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"I note that Benjamin's taste in music essentially obeys the Science Fiction Law of Threes. (As in, 'For lunch we're serving chicken, mashed potatoes, and Betelgeusean laser squash' or 'I'm familiar with all the great philosophers -- Socrates, Descartes, Xaxxix'x of Denobulon IV.')"

When several examples of something are being listed in Speculative Fiction, a couple of them will be from our time (or timeline if it's Alternate History), and the final one will be one from the future (or post-divergence Alternate History).

The most common variant is to list famous scientists, Newton, Einstein, Kepler, Heisenberg, Da Vinci being quite popular, followed, finally, by a scientist from the future. Occasionally their inventions are also listed: Newton's mechanics, Einstein's relativity, Zefram Cochrane's warp drive.

Usually the trope serves only to remind us that it is, in fact, the future and people haven't stopped thinking and discovering things in between our time and story's setting. It would be odd if there hasn't been any new discoveries or geniuses worth mentioning, especially if the story involves something like Faster-Than-Light Travel. When someone or something we already know is used as such, then author is just making a point: say, if Hawking is mentioned, that means people of the future in that verse think he is a genius equal to Newton and Einstein, meaning that readers also should.

Extremely prone to Rule of Three -- meaning we go far enough to the future to see a new example but not far enough to not remember those we know currently. It is much harder to find an example which doesn't follow a "present, present, future" (or for added symbolism, "past, present, future") scheme. When there is a long list of examples, expect a third of them to be from the future. Particularly when the work is from the 1950s or 1960s, the third future example will often have a East Asian (or less commonly African or Indian) name, indicative of the the idea that these parts of the world would have a bigger part to play in the future in what at the time were still considered mostly European- and American-dominated fields like the sciences.

A variation occurs when it's alternate reality: say, when someone mentions Alexander, Bonaparte and Stalin as world dominators who failed, it means that in this reality the changing event is somewhere between mid XVII and early XX, which made Stalin and not Hitler start WWII.

A subtrope of Cryptic Background Reference.

Examples of Famous, Famous, Fictional include:


 Centauri: Alex! Alex! You're walking away from history! History, Alex! Did Chris Columbus stay home? Nooooo. What if the Wright Brothers thought that only birds should fly? And did Galoka think that the Ulus were too ugly to save?

Alex: Who's Galoka?

Centauri: Never mind.

 Charles Hatton: Today you stood shoulder to shoulder with Columbus discovering America. Armstrong stepping on the moon, Brubaker landing on Mars.


  • It happens a lot in Ender's Game and Speaker For The Dead.
  • In David Brin's Uplift saga, it is mentioned that, as any animal may possibly become intelligent at some point in the future, making species extinct is a serious crime in galaxy, akin to genocide. Humanity managed to clear up their biology and history textbooks to prevent aliens from knowing what they did to lamantines, dodos and orang-outangs.
  • This Perfect Day by Ira Levin has a nursery rhyme paying tribute to the four people who are considered the spiritual forefathers of the society in which the book is set. The pattern of the rhyme requires four names, so there's two past people and two future people:

 Christ, Marx, Wood and Wei

led us to this perfect day...

  • Diaspora by Greg Egan is a story of exploration and discovery by our virtualised descendants. It has physicists front and centre. The real-world Planck and Wheeler are joined in 2055 by Renata Kozuch. Wheeler suggested the vacuum is made out of a maze of microscopic quantum wormholes. Kozuch takes this idea and tranforms it into the foundation of particles physics: all particles are wormhole mouths. This is a rare example where the future member of the trio explicitly builds on the work of the real-world pair.
  • Used a few times in works by Arthur C. Clarke:
    • Rendezvous With Rama, "Rama needed the grandeur of Bach or Beethoven or Sibelius or Tuan Sun, not the trivia of popular entertainment."
    • The Fountains Of Paradise: "Having first made his name with a new cosmological theory that had survived almost ten years before being refuted, Goldberg had been widely acclaimed as another Einstein or N'goya."
  • In the third War Against the Chtorr book by David Gerrold, "The screams got louder, sounding like Auschwitz, Hiroshima or Show Low"
    • Although, to be honest, the Show Low incident was discussed in detail in book one.
  • There's a bit in a Red Dwarf novel, where Lister realised he's returned to Earth when he sees Mount Rushmore. The faces are Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt, Lincoln, and "possibly America's greatest President, Elaine Salinger".

Live Action TV

 David: Well, don't have kittens. Genesis is going to work. They'll remember you in one breath with Newton, Einstein, Surak.

    • Zefram Cochrane, inventor of the first warp drive, frequently gets name-dropped along with scientific pioneers and explorers from the 20th century and earlier.
    • Star Trek the Original Series episode "Whom Gods Destroy".

 Garth: All the others before me have failed. Alexander, Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Lee Kuan, Krotus! All of them are dust! But I will triumph! I will make the ultimate conquest!

  • In the Babylon 5 episode "Infection", it's mentioned that Dr Franklin aspires to become one of the great names of medicine, alongside Fleming, Salk, Jenner, and Takahashi.
    • In the third-season episode "And the Rock Cried Out, No Hiding Place":

 Sheridan: When we've had wars back home sometimes one side would leave a few areas of enemy territory undamaged. That way you'd get maximum results when you finally hit them with something big. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, San Diego...

    • Although the nuclear terrorist attack on San Diego had been mentioned several times and the abandoned city seen once, so it was simply keeping in step with that.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had the one in the season 6 where there is a banner celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and "Garthak's Ascension".

New Media

Western Animation

  • Futurama
    • Prof. Farnsworth lists his influences as Leonardo Da Vinci, Copernicus, Euclid and Braino.
    • The video regarding the ancient history of Atlanta, and how all of its greatest citizens fled as it sank: "Ted Turner, Hank Aaron, Jeff Foxworthy, the man who invented Coca-Cola, The Magician ..." [1]


  1. While this is mostly a parody of the New Age folk song "Atlantis" by Donovan, there is the flippant implication that in this world The Magician is real and as important as the other real-life figures... or just another example of Futurama's Future Imperfect.
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