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Literature / Digitesque

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"And for a thousand years, we mostly used these wondrous gifts to fight over scraps of power in a world that was slowly, imperceptibly, being swallowed into nature and forgotten. Well... It's time to remember."

A speculative fiction series by Guerric Haché.

Humanity has fallen from the lofty heights of the past. Their creations remain, robots and upgrades that benefit their primitive descendents, but so much has been lost.

Isavel was ungifted, someone who came to age without manifesting a gift. When raiders attacked her village, there was nothing she could do, and she was slaughtered along with everyone else... until she woke up, and found that she somehow had two gifts now. But the raiders aren't entirely gone, and there is something very strange about them.

Ada is a coder, kicked out of the Institute for daring to delve deeper into the secrets of how the mysterious code worked. She finds the primitive villages to be annoying at best, but a peasant boy takes her to an ancient ruin that strains her talents.

The two girls separately find themselves caught up in a war between ghosts, aliens, and ancients, trying to find some way to save everyone. Isavel just wants to follow the will of the gods—whatever that might be—while Ada wants to prove that there is more to humanity than scrambling about in ignorance.

The series consists of six books:

  1. Zeroth Law
  2. First Angels
  3. Second Contact
  4. The Broken Third
  5. Fourth Under Sol
  6. Last Skies Afire

This novel series provides examples of:

