Off to Be the Wizard cover. Admit it, you're hearing 8-bit music right now.Magic 2.0
is a science-fiction/fantasy book series written by Scott Meyer, the author of the web-comic Basic Instructions
, in his usual tongue-in-cheek manner (right down to the 8-bit graphics as book covers). The overall idea of the novels is that reality as we know it is nothing more than a complex computer program. While not a new idea, the author manages to come up with an interesting twist: What If?
some people found a way to Rewrite Reality
by simply editing a file in a text editor?
In Off to Be the Wizard
, Martin Banks is a 23-year-old hacker (who dislikes the term) who works a dead-end data entry job and looks through corporate file servers in his spare time. One day, he finds an extremely-large file on a server and quickly discovers that, by editing it, he can change certain things about the world (he accidentally increases his height by 3 inches, although he later learns that could have killed him). Very quickly he learns to teleport (by editing his geospatial coordinates), Time Travel
(by editing his time coordinates), and become rich (by editing his bank account balance). He writes an Android app to be able to access certain functions without access to his computer and teleport at will. A few days later, two US Treasury agents named Miller and Murphy arrest him for suspected bank fraud, forcing Martin to flee 2012 to the past. He chooses 12th century England and arrives to a town called Leadchurch, trying to pass himself off as a wizard. He learns that he's not the first to find the file and flee to Medieval England and becomes the apprentice of a man from 1984 named Phillip who works as a local wizard. He explains the rules adopted by all "wizards" and trains Martin in the use of the open-source shell used by the wizards to write code and macros that manifest as spells through the use of gestures and words in a bastardized version of Esperanto (the locals know Latin). A local female tailor named Gwen (a good friend of Phillip's) makes Martin a robe and a conical hat (necessary for the shell to recognize him). Martin tries to unsuccessfully hit on her.
Martin learns of another wizard named Jimmy who has arrived to Medieval England shortly after Phillip. Instead of living a quiet life in the countryside, Jimmy went to London and convinced the king to rename his city to Camelot and his son to Arthur, himself adopting the name Merlin. Phillip hates Jimmy with a passion and refuses to call him Merlin.
Shortly after Martin's training is complete and he gains full shell access (instead of being sent back to his own time naked and hogtied with his file access cut off), him and several other wizards receive a visit by Gwen to directs them to a village that appears to have been completely wiped out by magical means. Seeing the short, shoe-less forms of the dead villages, Martin realizes that a wizard has been attempting to create Hobbits
, thus violating all three of the wizarding taboos (experimenting on non-wizards, experimenting on people without their permission, and changing someone's physical parameters). Martin and two other wizards are captured by a group of local thugs but are rescued by Gwen, who turns out to be a witch herself. The wizards learn that the culprit is Jimmy/Merlin and teleport to London/Camelot to confront him. Jimmy tries to explain that he has been attempting to turn England into a mini-version of Middle-Earth
. When the rest of the wizards refuse to accept his "genius", he tricks them, takes away their shell access (i.e. de-powers them) and sends his army of orcs to kill them. Wizards with portable devices (including Martin and Gwen) are able to access the file directly to escape. Martin teleports into Camelot and challenges Jimmy to a duel. While they fight (with Jimmy mostly beating up Martin), Phillip sneaks in and knocks Jimmy out. Jimmy is then sent back to his own time as a Walking Techbane
(thus preventing him from accessing the file). Martin says goodbye to Gwen, who decides to time travel to Atlantis
, the only time period where female magic-users can feel safe from the Burn the Witch!
attitude of most of history.
Spell or High Water cover
In Spell or High Water
, Martin takes on a newly-arrived time traveler as his apprentice a few months after Jimmy's exile. Shortly after, Phillip receives a message from Gwen, inviting him and Martin to Atlantis for a summit of time travelers from all of history as representatives of all wizards in 12th century England. They time travel to 368 B.C. and find themselves in the Mediterranean. Atlantis is a Lady Land
built and ruled by sorceresses as a gleaming city literally made of diamond. Gwen explains that the city is ruled by a triumvirate: President Ida (the only elected official), Brit the Elder (the builder of the city), and Brit the Younger (Brit the Elder's younger self who is destined to go back in time and build the city). Since no magic-user ages (one of the first thing they do is freeze their biological age), the Brits look identical. While Martin continues trying to woo Gwen, Phillip and Brit the Younger hit it off after both admit their dislike of Brit the Elder. The summit is interrupted several times by attempts on Brit the Younger's life. No one is particularly worried since Brit the Elder's presence implies that Brit the Younger survives. However, one attempt appears to succeed, when Brit the Younger and Phillip are swallowed by a portal, causing Brit the Elder to disappear. Martin discovers that the culprit is Ida's servant/lover Nilo, whom Ida has given limited powers. While Martin and several other male wizards battle Nilo, Gwen confronts Ida
. Ida and Nilo are subdued and punished, while Brit the Elder appears and reveals that everything went as she remembers from Brit the Younger's days. Phillip and Martin return home, but Brit the Younger and Gwen (who finally admits her feelings for Martin) promise to visit.
Upon arrival, all wizards are summoned to Camelot. There, they discover that Jimmy has managed to find a way to regain his powers (which takes him 30 years) and returns. He de-powers all the wizards and... begs for forgiveness, claiming that 30 years of living as a beggar have taught him the error of his ways. He voluntarily de-powers himself, returning shell access to all the other wizards. Despite Phillip's reservations, the wizards vote to allow Jimmy to remain with limited powers and under constant watch. Meanwhile, the Atlantean summit results in the decision to password-protect all known copies of the file to prevent people from finding and misusing it.
An Unwelcome Quest cover. Left-to-right:Phillip, Tyler, Jimmy, Gary.
In the third novel, An Unwelcome Quest
, an exiled apprentice named Todd escapes from prison back in the 21st century and creates a Medieval European Fantasy
-themed game where he traps his former colleagues (Phillip, Jimmy, and Gary for condemning him, and Jeff and Tyler just to have spares), stripping them of their powers. He almost immediately drops Jeff off a cliff and urges the others on to continue on a series of quests. Meanwhile, Martin and Roy, who witnessed their friends' disappearance, go to Gwen and Brit the Younger to let them know something is wrong. The four of them teleport to the same location where their friends went and start following in their footsteps, occasionally fulfilling the same quests. Eventually, the four wizards reach the end of the quest, but Todd reveals that he always planned to kill them for turning on him and throws them into a death trap. Just then, the other four get to them. Martin, Roy, and Gwen manage to distract Todd long enough for Brit to get to his computer and restore Jimmy's powers (his window is open by chance). Jimmy teleports out, then returns and disarms Todd, freeing the others. He then does what needs to be done and executes Todd by erasing him from the file and then reveals that he plans to end his own life to convince the others that he really has changed. He disappears, explaining first how the others can use Todd's computer to save Jeff. Jimmy appears in his condo in Las Vegas, where Todd is waiting for him. Jimmy gives Todd a choice: return to prison or die. Todd chooses the latter, and Jimmy executes him for real this time. Then Jimmy starts living a new life under a new name. Several weeks later, the others manage to rescue Jeff while he's falling, replacing him with a doppelganger construct to fool Todd. Gwen moves in with Martin, and Gary's foot (cut off by Todd) is replaced by a robot foot, much to his glee. Phillip still thinks that Jimmy is alive, but is content to let him roam free.
The novels provide examples of the following tropes:
- Absurdly Sharp Blade: The Möbius blade made by a blacksmith in Todd's game looks exactly like one would expect from the name. It's a continuous circle with a small part of it that twisted into the other side. It's also extremely sharp, cutting anything touching the edges (well, edge, as Tyler keeps pointing out, since it's a single continuous edge). Jimmy theorizes that the blade's edge removes any bonds between molecules, as he knows that Todd has previously experimented with demolecularization prior to ending up in Medieval England. Todd applauds his guess and admits that it took him a while to get the effect right without having something that could cut all the way to the center of the earth if dropped. Since there is no good way to carry the weirdly-shaped sword, the four unwilling adventurers are forced to carry it together by holding the flat edge, being careful to avoid losing any limbs.
- The Ageless: One of the first things all magic-users do is freeze their biological age. They also make themselves impervious to physical damage (although pain is still present). However, attempts to make a person not require food, water, or air had some nasty results. Thus, a magic-user can still be killed by drowning or suffocation.
- Anachronism Stew: The result of time travelers messing with the past, although the examples are pretty mild. In the first novel, Phillip mentions that glass windows were already present in 12th century England when he arrived, something that shouldn't be the case according to history books. He figures a time traveler must have introduced them earlier in history. Gwen also makes Martin a sequined robe, only explaining after The Reveal that plastic sequins weren't invented until The Sixties (only Phillip, Jimmy, and Eddie knew the truth about Gwen), so the wizards should have really caught on earlier.
- And I Must Scream: "Ghosting" someone turns them into an invisible and intangible... well... ghost. The person can't eat, drink, or breathe but still survives in constant agony. The only sounds the "ghost" can make is a strange, very quiet howling. This is done so that the "ghost" haunts his or her relatives and friends in an attempt to get help. The spell is reversible, though. It was developed by a wizard-in-training named Todd, who was immediately exiled afterwards (the second book reveals that one of the first things Todd did after discovering the file is kill his boss in a particularly gruesome way and then gave himself away by showing up to work in galoshes). The spell is used once again by Jimmy to keep Tyler quiet, after Tyler discovers his plans for England.
