Today’s fic is a little Harry Potter disaster movie slash Battlestar Galactica crossover named Invincible by Darth Marrs.
The basic concept is that the plot of the movie 2012 has come to the Harry Potter setting, but the radiation involved happens to resonate with magic and become much more lethal to magical plants and animals, humans included.
Nothing magical will be able to survive those radiation levels even if arks are built, and the magical governments of the world are determined to prevent a panic, so they keep it a secret. However, because Hermione was one of the researchers first called in to identify the problem, Harry learns of it and, inspired by a memory of a friend showing him Space Battleship Yamato, he sets out on a desperate effort to buy a decommissioned aircraft carrier, the HMS Invincible, and convert it into a spaceborn ark.
Of course, things can never be that simple. The purebloods are convinced of a goblin prophecy that will allow them to survive in the goblin caves, but they will only allow wizards in if Harry’s project is stopped. The purebloods see this as an opportunity to cleanse all the muggleborns and halfbloods from their society, so Harry’s efforts are quickly declared illegal, even as he allies with the Americans to share technology and magical innovation so they can build their own pair of ships. (Spoiler: There is no prophecy. The goblin religion forbids them from leaving Earth and they’re determined to take wizardkind with them into oblivion as one final act of spite.)
This is where one of my reasons for marking this story down a bit comes in: It’s tagged and presented as a Harry Potter – Battlestar Galactica crossover with elements of 2012 but, for the entire first half of the story, it’s a Harry Potter – 2012 crossover without a hint of Battlestar Galactica in sight. Having my expectations primed that way, I had trouble relaxing and enjoying the first half because I kept wanting to “rush through the introduction that has gone on far too long and get to the actual story”.
We’re talking “Battlestar Galactica doesn’t come in until chapter 16 of 33” in a novel-length story, 140,082 words long.
Still, for what it is, the first half is well-written… I just had trouble enjoying it for the same reason I rushed through more or less all of David Brin’s Sundiver. Improperly set expectations. I won’t mark it down too much for that… but I can’t ignore it entirely in my final scoring.
Anyway, the second half of the story starts with them discovering some survivors from Helena Cain’s illegal looting and pressganging of surviving civilian ships.
What follows is a story about Harry and company meeting up with Colonial survivors, dealing with the Cylons, and finally settling in an O’Neill cylinder built and abandoned by the Lords of Kobol.
Since all but one of my remaining problems with the story seem to stem from a common mismatch between my own philosophical outlook and that of the authors, I think I’ll address them together in one go before we get to the good parts:
I get a general sense from this story of a setting which implicitly penalizes the human drive to grow beyond what we are, but, more importantly, a story where the author sees nothing wrong with that… a setting which inherently pits science and magic at odds with each other as means for the betterment of our species, and casts science as wanting.
Most notably, in the core rationale for forcing the colonials to choose between allying with wizardkind or trying to make peace with the Cylons in the canonical way: Cylons have no souls and any descendants of human-form cylons, no matter how distant, will forever lose access to magic. (Specifically, the choice is cast as between immortality and magic.)
I could buy something like the teleporters that led to the situation in the My Little Pony sci-fi story Just Like Magic of Old, where the technology is flawed and the cylon resurrection process breaks the connection with whatever the source of magic is. Then, it’s a simple cautionary tale about trying to run before you’ve learned to walk, and nothing against science itself or our ability to better ourselves through dedication to studying the world.
…but saying cylons have no souls and having prophecy indicate that interbreeding with them will abandon magic forever has an undertone to it that “once a machine, always a machine”, that humans are the only “true” sapients and non-human sapients are impostors, not worthy of having the same aspirations.
It also feels like an opportunity for a slippery slope into exactly the mindset the colonials have which caused all the trouble in the first place and gives me a sense that the author might have that religious mindset that sees it as desirable that we be forever trapped as children under the rule of some immortal parent, rather than being able to achieve adulthood and sit as equals with the highest thinking powers in the universe.
(“Only God can truly create life” and so on. That belief that there’s some essence to the universe that we cannot replicate is a central part of why, despite China having 5000 years of unbroken history, it was Europe that developed science much more recently and leapfrogged China enough for Britain to dictate terms to them and get a 99 year lease on Hong Kong.)
…but then what do I know? I’m a physicalist for the same reasons professor Shelly Kagan lays out and I see it as unpalatable for the existence of the soul in fiction to have any implications beyond the ability to outlive one’s physical form… the ideal way to squash the implications being to have souls arise organically as an inevitable side-effect of sapience.
