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I've got a near future setting where humanity has colonised the solar system. The setting is relatively hard science fiction, with realistic spacecraft and space flight. However, it is also a setting featuring mecha of both the mini and humongous variety, and I'd like to include other things only seen in soft science fiction.

The way something like Mass Effect did this was by the introduction of element zero, an impossible material that raises or reduces mass in a field around it. I want to justify the more outlandish things in this setting using a number of impossible but otherwise consistent materials, and have been considering something along the lines of a periodic table of magical elements, with a suitably scientific name.

What would be the most believable way to introduce materials that violate the laws of physics in an otherwise fairly realistic setting. Some example materials are listed below, though answers do not need to account for all or even any of the specific materials listed.

  • A light but strong metal that can be used to build 80 metre tall mechs. Must be able to avert the issues caused by the square cube law. Either by averting the law itself or ideally by just being strong enough that the law doesn't render the mechs impossible to build.
  • A substance capable of rapid healing of physical trauma for use in combat medicine. Substance can be implemented in non combat medical treatment but should not result in the complete elimination of any and all injury or illness. (Good luck with this one, the only thing I can think of is time manipulation or some other effect where it only works within a short time after the injury is sustained.)
  • A fuel able to render getting into orbit relatively trivial for both the short and long term. Assuming a universe in which cold fusion has been developed if that helps.
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    $\begingroup$ In general, the writer is warned against introducing more than one such thing. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 11 '16 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, I'm hoping to think of one which has very wide applications, kind of like how Eezo was applied to every aspect of the Mass Effect universe, rather than a whole group of different elements. $\endgroup$ – Space Ostrich May 11 '16 at 6:14
  • $\begingroup$ But, if it has wide ranging effects, it will be even harder to keep it from being all powerful and not having the crazy artificial limits needed for the story. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz May 11 '16 at 6:16
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    $\begingroup$ Oh hey, that was you. Well, thanks for answering that other question. That's very tempting to use for my setting. $\endgroup$ – Space Ostrich May 11 '16 at 7:00
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    $\begingroup$ Since mecha aren't just impossible, but impractical, are you looking for a super-material that would merely make mechs possible, or do you want one whose properties also answer the plausibility question of "Why not just build super-tanks instead?" $\endgroup$ – Ninety-Three May 11 '16 at 16:35
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As much as possible, hide the fact that your materials are impossible.

When you're creating technology that's impossible by modern technological standards, your audience will have the easiest time ignoring that fact if you do as little as possible to draw attention to it. The moment you focus too much on what your impossible material does or how it works, your audience will start thinking about it and realize that "wait a minute, that's impossible!"

One way to do this is to stick as close as possible to modern cutting edge science and engineering with only a little bit of a hand-waved jump at the end. For example, when making an 80-meter tall mech, you can say that your engineers use an actively fusion-supported metamaterial layer to support most of the load, without really describing how that works or what it does. Most people know that metamaterials can do cool things, and that fusion provides a lot of energy, so if you combine those two things, your audience can imagine that some how your metamaterial is propped up by all of that fusion energy. Is that a scientifically sound material? Of course not, but it's not so obviously impossible as to break suspension of disbelief.

Alternately, you can make up a material with some cryptic non-description of how exactly it works, and call it good. Starship Troopers did this with the Cherenkov drive, which sounds like it's somehow related to Cherenkov radiation, but somehow through unexplained means achieves FTL transportation. So long as you don't dwell on it, a reader probably won't focus on the fact that your mechs are made of metasteel, which doesn't exist. Say that your mech is made of metasteel, then talk about it punching things and leave the science and description of that material as a mystery for your audience to ponder.

