While the study of traditional physics yielded many tremendous scientific advances and–more importantly–daily conveniences over the millennia, there were just some things it wasn’t cut out to do. Useful, large-scale superluminal travel and transportation was one of them. Artificial gravitation was another.
When you get right down to it, gravity is a matter of… well… matter. There’s no getting around the fact that the only way for a ship to have a planet’s worth of gravity pulling everything down–that is, in the direction of its lowest deck–would be to have a planet’s worth of mass beneath it.
The various possible tricks involving rotating segments all traded a certain freedom of design for sketchy results that provided a poor, uneven semblance of gravity at best. More exotic solutions required such things as artificially curving space-time, but these tended to require energy output on a scale more-or-less equivalent to that necessary to produce a planet-sized mass anyway.
Worse, they had unpleasant side effects, such as producing unfathomable alien geometries that would have sent even Regan scurrying away from the galley.
Yet though it was patently impossible by every law of physics, the chunk of rock known as Rylea could never have been colonized so comfortably without its artificial gravity field. The entire interstellar asteroid was suffused with a uniform gravity just a comfortable skosh below standard, oriented “downward” to the nearest convenient arbitrary plane, allowing the uneven and decidedly non-spherical rogue planetoid’s surface to be utilized to the fullest.
The field extended fifty meters away from an equally arbitrary surface level and held in an abbreviated atmosphere which, against all logic, was tolerably dense. The gravity effect was extended throughout the interior of the towering spiracle-like skyscrapers (or perhaps “spacescrapers” would be more apt) with which the asteroid positively bristled in places, though their architecture would have been impossible if the buildings had to support the full weight of the materials involved.
How was this possible?
In a word, magic.
Not “technology sufficiently advanced” to resemble magic, but… magic itself.
You see, technology takes advantage of the rules of physics, but in doing so it is fully dependent upon them; it therefore cannot hope to break them. With no disrespect intended to Mr. Clarke, it must be said that no technology–in the sense that the word is normally employed–with any level of advancement could allow the technologist to fully subvert the rules which made the technology possible.
Now, if the laws of physics do not allow for a thing to be done, the obvious solution is to find some other set of rules which does allow it, and this is what the spacefaring civilizations had done.
In some cases, like the GCC, the magic was mostly tucked away safely out of sight where its existence wouldn’t cause too much excitement.
In other cases, like the “backwater, barbaric” world of Nova Hibernia, it was on full display and far more common in its implementation than technology.
In most cases, however, the two systems were in full concert with each other, each employed according to its uses. Thus, you end up with ships like Shays Rebellion… where the gravity was enchanted into the deck plating and extra energy generated by the mystical alchemical engine was mechanically converted to electrical energy to charge the battery packs that kept the lights on.
Of course, there will be some of those who read this manuscript who would rather have been told that such ships and the Ryleans’ way of life were made possible by “graviton generators”, even though there’s positively no such animal as a graviton and even if there was we’d have no clue how they should be generated in useful quantities in the absence of great big massy objects like planets.
There will be some who would rather hear some technobabble about manipulation of intrinsic forces and if it seemed like any of it was stretching a point too thin, we could just say something about quantum physics and expect the uncertainty principle to cover the gap.
There will be some people in the audience who will say that the rules which govern magic are simply more laws of physics or special cases thereof, and that technology based upon these rules is still technology, thus preserving the legacy of Mr. Clarke forever and ever, amen.
To those people, I can only say that the story is what it is, and the Ryleans’ gravity is what it is, as well.
If you are unable to accept a story which would rather say “It’s magic.” when it encounters a situation which is physically impossible… but you otherwise enjoy the story enough to want to keep reading anyway… we would like to suggest a compromise:
Pretend that the feats of seeming enchantment, alchemy, and sorcery which are occasionally depicted or alluded to in this story are only made possible by artifacts left behind by sufficiently advanced alien precursors with zero point energy or possibly total mass conversion power plants that provide an almost unlimited power supply for miraculous feats of quantum waveform manipulation which rely upon subconscious microscale telekinesis from the “wizard” as a consequence of the observer effect, because that makes so much more sense than magic and makes the story so much easier to get into, because it could really happen.
Throw some nanites in, too, if it helps.
Tell yourself that and have a lever and a lollipop, on us. We promise we’re laughing with you, not at you. You’re so smart to have picked up the story’s flaws and come up with a solution to them like that. We bet you saw through Santa Claus the first time you heard about him, too, rather than wasting years of your life going around with a childlike sense of wonder and amazement. Bravo, sir or madam, bravo.
To everybody else, we shall simply say once more, “It’s magic,” and proceed with the story, which shall pick up in the next chapter with the crew members known as Regan Bard and Handy, pulling a wagon full of metal slag down one of the nicer streets in one of the better parts of Rylea…
Discuss This Chapter On The Forum
« « 11: Venturing Forth 13: Whitewashing » »
Note: I'm trying out a new comment system. It's new and subject to jiggerypokery. It's moderated. Detailed guidelines to come but follow the general rule: be excellent to each other.
« « 11: Venturing Forth 13: Whitewashing » »