Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Magical Miracle of Tolkeen: The Establishment of Clark's Law on Earth

Despite its youth as a distinct civil and cultural entity, and its status as something of a rustic backwater in the greater cross-dimensional cosmopolitan civilization that exists in the milieu of RIFTS, the City-State of Tolkeen has to its credit one innovation that--for those aware of it--has magic-using societies dumbfounded. That innovation does not seem significant to those not familiar with either the practice of magic, but it is such a profound change that it amounts to a paradigm shift equal to that from the Rule of Man to the Rule of Law.

Now, to understand the significance of this paradigm shift, one must comprehend the old paradigm. In all but a few circumstances, the practice of magic first arises from the interaction between a god-like supernatural entity and a curious or cunning mortal; the first users of magic are those who strike pacts with such entities, for good or ill, a form of externally-bestowed power represented by the Witch and Shifter classes. (Closely related to it is the Warlock class.) Out of such initial contact arises cults, sects and greater institutions where one sees the emergence of the Priest, Shaman and Druid classes (in their variations). Only at a time of maturation in a society, where philosophical inquiry flourishes, do magical practices secularize into the non-denominational forms of the Wizard (including its variants such as the Ley Line Walker). The practice of magic rarely arises of an origin akin to that of inquiry into the natural world that creates scientific breakthroughs and the con-commitment technological development.

Even in societies with a secularized subculture of magical practice, the influence of religion--that of the original supernatural--is such that it maintains a dominance upon that society by way of dominating its elite social class (who, in turn, dominate the government and related institutions). The supernatural entities that created these magical societies, even if otherwise of a benevolent or disinterested perspective with regard to mortals, so routinely seek to suppress those useful arts and sciences from which the aforementioned breakthroughs and developments arise that it is notable when there is any significant co-existence within a culture at all- to merge them, while inevitable, is so great a change that it lights fires in the minds of mortal and supernatural beings alike as great as that which sparked Creation itself.

That said, it is rare for those who do merge magical practice and scientific inquiry to merge them completely. Specifically, it is rare for these hybridization practices to do more than to hybridize the end results--the casting of spells and the creation of technological items--into techno-magical artifacts. In the minds of the majority of techno-mages, these are still seen as separate and distinct things--Chocolate and Vanilla--that they do not mix until the last moment of creation (i.e. an ice cream cone with one scoop of Vanilla and one of Chocolate). They have not gone to the next step.

Tolkeen's contribution is to make that breakthrough. The reason for this comes from its past, where the first native Earth humans in the Tolkeen community learned magic from the off-world Atlantean magicians who decided to come to Tolkeen and establish a settlement there. Those Earth natives were not only trained scientists, properly educated artists and skilled technical workers--programmers, engineers, technicians, fine artists, etc.--but they often possessed significant overlapping expertise as well as a balanced scientific and creative knowledge base. Amongst them were those who knew--if not practiced--native magical practices of various sorts that existed in the pre-Rifts era. When the Atlanteans came to these survivors, who had already put together a functional community within the ruins of Tolkeen's pre-Rifts incarnation, and demonstrated their magical prowess the natives decided to learn what they knew.

Atlantean society retained a certain conservative streak from its last era on Earth, and so did not think--it never conceived in their minds to do so--to question as to what, if any, relationship existed between the principles that governed the universe of natural phenomenon and those that governed the supernatural. In this respect, it was normative of the greater multiverse of magical and scientific practice. When the native Earth students, each steeped in the tradition of skeptical inquiry, began this mode of investigation none of the Atlanteans thought it would go anywhere and decided to leave them to try and learn from failure.

The moment when the native Earth magicians gained the ascendency in Tolkeen's magical community came with the breakthrough of one trained as a computer scientist as well as a physicist. Along with his wife--no less a mind--he isolated the basic unit of magical energy and discovered what he called a "mote". This allowed for the energy of magic to be detected, manipulated and measured as if it were any other mundane power source. The reason? He approached the practice of magic as if it were just another science, because he never had to deal with the memetic shackling of religious institutions and cultural hegemony impeding his efforts or suppressing his work.

Soon, this man and his wife embarked upon a grand project. Using the massive magical power around them, they gathered their friends and established a laboratory. In the heart of that laboratory they created what--to the Atlanteans--seemed to be a rather shallow and small ritual space. Atop the ceiling seemed to be some sort of focusing apeature, and the area around a barely man-sized dais as the point of focus. They'd soon witness their former students routinely use this device to go elsewhere and then return hours later. Soon others, students of their students, also made frequent use of it, and curiosity overcame them.

Once the Atlanteans crossed this threshold for themselves, they stood in awe of what they beheld. Within a year of the native Earthers breakthrough and the establishment of the laboratory, they figured out how to use their own scientific knowledge as well as that of the magiclal principles that they learned from the Atlanteans and created a safe and secure city inside a pocket-dimension. This is the Crystal City, Tolkeen.

As the First Founder, Roger M. Ire, the man who made this possible, said to his former teacher: "We had myths and legends about magic long before your people returned. Not all of them are derived, in whole or in part, from the actual deeds of the last Atlantean age; we in particular were enamored of a far more recent myth, one created in our lifetimes, and used that myth to guide our creation of this place. Welcome to the Grid, Master."

The First Founder quoted a pre-Rifts author, Arthur C. Clark: "Any sufficiently-advance technology is indistinguishable from magic." So, they reasons, any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from the practice of magic. They thought of it as another science--no different from chemistry, geology or any other--and yet remembered that it had the quality of the Arts to it also. In time, a truly unique culture of magician-engineers arose and that Crystal City became the Inner City while outside arose the Outer City as the community's command of knowledge expanded and applications arose from the fruits of their inquiries.

Now we hear not "spells", but of "protocols". Now we hear not of "casting" and "banishing", but "resolution" and "deresolution". Now we hear not of "demons", but of "programs". We hear no priests calling people to prayer, but often of hear the philosophers call people to debate. We see the measurement of motes becoming means of measuring the time it takes for the Resolution Engines to execute the resolution of things, and we see the fusion of principles in the creation of Platonic Protocols whose use holds the promise of a sort of immortality--Tolkeen has never attempted to resolve a program over the form of a living being before, but those working on the Marvel Project assure the people that all necessary safeguards are in place--and the Council of Masters is confident that the threat posed by the Coalition States can be successfully defeated.

It is a time of great optimism in Tolkeen, a time of high culture, a time of great potential and hope- and a time of dangerous exuberance, unjustified confidence and romantic perceptions of life and one's place in it. Tolkeen stands at a crossroads, where the very esoteric modes of thinking that goes with traditional magical practice may well be the necessary balancing point that Tolkeen needs to endure. If it, like the Coalition, puts too much emphasis on the linear thinking that mundane scientific thinking is prone to producing then Tolkeen could be blind to the true threats to its continued existence and open itself to tragedy and ruin.


  1. Very interesting. I haven't read much of the Rifts material on Tolkeen, but I suspect you're adding quite a bit. I think it fits really well with the millieu, though.

  2. I am outright rewriting much of Tolkeen, as I do not think that the published material really does justice to the concepts addressed, the situation involved or the setting presented.