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Any instance of a fictional subatomic particle, molecule, element or form of energy which has rigidly-adhered-to but useful physical properties. This kind of Unobtanium is quite rare in fiction, as having more rules to follow tends to make things harder for the writers.
Aside from pure flavoring, having some strict mechanics behind the Verse prevents it from easily slipping into pitfalls full of Misapplied Phlebotinum and thus helps to keep the setting to the strict side of the Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness; in fact, settings with Minovsky Physics can be Like Reality Unless Noted, especially if the particles are worked into the Anthropic Principles underpinning the story. For authors, this may be viewed as a Self-Imposed Challenge or a way to defuse the temptation of sneaking in New Powers as the Plot Demands and/or Plot Induced Stupidity.
The Trope Namer is the Anime series Mobile Suit Gundam. Yoshiyuki Tomino wanted to write a Real Robot anime. However, anyone remotely familiar with either engineering and military tactics will tell you that such devices are almost impossible to effectively use; a bipedal platform is needlessly complicated, hard to properly armor, and the easiest thing to shoot at in a battlefield. Enter the Minovsky Particle: a sensor-jamming, delicate-electronics wrecking Plot Device that not only renders all ranged targeting useless, but requires Helium-3 to produce. Consequently, humans had to go to space to get Helium-3, fight battles there with systems capable of tricky microgravity maneuvering, and eventually expand on the technology to make maintenance easier. Boom: a world full of Humongous Mecha--which, far from being contrived, seem like a natural evolution of military technology in light of the Minovsky Particle. On a metafictional level, Gundams made the particle necessary; but, In-Universe, the particle made Gundams necessary.
A kind of Internal Consistency. A device which utilizes the particles that follow Minovsky Physics is a Schematized Prop. The fantasy equivalent is Magic A Is Magic A. Contrast Green Rocks, which can do anything the writer wants.
Before you add an example: Particles that adhere to Minovsky Physics have to have very rigid and well-defined properties.
- Mobile Suit Gundam, as noted above. So famous are these particles (presumably because they are all-but unique in modern fiction) that Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake gives a cheerful Shout-Out to Mobile Suit Gundam by blaming the radar malfunction on 'Minovsky molecules.'
- The Minovsky Particles were designed specifically to allow or even encourage the existence of giant combat robots (the biggest of which is messing with electromagnetic signals used in things like radar, preventing long-range targetting). The series creator has definitely read and possibly even written a few reports stating that interstellar combat will take place at distances and speeds that make human involvement at anything past the planning stages dangerously wasteful... barring unpredicted advances such as the Minovsky Particle.
- In Gundam Wing, the Vayeate used a Minovsky Particle Accelerator for its beam cannon.
- Oddly, Gundam SEED's Mirage Colloid combined this and Applied Phlebotinum, as the particle is artificially made (not natural coincidence like the original Minovsky Particle and GN Particles).
- Gundam 00 has its own version in the form of GN ("Gundam Nucleus") Particles. Basically they do all the same things as Minovsky particles (produced via an exotic type of reactor, jam radar, allow non-aerodynamic machines to fly, and make beam weapons possible), along with a few new tricks (increasing the strength of armor and the cutting power of physical blades when they're impregnated with the particles).
- In the second season, GN Particles go from Minovsky Particles to magical pixie dust, capable of performing such feats as evolving a person, magically healing dying people, and teleporting mobile suits at will. While these changes are essentially unexplained the series drops hints of it in absolutely every episode, and some of the more "ridiculous" effects are simply extrapolations of previously observed properties. Basically, the 'true' (green colored) GN Particles had always been magical pixie dust in a sense but humans and technology didn't catch up for all of fifty-two episodes. Aeolia's convoluted Master Plan was intended to facilitate this catching up before his created assistants decided to go off on their own tangent.
- Used as a Mythology Gag in the 2nd season of SD Gundam Force in the form of the Minov Boundary Sea, a gap between worlds that gets damaged when special attacks are used in it with unpleasant results.
- Alchemy in Fullmetal Alchemist plays this trope pretty close, when you're not using a philosophers stone. While the second law of thermodynamics is thrown out the window, conservation of energy is usually held true.
- In at least the first anime the first and second thermodynamics are actually plot elements and not simply handwaved. Mass is conserved, but often a great deal of energy is needed when none exists...
- It was revealed late in the first anime that the energy comes from death on our side of the gate (and it's the World Wars, so there's plenty of energy to be had), but now we're getting into dimensional energy transfer, human souls having a quantified energy value not retained in our reality but shunted to another, and a bunch of creepy Eldritch Abominations hanging in the space between realities that screw up anyone who tries to conjure a human soul, which would be the purest form of this extradimensional energy, and... I have a headache now. Long story short, when you die, you don't go to Heaven or Hell, you become MP for someone in another reality.