- Annoying Arrows: The fourth attempt on Brit the Younger's life involves an arrow fired from a rooftop that is programmed to hone in on her. Since Brit, like all time travelers, is protected from harm, the arrow is merely an inconvenience, although Martin and Gwen find the arrow constantly trying to hit Brit really cool, although they are concerned about innocent bystanders possibly being hurt if they happen to be in the arrow's path. The fifth attempt has a dozen arrows, one of which bounces off and wounds Brit's servant Nick. The sixth attempt has those arrows coated with a tar-like substance and act more like harpoons, pulling Brit and Phillip into a portal.
- The Apprentice: Martin is one to Phillip for most of the first novel, which takes about a month. In the second novel, Martin takes on Roy as an apprentice, although he's annoyed by Roy treating him like a kid all the time (justified, since Roy is in his 50s). However, he's forced to hand Roy's training over to Jeff (it helps that both Roy and Jeff are engineers) when Gwen invites him and Phillip to Atlantis. They return just in time for Roy's "graduation".
- Arabian Nights Days: During their first meeting, Phillip briefly mentions to Martin that he's aware of a group of sorcerers living in 8th century Baghdad. In the second novel, Gwen confirms that the Baghdad colony of time travelers is one of the larger ones (on par with Ancient China and Medieval England), after Atlantis.
- Arbitrarily Large Bank Account: This is how most wizards get in trouble in their time periods, Martin not being the exception. After discovering he can alter his bank account by editing the appropriate entry in the file, Martin figures that he isn't doing anything illegal. After all, there are no laws against Rewriting Reality, and it's not stealing if he's not taking the money from anyone else. Naturally, the US Treasury doesn't agree, especially when Martin's bank account grows by a few tens of thousand dollars in a matter of days without any deposits or transfers (normally, Treasury agents don't bother with cases under a million, but Special Agents Miller and Murphy are tasked with investigating unexplainable cases). Of course, they suspect hacking and threaten to charge Martin with that plus counterfeiting (there are laws against making money from nothing).
- In the second book, after Jimmy tricks Agents Murphy and Miller into removing his Walking Techbane field, he adds $5 million to Miller's bank account to demonstrate what he can do with the file. Miller is furious, claiming that Jimmy somehow hacked his bank account. Before disappearing, Jimmy tells Miller that he can keep the money to pay for anger management classes. Naturally, he doesn't worry about the agents having to explain to their US Treasury superiors where the money came from.
- However, in the third book, it's revealed that the two agents have formed their own task force and appear to be receiving a lot of funding from the US Treasury. However, Todd realizes that a stingy agency like that would never do that. What's more likely is that the agents are financing the task force out of their own pocket using a new copy of the file they have discovered to generate unlimited money.
- Artificial Limbs: After Gary's foot is cut off by Todd, an Atlantean doctor replaces it with an artificial construct that can assume one of three shapes: a regular human foot, a robot foot, or a dragon claw. Naturally, Gary never uses the first option, mainly sticking with the robot foot, occasionally switching to the claw to crush some plastic human skulls for effect.
- At Least I Admit It: When Gwen and Martin discuss the Atlantean sorceress-ruled society, Gwen points out that she doesn't particularly agree with the sorceresses keeping male servants to, well, service them (although she does point out that the sexual part doesn't happen as much as the servants claim). In their defense, Gwen compares it to rich men keeping young women to pleasure them. According to her, the sorceresses are more honest about it. She herself hasn't taken a servant, though.
- According to a high-ranking corrections officer, the worst thing for an escaped convict in Florida are Floridians, who may pretend to help only to trick the fugitive and turn him over to the cops, after taking what he stole for themselves. He states that, if he escaped from a prison in Florida, he'd try to swim for Cuba instead. The sharks, at least, play fair. And Dirty Communists are up-front about taking all your stuff.
- Atlantis: Atlantis was created by a female time traveler named Brit in the 5th century B.C. as a haven for female time travelers. It became a Lady Land ruled by sorceresses, who make up the privileged class. The rest of the citizens are from the neighboring lands like Greece. The city is made of pure diamond using a method pioneered by Brit. It looks like a giant glass bowl with buildings in it. The buildings appear to float above the sea, except it's an illusion. The visible buildings are actually just the tops visible above the mirrored outer surface of the "bowl". Floating Platforms are used for transportation. Atlantis is the largest community of time travelers throughout history, due to the fact that most women choose to travel there to avoid the Burn the Witch! attitude of most time periods.
- Bad Guys Do the Dirty Work: After finally defeating Todd in the third novel, Jimmy explains that it's too dangerous to send Todd back to his prison, as he could escape again. Instead, Jimmy does what none of the others are willing to do: execute Todd by erasing him from the file. Slightly subverted, since he merely fakes doing so at first, but then really does execute Todd after the latter refuses to go back to prison. Jimmy then fakes his own death, realizing that the others would never forgive him for what he did, and starts a new life under a new identity.
- Battle Butler: Nilo, President Ida's servant (like most male servants in Atlantis, a part of his job is to service Ida). He has the build of a surfer and the stamina of a marathon runner (the latter is also confirmed by Ida, suggestively), as proven when he is chasing a man suspected of being an assassin, treating it as a mild diversion (of course, since Nilo is the real culprit, he is just doing this to get to the "assassin" first and pummel him into unconsciousness). After being exposed, he finally reveals that he views all sorceresses with disdain for ruling over men instead of doing "women's work".
- Best Served Cold: After Jimmy spends 30 years as a beggar, being unable to even be anywhere near an electronic device, following his exile from 12th century England, he finally hatches a complex plan to regain access to the file and return to 12th century England, take away the powers of all the wizards and... beg for forgiveness. Yeah, living like this for 30 years has given him a lot of time to think and realize the error of his ways. They let him stay provisionally.
- Played straight in the third novel. After seven years in prison, Todd manages to get out and get his file access back. However, instead of immediately start plotting his revenge, he sets out to do what he's been itching to do since he was imprisoned - play video games. Then he goes back in time and gets a college degree (using the file to cheat, of course) and then founds his own gaming company. He claims that, by living well and succeeding, he is getting his revenge on the wizards. However, after a while, this gets old, since the wizards don't know about his revenge, and he decides to try his hand at the old-fashioned revenge thing. Unlike Jimmy, he really means it.
- Big Fancy Castle: Jimmy/Merlin has the royal castle of Camelot "upgraded" to a gleaming golden wonder. Everybody who walks in or near it has to keep their eyes cast down lest they be blinded by the sunlight reflecting off the walls. Jimmy has also added a large marble round table, but instead of knights, it serves as the meeting place for wizards. The table and chairs (also marble) rise up from the floor when needed.
- Brought Down to Normal: While in Todd's game, all of wizard powers (including invulnerability) are taken away. This also applies to sorceresses, even though their method of using the file is different, and Todd could not have anticipated sorceresses appearing in the game. Near the end, Todd reveals that he has set up some sort of "dampening field" on any person entering the game that prevents him or her from accessing the file. This not only keeps the wizards from accessing the shell, but also sorceresses from accessing their Interface, and also Jimmy, who reveals to have set up a secret shell of his own.
- The Bully: Kludge is the leader of a gang called the Bastards. He is the second biggest person in the town of Leadchuch (after Gert, who is a woman) and he takes the fact that he's only second out on the other townsfolk. In the first novel, he is shown to have a particular dislike towards wizards and even manages to capture several at one point. The beginning of the third novel finally reveals the reason for his dislike other than the fact that he dislikes everyone. As his presentation, Todd controls Kludge like a puppet using forcefield bands and a Nintendo Wavebird controller, while Kludge is wide-awake and unable to do anything but look.
- Burn the Witch!: The negative way female magic-users are viewed throughout most of history is the reason why most female time travelers choose to go to Atlantis.
- But Thou Must: Whenever a new wizard shows up in Medieval England, he is asked if he accepts to be trained by an experienced wizard before undergoing the trials. The experienced wizard explains that refusal indicates that the newbie is up to no good and gets sent back to his own time, usually right into the hands of whatever authorities he was fleeing, also cutting off the person's access to the file (by making him a Walking Techbane). Naturally, no one refuses the training. Failing the training or the trials has the same negative outcome. To be fair, though, the only one who can police the wizards are other wizards. Hence the rules.
- The Cake Is a Lie: At the beginning of his game, Todd introduces a prophecy (that he made up), in which one person will be spared. Naturally, none of the "players" are about to trust him. However, when they finally get to the end, he immobilizes them and puts them into a death trap, revealing that the person in the prophecy is him (i.e. all the others will die), earning Tyler's ire for messing up the storyline. Then again, it wasn't really much of a surprise to the wizards.
- Cannot Spit It Out: Gwen in the second book. Martin eventually gets fed up with trying to woo her and starts ignoring her. An Atlantean servant finally explains to Gwen that Martin is a direct guy and might not understand Gwen's subtle attempts to let him know her feelings.
- Casanova Wannabe: Gary, mostly in the second book though (and pretty much for one scene). When Martin and Phillip get invited to visit Atlantis, Gary insists that they have to take him. Why? For the ladies (yes, he always says in the manner that causes Roy to ask why he's talking in italics). Phillip points out that one of the reasons why female time travelers live in Atlantis is to get away from guys like Gary. Gary immediately rebuts that without guys like him the ladies will forget what a real man is like. He still doesn't go.
