The Half-Bakery - Singularity Sword: Initial brainstorming
I almost feel like I’m committing a bait-and-switch by posting this after the reasonably-though-out piece I opened with. But I kinda wanted to put my best foot forward, and I’d been working on MegaTen Go for a little while and wanted to show it off. Today’s offering is something that’s only getting organized into clear paragraphs as I type it up here and now, but it’s also the one that’s been rattling around my head lately and prompted me to start looking for a good place to post this stuff.
Side note: A system post on MegaTen Go is in the pipe, but some of that requires some graphics (nothing too weird, just visual aids for stuff that would be awkward to only explain in text) and I need to work on their presentation.
In a nutshell, it’s posthuman science fantasy using concepts swiped from Eclipse Phase, and loosely inspired by Infinity Blade and Lesser Shades of Evil. Other possible idea mines include Endless Legend and Numenera. (Yes, I know the name’s a bit on the nose, but I had to call it something and nothing better came to mind.)
The setting is a superficially low-tech world that is nonetheless filled with strange wonders and terrors; while they seem magical, and may be described in such terms, the GM, players, and even some characters know that all of it is rooted in advanced technology.
“We’ve left the elevator and you’re still listening” pitch
The key difference from IB and LSoE is in the nature of the posthuman characters and their technological immortality. Those settings use tech that retains a very singular (no pun intended) notion of identity: A deathless' quantum identity profile, or an angelion’s essence, is that person, and nothing else can also be. They may change bodies, but their identity is unique to a single, indivisible, irreproducible — although transferable and destructible — thing. In that way, one’s identity is much like a soul, especially the immaterial QIPs of IB (though the spherical gold essences of LSoE can be likened to a lich’s phylactery).
EP, however, takes a different approach: Identity is information. Your memories, skills, personality, and everything else your brain stores can be recorded and copied like any other data; such a copy running on any computer system capable of emulating the workings of a human brain is as much you as the original. There’s no quantum copy protection on consciousness, no essential “you-ness” that can only exist in one place at a time. Your mind, your identity, your you can be backed up, transmitted, run concurrently, or even edited. This is much more in line with real-world transhumanist ideas about what technology may one day achieve. (Whether these hopes are at all realistic is a discussion for another time and people with more letters after their names than I have; I’m just taking it as read for world-building purposes.)
In short, IB and LSoE, while interesting and cool, strike me as more fantastical worlds with a veneer of science to explain them; what I’m trying to do here is take something very solidly sci-fi and build a similar quasi-fantasy world with it, if for no other reason than I think it would be interesting and I haven’t seen it done before.
If you’re not already familiar with Eclipse Phase and want to know more about its immortality tech, the PDF is CC-licensed and you can download it legally from their site.
Language reflects thought, and influences it as well. The language of EP when discussing their tech is utilitarian and, well, technical, which shows that it’s seen as ordinary to most people and the broad principles of its operation are generally known. This is something I’d actually like to change: Like in IB and LSoE, true posthumans will be a minority, and the technology that makes them so will seem wondrous even to those who understand that it is technology. The words they use for it should reflect this rarity and awe. (Specific words I’m planning to use are in bold.)
For starters: Magic. To most people, at least those with a basic level of education, the word literally means “sufficiently advanced technology” as per Clarke’s third law. They know that, with practice, they could learn to operate it, or with time and study, even understand it. That doesn’t make it any less wondrous to them.
Getting into specific terms, I’m a little torn on ego and morph (EP’s words for one’s consciousness and current body). On the one hand, they feel a bit technical, but on the other, their Latin and Greek roots make them seem esoteric. It helps that a lot of magical jargon (both RL and fantasy) come from those languages. I also don’t want to use “soul”, and “mind” and “body” are too prosaic. I might keep them as-is. Similarly, ego bridge (a device for up- or downloading an ego) can probably stay, but I’d like to come up with a better word for fork (a concurrently running copy of one’s ego, sometimes deliberately limited or incomplete). Maybe something like “twin” or “ego-twin”, to reflect the common origin but independent existence; or if I’m willing to spring for a five-dollar word, “divaricate”. I’d also like new words for biomorph and synthmorph; I’ve considered homunculus and golem respectively, but I’m not entirely sold.
“Cortical stack” (the real-time ego backup in the skull), though, has got to go. My first instinct was to call it a phylactery, and I haven’t come up with a better word yet. I’m only hesitant because of the association with liches, but I’m not sure that’s even a problem. A place where phylacteries or egos are stored for safekeeping or transport could be called a reliquary.
For an ego to actually live and think, it must be loaded into a matrix. I like this word better than “computer” for a few reasons: It makes it clear that a device has the capacity to house an ego, which not all computers would. It has a slightly more esoteric sound, whole also having a meaning (a data structure for performing certain calculations) that the educated would understand. Lastly, while it is often used in contrast with organic brains, I think the definition should fact includes them. A matrix is anything an ego can live in, be it composed of circuits or cells.
For purely informational beings, I’m a little stumped. Muses (AI personal assistants) can probably keep their name; I thought of calling them familiars, but their owners would likely use something shorter. AGIs (artificial general intelligences, aka “strong” AI) and infomorphs (egos living purely virtual lives) could be called spirits and/or ghosts, but that seems bland to me. Suggestions are welcome (well, they almost always are, but you know). I do like the word mesh for information networks, though, especially the ones these beings interact with; there’s just something evocative about it.
That’s All For Now
That’s what I’ve got so far: Some ideas I think are interesting, but not really organized as of yet. I feel like I’ve laid a foundation, though. I’ll make a followup post sometime soon with some ideas on what a pseudo-fantasy world where this stuff exists might look like.