- In the manga, alchemists from Amestris learned alchemy from the sage from the east Father and think that their alchemy uses tectonic power. Alchemists from Xing learned alkahestry from the sage from the west Hohenheim and use ley lines. Xingese alchemists insinuate that the alchemists from Amestris don't have the full story and that something is "wrong" with their alchemy, and fans speculated that this was because Amestrian alchemy was powered by Father's stone. It's revealed that alchemists from Amestris do use tectonic power, but Father can limit or even shut off access to it by putting his philosopher's stone in the way as a barrier. This creeps out the Xingese, who can sense the souls from the stone writhing underneath the earth's surface. This is made much clearer in the Brotherhood anime, where a piece of exposition explains the purpose of the nationwide reverse transmutation circle. It's there in the manga, the explanation just isn't as explicit.
- Also, the Second Law of Thermodynamics is adhered to so long as there is some dumping ground for the entropy removed by reorganizing the matter. Presumably, part of the matrix involves the transfer of entropy from the object being transmuted to the surroundings. As for the first anime, Dante makes direct reference to the Second Law by referring to wasted effort- while input of matter and energy is necessary to achieve what you seek, it is by no means sufficient.
- Since we're already playing fast-and-loose with the laws of physics, the apparent violation of the Second Law of Thermodynamics could be explained away by saying that the alchemist performing the transmutation acts as a sort of Maxwell's demon, a thought experiment in which a conscious being with perfect information can reduce entropy in a system without expending significant effort.
- In at least the first anime the first and second thermodynamics are actually plot elements and not simply handwaved. Mass is conserved, but often a great deal of energy is needed when none exists...
- Digimon Tamers embraces this troupe in a way that stands out from the rest of the franchise. In this series, there are only two fundamental changes to reality: Digital information can realise (i.e., literally become real in mid air) and actual artificial intelligence is not only possible, but has been achieved in the eighties. Furthermore, there is a great amount of detail put on explaining the working principles behind both (like the necessity for a converter algorithm). Otherwise, everything that happens in the series either obeys the rules of physics (especially because many of them did happen in Real Life) or is a consequence of the application of the Minovsky Physics.
- Both the Marvel and DC Comic universes have plenty of examples. From Marvel:
- Pym particles, named after Hank Pym which allow matter to be shrunk or enlarged at will, ignoring the square cube law;
- Unstable Molecules, invented by Reed Richards, which can be tailored to 'snap back' from one form to another on command or in response to superpowers, used to make superhero costumes;
- Vibranium, an alien metal with two subtypes: Antarctic vibranium, which can destroy any metal by touch (even Adamantium) and Wakandan vibranium, which absorbs all kinetic force (including sound).
- Adamantium, a (nearly) indestructible metal, only the strongest/most powerful heroes or villains can begin to damage it. It's a compound which is liquid until it sets, then stays in the given form forever. The robot villain Ultron (see below) is made of it.
- From DC Comics:
- Inertron (see below).
- Promethium is a metal invented by Steve Dayton. When alloyed with titanium and vanadium, depleted promethium forms a near-invulnerable metal. Volatile promethium is also capable of generating near-limitless amounts of energy, and so can be used as a power source for many gadgets.
- "Inertron" and "Ultron" in Philip Francis Nowlan's 1928 novellas Armageddon 2419 A.D. and The Airlords of Han, which became the basis for the 1929 comic strip Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Both ultron and inertron are synthetic elements made of "ultronic vibrations" (which are akin to quarks in that Nowlan posits them to be to atoms what atoms are to molecules), which are "isolated from the ether and through slow processes built up into subelectronic, electronic and atomic forms" into miraclous substances with diametrically opposed physical properties. Ultron is "a solid of great molecular density and moderate elasticity, which has the property of being 100% conductive to those pulsations known as light, electricity and heat" and thus an invisible and nonreflective superconductor. Inertron is "completely inert to both electric and magnetic forces … has no molecular vibration whatever … reflects 100% of the heat and light impinging on it" and is thus not only a perfect shield against the Han Airlords' feared disintegrator ray but also an antigravity device, although that latter property involves a bit of handwaving in that it's never explained how inertron goes from simply having no weight to somehow having a negative weight, such that a sufficient amounts of it will either counterbalance a given weight, effectively making it weightless, or overbalance it to imparting buoyance. Left to itself, inertron "falls up" into outer space, presumably forever. Ultron would not only allow one to build the functional equivalent of Wonder Woman's invisible plane but, being superconductive, one should beware lightning and heat rays as well as disintegrators.
