In a few years, it will all be over, and the human race will have divided in twain. There is no way back, and no future for the world you know. All the hopes and dreams of your race are ended now. You have given birth to your successors, and it is your tragedy that you will never understand them — will never even be able to communicate with their minds. […] You will not think them human, and you will be right.—Karellen, Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke
Isaac Asimov wrote an essay for Modern Science Fiction (1953, ed. Reginald Bretnor) in which he claimed there were essentially three types of science fiction—gadget, adventure, and social science fiction. Let’s say, for example, that you are applying these categories to a post-apocalyptic parent explaining the world to their kid:
- Gadget (focus is on the science itself): “Brace yourself, kiddo—Mommy’s going to give you a detailed discussion of the science of climate change. There will be a test at the end.”
- Adventure (the science is just a dramatic deus ex machina): “So kid, there’s this crazy-scary alien cyborg dude working for the Evil Empire—no, not Microsoft. The other evil empire—and he wants to take over the universe. Oh, and he’s your real dad.”
- Social: (how the science element affects people’s daily lives): “Yes, you are a plain teenaged girl, but when you flick your red hair and open your green eyes, we can all see that you are The Chosen One who will go from our humble village to The Test, at which time you will exchange mocking taunts with the Glorious Leader, and be forced to make the life-altering choice between a Handsome Boy and another Handsome Boy. This is all due to some science thingy way back when that nobody really cares about any more.”
To see how this works, I turned once again to the ever-helpful Plot Generator and chose Science Fiction genre to create the following plot.
Galactic Climate-Warming Alien Computer Virus Wars
A Science Fiction Plot
by Barb Taub
A long, long time ago in a resource raping galaxy…
After leaving the resource-raped planet Old Paradise Earth, a group of computer programmers taking part in a 12-step program for recovering internet addicts flys toward a distant speck. The speck gradually resolves into the mystery plague infested Space Temple of Solitude and Video Gaming, where their ship crash-lands near an organic seaweed farm.
Civil war strikes the galaxy, which is ruled by Major Planetraper, a global warming Government Bureaucrat capable of infecting seaweed farms with genetically modified kelp and even ocean coral polluting.
Terrified when he is proclaimed the Chosen One by a consortium of Broccoli and Kelp peoples, a teenaged Organic Seaweed Farmer known as Mickey Megachin flees the Empire, with his protector, Gaia Treehugger, and the recovering internet-addicted computer programmers.
They head for the Soulless Suburban Cluster-Trucks on the planet Fake New Earth. When they finally arrive, a fight breaks out. Treehugger uses her climate-warming alien computer virus to defend Mickey.
Treehugger and Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey decide it’s time to leave Fake New Earth, so they steal an environmentally responsible Soccer Mom 8-seat NCF (no-carbon-footprint) vehicle to shoot their way out.
They encounter a tribe of soft spoken but terrifying Kindergarten Teachers. Treehugger is attacked and the Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey is captured by the Kindergarten Teachers and taken back to the Soulless Suburban Cluster-Trucks, where Mickey is forced to spend his days reading The Rainbow Fish to insatiable five-year-olds. (Its moral: If you don’t want to be lonely, you need to rip off your skin or hair or anything that people are jealous of and give it to them. That way you’ll have friends. At least until you run out of skin and hair…).
Treehugger must fight to save Organic Seaweed Farmer Mickey but when she accidentally unleashes a computer virus while using her cellphone in a crowded theater, the entire future of the climate-warming, resource-raping galaxy is at stake.
- If Major Planetraper is actually a former Vice President who imprisons our heroes in a darkened movie theater as he goes into a detailed explanation of climate change—there may be flowcharts and a power point presentation because his evil knows no bounds—it is Gadget SciFi. (Probably written as fanfiction by a 34-year-old computer programmer still living in his mother’s basement. He will have a long ponytail.)
- If Major Planetraper followed the trail of easy money over to the dark side and began developing genetically enhanced kelp beds (esp. if he’s actually Mickey Megachin’s real father), this is Adventure Science Fiction.
- If Gaia Treehugger is The Chosen One (esp. if she has red hair and big green eyes), this is Social Science Fiction. In that case, it could belong to one of several sub-genres:
- if Gaia Treehugger is actually an intergalactic were-badger, this might be Science Fantasy.
- If Gaia Treehugger, the intergalactic were-badger, speaks in iambic pentameter, occasionally eats bits of Mickey, and now and then is inexplicably back on Earth-That-Was, it’s New Weird Fantasy.
- If Gaia and Mickey join the crew of a lovable bunch of misfit space smugglers and often have to shoot their way out of trouble, it’s a Space Opera. If there are horses (even genetically modified talking android horses), it’s a Space Opera Western.
- If the recovering internet-addicted computer programmers wear matching red uniform shirts and are killed by aliens before we really even have a chance to learn their names, this is Trekkie fanfiction. Probably really, really bad fanfiction because seriously? Star Trek?
Why am I bringing this up again? I’ve recently been reading the second book in a series by a talented Ukrainian writer, Anton Eine, which explores a world where technology and engineering are controlled by magic, which is subject to its own natural constraints.
Beyond the Speed Limit by Anton Eine
An old codemage teams up with the artificial spirit to investigate the murder.
