The Really Big Idea: Ian Healy
Superpowers are the heart of science fiction and fantasy. Whether the source of super-human ability is magic, technology, genetics, hand-waving or even pure pluck and gumption – sf examines worlds where people have extraordinary abilities. Since this sort of thing is so very common the trick, then, is to provide an entertaining and plausible explanation for these gifts… Batman’s monomania, nanotechnology, that ancient spell book, heredity. And the trick within the trick is to provide meaningful limits to power that grow out of your explanation. Here’s Ian to describe his world:
Day of the Destroyer
My forthcoming book release, Day of the Destroyer, is yet another foray into the weird and wonderful world of parahumans and their astounding and amazing abilities. Also, alliteration. Day of the Destroyer is set in 1977, well before researchers have begun to understand the science behind parahuman abilities within the Just Cause Universe novels, but it’s something I’ve put quite a bit of thought into, and wanted to discuss some of the ideas I have about how these powers can exist.
“Superhuman” abilities have existed in some form or other throughout recorded history. Stories and legends abound of men and women with godlike abilities. Hercules. Moses. Paul Bunyan. Pecos Bill. John Henry. In the Just Cause Universe, these legends have some basis in fact, and these people are parahumans. In The Archmage, for example when the [SPOILER AHEAD] heroes have traveled back in time, they meet a man who thinks Juice is John Henry because they look so similar. Is it because John Henry may be an ancestor of Juice? They also meet Mustang Sally’s great-great grandmother, and witness that she has slightly greater-than-human speed. Indeed, both Mustang Sally’s mother and grandmother have speed abilities, which suggests that parahuman abilities are hereditary. In the JCU, that led Japanese researchers to eventually isolate the genetic markers which are common to parahumans.
So parahuman powers are mixed into our genes. But how does that explain such a wide variety of abilities? In the first novel, Just Cause, here is a brief list of the abilities represented on the Just Cause team: super-strength, absorption of electricity, invulnerability to physical damage, flight, telepathy, super-speed, and the creation and control of force fields. How can all these things be tied into a single genetic marker?
It comes down to three aspects, all closely tied together; a perfect storm that allow parahumans to do such wonderful things: dimensions, energy, and psionics.
Dimensions. The idea of parallel universes and dimensions beyond the three cardinal dimensions (plus time) has been around for a very long time. Some theories get kind of wacky with it. Bosonic String Theory, for example, requires no less than 26 dimensions. I’m postulating that one of these dimensions or parallel universes or alternate planes of existence provides the source of parahuman abilities. In what way?
Energy. Energy is, at its simplest, the ability to do work. And if you have a lot of energy, you can do a lot of work. The dimension that originates parahuman powers is jam-packed full of energy. In fact, there’s no matter in it at all. It’s a dimension of pure energy (Cue the Information Society video for those of use who spent our formative years in the ‘80s). I’m conveniently ignoring the idea of the Zero-Energy Universe here, so don’t bring it up, punk. All that energy has the ability to do work, and that work can take a variety of forms. Since there’s an entire universe’s worth of it, it will take quite awhile for the parahumans to use it all up. Since that dimension/universe/what-have-you has no entropy of its own, the only way it can reach a lower state of energy is for that energy to be drained out, and that requires…
Psionics. Psionics is a fancy name for mind powers. Ultimately, in the Just Cause Universe, every parahuman with the appropriate genetic marker has a mind-power that allows them to drain energy from the alternate dimension and make that energy do work. Everything else is just special effects. How does Juice lift up a car and throw it? He might appear to be using his muscles, but in reality, he’s channeling energy from the other dimension to do that work. Doublecharge can fly, Crackerjack can laugh off physical harm, and Mustang Sally can run at supersonic speeds, all because they can control this extradimensional energy on a subconscious, psionic level. So why do parahumans have the abilities they do? Why can’t Juice also fly, or run at the speed of sound? Why can’t Mustang Sally shoot lightning bolts?
Therein lies the real mystery, and one which I may explore further in a later novel.