More generally, I’m always brought back to the Dresden Codak page “Caveman Science Fiction” which casts the recurring “you go too far” trope popular culture uses toward science in light of innovations we take so for granted that nobody will question that they’re a good thing.
This same theme also feels related to another detail I find distasteful: The magic used for things like expansion charms acts like radiation on muggles, further amplifying that “it’s one or the other” element.
Aside from feeling like a needless “this universe throws roadblocks in front of merging the best of magic and science for the betterment of all humanity” decision and opening up plot holes surrounding why all the non-human life in their expanded spaces isn’t dying off too, it reminds me of how one of the purposes of Bible passages like Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9-11 is to support the concept that we are a special creation, separate from other animals, by establishing a recurring theme that, whether it’s animals, seeds, or clothing, different things must be kept separate… a mindset that I find harmful now, given how much we know about the nature of reality and how much trouble we have with baseless discrimination in society.
(A call-back to our base instinct to separate things we might feel empathy toward into “us” and “the other” and feel no empathy toward the latter.)
As for my last remaining problem? It feels like the story is incomplete as it relates to cylons. I’ll explain further as part of explaining what I did like, so let’s move on to that… and most of what I like has to do with the novel ideas:
First, using magic to solve the problems with an Alcubierre warp drive, resulting in a solution that is both novel and inherently depends on the mixing of magic and science for success.
Second, I like that this is the first story I can remember where it’s entire ships of wizards who meet the colonials, rather than just one or two, so they have far more ability to provide aid to the ships they encounter.
Third, the origins of the Lords of Kobol. (Wizards who lived where the Black Sea now is during the last ice age and fled during the previous occurrence of the 2012 plot… using magical sleeper ships because they lacked the scientific knowledge to go faster than light, and having lost their magic because they were so callous that they did things like slaughtering unicorns with impunity.)
…which is the first (though more minor) facet of what I meant when I said the tale of the cylons felt incomplete. Maybe it was mentioned briefly enough that I missed it while reading, but I don’t remember getting a clear explanation of how the Lords of Kobol went from wizards slaughtering unicorns to a population exclusively made of squibs and muggles. The story even has the characters notice that there had to be more to it than that. (Humans have a tendency to start to skim-read when we feel we know what’s going on, so it’s important for an author to spend time on something proportional to its importance.)
That leads into the next creative part: That the seers in the colonial population are squibs, that chamalla brings out marginal magical ability in the same way that an unnamed cactus-based drug (peyote?) does among Earth seers, and that Laura Roslin may be the most powerful seer in the surviving colonial population. I think this might have been touched on before in other crossovers I’ve read, but never in a way this distinctive and memorable.
Likewise, the idea that they’re a population full of squibs is also used to produce a very clever explanation for Messenger Six: Gauis Baltar is a squib and she’s a Class IV Demon… a malicious manifestation of his guilt born of what little magic he has, which has gained some measure of independent sapience but, because she’s still a part of him, she can’t just be killed.
Now, I’ll get into the cylons. While I find the mechanism a bit distasteful (stunning spells are lethal to cylons and are used to kill all the cylons on the fleet simultaneously so none can escape to act as saboteurs once they realize they’ve been discovered), I do like the novelty of having the Final Five wake up among the cylons and touch off the cylon civil war that way.
The problem I hinted at before is that it’s unfinished in that respect. The civil war removes the cylons as a threat, and… what? Again, unless I missed something, there’s still a population of psychologically human people out there who have every right to live, but who are without souls and who could meet and start interbreeding with souled humans at some point in the future. Either you applaud the extinction of thinking, feeling beings who fought their monstrous kin for the right to live free (which is a morally reprehensible thing to do) or you’ve just kicked resolving that social and political conflict down the road.
Finally, I really like the addition of and detail spent on the O’Neill cylinder. It’s far too rare to find those in fiction and it really lends a sense of how wondrous the sci-fi side of things can be. (For some reason, even the grandest stuff in series like Stargate: SG-1, Mass Effect, and Halo has a sense of being too familiar to do that… not to mention how they’re intrinsically tied to settings that lean toward action and martial conflict rather than the sense of adventure that, aside from Star Trek, seems to be relegated to the comparative obscurity of classic sci-fi novels.)
So, in the end, what do I think about it? I’d give it a 4.2 out of 5. It’s got some very creative elements and, despite its flaws, I enjoyed it. It might have been a 4.3 if I didn’t have so much trouble with the first half because of improperly set expectations, and, had the other flaws not been present, it could easily have been a 4.6.
Fanfiction – Invincible by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.