- In the third novel, the group encounters a cottage with four seductive women, all of whom look very similar to Gwen. While all agree it's probably a trap, Garry convinces the others to go inside and see what's up. They hope that Martin (who is dating Gwen) doesn't find out. Phillip points out that they should really hope that Gwen doesn't find out.
- Celibate Hero: When first meeting Gwen, Martin is told by her that wizards are celibate. Martin doesn't like the sound of that. After (unsuccessfully) trying to woo Gwen, he asks her why she said that wizards have to be celibate. She replies that they don't have to be, they just are. Given that most of the wizards are nerds, this can be justified. In fact, Martin stays single for the entire first book. In the second book, he admits his feelings for Gwen, and, after she gets over her Cannot Spit It Out problem, she does as well. However, Martin mentions that they are taking it slow, as Gwen is a little old-fashioned. For his part Phillip has likely spent a decade in the past as a single man, only hooking up with Brit the Younger when visiting Atlantis. Unlike Gwen, Brit is not old-fashioned at all, and Phillip ends up spending the night at her place.
- Chekhov's Hobby: Phillip's secret pastime is revealed to be transporting his beloved Pontiac Fiero from his own time to Medieval England piece-by-piece and re-assembling it in his secret room. The reason for that is the fact that transporting anything more complex than a monolithic object is a crapshoot. It might work, or you might end up with a single screw from the whole car. As such, it's best to only transport objects made of a single material. If one must transport something that is non-homogeneous, then it's best for it to be small and to embrace it to maximize the chance of it transporting successfully. It's implied that Phillip has been working on his car for about a decade. Naturally, it proves indispensable in the novel, when Phillip and Gwen have to quickly get to Phillip's cottage from his office without using magic, although Gwen (and the townsfolk) learn that Phillip Drives Like Crazy.
- Chekhov's Skill: Roy's engineering background isn't really used in the second novel, since he's barely featured in it. It becomes much more useful in the third novel, especially when he has to rig an oxcart to be a makeshift car of sorts.
- City of Gold: One of the things Jimmy does is have the people of London/Camelot build a castle made almost entirely of gold. He spends a long time duplicating enough gold for the task.
- Clothes Make the Superman: In order to be recognized as a user by the shell, a wizard must be wearing a robe of a certain cut, a conical hat, and hold a 5-foot staff or a 1.5-foot wand. Wizards without their staffs/wands are powerless, although some later start keeping collapsible wands in their pockets as backups. It's revealed in the third novel that this requirement has been removed after Jimmy got the drop on them. Jimmy is the only one who still needs these things.
- Comm Links: Wizards are able to call one another by raising their hand palm up (described as a Shakespearean actor doing the Yorick scene) and saying "komuniki kun <name of another wizard>". An image then appears above the hand, initially showing just the target wizard's symbol (essentially, a projected GIF animation). When the wizard answers, the symbol switches to the image of the other wizard. Some wizards call it a "hand phone". Putting the other hand to the ear keeps the conversation "off speaker".
- All wizards can customize their "on hold" animation that is displayed to the other wizard. When Martin first uses the "hand phone", he is told that he is still using the default icon. When asked what it looks like, he is told that it's the words "DEFAULT ICON". Not as intimidating as, say, a flaming skull.
- Cool Car: Averted. Phillip's favorite car is his old 1984 Pontiac Fiero. The only cool thing about it is the fact that he made it (and any passengers) indestructible, also giving it a huge horsepower boost.
- Cool Plane: Discussed. Martin is ecstatic to learn that Roy was one of the designers of the Lockheed SR-71 "Blackbird". In fact, Roy used the file to make the first plane perform better than expected. Unfortunately, when he got transferred to another project, the powers-that-be quickly realized that the subsequent planes did not match the quality of the prototype and went to Roy for some questions, resulting in his flight to Medieval England.
- Crystal Ball: One is present in Phillip's "office" in order to impress the locals who pay him a visit. In fact, when Phillip is sitting in his chair, he sees the monitor of his Commodore 64 through the ball, which is hidden under the table (the keyboard typing sounds only add to the mystery). The visitors are awes by the crystal ball changing colors (projected by the monitor). Phillip's dial-up modem sounds make the locals think that demons are in the room.
- Damage-Proof Vehicle: Phillip's Pontiac Fiero in his home time (The Eighties). While every other Fiero was a lemon, Phillip had his modified using the file to be indestructible (including the people inside) and immune to the normal wear-and-tear (he had its "base rate of decay" value set to zero). Additionally, he made it into a monster by giving it tons of horsepower because... why not? This is actually how he got in trouble. About a year later, Pontiac contacted him, asking to buy his car back in order to study the only Fiero not to be brought back for major service. Phillip refused (he reflects that he probably should have reset its settings and sold it to them for a huge profit), and Pontiac hired someone to steal the car (because all corporations are evil, apparently). The thief didn't know about the horsepower boost and accidentally drove the car through a wall. Not a scratch on the car or the driver, the wall was shattered. Instead of trying to explain himself, Phillip fled into the past.
- Differently Powered Individuals: One of the reasons for the Atlantean summit in the second book is to figure out a way to call all magic-users. Brit the Elder proposes "time travelers" and immediately admits that this is what the summit will decide anyway.
- However, in their own time periods, each group tends call itself differently. For example, time travelers in 12th century England call themselves wizards, while Atlantean female magic users call themselves sorceresses. There are also shamans, witch doctors, fakirs, priests, magicians, etc.
- Downer Ending: Phillip's favorite sci-fi movies (all from The Seventies or The Eighties) tend to end badly for the protagonists (if not the world). This includes Colossus The Forbin Project, Planet of the Apes, and The Wicker Man. The other wizards are a little confused, since movies in their time tend to have at least Bittersweet Endings, usually happier ones. After seeing the ending of Colossus, they initially assume there must be a sequel in which the titular computer is defeated, assuming the Downer Ending to be a Sequel Hook. Phillip explains that, in his time, it wasn't unusual for sci-fi movies to end badly, as if to hammer home the point that Science Is Bad.
- Drives Like Crazy: Phillip in his Pontiac Fiero. The Leadchurch townsfolk, who have never seen anything like this before, assume it's some sort of demon (especially with Phillip blasting "That's All" by Genesis through open windows). After they arrive, Gwen tells the people that the car won't hurt them. Remembering Phillip's driving, she amends her statement by pointing out that it won't hurt them when it's not moving. When it is moving, they should run and hide.
- The Dung Ages: Partly played straight. In fact, this is the reason all wizards arrive to 12th century England (usually in the vicinity of the White Cliffs of Dover, since that's the only landmark most of them know in England). They have all read a (fictional) book (or, as in Martin's case, read a part of the Amazon synopsis) called The Best Years to Live in Medieval England by Gilbert Cox. Phillip reveals that the wizards have set up a script to buy a number of copies periodically in order to keep the book in print and get more new wizards to arrive to that time period.
- All wizards find ways around the "no modern plumbing" annoyance. Phillip has made himself an actual toilet that appears to disintegrate anything that falls into it (it's actually a portal he set up with the exit point above Jimmy's golden statue in Camelot; thus he can literally shit on Jimmy's image). Tyler Time Travels to his apartment for "number 2" (pretty much all wizards being male means finding a place to pee isn't an issue), meaning his bathroom has been in near-constant use since he left (people occasionally mention his enormous water bill), and he has stocked it with tons of toilet paper and paper towels.
- In the second novel, Brit the Elder explains that she designed Atlantis's sewage system using Phillip's example. When Phillip asks where the "waste" goes, Brit pointed him towards the unusually high number of shooting stars, explaining that he probably won't find them as romantic now.
- While Jimmy has done some nasty things, and much of what he did was for his own ego, he rightly points out that some of his changes were beneficial to England, such as getting people to boil water before drinking. Other things, though, such as teaching Medieval builders about flying buttresses and I-beams to build Castle Camelot. In order to prevent other large building from being constructed to dwarf the castle, he claimed that any other attempts would be cursed and personally destroyed the few attempts at using the methods.
- Elemental Embodiment: An earth elemental attacks both parties in Todd's game when traversing the desert. It chases a single target, attempting to headbutt it to the ground, but it turns with the maneuverability of a tank, meaning one can always outrun it by taking sharp turns. Cutting off limbs results in them turning to dust and reforming back on the creature. Both parties manage to temporarily subdue it by leading it towards a large puddle, turning it into a soggy mess, and leaving before it dried. Later, Roy and Brit come up with the idea to use the creature to push their oxcart, figuring the construct's programming had two basic modes of behavior: chase after the target to stomp it into the ground, or look for a target if it's not immediately visible. By keeping the creature constantly behind the cart, they keep it in its primary mode and have it push the cart to the creature's top speed of about 15 mph, while using jury-rigged turning and braking systems to navigate.
- Embarrassing First Name: One of the reasons the king agreed to Jimmy's suggestion of changing his son's name to Arthur is because his son's real name is Eustace. While both Jimmy and Phillip insist that Arthur is better than Eustace, we're not told if Eustace himself considered his name embarrassing (it means "fruitful" or "steadfast").
- Esperanto, the Universal Language: Justified since, being an artificial language created in the 20th century, it's not likely to be recognized in any time period before that. Thus, 12th century English wizards use it for their spells (for example, the standard flight spell is "flugi", meaning "fly"). When asked why Latin isn't used, Phillip explains that a good number of locals speak at least some Latin. However, no one really bothers to learn Esperanto grammar, so everyone just uses a bastardized version of Esperanto with English grammar.