Welcome to an alternative world of wonder, where magic and technology are inseparably entwined. A place where sorcerer programmers code spells and weave them into items and artefacts to imbue them with special and specific properties.
Magister Sajar Randhar, a seasoned expert in magic security, investigates crimes together with his greatest and most ingenious creation – Spirit, the world’s first and only artificial spirit. Magister keeps her existence a secret to protect her from the dangers posed by the magical world’s politicians, secret services, criminals and corporations. Or perhaps, to protect the magical world from her?
Programagic, a detective techno-fantasy series by Anton Eine is an explosive mix of science fiction, fantasy and magical realism, seasoned with a healthy pinch of exotic dark humor.
This collection includes the first two stories of the series – a short novella Behind the Fire Wall and a full-length novel Beyond the Speed Limit.
My Review: 5 stars out of 5
If you’re reading this, I’m either dead or behind bars.
In the prequel to his Programagic Cycle, Author Anton Eine hooked me with that great first line. My review of that intro applies to Beyond The Speed Limit, the first book in his new series, which introduces us to a disturbingly familiar magic world.
These days, instead of a wave a wand all you have to say is, “Let there be light,” and the interface spell running your house or flying chariot will carry out your every command. They can cook you dinner using standard or customized recipes, order the shopping, clean the house, turn on the music or even transmit a live or recorded image on your crystal ball.
At least, it’s familiar to any of us who have wandered the aisles of Fry’s or Best Buy, tried to set up our own router, or attempted to understand anything a twelve-year-old child tells us. Or to anyone like me with a basement full of obsolete electronic relics of bygone days, and completely useless knowledge of forgotten programming languages like Basic. (VCR/Walkman/DOS anyone?)
Beyond The Speed Limit works on several levels. First, of course, it uses the technology rules we accept but for the most part don’t understand any more than if they were in truth magic. It’s as if the Apple Store had a Genius Bar in Diagon Alley. This world might be magic-powered, but it follows rules just as strict as the physics we know in our own. A magic wand dropped in water in Sanjar’s world is just as dead as a water-drenched cellphone here. Spells written in old languages won’t power a modern magic wand any more than DOS will run your iPhone.
Second is the tongue-in-cheek humor of the references to things in the magic universe that directly mimic familiar elements in our own. (Book of Faces, anyone?)
Third is the plot, a classic SciFi thriller with plenty of chase scenes, epic battles, and universe-high stakes, with a reluctant hero, Magister Sajar Randhar, trying to solve the murder of his friend.
Another element is The Singularity, which (for SciFi fans at least) refers to the moment that an artificial intelligence (AI) achieves self-awareness. Sajar’s creation, an experimental AI hologram he calls Spirit, somehow achieves this in the prequel. Now she’s Sanjar’s secret companion, a being whose processing power and speed far exceed those of humans, but who lacks understanding of the complex rituals that make up humanity, or the soul.
Her processing power was nothing short of incredible. However, she lacked the intuition to immediately spot unusual or important bits of data. Her analytic algorithms could miss things that might seem obvious to us or require more time to process them. I had provided her with something akin to a subconscious, and it was a very powerful source of her insights but an artificial soul nevertheless functions in ways that are different to us.
As the aging technomage Sanjar tries to solve his friend’s murder, Spirit is his secret weapon. But the AI construct is also a self-aware entity, applying her vast computing resources to develop her sense of identity into a female and somehow endowing that self with gender, and emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, and even love.
To uncover and try to combat a deadly conspiracy that threatens their society, Sanjar and his secret companion take part in a deadly sport in which drivers of magically-enhanced racing vehicles race in a course full of high-speed danger and magic snares.
I thought the endless puns on things and locations in our world (God bless Murica and the Divided Kingdom!) were a little over the top. But I loved ultimate character development as Spirit invents herself while her supposed creator, Sanjar, looks on bemused. I enjoyed this update to the classic SciFi debate about whether a constructed being can become self-aware and what they might look like. If Spirit is clearly capable of computing vast amounts nearly instantaneously, what is to keep her from attempting to wrest control from her human creators? And of course, does her perception of these inequalities constitute a soul?
If you love the classic science fiction of Clarke and Asimov, the high-speed action of a James Bond thriller, or even just the speed and coordination of online gaming, I think you’ll appreciate the combination that is the official first book of Anton Eine’s Programagic Cycle, Beyond The Speed Limit.
Book Title: Beyond The Speed Limit
Author: Anton Eine
Genre: Science Fiction
Length: 381 pages
Release Date: 5 August, 2022
Rosie Amber said:
Many thanks Barb.
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I’ll give it a punt if only as a homage to your review – which is a work of art btw
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Wow! Thanks so much.
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Once again, you’ve outdone yourself. Brilliant. Except I dare any mother to rationally explain the science of climate change. Even I (the scientist) don’t understand it, which isn’t helped by the dire predictions that have not come true. Not that it isn’t real.
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You’re probably right to be skeptical. I don’t understand electricity or cryptocurrency myself, but I believe they exist. (The jury is still out on calculus though.)
It is Physical Chemistry for me. I like calculus!
Lynette d'Arty-Cross said:
So, where can I get your book, Barb? 😉
Thanks for that fantastic review – I’m think I might like that book.
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Haha! I really should write that one up.
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