[ASH] Info File: Supertech Taxonomy

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Fri Oct 13 08:50:19 PDT 2006

                         Supertech - A Taxonomy
               An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Info File
                   copyright 2006 by Dave Van Domelen

     Most of this information can be found in various stories and other info
files here and there, but I decided it was worth putting it all in one
     First, a quick couple of definitions.  Normaltech is anything that can
be made without violating the laws of nature, while supertech requires some
sort of Violation Physics (the ability to break natural law) to exist.  There
is not, however, a sharp line between the two, as the rest of this article
will establish.  Rather, it's a continuum, from stuff that's simply ahead of
its time to things that are really just extensions of someone's supernatural
     Along the way, some "in story" terms will be introduced, but keep in
mind that not everyone in the ASH setting will use these terms, or may use
them incorrectly or inconsistently.  Just like with technical terms in real
life.  :)  There will also be attention given to how and if various sorts of
tech affect everyday life.
     The "levels" used in this article are not used in-setting, they're just
a handy taxonomy for readers and writers.

Level 1 - Advanced Tech

     At level 1, no laws of nature are violated by the device, and it can be
understood with rational scientific theory.  However, the theoretical
underpinnings of the tech are beyond the current level of Terran
comprehension, for one reason or another.  Examples include the original
Beacon's laser and hologram devices in the 1930s, or any piece of alien high
technology.  Some of Gimble's devices also fall under this category.
     In general, level 1 tech doesn't come into widespread use on time scales
of less than a decade.  Usually, this is because only the genius who created
it (or reverse-engineered it from alien tech) can figure it out.  Whether the
creator is an intuitive gadgeteer who never bothers with theory, or simply so
smart that they can create theories that it takes normals years to figure
out, the science involved is not accessible to the public.  There are a few
cases where the science has been worked out meticulously by the inventor, but
they are either ignored or, more commonly, keep their discoveries to
     (A quick aside on the idea of scientific paradigm shift.  Some ideas
take a while to catch on, because they require such a radically different way
of thinking that even open-minded intelligent people can't accept them, or
perhaps can't even grasp them.  And if the person who comes up with the new
idea is still stuck in the old paradigm, he may not even be able to properly
describe his theories in the first place.  That's what happened to Beacon
initially...he invented a sort of laser, but without the language of quantum
mechanics, which was still being worked out at the time, he couldn't
adequately explain himself.  His theories had holes in them that he lacked
the tools to fill in...he knew the thing worked, but his colleagues couldn't
understand why, because he lacked the paradigm in which to explain it.)
     Intuitive geniuses often have their own paradigm, and can make things
work where no one else can.  They are often also called mad by the academy,
but will show those fools.  Show them ALL.
     Alien technology is a slightly different case, because the mathematics
behind it are well understood...by the aliens who invented it.  Most of whom
aren't too keen on sharing, so what humanity gets are dribs and drabs
obtained through sources like the Pranir who don't necessarily understand it
that well themselves.  The incomplete and sometimes incorrect nature of this
material means that it takes a long time to make any useful sense of it.  For
example, humanity may be able to fully understand hyperspatial dynamics in a
fraction of the time that it took the Santari to develop it, but a fraction
of "centuries" is still pretty long.

     The upshot of all this is that superhuman geniuses can often leap ahead
of the curve, but that doesn't mean the curve goes away.  Maybe practical
home computers were introduced two or three years earlier in the ASH setting,
or the military got its M-16 replacement a bit ahead of where they did in the
real world, but nothing too drastic.  Regular folks still had to catch up at
their own pace, even with a supernormal blazing the trail ahead.
     Probably the biggest effect supergeniuses have had on overall scientific
and technological development has been to demonstrate that it was worthwhile
to pursue some goal, ensuring that it got funding.  On the other hand, bad
publicity from mad scientists may have had an equally stunting effect on some
areas, like AI or cloning.

Level 2 - Super Manufacturing

     At the next step up, there are things that nature allows to exist, but
that either require Violation Physics to create in the first place, or are
incredibly hard to create without it.  For instance, nature allows the
existence of a seamless diamond sphere filled with creamy meringue, but it's
not exactly easy to make without breaking the rules somewhere.
     Probably the most commonly-seen example of level 2 supertech is
Collapsinum and its relatives.  As shown in ASH #28, collapsed metals do
exist in nature, but creating them probably requires something like smashing
black dwarfs into each other.  This means huge energy expenditures beyond the
capabilities of any society existing in the ASH universe.  But a little bit
of Violation Physics eases the transition from one allowed state of matter to
another, and makes it possible to do at a cost that makes it feasible to do
on large (well, above atomic) scales.
     This sort of supertech is immune to the dampening power of Anchors,
because once the device has been created, it's a normal object again.  An
Anchor could prevent it from being made in the first place, but doesn't undo
it after the fact.  
     Gimble's creations are often of this variety, relying on things like
100% pure crystals and precisely balanced components that just can't be made
by 2020s normaltech.