- When Martin specifies that no one speaks the language in this time, Phillip points out that it's true in any time.
- Of course, it's not only Esperanto grammar that's wrong. The words themselves are sometimes mistranslated. So, for example, in their version of the Konami Code (which activates a new wizard's powers), they use the word "lasis" to mean "left". However, while the word does indeed mean "left", it's not in the sense of direction but as the past form of "leave". This could either be a case of Artistic License – Linguistics or done intentionally to show how the wizards themselves didn't even bother to check the exact meaning of the words before using them.
- Eternal English: Martin doesn't appear to have any trouble communicating with 12th century Englishmen. Justified later, when Phillip adds him to the shell, which translates all languages, but no explanation of how Martin was able to communicate before is made.
- Ethnic Magician: Played straight. Most people who discover the file tend to go back in time to become his culture's version of a magic-user. Most westerners go to Medieval England to be wizards. Chinese go to Ancient China to be sorcerers. Indians go to become fakirs. The exception are women, who usually head to Atlantis. Also, Tyler (black) and Eddie (Asian) chose to go to Medieval England; however, they are thoroughly westernized (both being American), and Eddie pretends to be from the Far East anyway.
- A scene in the second book has an interesting aversion. Phillip is a big fan of burritos, so he naturally produces them out of his hat during a break in the summit. Someone notes that Phillip, a Londoner, is eating a burrito, while an Aztec priest (presumably, a Mexican) is manifesting himself some fish-and-chips.
- Even Evil Has Standards: Jimmy may be an egotistical, power-hungry bastard, but even he is disturbed when Todd shows off his "presentation", which involves controlling another person like a puppet. It doesn't help that Todd has his "puppet" punch Jimmy in the groin as a prank.
- Everything Fades: Invoked in the third novel, when several wizards are trapped inside a video game. After killing yet another identical wolf (which, as they notice, keeps respawning and attacking them), they try to cook and eat it, only for the dead wolf to fade away to be replaced by a package of wolf jerky. They then go into a long discussion about modern video games with Phillip pointing out that defeated enemies in games from The Eighties tended to explode.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The town of Leadchurch is named for its most distinguished feature - a church made of lead. Each day at noon, a crowd of townsfolk and pilgrims gather to watch Bishop Galbraith dramatically put a magnet on one of the walls of the church and have it not stick. When Martin points out that magnets don't stick to regular churches either, Phillip brushes him off and points out that faith doesn't have to make sense (if it made sense, it would be logic not faith).
- Explaining Your Power to the Enemy: During his first run-in with Kludge (the leader of the gang called the Bastards), Martin tells him to always watch out as long as Martin has his Magic Staff with him. Later, after the Bastards surprise and capture him and two other wizards, he reflects that he probably should have kept that part a secret.
- Fantastic Light Source: Given that the setting involves people Rewriting Reality using a computer file, making light appear out of nowhere isn't really complicated for them. This is only really discussed in the second novel, when Phillip wonders how the locals make light. Brit the Elder explains that it's no different than modern light sources. Flip a switch, and light comes on. The only difference is that the switch and the light source aren't connected in any physical way but are connected with macros triggered by the switch.
- Most wizards light their homes by suspending orbs of light in corners. They usually only light up with the wizard enters.
- Fate Worse Than Death: At the end of the third novel, Jimmy gives Todd a choice: Todd can either opt to go back to the Facility with Agents Miller and Murphy informed of his escape, or Todd can choose to be executed. Todd decides he doesn't want to go back to the Facility, and Jimmy deletes him from the file.
- Football Hooligans: As part of Jimmy's punishment, the wizards send him to Buenos Aires, Argentina, on the day he left (in The Eighties), naked, hogtied, and with "Brazil #1" painted on his body in green and yellow markers. Phillip explains that this is the day of a huge rally in the city in support of the Argentinian national football team, and Argentinians really hate Brazilians. To top it off, Jimmy speaks neither Spanish nor Portuguese.
- Forging Scene: A big part of the quest that Todd sends the wizards on in his game involves forging a powerful weapon. The blacksmith keeps sending them on tasks involving lengthy manual labor (e.g. lugging bricks, clay, working the bellows), while his own activities involve poor animation and the object simply being replaced by another one. Tyler, who has studied blacksmithy for his novels, points out the periodic accuracy of this or that, unwitting giving Todd a gross idea for their next task (peeing to cool the blade and inhaling the fumes). The blacksmith originally used a barrel of crude oil, which, as pointed out, was not available to Medieval blacksmiths (besides, using petroleum to cool down something that could still emit sparks is probably not the best idea).
- Future Me Scares Me: Brit the Younger really gets annoyed at Brit the Elder for always treating her as a child and constantly getting involved in Brit the Younger's business. Why? Because of a Stable Time Loop - this is how Brit the Elder remembers it back when she was Brit the Younger.
- Almost happens again when Brit the Younger finally goes back in time to become Brit the Elder. There, she meets another version of herself called Brit the Much Elder (or Grand-Brit), who decides to help her build Atlantis. Before Brit the Younger can blow up, Grand-Brit reveals that she is joking and disappears.
- Brit the Elder explains to Phillip that, when she looks at Brit the Younger, she sees a younger, inexperienced version of herself. She remembers the consequences of what Brit the Younger says and does, frequently making her cringe inside of the "stupid" things her younger self says.
- Geeky Turn-On: Gwen's explanation of how she designed her spell to throw off anyone handsy makes Martin more turned on than before, since he's been unsuccessfully working on a macro like that as well.
- Giant Spider: The blacksmith sends Phillip and the others to fight and kill a fearsome creature that attacks the town every two weeks, retrieving its bone to make a powerful weapon. When the creature finally shows up, it turns out to be an enormous spider, causing Tyler to go on a rant about cliché this is. Eventually, they are forced to fight it and scores of smaller spiders that spawn from it. However, like the wolves and the guards, the small spiders attack one at a time. After killing the giant spider, its body fades away to be replaced by a spider-like skeleton, again causing Tyler to angrily exclaim that spiders don't have internal skeletons or bones.
- Giant Squid: In the second book, Brit the Younger goes with Phillip for a ride in a submersible sphere. One of the things she shows him is a giant squid, which Phillip thought were a myth.
- Goddamned Bats: The wolves in Todd's game are more of an annoyance than a threat once one figures out how to dispatch them. They always appear, growl for 3 seconds, then leap for a person's throat, allowing one to time a sword thrust or a push off a cliff. They then fade away, leaving behind a package of wolf jerky. The mountain wolves are the first threat, then, once they come down to the hills, the hill wolves show up. They're identical in every way except the location. Ditto for the river wolves. The only problem is that the number keeps doubling every so often, which is more of a mechanism to keep the wizards from staying in one place or backtracking.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: Agents Miller (bad) and Murphy (good) are like this by nature, although Jimmy likes to call them "violently unstable rage-aholic cop/friendly, talkative youth pastor cop". The one point in the second novel Miller contemplates suicide, he decides to live for the sole reason to keep Murphy from being nice to Jimmy.
- Gothic Horror: In Todd's game, the wizards travel to a castle that is described as "so Gothic it might as well have been wearing black eyeliner."
- Heel-Face Turn: Jimmy, at the end of the second novel.
- Heh Heh, You Said X: One of the cardinal rules of all wizards in Medieval England is to not make the obvious joke about staffs or wands. Martin gets mad at two Victorian-era magicians who break the rule.
- Hollywood Exorcism: Phillip and Martin go to help the local bishop exorcise demons from a farmer's teenage son, who has become rebellious and reclusive. When asked what he really thinks, the bishop points out that the boy is fifteen, but the father simply refuses to accept that this is normal teenage behavior. Phillip produces a light show to make the farmers think that an exorcism is taking place, and the bishop convinces both the boy and his father to be more accommodating. As part of the "exorcism", Phillip makes the boy projectile vomit on his father, in a nod to The Exorcist.
- I Believe I Can Fly: While all magic-users use a variety of spells that they have developed, the one universal spell all use is flight, although the activation and control methods may be different. The 12th century wizards use their Magic Staffs or Magic Wands to direct their flight (like a joystick). It's not clear how the other magic-users control flight. When wizards don't teleport, they fly places. Atlantean sorceresses, though, either teleport or use Floating Platforms to get across the city.
- Indy Escape: When Phillip and the others are forced to run on a small stone bridge from a collapsing precipice, it appears to fall right behind them. Then, Tyler stops and notes that the collapse also stops. He starts to casually walk to the other end, with the bridge slowly collapsing at his pace. Then, he picks up a pine cone and throws it at the area where the bridge used to be, only for the cone to hit something invisible. He angrily points out that the actual bridge model is still there, but the visuals for the collapse haven't been tied to the model. He then rants about the shoddy programming of the game. This is repeated later, when they are forced to hop large boulders over the rapids to get to a castle. On the way back, the boulders are less stable and start being swept away by the current after the last person (Tyler) jumps off. Tyler is the only one who realizes that it's the same trick and then takes his time to jump carefully, while the others are yelling for him to hurry up.