- The "philotes" in the Ender's Game series.
- "Swivels" in the novel El Caballo de Troia, which allow the time travel that the whole series is based on.
- "Ice-nine" in Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. Nothing more than a fictional crystal structure of ice, with specific physical properties similar to crystals of various other real-life compounds, it proves to be one of science fiction's most memorable MacGuffins. (Vonnegut worked in the marketing department of General Electric as a younger man, where his brother was a researcher. Said brother worked with Langmuir, who had much earlier dreamed up ice-nine for a visiting H.G. Wells, but nothing came of it.)
- There actually is an Ice IX - "A tetragonal metastable phase" of water ice. However, it has nothing to do with the fictional ice-nine. The other wiki makes this distinction pretty clear.
- The real version was the one used by James Blish's "Cities in Flight", for building the Bridge on Jupiter. Under Jovian pressures and temperatures, "normal" construction materials like steel or concrete tend to melt, crumble, or otherwise disintegrate. In contrast, Ice IX is stable only under such conditions, but under human-compatible (that is, low) pressures, it would revert to one of water's commonplace phases.
- Science fiction writer Larry Niven likes to explain the properties of all his Applied Phlebotinum in exquisite detail, often to the point of writing entire novels for the sole purpose of RetConning away flaws that readers find.
- Found, of all places, in the form of Dust in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Dust, an elementary (read: indivisible, subatomic) particle can only be seen either when vast quantities are for some reason all brought together, or through special emulsions (which can be improvised using bamboo and seedpods from a different universe. Seriously.) Dust's most interesting quality, though, is that it attracts itself to sentient beings - anything made by humans to aid in thought and observation will attract Dust, such as a ruler, and Dust also attracts itself to people - adults especially, and the wiser the better.
- Isaac Asimov liked to use this, and several of his stories have produced standard plot devices for science fiction:
- Asimov once wrote a mock academic paper (and eventually a sequel or two) about "the endochronic properties of resublimated thiotimoline", a substance with one chemical bond extending into the future, which dissolves before it actually comes in contact with water. (Pseudo-technical explanation: there's a carbon atom so sterically crowded that the only place one of its four substituents can go is through time.)
- In a later Asimov story, a researcher tried to synthesize it, but accidentally produced antithiotimoline, with one bond extending into the past.
- Spider Robinson later used thiotimoline to drive the plot of his Callahans Crosstime Saloon short story "Mirror/rorriM".
- Asimov's novel The Gods Themselves takes the premise of beings from another universe sending an impossible isotope of plutonium into ours, and extrapolates the consequences to drive much of the plot. For instance, the other universe's physics leak into our universe along with the Plutonium-186...
- The Three Laws of Robotics and their implications, of course, are also examined in detail, despite being described in-story as layman's simplifications of the Technobabble robots are designed around.
- In fact, if you read Asimov's works, his robots gain progressively finer and finer interpretation of the Three Laws, culminating in R. Daneel Olivaw creating the Zeroth Law of Robotics - "A robot may not harm humanity, or through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm".
- The Edge Chronicles has a few. These include substances that get lighter when you heat them up, to the point of reaching negative weight (some of them at room temperature, others need to be set on fire). There's also something called stormphrax, made of crystallized lightning, which has a bewildering number of strictly defined uses.
- Then there's a variety of rock which gets heavier when you heat it up, which (being bouyant in atmosphere at room temperature) is used to make ships fly.
- Before writing The Mote in God's Eye Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle asked physicist (Dan Alderson) to develop laws of their 'Verse. They told him what they want the proposed FTL drives to do, and what they want to avoid. Dr. Alderson then custom designed a FTL drive to spec, with additional limits. Niven and Pournelle kept within those limits.
- As a bonus, Alderson's drive equations also got them Deflector Shields.
- Kenneth Oppel's trilogy Airborn utilizes a fictional gas known as hydrium, a gas so much lighter than air it can lift practically anything. The internal consistency of its properties (technically, a gas as light as hydrium couldn't actually exist as an element) has attention called to it constantly.
- Greg Egan's Schild's Ladder pretty much runs on this trope, as it is based around the fictitious but believable (even to this quantum physicist troper -- apparently it was based on loop quantum gravity) "quantum graph theory" and the "Sarumpaet rules" that govern all fundamental interactions. It's been described as the "hardest science-fiction ever" with good reason.