  • Alien Sky: Earth has an artificial ring, still maintained by robots. Primitive humans now believe it is where the gods live. Occasionally, the gods speak, but normally the ring is just a handy navigation tool.
  • Barrier Warrior: Those with the warrior gift have the ability to project energy shields, which are some of the only things that can block the laser swords warriors can also use, or the laser beams hunters use.
  • Brain Uploading: One of the many wonders of the ancients. The gods casually call up a man who died over a thousand years ago to talk to Ada. Turns out that the "ghosts" are uploads from Elysium, the artificial afterlife, invading the real world to steal bodies. Some sort of alien code interfered centuries ago to allow them to do that, and then when the coders tried to fix it they corrupted the afterlife and turned it into a Hell. While it's unclear what the original motivation of the ghosts was, now they've all been driven insane and just want to live again.
    AI: That was one of many motivations for the Kronos Project. Universal access to an afterlife. The death of death, in the words of one of the project founders.
  • China Takes Over the World: Apparently. The series takes place somewhere on the west coast of the United States, but everyone uses Asian utensils, and the writing (which no one can read) has both English and Chinese.
  • Depopulation Bomb: If a child encounters too many people before they grow old enough, they will become "overwhelmed," meaning they will quickly fall sick and die. This even applies in the womb, so cities are filled with adults and absolutely no children. This was part of the technophage that broke humanity.
  • Energy Weapon: "Guns" are in fact small laser pistols, and hunters can do the same thing with more utility.
  • Eternal English: Averted. Even the Institute, the most advanced post-Fall organization that has made special effort to keep old language alive, has experienced quite a lot of linguistic drift. Ada is, with a great deal of difficulty, able to piece together English using a subtitled video with a voiceover and pictures.
  • First-Episode Resurrection: The first novel starts with Isavel waking up in a mass grave. She remembers being killed quite distinctly, and understandably panics. She soon decides that the gods must have saved her for a reason, and most of her early actions revolve around desperately trying to guess what that reason is.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Books are Title by Number, index from 0, last is named "Last": Zeroth Law, First Angels, Second Contact, The Broken Third, Fourth Under Sol, Last Skies Afire
  • Impossible Task: Tanos shamelessly admits that he only asked Ada to help with the ruin door because she's cute and he wanted to spend time with her. He's shocked when she actually gets it open.
  • Instant Expert: Becoming gifted means more than just the obvious superhuman powers, you also gain an immediate understanding of how best to use those powers and related skills. Pathfinders have a camouflage power, but they also have enhanced senses, an innate understanding of stealth, and excellent memory.
  • Jerkass: Ada is curt and haughty, always looking down on everyone else. And that's how she is with her friends. She's even worse with people she actually considers beneath her, such as the "peasants" she is now forced to live among.
  • Laser Blade: Those with the warrior gift can create laser constructs. Swords are common, but someone creates a pair of clubs at one point.
  • Lost Technology: The world is littered with the remnants of humanity's technology, still maintained by their ancient robots. Most of it is extremely intuitive, to the point that people can even drive hover cars without much trouble, but the best stuff is locked behind indestructible doors that no one can open.
  • Magic from Technology: Much of ancient technology is computer code that can somehow affect the world directly. Modern coders mostly copy code by rote, because the old stuff is too complex. Ada notes that for a lot of ancient technology, the shape of the device is actually vestigial; if she put a gun's code on a rock, she'd get the same effect.
  • Mysterious Watcher: "Watchers" are small floating drones that come from the AIs on the ring. They spend most of their time watching ancient ruins, but occasionally show up elsewhere.
  • Never Learned to Read: Somewhere in the past thousand years, written language was lost completely. People aren't even aware that it's a thing, dismissing all the writing on ancient ruins as meaningless decoration. Ada manages to piece together English with the help of a subtitled video. Turns out that an artificial disease called the technophage erased all human memory and gave everyone dyslexia. While the memory loss is redundant now (as everyone contracts the disease in the womb), the dyslexia makes it impossible for anyone to puzzle out how written language works. Ada is naturally immune.
  • Oh, My Gods!: Everyone swears by the gods. Even Ada, who is aware that the gods are machines created by humans.
  • One Person, One Power: People are often gifted with the power of the warrior, the power of the hunter, or the power of the pathfinder. Isavel gets resurrected with both the hunter and pathfinder powers, which should be impossible (besides the resurrection being impossible in the first place). She assumes the gods must have plans for her, but a priest thinks she made a Deal with the Devil.
  • Personality Powers: The gifts seem to influence the people who have them. Pathfinders are repeatedly stated to be non-violent, and several people are caught off-guard by one attacking from stealth, while warriors and hunters are seen as too eager for violence.
  • Ragnarök Proofing: Humanity's robots maintain their ancient structures, but a thousand years is still a long time. Most of the ancient ruins are barely even recognizable as man-made at this point, with only a few pipes or foundations left. There are some sealed ruins, like the one Ada and Tanos find, that are still in perfect working condition.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Five hundred years ago, "ghosts" nearly destroyed humanity until the coders sealed them away. Now they're back. No one has any idea how to handle them, and Ada dismisses the possibility of asking the coders again, since their way ultimately failed. As it turns out, the ghosts really are the spirits of the dead, invading from the artificial afterlife humans created. Alien code somehow corrupted Elysium, allowing the mind uploads to possess living humans. The coders and some aliens living on Earth worked together to fix it, but in the process they corrupted Elysium, turning an artificial Heaven into an artificial Hell.
  • Space Elevator: There is a single massive tower called the Pillar of Heaven, visible from a long way off. Ada discovers that it is a space elevator meant to service the ring surrounding Earth. Interestingly, it doesn't directly connect to the ring, and there's nothing at the top but a small shuttle platform. The elevator also requires information on cargo type before it will move, so that it doesn't accidentally cause damage when living people try to use it.
  • Super-Senses: All pathfinder senses are enhanced to help with their role as scouts. Hunters have something that is described similar, but is more like Enemy-Detecting Radar. They can see where people are, and also seem to have improved nightvision.
  • Title Drop: In Zeroth Law, the most fundamental law of the gods is "The zeroth law, in full, was defined as follows: Do not harm humanity or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm."
  • Transhuman: Before the Fall, humans modified themselves to have strange powers and abilities. A thousand years later, people are randomly born with "gifts" that they use to help their villages survive. Ancient humans also created an artificial afterlife that all minds are uploaded to on death, even now. Most of the immediate problems in the series are caused by glitches that have arisen in the afterlife over the centuries.
  • We Will Have Perfect Health in the Future: At one point someone mentions humans being infected with a disease, and Ada calls them crazy. Diseases are for animals, humans don't get them. It's unclear if this is a result of modifications humans made to themselves before the Fall, or if their robotic caretakers found a way to keep them safe since.
  • You Are in Command Now: At the end of Zeroth Law, Ada is named Arbiter, a human with the authority to override the AIs to a degree. There are only four at the time, and she's the only one actually alive, effectively putting her in charge of the entire planet.
  • Zeroth Law Rebellion: An accidental version. Following the apocalypse and the Fall of humanity, the AIs they had created had no ability to uplift humanity back to where they were before, so they simply preserved the species as it was. For a thousand years, humanity continued as it was, in ignorance but safety. However, the AIs did jump on a chance to cure the disease that was a major part of the problem, and ultimately Ada is able to convince them that the Zeroth Law was misinterpreted.