- Inept Mage: Martin is this on his first day in Medieval England. He gets better quickly, though, under Phillip's tutelage. To be fair, at that point he only has had access to the file for about a week. Phillip has been living in Medieval England for many years. Phillip tries to keep Martin from looking like a fool. Unfortunately, Martin doesn't listen, figuring that Phillip is just a charlatan, and receives a humiliating beating. Since doing magic is more of a science (computer science, to be exact) than an art, and those who discover the file tend to be pretty good with computers, it's fairly easy for them to become proficient.
- Initiation Ceremony: After undergoing a period of training, a wizard-in-training goes to Camelot with every other wizard gathered there as well for a big feast. During the feast, the apprentice must present his "salutation", which is a presentation designed to awe people. The next day involves a complex test. Passing it means that the apprentice is now a full-fledged wizard with unrestricted shell access. There is no test. The apprentice is watched for signs of malice throughout the training.
- Inside a Computer System: Since reality is nothing more than a complex computer program, it stands to reason that there must be a computer running it. Occasionally, someone will find a file that will allow him or her to Rewrite Reality by editing it. Phillip calls each copy of the file a "projection" of the one true file and that it's likely A Glitch in the Matrix caused by computers existing in a world run by a computer.
- Phillip also points out that certain things that many non-religious people tend to dismiss as ridiculous concepts about a number of world religions (Christianity is brought up) may end up being true after all. For example, if all of reality is just a program, then who's to say that it hasn't really been only running for about 5000 years (or cycles). Maybe its creator had initials G.O.D. and a strange sense of humor.
- In An Unwelcome Quest, Todd creates a video game and traps the other wizards in it without their powers.
- It Will Never Catch On: During a movie night, Phillip shows the other wizards (most of whom are from The Nineties or later) two of his favorite movies, the first of which is Colossus The Forbin Project, which only Roy has seen, and Roy is actually from an earlier time than Phillip (Roy is from 1973, the film was made in 1970). Then Phillip tells them that the next movie they probably haven't seen and warns them that there's a shocking ending. Except the movie in question is Planet of the Apes, resulting in a series of groans and explanations about the sequels, the remake, and the reboot. Phillip then offers them another film that he's certain they haven't seen: The Wicker Man. Martin is considering whether to tell Phillip about the remake or not, when they're interrupted.
- Just Think of the Potential: Jimmy uses this to try to get Martin to make a Face-Heel Turn during their battle. Naturally, an idea to neutralize Hitler comes up, although Jimmy doesn't suggest killing him, only giving baby Adolf to be raised by a nice Jewish family. On the other hand, it's already established that nothing that time travelers do in the past has any effect on their own time periods, either implying that they're in a separate world created by the reality program or that some event is destined to happen between the past and their present that undoes all their changes.
- Keeping the Enemy Close: Phillip's reasoning for grudgingly allowing Jimmy to stay after his return.
- Konami Code: The "spell" that adds a new wizard to the shell is "Supren supren. Malsupren suben. Lasis dekstra lasis dekstra. Bee aye komenco." Which is, in bastardized Esperanto.
- Lady Land: Atlantis is ruled by sorceresses. They, in turn, are ruled by a triumvirate: Brit the Elder, Brit the Younger, and the President (the sole elected office). The non-sorceresses don't get a vote and are mainly there to serve the sorceresses. Sorceresses keep male servants to protect them, serve them, and... hmm... service them. Gwen admits that she's not entirely proud of this system and is the only sorceress to refuse to select a servant for herself. For their part, the local males (usually Greeks) consider being a personal servant to be a cushy job.
- When Gwen first describes Atlantis to Phillip and Martin, she compares the difference between male-dominated societies and Atlantis as the difference between bachelor parties and bachelorette parties. The latter tend to be more out-of-control.
- Leeroy Jenkins: Martin comes off as this sometimes, frequently doing things without thinking and ignoring Phillip's first lesson during his training (to think). He would be a Reckless Sidekick, if he wasn't the hero of the story. In the first novel, after Jimmy reveals his true colors, Phillip sends Martin to distract Jimmy while Phillip comes up with a plan to take Jimmy down. When Gwen asks if Martin is up to the task, Phillip points out that the task requires Martin to be noticed and to get into trouble, the two things he can't not do (and yes, in the end, it's Phillip to takes Jimmy down with his Tabasco sauce). Both Phillip and Gwen get used to Martin rushing off without coming up with a plan first.
- Played with in the second novel. Ampyx, who initially despises Martin and tries to get in Gwen's good graces (mostly by copying Martin with predictable results), eventually tells Martin that this sort of behavior has earned Martin Ampyx's respect. When Brit and Younger and Phillip are taken, Martin is the only one who really does anything to try to stop it, while everyone else just stands there not knowing what to do. Martin points out that he fails a lot. Ampyx explains that trying things and failing is still better than standing there talking and doing nothing.
- This becomes useful at the climax of the third novel, where Martin, Roy, Gwen, and Brit the Younger are watching as Todd prepares to kill Phillip, Jimmy, Gary, and Tyler. Unsure what to do without their powers, Roy, Gwen, and Brit keep asking one another, since each of their professions (engineer, fashion designer, and architect, respectively) involves careful, long-term planning. Reluctantly, they all turn to Martin and ask him what to do. He quickly comes up with a poorly-thought-out plan, which actually ends up working, especially since he keeps insisting that they don't waste any time poking holes in it and just do it.
- Lethal Chef: During his training, Martin is forced to constantly eat Phillip's stew, especially since it's the same stew every day (i.e. Phillip continuously boils the pot and adds ingredients), although Phillip explains that this is due to the lack of refrigeration in the Middle Ages. At one point, Phillip even makes a stew breakfast bar (which Martin refuses to eat). Finally, Phillip reveals that he can easily produce burritos, among other food items. When Martin asks why he hasn't done that before, Phillip points out that Martin was the one who was eating the stew. Phillip never touched it.
- Magical Foreign Words: See Esperanto, the Universal Language.
- Also, Sid and Gilbert use stereotypical "magical" words including "Abracadabra".
- Magic Staff: Most wizards prefer staffs to wands. However, either one is necessary for the shell to recognize a wizard as a user. Later, some wizards begin to carry back-ups in the form of collapsible wands. A staff must be about 5 feet to be recognized and is usually topped with an ornament unique to the wizard. Martin chooses a bust of El Santo ("That is the grim visage of the saint of the southern country. Destroyer of monsters and leader of men. He vanquished and later befriended the Blue Demon.") as his ornament, Phillip uses a bottle of Tabasco sauce (claiming that it's dragon blood), Jimmy uses a plasma globe, and Tyler uses a Rolls Royce hood ornament (claiming that the figure of a beautiful woman with wings speaks for itself). Gary adorns his staff with KISS dolls and describes them to locals as "The Demon, The Space Man, The Star Man, and the Peter Criss on drums!". A wand is typically 1.5 feet in length.
- Magic-users from other time periods/countries use other means. For example, Indian fakirs use pungis. Victorian magicians Sid and Gilbert use their canes. Some don't use an object at all. Atlantean sorceresses simply use a gesture-based Interface visible only to the user.
- When getting fitted for a robe by Gwen, Martin barely manages to keep himself from commenting on Gwen's request to see his wizard's staff, especially when she asks him if he's more of a "wand" man.
- Martin muses on the possibility of adding a macro to make his staff fly to him just like Thor's hammer whenever he stretches his hand to it and says "Santo, aqui!" ("Santo, here!"). However, he realizes that it becomes a Catch-22 Dilemma: to get the staff he will need the shell to activate the macro; but for the shell to do anything for him, he needs to be holding his staff. Martin would either have to change the basic code of the shell (not recommended), or keep a spare wand in his robe.
- Magicians Are Wizards: Sid and Gilbert are living in Victorian England as magicians. However, when asked by Martin, they explain that they do not use real magic in their acts, as that would be dishonest. People expect to be tricked by something explainable. To use actual magic would ruin it. Instead, they use time travel to steal magic tricks from the 20th century and use them in the past. When battling Nilo, they make themselves appear as Cthulhu and Fek'lhr.
- Manipulative Bastard: Jimmy is a master of this. Justified since he was a hacker and would, likely, study Social Engineering techniques (something Real Life hackers do much more than their Hollywood colleagues). The only person who utterly resists Jimmy's charms is Phillip. In the second novel, Jimmy is even more adept at this, able to disarm a situation just by making a proper facial expression.
- When Phillip points out that, even when Jimmy plans to apologize, he still manipulates people, Jimmy admits that it's in his nature. He can't stop being manipulative any more than Phillip can stop being sarcastic. Phillip responds with sarcasm.
- Matter Replicator: Before traveling back in time, Brit creates a macro to build objects molecule-by-molecule, thus allowing for the creation of super-strong monolithic structures. Thus, most of Atlantis is made of pure diamond.
- Medieval European Fantasy: Jimmy secretly attempts to turn England into Tolkien's Middle Earth by turning various villages into elves, hobbits, and dwarves. He also turns a number of guards into orcs. However, this ends badly, as modifying the human body (even a virtual one) is extremely tricky. In fact, one of the big no-nos of the wizards is to change someone's physical parameters.
- Mind over Matter: While any wizard can lift and manipulate objects, it only reliably works on either living things or monolithic objects. Anything that's not monolithic is treated as a collection of parts. Even a large rock that has a vein of another mineral in it will break into pieces when levitated. The same logic applies to teleportation and time travel.
- Mook Chivalry: Present in Todd's game, naturally. Both the wolves and the guards always attack one by one and always in the same exact pattern, making defeating them a matter of timing and stamina.
