Friday, 21 April 2017
An sf premise: a technology enabling its owners to do whatever they want within the bounds of physical laws;
a fantasy premise: magical or supernatural powers overriding physical laws.
We will consider Neil Gaiman and Mike Carey for fantasy and Poul Anderson and John C. Wright for sf.
In The Sandman, Gaiman deliberately set out to tell a story about virtually omnipotent supernatural beings. Carey followed him with Lucifer. However, both authors begin their narrative with the central character temporarily weakened and needing to regain much that he has lost. Even when at their most powerful, the characters generate considerable conflict. The issues include a family feud between anthropomorphic personifications of aspects of consciousness - Desire's determination to destroy Dream - and how to govern a universe. Should the Creator be worshipped? Should there be a Hell?
In Anderson's Genesis, the inorganic intelligences:
cannot traverse space faster than light but do spread through and beyond the galaxy at sub-light speeds;
incorporate the memories of extinct human beings;
spend centuries studying organic life where it exists;
protect the Solar System from cosmic threats like radiation fields;
divide and re-merge their consciousnesses;
can create conscious AI "emulations" of human history.
Their moral conflict becomes whether it is right to re-create human life.
In Wright's The Golden Age, human beings are immortal and AI-enhanced. Vast and nanotechnological planetary and solar engineering projects are controlled by a small entrepreneurial class, not by society as a whole. Phaeton did something so shameful that he willingly erased the memory but now wants to know what he did! A dilemma impossible to us but possible then.
Despite nanotech, longevity and brain-augmentation, important decisions are still taken only by a wealthy minority? To say that everything has changed but that nothing fundamental has changed is a contradiction.