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    $\begingroup$ This. A thousand times this. Long, overly detailed descriptions of how "impossible stuff" works is only good on RPG-oriented media. Otherwise, keep it simple and focus on the story. Excelent answer. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jun 2 '16 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ This combined with some of the suggestions made by others is how I'm going to do it. The mechs will be built using conventional materials that are being held together by exploiting a form of flux pinning, with the exact specifics of how it happens being obscured. As you said, obscurity is an important part of keeping things believable, as all explicit science will at some point be proven either incorrect or incomplete as study marches on. $\endgroup$ – Space Ostrich Jun 4 '16 at 14:37
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In order to answer the first question, you could go with something along the lines of the matter compiler devices from The Diamond Age. Using advanced nanotechnology, they are able to make materials vastly stronger than we can today, using all of the elements currently known. An example of this is dirigible airships that instead of using any lighter-than-air gas, they simply use a vacuum chamber at infinitesimally low pressures to maintain the density contrast needed for buoyancy. No material available today would be able to resist the pressure differences without being so heavy that they wouldn't float. Pure carbon that was perfectly arranged into repeating rings at the atomic level would be able to resist as much pressure as required, without the excess weight we would associate with conventional materials.

The second question is the most technically challenging of the three, as you've observed. You may need to handwave this a little bit using the base of Human Factor VII as a starting point and then explain that it only works on trauma such as bullet wounds or when injected into blunt-force injuries, and doesn't do anything to chronic conditions or diseases. If you made it prohibitively expensive, with no way to reduce the price (extremely technical development cycle, very rare materials required) then disease and injury would still be a problem for the world even if it was able to cure things other than immediately-threatening trauma.

The third question would possibly be suited to a similar answer as the first. Using a nanotechnologically engineered fuel you could get the highest possible reaction mass into a small area and then use an on-board fusion drive to ignite it, without the necessity for additional oxidiser material or potential for dangerous ignition runaways, otherwise known as explosions.

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  • $\begingroup$ While the technology level of the setting isn't high enough for them to be manufacturing materials at such a level of fidelity, or in large amounts, that doesn't mean that those kinds of materials can't be found naturally. Part of the setting is large scale asteroid mining, and my current plan is to have whatever these materials end up being found almost exclusively inside asteroids. $\endgroup$ – Space Ostrich May 11 '16 at 5:40
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Points 1 & partially 3

You don't need an imaginary material, most materials have a theoretical strength which is ORDERS OF magnitude greater than their real strength, that's because an Iron Cable in reality has much more defects than we think, and such defects weakens the material (In fact thin cables are slightly more strong because have less defects compared to thick cables).

So you just need micro-molded cables in order to have them 100 times more resistant to traction in example.

Also you could exploit particles accelerators in order to make impossible alloys (in example by changing atoms at predetermined locations inside space-lattices to another element by adding/removing by brute force protons) by injecting atoms directly into solid matter without having to mold it (certain materials just don't mix when in liquid state, or some materials may have fusion point higher than evaporation point of other materials and that make mixing them very difficult if not impossible).

You have very realistic ways to introduce materials that are 100-1000 times more resistant than strongest known materials.

Generally an advanced technology may allow to build an object almost atom-by atom in an orderly and predetermined way allowing to make it perfect and without defects, that allows very light vehicle hulls, making a breeze going to space using a minimal amount of fuel in example. Of course that all about mechanical properties of materials, other physical properties are likely to remain the same (melting point, specific weight etc.)

EDIT:

Point 2

A fungus that rapidly grow but still relies on human blood (so it does not grow far from wounds) the fungus rapidly stop any bloolet and it try to adapt to external forces (so it effectively can be used to link cutted muscles by allowing the force to propagate), it also has some any-pain properties.

The fungus is then digested by body normally through natural healing and also cause the wounds to heal a little bit faster than normal and to leave no scars after healing is done. (damages to organs, nerves are likely to require later surgic intervention)

Point 3

I can hardly think out of a cold fusion engine, probably it should be like any modern Ion engine, but instead of being propelled by batteries or a nuclear reactor it is propelled by cold fusion.

So:

  • Cold fusion reactor (high electric energy throughput)
  • A reserve of Helium or Hydrogen

A strong magnetic field powered by Cold fusion reactor just ionizes gas particles, wich are outputted in small number but at speeds near C, that generates a very effective propulsion.