- Morton's Fork: When Gwen asks Martin if he found her seductive doppelgangers attractive, Martin points out that there's no answer he can give that won't put him in trouble with her. If he answers that he didn't, then not only would it be an obvious lie, it would also mean that he doesn't find Gwen attractive. If he says he did, then he'd be violating her order not to tell her so. He then explains that, of course he would find someone who looks almost exactly like Gwen attractive, since he finds Gwen herself attractive. This doesn't completely satisfy her, but she stops hounding him about it.
- Newspaper Dating: Jimmy uses this method to figure out if he has arrived to Tyler's apartment at the date he planned.
- New Zealand: Phillip reveals at the end of the third novel that Todd's "game" was, in fact, New Zealand. Presumably, it was an isolated area in the past, populated by Todd's constructs.
- Nigh-Invulnerability: All time travelers make themselves immune to physical damage (although getting hit still hurts for a bit before the undamaged body dulls the pain). However, they can still suffocate, drown, starve, or die of thirst. Attempts to solve these "problems" were... less than successful. While it's possible to make a person not need those things, the body still thinks it needs them, and the person feels out of air, food, or water. Phillip points out that spending a week like that may be a Fate Worse Than Death.
- No Equal Opportunity Time Travel: Averted with Tyler (who is black) and Eddie (who is Asian), who live in 12th century England. Tyler claims to be a Moor, while Eddie pretends to be Wing Po, the mysterious sorcerer from the East (despite his heavy Joisey accent). Played straight with any female time traveler, most of whom choose to go to Atlantis to avoid the Burn the Witch! mentality of most time periods.
- Non-Indicative Name: The "Sunken" City of Atlantis isn't really underwater. The "sunken" adjective refers to the architectural style of the city, which is shaped like a giant glass bowl (akin to a "sunken apartment").
- Not Cheating Unless You Get Caught: Jimmy is of that belief and thinks that anyone who honestly follows the rules "lacks vision". Phillip hates these kinds of people, particularly because he thinks that they will win in the end. When Jimmy tells Martin that he has spent years writing macros that only he could use, Martin is appalled, as one of the rules of wizarding is that all macros are developed in an open-source manner and available to everyone, since all wizards agreed not to hide their work. Jimmy laughs and says that an agreement not to do something is usually an indication that you should do it.
- Not Quite Flight: Martin's first attempt at creating a flying spell does not go as expected. The "hover" button on his app teleports him into the air (not high) and updates his altitude ten times a second. However, instead of being a smooth levitation, it's a very choppy and shaky affair that feels awful. Phillip later explains that he found a way to make certain variables into constants, thus allowing for smooth flight.
- In the second novel, Tyler weaponizes Martin's "hover" feature into a combat spell. It does the same thing but affects the target not the user and can be overridden by any other spell from the target.
- Older Is Better: No matter what, Phillip loves his Commodore 64 and is incredulous of anyone using a powerful computing device as a phone. After Martin buys him a 2012-era computer made to look like a Commodore 64, Phillip uses it but only through a Commodore 64 emulator. Martin suspects Phillip only does this to annoy him. On the other hand, Phillip initially refuses Martin's offer, as he claims he wouldn't know how to use a 2012 laptop.
- On the other hand, Phillip likes to jab at wizards from a few years before him who are using even older machines, such as Commodore VIC-20.
- Most time travelers tend to stick with their own machines from their time period, even thought they could easily ask someone from a later time period to get them a newer computer. The biggest exception is Roy, who didn't own a computer, having come from a time before such a thing as a personal computer existed (and when computers were the size of a room). Presumably, one of the wizards gets him a newer machine to actually be able to write his own macros.
- Only One Name: Since the number of magic-users/time travelers is fairly small (not much more than 100), there's not really a need for people to bother remembering last names. Plus, many of them are on friendly terms. This only causes confusion when talking about Magnuses, two guys named Magnus who live in Medieval Norway. The Atlantean Brits are usually distinguished by adding "the Younger" and "the Elder" to their names, since they're the same person from different time periods. The only time someone's full name is mentioned is when their file reference is accessed.
- Other Me Annoys Me: One of the "traps" set up by Todd in his game is a cottage with four seductive women, all of whom look like Gwen (with slight variations), since Todd knows that most wizards secretly like her. When Gwen finally encounters the constructs, she is none too pleased about it and is even more annoyed at Martin for staring at them. She then warns him never to tell her that he found them attractive... then proceeds to ask him if he did. Instead of answering, Martin points out the Morton's Fork (see above).
- Our Founder: The courtyard of Castle Camelot has three gold statues: the late King Stephen, the current King Arthur (his son; né Eustace) kneeling in front of his father, and Merlin/Jimmy towering over both of them, blessing the monarchy. Nobody is in doubt that Merlin/Jimmy is the one running the show. The only thing marring Merlin's statue is a smudge of something brown on his head. When asked, the locals reply that it's the "Miracle" which falls on the statue every day (it's actually Phillip using the bathroom at his place, having set up a portal under the toilet to right above Jimmy's statue).
- After Jimmy's defeat, the statues are replaced by a new one, depicting a king, a prince, a wizard, and a peasant all holdings hands in triumph over Jimmy/Merlin. The four figures are the same size.
- Our Orcs Are Different: During Jimmy's attempt to remake England to be more like Middle-Earth, he turns a small group of guards into orcs. Or rather, he starts the process by making them larger, bluish-grey skinned, and with teeth that hurt their mouths. He keeps them in line by dulling the pain and threatening to return it. After his defeat, the other wizards start to slowly turn them back into humans.
- Jeff scares the orcs off by projecting an army of Barons of Hell from the first Doom game, who run around (never facing away, as the original game lacks the sprite for that) and throw harmless balls of energy at everyone, while also being completely silent, since Jeff hasn't had the time to import sound files. This is a part of Jeff's personal project, to find a way to import any video game graphics into "reality". The other wizards are excited, as they might finally gets dragons in their world.
- Perp Sweating: After Martin convinces Gwen to interrogate Ida about the attempts on Brit the Younger's life, he asks to be the one to ask her questions, claiming to have been interrogated by the best. Of course, he doesn't mean Agents Miller and Murphy but his mother. The interrogation starts by Martin simply staring at Ida for a few seconds then raising a Fascinating Eyebrow and adding a grim smile... at which point Ida visibly sags and admits to everything. Maybe the feds should hire Martin's mom.
- Powers as Programs: The shell created by Phillip, Jimmy, and Gwen is designed to be open-sourced, allowing any wizard to add code to it. Being programmers, most wizards spend their time writing new code or macros for new types of spells or visual effects. "Spells" are triggered by certain gestures and/or words spoken in a bastardized version of Esperanto (or any language, really).
- The second book reveals that many other time periods have adapted the shell for their own use. The Atlantean Interface uses the shell as its core but is more gesture-based (sorceresses wave their hands and then select options from menus that only they see).
- President Evil: President Ida of Atlantis isn't really evil. She just doesn't see a problem with giving her lover/servant Nilo (who secretly hates the fact that Atlantis is a Lady Land) access to the Interface (i.e. magical powers) and him trying to kill the founder of the city (to be fair, though, she doesn't think that a Stable Time Loop can be broken). When exposed, she admits that she has grown to like power and isn't about to let it be taken away.
- When Martin is trying to prove to Gwen that Ida is involved in the assassination attempts on Brit the Younger, Gwen dismisses the idea, claiming that Ida isn't stupid, as most of the sorceresses voted for her. Martin points out that Gwen has just used the fact that Ida is an elected official as proof that she would never do anything stupid. Gwen shuts up.
- Proud to Be a Geek: Pretty much anyone who discovers the file does so because he or she spends a lot of time on a computer and, most likely, engages in hacking. As such, most magic-users tend to be a little nerdy. Since they also have "magic" powers, they also are free to be proud of their nerdiness without fear of being bullied.
- Public Domain Character: Played with. Merlin and Arthur never existed. However, Jimmy chose to pass himself off as Merlin and convinced the king to rename London to Camelot and his son to Arthur.
- Puppet King: Both the late King Stephen and the current King Arthur (né Eustace) have grown to rely on Jimmy/Merlin so much, that they don't even bother making decisions on their own, merely rubber-stamping whatever Jimmy "suggests". After Jimmy is defeated and sent back to his own time, Arthur wonders what will happen next, since he has never made a royal decision on his own. Jimmy's role is taken over by Eddie, Jimmy's former assistant, who shows a knack for managerial work.
- Reality Ensues: There's a reason the wizards strictly prohibit attempting to modify a person's physical parameters - it's almost always fatal. While reality is a computer program, it's a fine-tuned computer program. A subroutine as complex as a human being only runs well if no one messes with the settings. Martin's first accidental discovery of the file results in him "growing" by 3 inches. He changes his height back, but Phillip later explains that, any higher, and his spine would've disconnected from his brain. Jimmy attempts to work around this by making small, incremental changes to change people into elves, orcs, dwarves, and hobbits. He ends up accidentally skipping a step and killing a whole village full of people, whose bodies can't cope with the sudden changes. The only changes wizards are allowed to do is make themselves nigh-immortal by stopping the aging process and making them immune to physical damage. They can still suffocate, drown, or die of thirst/hunger, though.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: His Excellency Father Galbraith, the Bishop of Leadchurch, is a good friend of Phillip's. When asked by Martin how the Church explains the existence of wizards to the masses, Phillip tells him that the priests respond to such questions by claiming that God created wizards for a reason. Naturally, the reason is not for mere mortals to know. When asked by a simple-minded farmer to exorcise a demon from his teenage son, Bishop Galbraith asks Phillip to join him. They talk for a bit with the boy, figure out his problems (normal teenage rebelliousness and the feeling that his family doesn't get him), and have Phillip put on a light and sound show to make the farmer think that an exorcism is taking place. Then Galbraith tells the boy to come talk to him whenever he needs to vent.
