Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness/One Big Lie

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

/wiki/Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardnesswork

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.

Examples of One Big Lie include:

Anime and Manga


  • 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." To a lesser extent, Powered Armor is also treated as such as 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 - but it's the Arc Reactor that makes such armor possible. It's 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 Honor Harrington book series: Space Is an Ocean, but the series is internally consistent, relies on essentially only one piece of "new" technology (gravity control methods)[2], mostly merely extending other pieces of current technology (medical science, nuclear fusion containment, lasers). Additionally, space combat is very three-dimensional and ship-to-ship engagements are often fought at fractional light-second distances (contrast the traditional Star Trek Starship Standoff).
  • 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.
  • 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.

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.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • 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.

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.

Examples of Small Fib include:

Anime and Manga

  • Rocket Girls: Except for the skintight spacesuits, the technology for everything depicted in this story exists right now - and MIT is working on the spacesuits. Whether we should send 16-year-old girls into low-Earth orbit is another matter, of course, but we could. The only reason this doesn't belong on the Speculative Science list is that one character appears to have some sort of minor psychic ability that doesn't really affect the story (except to make almost-impossible landings probable).

Comic Books

  • Watchmen has something called an intrinsic field, which is said to be a field of energy that holds atoms together. When Jon Osterman was trapped in an "Intrinsic Field Subtractor" he is disintegrated and afterwards becomes Dr. Manhattan. The concept is never brought up again and Dr Manhattan's powers are based on quantum mechanics. There is also a second fib in the form of psychics existing but that is only brought up twice.


  • Alien and its sequel. Spaceships have slow FTL travel, during which the crew lie in cryogenic 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 titular 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 do not always understand the consequences of their ideas.
    • Arguably, the Artificial Gravity on board the Nostromo bumps the count to two small fibs. Although one could argue that maybe the spacecraft is under constant engine thrust every time they show somebody walking around in it.
      • 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.


  • 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).

Web Comics

Back to Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness
  1. This is excepting single episodes with weirdness such as ghosts and Kaiju.
  2. Two, if you include the ability to translate across hyperspace bands; three, if you also include Treecats' telepathic abilities