Level 3 - Paratech

     The average person is actually at least a tiny bit paranormal.  Not to
the extent that it would show up on any tests, but occasionally lucky or
unlucky, bending reality a tiny bit during moments of extreme stress, that
sort of thing.  Functionally, this doesn't have any benefits on its own.
However, it does mean that most people can use certain devices that only
require a little bit of Violation Physics.
     Paratech can only be made by someone with a fairly strong Magene, and in
fact carries a little of their essence with it.  This means that mass
production is generally not successful, unless closely supervised by
paranormals.  It also means that an Anchor getting too close to the device
will shut it down.  A normal person cannot "reboot" paratech, it has to be
started back up by a paranormal.
     Since the majority of Anchors never realize they are Anchors, due to
their dampening effect being so weak, paratech comes with the risk that the
next person who bumps into you on the street will turn it off.  So you're not
going to see, for instance, a paratech artificial heart implanted in a normal
person.  Paratech is still reliable enough to find use in specialized
applications, but between the risk of Anchors and the difficulty in mass
production, it really doesn't trickle down to the everyday person.  Wealthy
people who can afford to pay for rebooting on a regular basis may use some as
a status symbol, however, and the military likes to keep some around for
special ops.

Level 4 - Supertech

     This is the level that most people think of when the term "supertech" is
used.  Not only does it have to be made by a supernormal, but you need to be
measureably paranormal to make it work.  Hand it off to a normal person, and
it just stops working, either entirely or in part (i.e. a gun with magic
bullets might still fire, but the bullets won't home in on the target).
While there may be some sort of reasonable sounding technobabble for why it
works, any close examination of its principles will show at least one glaring
hole.  ("Yes, it all works up until the point where it creates energy out of
nothing right here...and it works fine after that.")
     The main effect level 4 supertech has on society is to create jobs for
supernormals with "spot on the wall" powers.  It doesn't matter how stupid or
useless your actual powers are, if your Tesla Index is high enough you can
put on this shiny new battle armor and take off into the skies.  Or you can
get these nifty cybernetic enhancements that would be septically fatal to a
normal and do nothing useful in the meantime.  Many of the NAC Marshals, for
instance, have combat-useless powers, but are able to make use of various
nifty gadgets in the course of fighting crime (their default uniform and
weapon load are purely level 1 at best, however, so that in the event of
running into an Anchor they aren't hosed...see also the Evil Overlord List on
the topic of archaic weapons).
     Obviously, level 4 supertech isn't going to become stuff everyone has in
their house or workplace, since only a tiny number of people can even use
it.  But some things can create societal changes without having to be in
every house, so once in a while level 4 devices have a significant impact.
For instance, spacecraft that have to be piloted by supernormals but can
operate at a fraction of the cost of normaltech resulted in an explosion of
space-based industry in the 1990s as satellites could be boosted cheaply and
on short notice.  This was just starting to have a trickle-down effect when
things went foom in 1998.

Level 5 - Mad Science

     This stuff has no rational underpinnings.  At all.  You could replace it
with Folgers Crystals and as long as the user didn't notice, nothing would
change.  Oh, the inventor may have some convoluted theory about four-cornered
days or orgone boxes or nental ife, but it's all bullhonkery.  The device
works because the inventor wants it to work, and the inventor is a
     If anything, level 5 supertech retards real progress.  It can give an
entire branch of study a bad name, preventing serious scientists from working
on it.  Or, if the line of bull spun by the inventor is convincing enough, it
can cause serious scientists to waste time chasing down blind alleys.  Most
commonly, it will slow progress by providing a shortcut, so that companies
that might invest money into real science instead pay the mad scientist to do
the process for them more cheaply.
     Unfortunately, to the average person, it's often hard to tell the
difference between someone creating level 5 crap and level 1 brilliance.  Not
all of the mad scientists are social misfits, and not all of those working at
level 1 come across as rational.  Sometimes, even the scientists themselves
can't be sure, if they're intuitively jumping over a century of progress,
especially they're working before Violation Physics came into its own in the
1970s and 1980s, and there weren't tests to see if the Magene was involved.

Final Comments

     The most common sorts of supertech in the 2020s are alien tech and level
3 supertech.  It's very hard to make level 1 or level 2 supertech unless the
creator has a VERY good scientific background, and there aren't many
supernormals who have learned that much yet by 2026.  On the other hand, the
few people capable of level 5 weirdness have almost all been identified and
given some scientific training, so they tend to turn out level 4 when they're
in a hurry and level 3 when they're taking their time.  Scientific training
tends to actually prevent level 5 supertech from working, once the inventor
knows why their old theories were stupid.
     Prior to 1970, there was almost no alien tech on Earth, just a few
caches here and there (such as the Scytharian cargo ship that helped make
Khadam a world power), and it was hard to tell different kinds of supertech
apart.  Anchors were known, but barely, and the whole framework of Violation
Physics was still pretty new (see the Violation Physics files).  Thus, at the
time, it would be hard to know if someone was advancing the frontiers of
science (as Beacon was) or just wishing things into working (as was the more
common case).  A lot of resources were wasted trying to turn supertech into
normaltech, so society didn't diverge a whole lot from real tech levels until
     Of course, by 2300 or so, humanity will have mastered all the science of
the Santari and gone to the stars without needing Violation Physics....

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