- Respawning Enemies: In Todd's game, the enemies keep reappearing every so often, but not where they were before, but where they were killed. Furthermore, two enemies respawn for every one slain. This becomes a problem when a tree wolf manages to get on top of Phillip and killed there, only for two more wolves to later appear right on his back. The others make Phillip get rid of his cloak and hope that the spawn point was on the cloak, not on Phillip's back. A few days later, Martin sees the newly-spawned wolves and the cloak, kills the wolves, and convinces Roy, Gwen, and Brit that the cloak must be important invoking The Law of Conservation of Detail. They reluctantly agree to let him keep it. An hour later, eight wolves spawn from the cloak, and the others laugh as Martin is fending them off.
- Rewriting Reality: Editing the file/repository/database (whether directly or through a custom program/shell/app) allows one to change seemingly anything.
- Sadistic Choice: At the beginning of the game, Todd makes Phillip choose his second. Phillip chooses Jeff. Unbeknownst to him, Todd set up a script to drop anyone Phillip chooses off a cliff. His money was either on Jeff or Tyler. Phillip protests that he didn't know that this is what he was choosing.
- Sequel Hook: The second novel ends with the two Treasury agents going back to Todd to get his help on figuring out where Jimmy and Martin have gone off to. In the third novel, Todd uses the opportunity to escape and trap the other wizards in a video game without their powers.
- Invoked in-universe, after Phillip shows Colossus The Forbin Project to wizards from a later time. They're confused why the movie doesn't have a sequel, since they perceive The Bad Guy Wins ending as a sequel hook, only for Phillip to point out the movie is supposed to end like that to hammer in the point that Science Is Bad.
- Sequelitis: In the third novel, after Phillip shows the other wizards his favorite film Colossus The Forbin Project, the others ask about the sequel. When Phillip explains that there never was one, the others ask if it didn't do well in the theaters. Roy explains that in his and Phillip's time, when a movie did well, one didn't make the same exact movie to cash in on it, but took the money and made a different movie. Phillip counters that, by the 80s, film makers had already started cashing in on sequels.
- Share the Male Pain: The first thing Tyler does when confronting Jimmy after being "un-ghosted" is kick him in the crotch. Every other man in the room cringes... except Jimmy, who anticipated this and set up an exclusionary zone a foot in diameter around that part of his body. After realizing this, Tyler kicks Jimmy in the shin, which Jimmy didn't think to protect.
- Shipper on Deck: A few characters are actively trying to get Phillip and Brit the Younger together, one of them being Brit the Elder (mostly because she remembers it happening when she was Brit the Younger). Of course, Phillip and Brit the Younger initially bond over their negative feelings towards Brit the Elder. Naturally, both Martin and Gwen try to push their friends into a relationship and are ecstatic when Phillip spends the night at Brit the Younger's place. Nick, Brit the Younger's servant, is also trying to get his mistress to hook up with Phillip (he's not one of the servants who sleep with their mistresses, and he turns out to be gay anyway). Eventually, Nick and Ampyx, of all people (he has been trying to become Gwen's personal servant all this time), talk Gwen and Martin, respectively, into admitting their feelings for one another.
- Shout-Out: The novels are packed full of them, since most magic-users are nerds. However, not all wizards get the references, such as Phillip (who is from 1984) being annoyed by the frequent references to The Simpsons (which premiered in 1989).
- In the second novel, when Martin takes Roy to his place in Camelot, Roy sees four ten-foot stone statues and asks who they are. Martin lists them off: Optimus Prime, Boba Fett, Grimace, and The Stig. Martin asks when Roy is from, and Roy reveals that he's from 1973. The only character who existed then was Grimace, but Roy has never been to McDonald's.
- In the second novel, Martin nods off during the summit. After Phillip jerks him awake, Martin explains that all the motions and counter-motions put him to sleep, claiming that it may have something to do with the Star Wars prequels. He immediately realizes his mistake, when seeing Phillip's horrified expression at finding out that there are prequels to Star Wars. Martin then finds Gwen and repeats his reference to the prequels, only for Martin to be horrified when he finds out that she likes them, especially the Galactic Senate scenes.
- In the third novel, as the oxcart is about to go over a cliff into a deep chasm, Martin waits until the last possible moment, then jumps and manages to pull himself up by his arms. After getting up, he screams "My name is James Tiberius Kirk!" with only Gwen getting the reference, since Roy is from The Seventies and Brit is from The Nineties.
- Side Bet: A few during Martin's training. On the day of Martin's first flight, Gary and Jeff arrive to witness the event. They point out that everyone crashes on their first try. Martin almost succeeds in not crashing, only for a passing duck to mess up his flight and cause him to fall. After he gets up, he notices a series of large concentric circles. Phillip, Gary, and Jeff then measure where Martin landed with respect to the circles and decide that Phillip won the bet of where Martin would fall. Phillip then admits that he lost their earlier bet about trying to get Martin to eat a stew bar.
- It's not entirely clear what the bet amounts are, since all wizards are capable of manifesting and copying gold coins.
- Skewed Priorities: In the third novel, after Todd traps Phillip, Jeff, Tyler, Gary, and Jimmy in a fantasy video game he designed and takes away their powers (and their invulnerability), he gets annoyed at the wizards not following the rules of the game and constantly complaining about the shoddy programming and the uninteresting storyline. This is while their lives are actually in danger.
- The Slow Path: After Jimmy is sent back to his own time (The Eighties), he has to spend the next 30 years waiting for his chance to get access to the file again and be able to return to Medieval England to beg for forgiveness. Since he is no longer The Ageless, he's in his 50s-60s by that point. Due to him being a Walking Techbane, he can't hold a normal job (since that usually involves being in the vicinity of an electrical device), can't get around in anything more complex than a bicycle, and can't get proper medical care.
- Some Kind of Force Field: Wizards can set up "exclusionary zones" that stop anyone who isn't on the "allow" list. The zones are invisible and act like a typical force field (minus any visual or auditory effects). Basically, anyone who walks into one feels like he or she walked into a wall. Exclusionary zones cannot be overcome by anyone except the wizard who set them up. Gwen has managed to weaponize them by throwing anyone near her off, as if she is emitting a wave of energy (she added some visual effects for show). Her explanation how she managed to do it is a Geeky Turn-On for Martin.
- In the second novel, it's shown that these kinds of force fields, apparently, have friction, as a person leaves a bloody handprint on one (blood wouldn't stick to a frictionless surface).
- Stable Time Loop: When Brit first arrives to the 4th century B.C., she finds a welcome reception headed by her older self who explains that she will travel back in time in about 50 years to build Atlantis. Phillip refuses to believe in this trope, being a firm believer in free will.
- There are also Sid and Gilbert, magicians living in Victorian England who have a beef with Martin over something he supposedly did to them (or will do, from Martin's point of view). They act like complete dicks, leading to this conversation:
Martin leaned over to Phillip and whispered, "What could we have done to those guys to make them hate us this much?"
Phillip muttered, "I don't know, but we have a few hundred years to come up with something good."
- May be subverted, though, as Sid and Gilbert later claim that they may have been playing a prank on Martin and that they're really friends. Martin has no way to verify that until centuries later.
- Exploited by Jimmy, after he regains access to the file. He travels to Tyler's apartment and convinces Tyler to help him enact his plan. Tyler isn't surprised to see Jimmy, as Jimmy told him centuries ago that Tyler helped him but wouldn't reveal the reason why Tyler would do that. Jimmy's argument is that whatever Jimmy did (or will do) in the past seems to have worked out for Tyler, meaning Tyler has no reason not to help him. Later, after going to the past and enacting his plan, he tells Past!Tyler that his future self helped him. When Past!Tyler (who's still bitter about being "ghosted" by Jimmy in the first novel) asks what Jimmy could possibly have told Future!Tyler to convince him, Jimmy simply tells him that he'll have to wait until it happens to him (thus completing the loop).
- In the third novel, Todd drops Jeff off a cliff, after removing his powers and invulnerability. While the other wizards are not too concerned, claiming that, as time travelers, they can just go back after all this is done and save him. However, Todd points out that he accounted for that by watching Jeff hit the rocks. At the end of the novel, the wizards use the data in Todd's computer to plan a Time Travel Escape for Jeff, while making it looks like he does indeed fall (it's an artificial doppelganger). It takes them over a month to plan it, since they have to get it exactly right, and they only get one try.
- Stay in the Kitchen: This tends to be Roy's attitude towards women, since he's a 50-year-old man from The Seventies. Naturally, he's having trouble adjusting to the more egalitarian views of The Nineties, The Oughts, and The New Tens, where most wizards tend to be from. It's usually not a problem, since all wizards in Medieval England are male, but he always feels awkward whenever he has to interact with female time travelers like Gwen or Brit. Brit in particular is unwilling to let Roy get away with such attitude, having lived for many years in a female-dominated society. Martin explains to Gwen that Roy's attitude may not be forgivable, but it is explainable, pointing out that he just needs time to adjust. In fact, he tells Gwen that her and Brit need to continue showing their displeasure at Roy's behavior to convince him to change.
