'For this is what your folk would call magic, I believe: though I do not understand clearly what they mean; and they seem to use the same word of the deceits of the Enemy. But this, if you will, is the magic of Galadriel. Did you not say that you wished to see Elf-magic?'
I myself was struck by the parallels between stories like from Ghost in the Shell and the tales of old with wizards and places of power. Characteristically enough, I was beaten to the punch years previous by greater minds than I.
In the once upon a time days of the First Age of Magic, the prudent sorcerer regarded his own true name as his most valued possession but also the greatest threat to his continued good health, for--the stories go--once an enemy, even a weak unskilled enemy, learned the sorcerer's true name, then rou- tine and widely known spells could destroy or enslave even the most powerful. As times passed, and we graduated to the Age of Reason and thence to the first and second industrial revolutions, such notions were discredited. Now it seems that the Wheel has turned full circle (even if there never really was a First Age) and we are back to worrying about true names again:
The first hint Mr. Slippery had that his own True Name might be known--and, for that matter, known to the Great Enemy--came with the appearance of two black Lincolns humming up the long dirt driveway that stretched through the dripping pine forest down to Road 29. Roger Pollack was in his garden weeding, had been there nearly the whole morning, enjoying the barely perceptible drizzle and the overcast, and trying to find the initiative to go inside and do work that actually makes money. He looked up the mo- ment the intruders turned, wheels squealing, into his driveway. Thirty seconds passed, and the cars came out of the third-generation forest to pull up beside and behind Pollack's Honda. Four heavy-set men and a hard-looking female piled out, started purposefully across his well-tended cabbage patch, crushing ten- der young plants with a disregard which told Roger that this was no social call.
True Names Vernor Vinge
In a way, this is perfectly fitting. Fantasy is a way of explaining the world as they imagine but in reality isn't. The self-aware fantasy author acknowledges himself as such; those that do not promulgate a religion. Science Fiction is about the world that isn't but could be. And the people with the knowledge, means and will shape this idealization into reality.
We are of course familiar with the standard examples of science fiction technologies that have later emerged into the real world: spaceships, robots, artificial intelligence, death rays, nuclear bombs, global communication networks, artificial satellites, etc.
Arthur C. Clarke proposed three laws of prediction.
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
DemonologyDemons must be summoned. They are bound to obey arbitrary rules such as answering to true names, staying within the bounds of summoning circles which are just chalk lines on the floor, and literally obeying every command. Hmm. Do computers ignore you if you don't have the correct username and password? Will providing the right security tokens make them obey your command? Will computers almost maliciously do as you say, not what you meant? SQL injection attacks, oh, boy.
One proposed difference between an expert system and a strong AI is that the strong AI has a personal identity, desires and needs. The expert system might be capable of performing great tasks but has no goal beyond mechanically completing the task it was assigned. So while the metaphor might seem like King Solomon binding the djinn to do his will, it might be better to compare a Vodoun priest and his zombies, unthinking slaves who will trudge through whatever task they've been set to. But if an AI is self-aware, does have personal goals and is still bound to obey rules hardcoded into its psyche, answering a summons will have it in a very foul mood before you even ask anything.
The Dabbler Be DamnedIf you don't know what you're doing, you will be burned. This is quite true for any number of existing human endeavors. Ignorance is seldom rewarded in the world of practice. Fantasy and fairy tales are full of victim protagonists who don't know what they're in for and hero-protagonists who are forewarned and forearmed, thus able to escape the tricks and wiles of their supernatural foes.
We're familiar with Mickey Mouse's problem in the Sorcerer's Apprentice. He sets the animate broomsticks into motion without a proper bounding condition. Any programmer who's crashed a server with a runaway process knows Mickey's pain.
This is both a feature and security. The feature is that the demonic entity (or process) is bound by rules and cannot do anything that you do not agree to. At the same time, if it is self-aware and malicious, it could do harm to anyone who does not understand those rules. Even if an unauthorized user is capable of obtaining the right summoning ritual (security keys) to access the demon (daemon), ignorance could see him get well and truly burned. A physical security automation threatens you? Make this hand gesture and use these words and it will relent. But you must know it exactly or it will attack.
The True Name and Place of PowerVinge explained the idea of the True Name well enough. But the other idea is the place of power. Traditionally, this would be a sacred grove or a spring or some other notable place that the heart of some spiritual entity resided. Gain access to that point and you can destroy it.
In a cyberized world where interaction is electronic, confronting an avatar in the metaverse means nothing. The real entity is not that which is online, it is that which resides in the real world. If Bob the Superhacker is threatening your interests, the only way to remove Bob from the chessboard is to find his place of power, aka his apartment, and do away with him physically.
Arbitrary ConstraintsWhat other rules are supernatural entities constrained to obey? Not entering a home uninvited ("Did you click "ok" when virus.exe gave you the dialog box?" A holy symbol like a cross shouldn't mean much to a monster but might be a nice hypnotic compulsion for controlling an artificial intelligence. Recall Robocop's and the difficulty presented by his secret fourth directive, "any attempt to arrest a senior OCP employee results in shutdown." Firing the corrupt VP means he's no longer an employee and Robocop is clear to blow him away. Is this much different from the rules-lawyering and tricky language employed in folk-lore through the ages? Your classic "deal with the devil" story is always about giving the victim what he asked for in a way that completely ruins what he wants. Ask Satan for a bigger wang, he'll give you one so large it won't fit in any human orifice.
Is there any plausible reason for a vampire to be afraid for a cross? Perhaps if it's been blessed which implies the action of some sort of clerical magic. But if it's just someone fashinoning sticks together into a given shape, it implies that the creature is in some way bound by the very sight of the shape, a sort of post-hypnotic suggestion providing a means of controlling it. If a vampire were created as a living weapon, especially one that is physically stronger than its masters, control techniques known to the master would be useful. A weakness to silver could be exploited but how many people would know to bless water?
Creating LifeWe have mythological examples of the homonculus which is an artificial human created from the seed of man. They are living beings who might not possess souls depending upon the tradition you follow.
Likewise there is the tradition of the golem, a creature of clay animated by the Jewish God's magic when a Hebrew word is written on his forehead. Erasing a letter changes the word for life to death and the golem falls silent.