- He's gone quite a bit further with the trilogy *Orthogonal*, which takes place in a universe where spacetime follows the Riemannian rather than the usual (Minkowski) metric. (A minus sign is changed to a plus sign in one fundamental equation.) This leads to a raft of changes--light travels at different speeds depending on its color, and plants generate energy by emitting it, for one thing--and Egan has written a physics textbook as a companion piece.
- In Robert Forward's Dragons Egg, nearly all of the human technology that doesn't already exist today is based on magnetic monopoles. Given that Dragon's Egg is diamond-hard science fiction, you can bet that these particles are well known by the Real Life scientific community, and Forward takes great care to explain the physics behind the technology employing them.
- When the Cheela develop technology, micro-black holes are nearly omnipresent in it. Of course, for a space-faring civilization whose members explode in a low enough gravity (as in, less than a few hundred thousands times Earth's), portable black holes are pretty much a must.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek absolutely, positively does not use this trope-- writers were explicitly ordered to just have their technology do whatever the plot demanded, without even naming it. They were simply to write TECH on the script and let someone else on the production team fill it in with Treknobabble. However, it deserves a special mention only because it has a dedicated fan community that understands science and worked tirelessly over the decades to try to make the science of as many different technologies of the show as possible believable.
- In the end, the only thing that seems to stick is that dilithium crystals regulate the interaction of matter and antimatter in the warp core to facilitate the creation of a stable warp field. The rest is Quantum.
- Wormhole physics in the Stargate Verse. Some examples: a Stargate can only be open a maximum of 38 minutes (barring extremely high levels of energy or Time Dilation effects on one side). Wormholes passing through solar flares cause anything travelling through them to Time Travel randomly. Hooking a Stargate up to one in proximity to a black hole is a very bad idea. The wormhole cannot form if physical matter is in its way (eg, the Gate is buried). Stargates only transmit matter in single, continuous pieces. And so forth. All of these rules and more are extremely important and show up multiple times throughout all three series.
- Chaos (which is all over the Mohs Scale of Sci Fi Hardness, one section will seem to be trying to adhere almost rigidly to Real Life laws of physics, the next will be almost unmitigated fantasy—though this is most likely explained away by its nature as a Scrapbook Story with each section being ostensibly written by a different Unreliable Narrator) has the "scalon", the carrier particle (really particle-wave…okay, just wave) of a fifth fundamental force called the "divine force", or more commonly, the "chaotic force". The setup here is sort of similar to the Mass Effect example below: the Chaotic Force is a fundamental force, it's sort of like a mixture of electromagnetism on steroids and gravity in reverse. It conveniently answers a few of the questions plaguing physics today, such as, what is dark energy? It's the chaotic force! What gives matter its mass? It's the chaotic force! Because scalons (the Chaos counterpart of the Higgs boson, also known as scalar waves or torsion waves) can move at superluminal speeds and warp up space and time themselves (in fact, they essentially are just quanta of warped spacetime), there are really very few limits placed upon what they can do, and the various types of powers they enable, referred to collectively as "chaos bending", for all intents and purposes, are simply functional magic with a sci-fi technobabble explanation.
- Star Fleet Battles is MADE of this trope. Every possible interaction of everything with everything else is specified in the (extremely thick, but also extremely well organized) rule book. If you need to know how an obscure system used by a handful of ships by one race in a minor corner of the galaxy interacts with another obscure system used on a handful of ships by a different race in a different corner of the galaxy when in a unique terrain feature found in a third corner of the galaxy...it's in there, and you need to look in a maximum of three places (all of which you need to read anyway to be using those systems and terrain) to find it. That also makes it a hard-core case of All There in the Manual.
- Mass Effect digs deep into the technologies and machinery made possible by "Element Zero," which increases in mass when positively charged (allowing for things like kinetic barriers and Artificial Gravity), and decreases mass when negatively charged, even to a negative mass (hence the name "Mass Effect"), enabling anti-gravity vehicles and a perfectly researched form of Faster-Than-Light Travel.
- In addition, a lot of effort is put into making this incredibly fictional material believable, including (but not limited to): Doppler shifting of EM radiation at FTL speeds, the effects of overexposure to eezo (Bizarre Baby Booms of "biotics"), and regular static discharges when it is used. The end result is the most consistent world BioWare has yet made. A lot of thought went into the resulting implications of the technology -- for example being unable to use stealth systems at FTL speeds because of the effects blueshift would have. It even points out how the ability of mass effect fields to reduce an object to negative mass negates Time Dilation.
- In Phantasy Star Universe and other games set in its continuity, photons work very differently than in the real world. Similar to Mass Effect, much of the technology as well as Magic A Is Magic A found in the games depend on the unique properties of photons. Information about how they work, and how Photon and A-Photon based technology utilize them, is found scattered throughout dialogue in the games and the Universe Bible.
