Sunday, August 4, 2013

Narrative Fusion

I just finished reading Sufficiently Advanced Technology by Christopher Nuttall. I loved it.

The story is set in the distant future and humanity is far advanced technologically. The author terms it a post-singuarlity society, but I disagree. And I disagree because I distinguish post-scarcity and post-singularity. The human empire depicted is definitely post-scarcity, but it is not transcendent. In fact the advanced technology on display is decidedly NOT transcendent. If you are expecting your aliens to be really alien, and your transhumans to be incomprehensibly advanced, be ready for disappointment. Mr. Nuttall shows us supermen like the Greek gods, and calls it transcendent. (If you want to see what I mean about mind-blowing superintelligent aliens, I recommend Michael McCloskey's stories.)

Nevertheless, the humans and their AIs realize that they're missing out on transcendence. And they're trying to get it by scouring the galaxy for anomalies left over by alien races that are either Ancients or Elder Races, I'm not sure whether they're the same or different. Here's a weakness in the novel: Mr. Nuttall doesn't seem to be sure either.

It seems that what distinguishes the advanced human race and the Elder races who have gone on is achieving the ability to manipulate the quantum foam. If you can control quantum foam, you can do rewrite reality. This is like magic. It turns out that a survey ship has run into a primitive world where magic works. And a team of boffins is sent to investigate.

The characters that make up this team include Elyria, a 150-year-old scientist whose rejuvenation treatments have left her looking like a hot 20-year-old, and Dacron an AI who has been jammed into a cloned human body. (Yes, Dacron is the name of a synthetic fabric.) On the magic planet we meet Joshua, a sorcerer's apprentice and his master. On the magic planet we see three kinds of magic users: Pillars who are local despots ruling each city state, Scions who are loners studying magic in the wilderness and getting ready to take over, and apprentices who are being groomed to take over somewhere. Rule is transferred from a Pillar to whoever can murder him with magic.

Eventually, the space people show up and they are quickly found out by the magic users. Elyria gets to know Joshua and Dacron's AI mind is extremely well suited to magic. In fact, when Dacron figures out how magic works, it is very procedural, like a programming language. And this reminded me of Rick Cook's Wizardry series.

I've said before that I generally see magic in stories as either being demonic or incantational, as exemplified by Aladdin (a djinn is a demon) and Harry Potter (incantational). But this novel fused the two categories in a way I never expected. Kudos, Mr. Nuttall. This is one time when I won't give a spoiler.

You see the stuff you expect where the indigenous apprentice regards high tech as magical, and the space boys & girls regarding the magic as sufficiently advanced technological. Happily, Mr. Nuttall has enough in this novel that he doesn't have to dwell on this.

The fight scenes could be fleshed out a little better. When the magic users go to war against the space people, I'd have liked to have seen some more creative use of magic and more integrated combined arms action with magic and Amish-level tech being deployed against the main villain.

Is this story Science Fiction or is it Fantasy? It's a bit of both, I suppose. That's why I called this post Narrative Fusion, because it fuses SF and Fantasy, and it fuses Demonic vs Incantational magic.

Mr. Nuttall has done a marvelous job of world-building. His Elder/Ancient races have left all kinds of things for the humans to trip over, and he just casually drops references to several of them.

This novel appears to be the first in a series and given the quality of world-building, I look forward to exploring it in depth. 5-stars.

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