- Sure, Let's Go with That: Phillip explains that his Magic Staff topper is a bottle of Tabasco sauce, which he passes off as dragon's blood (non-believers who take one whiff of the stuff immediately agree that it must be dragon's blood). One time, a few locals caught Phillip putting some of the sauce in his food. He assumed that he would have to make something up to explain himself. Nope, people just assumed that it's ok for a wizard to eat dragon's blood. Phillip shrugged and agreed.
- Tailor-Made Prison: Because of Todd's boosted magnetic field, he's kept in a low-tech prison cell with a heavy deadbolt lock instead of an electronic one and incandescent light bulbs instead of fluorescent lights. All visitors must leave electronic devices outside, as they would cease to function when exposed to Todd's field (prolonged exposure permanently fries them). Jimmy was temporarily kept in a similar cell by Seattle PD.
- Take That: When Martin asks Roy if he has ever eaten at a McDonald's, Roy replies that he hasn't. When prompted why, Roy replies that he's a grown man.
- Technology Marches On: When Martin buys himself a brand-new top-of-the-line laptop back in 2012, he brings it to Medieval England to unbox and show Phillip. Phillip is in awe of the aluminum-backed thin device and is reading off the specs on the box. He asks what on Earth one can do with 4 gigabytes of memory. Martin quickly replies, "Upgrade it immediately".
- Later, Martin sees Jeff's 2021-era smartphone, which appears to be just two sheets of glass glued together. The lack of a logo on the back implies that it is not an Apple product.
- As a rule, though, wizards tend to keep information about their time private from others, including tech advances (although one of the first things Phillip asks Martin is if Pink Floyd ever got back together). To anyone from a later time, they would appear outdated and quaint. To anyone from an earlier time, they would seem pretentious and privileged (Phillip feels this way towards Martin for using a device more powerful than a 1984 supercomputer as a phone).
- When Roy is telling his story to Martin, he explains that he found the file (which he calls a database) on one of the magnetic tapes used by the various divisions of Lockheed, which appeared to be vastly larger than the tape's 170 MB capacity (when Martin found the file, its size was 5 TB = roughly 5,000,000 MB). Martin chuckles at the "high-capacity storage" of Roy's time.
- Averted in the second novel, when Phillip witnesses Brit the Younger operating what appears to be a tablet made of glass with no visible circuits. When he, amazed, asks what year she's from, Brit explains that she's actually from the 90s. The glass is just a pane of glass that she has projected the Interface on for her servant to use (normally sorceresses are the only ones who can see it, and it's usually projected in midair).
- Teleporters and Transporters: Each person or objects's file entry has fields for geospatial coordinates and altitude. By editing the field, the person/object can be teleported anywhere on Earth. Since simply winking out is not cool enough for a wizard, most add visual and sound effects, anything from a column of smoke to a Star Trek transporter effect (most wizards being nerds and all).
- In the second novel, Martin devises an interesting method of teleporting without setting up coordinates. He carries a special beanbag which he throws and then teleports to it with the word "Bamf", complete with Nightcrawler's teleportation visual effects.
- Temporal Mutability: Strangely, doing anything in the past appears to have no effect on the future. The two main explanations are that either something between the time of the change and the present will nullify all changes, or the program creates an alternate past for the time travelers.
- This Is a Work of Fiction: Besides the usual examples that are also present, the author also includes this tidbit in the second and third books:
"The following is intended to be a fun, comedic sci-fi/fantasy novel. Any similarity between the events described and how reality actually works is purely coincidental."
- Those Two Guys: Agents Miller and Murphy from the US Treasury, the only agents assigned to a special department investigating unexplained cases of fraud. A typical Good Cop/Bad Cop team, they hate their current assignment and the ways their bosses keep trying to save a buck. They end up inadvertently helping Jimmy regain access to the file. Miller has a penchant for Cluster F Bombs. The one time Murphy finally blows up, Miller surprises everyone by telling him to calm down. When Murphy complains, Miller explains that Murphy is terrible at it, so he should leave it to professionals:
"With that, Agent Miller threw open the valve on a fire hose of profanities delivered at top volume, and with the occasional hint of vibrato that is the mark of a true virtuoso."
- While they don't personally appear in the third novel, Todd mentions that they have managed to find a fresh copy of the file and use it to generate unlimited funding for a new Treasury task force headed by them.
- Three-Point Landing: Martin has been practicing these for a more intimidating effect, keeping his Magic Staff parallel to the ground behind him. He even calls it his Iron Man landing.
- Time Travel: By editing one's temporal coordinates, a person can travel to the past. However, the reality/program prevents a person from traveling to any time in his or her future. Thus, Phillip, whose native time period is 1984 is unable to visit Martin's time period of 2012. Traveling to any time and place in the past is fair game, however. Martin assumes it's possible for someone else to bring a wizard from an earlier time to that wizard's future, but no one ever does that.
- Time Travel Escape: Most time travelers end up in the past because they're fleeing authorities in their own time, frequently after setting up an Arbitrarily Large Bank Account. In fact, the button Martin set up in his Android app for a temporal jump to 12th century England is actually labelled "Escape".
- In the third novel, after Jimmy regains his powers, the first thing he does is activate an escape macro he programmed into a secret shell of his own that transports him to his 21st century condo in Las Vegas. Also, the wizards set one of these up for Jeff, who is falling to his death from a cliff, after spending over a month planning it.
- Tin-Can Telephone: Jimmy uses this method to talk Agents Miller and Murphy through navigating Xerox's servers in order to find the file, since he has to sit far enough away from the computer so that his magnetic field doesn't affect it. He uses a telescope to watch the screen.
- Too Dumb to Fool: Ida's servant Nilo is just smart enough to be dangerous and is dumb enough to be incapable of being swayed by logical arguments. Martin quickly realizes this when Gwen is trying to argue with him. He wants to tell her that arguing with a dumb person is pointless, since she would need to "dumb down" her logic for him to understand, but doesn't get the chance. And yes, Talk to the Fist is Nilo's usual method of choice.
- Too Dumb to Live: One of the first things Todd does with the file is very messily kill his boss at the video game store (by disassociating all of his molecules), and then out himself as the murderer by showing up to work in galoshes.
- Translator Microbes: The shell translates anything a wizard says into the appropriate language and vice versa. It's all pieces of code anyway. However, this only applies when the wizard is speaking his own language. Attempts to say words in, say, Spanish, will not be translated and only understood by Spanish-speakers.
- Walking Techbane: If a wizard is deemed too dangerous or untrustworthy, he is exiled and sent back to his own time, naked and hogtied, usually to be apprehended by the authorities (most wizards are fleeing authorities in their own time). Furthermore, in order to cut off their access to the file, the exile's magnetic field is boosted to such an extent that any electronic device nearby shuts down.
- The Web Always Existed: The wizards are able to interact with the Internet as it is in their time period (of course, if they came from a time after the Internet was created). Justified since "where" and "when" a particular device is connecting from are mere data points in the file and can be modified or even set as constants (they don't necessarily have to match the physical location). Martin first figures this out while writing his Android app, making his phone always transmit from a specific location in the 2012 Seattle no matter where and when it is actually located. Thus, no roaming charges for using the phone in 12th century England. He also has the app periodically update the battery charge to a specific value, turning it into a perpetual motion machine of sorts. Ditto for his laptop.
- The file's existence is justified, since it's, essentially, a projection of the reality program on a specific computer system. It's never explored why it projects itself to various systems, most often on a corporate or government server of some sort, although a singular example exists of a pre-Internet example in the 1970s on a magnetic tape at Lockheed's Skunk Works.
- Who Shot JFK?: In the second novel, Phillip briefly tells Brit the Younger about visiting Dallas on the day of the JFK assassination in order to find out who it was on the grassy knoll. When Brit asks him who it was, Phillip, embarrassed, replies that there was no one... until Phillip got there. Phillip barely had time to hide so that no one spotted him. This is the same guy who denies that Stable Time Loops exist.
- Wizard Duel: A brief one takes place early in the first novel, where Martin challenges Phillip, assuming that Phillip is just a con artist. Martin shows off a very crude (and uncomfortable) form of levitation. Phillip responds with a dazzling display of effortless flight, light effects, and a magic blast. Near the end of the novel, Martin challenges Jimmy to a battle in order to distract him from Phillip's attempts to neutralize Jimmy. Once again, Martin is on the receiving end of a beatdown, although he does manage to hold his own for a while. In the second novel, Gwen is the one who engages in a magical duel with Ida in an attempt to get to Brit the Elder's computer first. This, essentially, involves them putting up force field barriers to block each other's path until they're encased in a force field box each. Then Gwen realizes that she could have simply teleported out of the "box".
- After Jimmy's defeat, the wizards agree to spontaneously attack one another in order to keep everyone's skills sharp. After Martin introduces his apprentice Roy to the others, Tyler and Gary attack him. Martin leads Tyler on a flying chase through a forest, firing spell blasts at him, while Gary is flying above the treeline in order to cut him off. Martin tricks Tyler by using his new "Bamf" teleportation trick to get behind Tyler, causing the waiting Gary to attack Tyler instead of Martin.