- Armored Core has Kojima particles, which are a pseudo-radioactive substance that powers the eponymous Humongous Mecha's energy shield, over boost, assault armor and some weapons. This extends to the Arms Forts as well. Most things in the world are powered by Kojima technology; the cost, however, is that it erodes all biological life. This is shown in-game when you're not allowed to use anything using Kojima Technology in or near a populated area. This is also shown to an extreme in For Answer where the earth is now completely devastated and mankind now lives in the sky due to the surface being polluted.
- Quite a lot has been established on the functions of Slipspace technology as well as the human and covenant weapons in Halo.
- Tratons in Unicorn Jelly, Tryslmaistan's equivalent of atoms. Instead of mass-attraction gravity, there's Linovection and Planovection, the Electanic Charge...
- She keeps up the habit in "Pastel Defender Heliotrope" with an entirely different dynamic system of Chatoyance.
- Despite looking like A Wizard Did It, Lux in Tales of the Questor follows some rather specific rules and capabilities. Most of the underlying rules are only revealed by Word of God in the forums, but for a funky and surprisingly stable particle with rather specialized interactions with typical matter, its practitioners are still more intent on viewing it as a science than a matter of magic.
- Magmatter from Orions Arm is an incredibly detailed version heavily based on real scientific speculation.
- Pattern theory, in the Whateley Universe. Used in order to explain where the energy for mutant superpowers comes from, and how mutants use it. It also limits the strength and scope of the possible superpowers, so a flying brick who can lift five tons is a really big deal.
- Energon is a borderline case; while it was given many more powers than it used to have when it was made the focus of Transformers Energon, it shares certain properties that remain constant. It is an energy source for the Transformers that come in both solid and liquid forms, has Power Glows, and goes kaboom quite nicely when manhandled. In its natural state, though, it is unstable and gives off radiation that's hurtful to Transformers in large concentrations (though confusingly organic material is generally immune to it).
- It's also the life blood of Transformers and Transformer life in general, as it's their fuel, the fuel for their weaponry, and used as currency. Any constantly-glowy melee weapon will also be called an Energon Whatever (presumably meaning it's powered by energon, rather than being made of the stuff, because stuff that explodes when struck doesn't make a good sword.) However, some series have somewhat different rules for the stuff:
- Transformers Energon is a series where all the usual rules are kept, but it does a lot more, gaining New Powers as the Plot Demands, due to the amount of focus. We meet the Omnicons, who through millennia of Acquired Poison Immunity, can handle raw energon, and are the craftsbots who turn it into usable forms. Terrorcons, created from Unicron's body, can eat raw energon and generate processed energon. Energon Stars are the main form of processed energon, not cubes, and they can be plugged into Autobots, having the same effect as normal energon consumption in most series... or it can make new weapons appear out of thin air, heal massive damage as if by magic, and restore life to dead planets, mechanical and organic, and is said to be the building block of all life everywhere. Also, raw energon is yellow. When processed, the energon made by Omnicons and used by the Autobots is red, and is as deadly as raw energon - perhaps more - to Decepticons. Terrorcon-made, Decepticon-used energon is green and is similarly deadly to Autobots. Major Fridge Logic here - apparently, that makes the two factions different biologically somehow, and who knows what that means for when someone changes sides (If Wheeljack or Scavenger were still around, what kind would they use/avoid? And neutrals?) Oh, and letting the two types mix is very bad. There's also Super Energon - always liquid, will either supercharge you or kill you dead. Mind you, a lot (not all) of the unique properties of energon in this series, though not mentioned elsewhere, are also not contradicted.
- In Transformers Prime the Autobots have been able to create synthetic energon, which can be a substitute for normal energon. This is also seen in the IDW G1 comics. Also, energon as "lifeblood" was usually symbolic, but liquid that is explicitly energon drips from wounded transformers in this series (fandom has long considered this to be the case, but it was not done onscreen until Prime. Rather, liquid was seldom seen leaking from damaged bots, and went unidentified the times it did.) It's also the only series in which exposure to raw energon isn't harmful (Megatron was able to handle the energon ore in a cave, one which everyone was walking around freely - preposterous by the usual rules. By the usual rules, energon is food/lifeblood/fuel/etc. once processed, taking on the "energon star" form seen in Energon and the cube form seen everywhere else. Raw energon is pretty much Transformer Kryptonite. However, it hasn't been a plot point since Energon, so the writers can be forgiven for forgetting it or choosing to do it differently.)
- ↑ While it's not known if they actually exist, physicists figured out their expected properties and there's an ongoing search for them