games", and—thanks to the expansion of the book's accompanying Character Blog -- "too many generations eating microwaved food". Naturally, none of them is true.
  • Norman Spinrad's 60s sci-fi novel Bug Jack Barron has an Evil Rich White Man gaining immortality from the glands of irradiated-to-death children, with the one we know about in the book being African-American. Good book, Anvilicious Aesop.
  • Damon Knight's short story Rule Golden has an alien that spreads a special plague which induces tele-empathy. This means that prison guards become depressed from the sadness of their prisoners, somebody that strikes someone else will feel the pain from their blow, and somebody that kills someone else will suddenly drop dead (strangely, this even includes such acts from a distance, such as shooting someone, which just kills the shooter rather than everyone else within the same radius). The ostensible reason the alien does this is to make humans become peaceful before they invent interstellar travel, with a side benefit supposedly being the elimination of hierarchic governments (since "government is force"). For no particular reason, the plague affects all warm-blooded animals, not just humans. This means that all mammals and birds are now effectively vegetarians (unless their prey are insufficiently cuddly-looking), causing the extinction of larger beasts of prey all over the world.
  • This was also used in the TV series The Tomorrow People, where the main characters' telepathy makes them incapable of killing.
  • Similarly, Stanislaw Lem's short story Highest Possible Level of Development had a drug, Altruzine, that caused tele-empathy, but the story is much more tongue-in-cheek. The results are still not altruistic, though: a man with a toothache has its painful tooth ripped out by nearby people who don't want to feel the pain, a newlywed couple is nearly mobbed outside their hotel where they consummate the marriage (and criticized on their poor performance), and depressed people are driven from towns rather than treated.
  • The John Brunner novel, The Stone That Never Came Down, centers around an artificial, self-replicating protein (today, we'd call it a prion) that eliminates selective inattention—the brain has to make connections between pieces of information that it previously ignored. In addition to an intelligence boost, this bestows automatic empathy, since those infected can no longer disregard the genuine pain that others feel.
  • Dune: The Spice is petroleum. Given that that the spice is found only in a desert wasteland inhabited by deeply religious Arabic-speaking tribes, and that everyone and his brother is willing to make insidious plots and outright go to war just to control it, anyone doubting that the spice is a metaphor for petroleum is living under a rock.
    • Or they could just have a different opinion then you. It could be that.
    • The reason people care about spice is that it is essential for transportation.
  • Larry Niven openly admits to using this trope on occasion. A believer in science, high technology, and nuclear power in specific, in Lucifers Hammer he made the workers at a nuclear power plant heroes who were struggling to keep civilization together. They were fighting against environmental extremist, anti-technology (and very specifically, anti-nuclear technology) cannibal raiders.
  • In Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, main character Amir writes a short story about a man who discovered a cup. Not just any cup; one that turns tears into pearls. In order to become rich, the man must make himself sad. The story ends tragically with the man crying over his wife's body (whose throat he has just slit to make himself cry) atop a mountain of pearls. This is all subverted when Amir's best friend asks why the man didn't simply cut up some onions instead.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek: Enterprise also gets in on the act with Trellium-D, used to insulate Enterprise from the harmful effects of the Expanse. Unfortunately it also degrades the neural pathways of Vulcans, causing loss of emotional control. T'Pol starts taking "carefully controlled" doses of Trellium-D in order to loosen up a bit and becomes addicted, permanently damaging her ability to control emotions. She also gets Pa'nar Syndrome, an allegory for AIDS, which also causes a loss of emotional control.
  • The crew of the Equinox in Star Trek: Voyager were built up as sympathetic and being more down on their luck than Voyager, when they did a Face Heel Turn. Any audience sympathy they might have had was destroyed by the discovery that their improved warp drive runs on the corpses of sentient aliens.
  • Babylon 5, "Deathwalker": The Dilgar war criminal Jha'dur develops an anti-aging serum that can be used repeatedly to extend an individual's life indefinitely. The cost? It requires a non-synthesizable ingredient available only in other sentients (one treatment requires one sentient). Her intention was to disperse the knowledge of the serum to start genocidal wars as vengeance for her species dying (and to establish that, for all their self-righteous condemnation of the Dilgar, the other races are Not So Different). The Vorlons take it upon themselves to destroy the serum, Deathwalker and her ship to prevent that (and destroy any chance of researching the process to give the younger races true immortality and become rivals of the Vorlons).
  • One Tales from the Darkside episode has an old man and his daughter finding a fountain of youth. It is guarded by a Native American-esque spirit who says "You must sacrifice one form of immortality (i.e. your child) for another." The old man sacrifices his daughter, then finds he ages like a rock—veeery slowly, but lives like one—taking years to blink.
  • One Gilligan's Island episode involves the castaways finding some seeds that when ingested, bestow on the consumer the ability to read other people's minds. Trouble is, everyone then becomes privy to every tiny little critical thought the others have about them, and the group is unable to stop fighting with each other. Gilligan solves the problem by burning the bush that produces the seeds, leading to the moral "Some things are better left unsaid"—even though no one actually said them.
  • On Doctor Who, if a new substance or technology is discovered, chances are it violates someone's civil rights in ways that will be revealed around mid-episode and require a debate on the ethics of placing the wants of the many over the needs of the few. The most common example is time travel (is it okay to change history?). Other examples have included "flesh" - a substance that can be used to create avatars that allow people to do dangerous tasks without risking their own lives (which, of course, turned out to be alive and capable of sentience); a diet pill that causes human fat to turn into larval aliens (it's the only way for the aliens to reproduce, but has the potential to kill the dieter); and a process that can turn old people into young people (it also makes their DNA unstable causing possible mutation and requiring the youthened person to drain the life from others).
  • Lost in Space had an early episode in which the Robinsons discover an alien machine (in a crashed spaceship) that provides whatever they think of. The machine makes life so easy for the family that some of them stop taking care of things or showing initiative. Then all the goodies start falling apart/not working, and the machine's guardian shows up to take it back into the spaceship.


Mythology[edit | hide]

  • The ring of Gyges (mentioned by, but not original to, Socrates) allows the wearer to become invisible. Gyges, freed from the fear of punishment, kills the king and marries the queen, making this one Older Than Feudalism.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Crusader: No Regret introduces "di-correllium", a substance found mostly on the moon (about half the known deposits are there) and that the entire world energy supply is based around. It's to the point that the cartel charged with mining it murders researchers and suppresses information that could lead to the use of alternative energy sources. (As if that weren't objectionable enough, they use slave labor—mostly political prisoners—to do the mining. Did we mention they have minimal safety equipment and di-cor is extremely radioactive and toxic?) And by the end of the game, the moon and its di-cor is under the control of a group of terrorists.
  • Command & Conquer gives us Tiberium. Without going into too many details, humanity becomes more or less dependent on it even though it's completely destroying Earth and all life upon it. In short, it's the stuff of Al Gore's dreams.
  • Mako in Final Fantasy VII. An energy source that is derived by leaching energy from The Lifestream. Usage causes vast expanses of land to be rendered desolate. When humans and animals are overexposed to it, expect a Body Horror. With the Shinra Electric Power Company's hold on the public media, and everything else, no one knows. You'd think that they would have noticed that something was wrong the first time a Mako reactor exploded, but it took an Eldritch Abomination alien, an Omnicidal Maniac, and a team of Well Intentioned Extremists to shake them from their haze. Immediately after Mako fell out of favor, they resorted to oil.


Western Animation[edit | hide]