Summary:

Strong alloys and metals will allow very Big Mechs, and cold fusion reactors are able to power them. Strong materials also allow very strong and light armors for infantry wich have the armors filled with fungus spores effectively allowing healing and by providing a "soft" surface to amortize shocks. Of course infantry will have respirators to avoid growing of fungus in breath-ways and and a special substance inside helmets that prevents fungal growth inside brain (if damaged) and also prevents blood from spreading if brain veins are damaged.

For economics resons only helmets may be "atom injected alloys" while the rest of armor may just be micro-molded.

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  • $\begingroup$ An engineered fungus is a very good idea, and it could help prevent one of the bigger flaws with things like power armour, which is that no matter what you do you can't armour your organs. If this fungus is engineered it could be built specifically to do just that, armour and protect the internal organs from damage, while also rapidly closing off wounds. Perhaps something built from human tissue, with the caveat that it only works on recent injury, before the body has attempted to heal itself. $\endgroup$ – Space Ostrich May 12 '16 at 2:56
  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that cold fusion reactors are actually pretty low energy. If they were possible at all, their selling point would be convenience practicity, not power output. $\endgroup$ – T. Sar Jun 2 '16 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ Wikipedia is misleading on that, it says "at room temperature". In reality the temperature would be really high, there are currently attemps to emulate Stars' fusion, but we were successfull on that by spending more energy on plasma containment than the energy that the fusion itself produces. Probably I have to specify that better in the answer. Fusion is called "cold" because we want to achieve a long-lasting fusion (we just don't want a fusion bomb), so cold = Cooler than a bomb, but still ways more hotter than room temperature. The original meaning of Cold was abandoned long ago- $\endgroup$ – GameDeveloper Jun 3 '16 at 7:46
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I always like gravity manipulation as a science fiction device (which is kind of what Mass Effect did).

If you have your super material as controllable dark matter decay you can have gravity effect fields that solve points 1 and 3. Mechs are built including gravity manipulators that negate their own crushing weight. Space ships use gravity induction engines rather than conventional engines to fly.

Point 2 is solved with either nanotechnology or femtotechnology. Have the nanites as quite 'dumb' however, and only able to repair a wound just after it happens (otherwise they might decided to heal a tattoo or necessary amputation, for example).

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What you're looking for isn't so much a material as it is a construct: nanotechnology. While Ben MS has already given you the best answer for part 1, parts 2 and 3 in the question can be answered even more simply by using nanotechnology.

For the medicine, you could use medikits that contain millions of nanites, as well as reserves of organic molecules. The nanites would be programmed to spread throughout the body, identify the injury, and rapidly heal it either by stimulating cell growth at a molecular level, constructing new cells directly, or simply filling the wound and forming a lattice that stops bleeding and allows for near-total functionality as it heals at a normal pace.

As for part 3, the fuel you're looking for is, in fact, plain old electricity. In order to truly trivialize the act of achieving orbit, the best short- and long-term solution would be a Space Elevator. Forget using costly fuel-based engines to achieve orbit! Instead of blasting your way to the heavens, ride in style up a shimmering cable of Carbon Nanotubes (or Diamond Nanothreads), costing only 1/1000 the price of a traditional rocket launch! Plus, thanks to the incredible tensile strength of the materials used (and with some bit of armoring against space junk), the elevator could remain up and running for as long as you're willing to maintain it! First-time build cost only $20-40 billion!

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  • $\begingroup$ Unfortunately nanotechnology is a bit too advanced for the setting, at least not in that form. Nanites may exist, but certainly not to that level of capability. Space Elevators are more promising, especially if I end up using flux pinning, as I can't think of anything more fitting for a space elevator than superconductor flux pinning. $\endgroup$ – Space Ostrich May 12 '16 at 2:53
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Although it's not a specific answer, you might want to read Myke Cole's "Shadow Ops: Control Point" series, which embeds magic in the everyday world in an extremely effective way, which to me sounds like you're describing and may give ideas how to simply hand wave it away and still keep the sciencey feel you describe?

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