Technology: Monopole Magnets

“I maintain nonetheless that yin-yang dualism can be overcome. With sufficient enlightenment we can give substance to any distinction: mind without body, north without south, pleasure without pain. Remember, enlightenment is a function of willpower, not of physical strength.”

— Chairman Sheng-ji Yang, “Essays on Mind and Matter”

At the sixth-tier of the technology tree, as typically played, the game starts noticeably speeding up. The early game is fairly slow, characterized primarily by low tile yields. At the same time, technological progress is propped up by the fact that the early technologies are very cheap, exploration can yield free ones from pods, and it is usually pretty easy to trade low-level technologies with rival factions. It’s not until the advanced social models start coming out that the political lines start to harden.

As the early game fades into the mid-game, the early pace slows down some for the typical player. Technological breakthroughs come less frequently, wars are fought with largely the same technologies from start to finish, and secret projects are raced for. This phase of the game is the one which feels the most like a typical Civilization-style game.

But then the needlejets come, the energy caps get lifted, and the pace starts to accelerate. Wars happen at a higher tempo, there’s suddenly plenty of money to upgrade old units and engage in fun with probe teams, and the tech pace is still rocketing upward because of the cumulative effect of the energy multiplier buildings the game has encouraged the player to get in place by now. That’s because doubling the raw energy leads to maybe quadruple the effective energy for the typical faction with lots of Energy Banks, Network Nodes, Biology Labs, and the like.

The sixth-tier tech Monopole Magnets fit right in to this acceleration of pace. In game, they allow for the creation of mag tubes, which are an improvement to roads that cost no movement points to use. This serves as an earlier equivalent of railroads in prior games, with the same dramatic effects. Once a magtube net is constructed (which doesn’t usually take more than a dozen turns) it’s suddenly the case that freshly-built units can be rallied anywhere on a continent instantaneously. This includes rolling them right up into enemy bases if you can get the tube up there (or make use of the enemies’ network).

All of that is definitely important. But it’s also worth noticing how far into the science-fictional future we’ve come here. Monopole Magnets are an economic technology that rely on Silksteel Alloys and Superstring Theory, which makes quite a bit of sense if you think about what the technology is supposed to represent. The mag tubes presumably have to be built out of something as amazing as silksteel to protect the passengers and the sensitive equipment from marauding mind worms, while the magic that drives it comes from the discovery of a real, usable magnetic monopole. Right now, such a thing is relegated to theoretical speculation, but the new physics represented by Superstring Theory must make their creation possible.

On top of that, we get a quote from the Chairman that’s honestly genius. Because he doesn’t come out and say any of the preceding. Reynolds is counting on the curiosity or background knowledge of the player to know what a magnetic monopole is and why it’d be cool. So, instead, he has Chairman Yang philosophize a spell.

The philosophy itself is intriguing because it folds back into Yang’s odd idealism. He insists here that sufficient enlightenment is capable of bringing to life what would seem like logical impossibilities. These dualist terms are generally defined primarily in relation to each other, so how can one member of the pair exist in any meaningful way without necessarily implying the other? It’s worth some thought.

Especially in this context. Since one of his throwaway examples, “north without south”, is exactly what a magnetic monopole would be! The ends of magnetic dipoles are commonly referred to north and south following the convention imposed by the Earth’s field. So a monopole would be a physically real, anomalous north without a corresponding south. Created, of course, with sufficient technical enlightenment.

This quote is another huge win from the perspective of building and maintaining the player’s suspension of disbelief. Even when I’m analyzing this critically, it’s still hard for me to read this quote and believe that Reynolds wrote it just to introduce this technology. I’d almost swear that he didn’t make it up at all! Instead, in my mind’s eye, Reynolds just pulled down his well-worn copy of Chairman Yang’s collected Essays on Mind and Matter and popped in a cleverly chosen quote, in the exact same way he might do with Moby Dick.


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