A Bridge To The Quiet Planet: Technology

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

Let’s get to know more about the setting of my upcoming novel, A Bridge To The Quiet Planet.


The humans of the worlds of Avenoth find the division between Technology and magic to be very clear.  This is probably why some people talk about it too much.

Magic is defined as that requiring direct human involvement to exist, calling upon the magic in the world.  Items created using magic (enchantment or alchemy) are also considered magical if they rely on magical sources or power or magic to channel power.

Technology is defined as that which does not require a human to invoke and rely on the magic in the world or magic to power an item.  If magic doesn’t touch it it’s probably technology.

Of course, this area leads to assorted debates.  Is piece of equipment incorporating an enchanted component magic (most say no).  Is something manufactued via magic as many things are magical (most say no).  Does it mess up other enchantments or screw up hard-cast spells (it better not).

Thus the debates continue, though the larger population probably doesn’t care, and wishes the debates would slow down.

Magic and Technology are unavoidably intertwined.  Much technology originated by scholars studying items created or altered by magic.  Technology has helped created testing devices and training tools for magic.  Enchanted components are common in exotic technologies – or in some cases cheaper.

The supposed separation remains an area of debate.

The Involvement Of Magic And Manufacturing

Magic has been involved in manufacturing for centuries or perhaps aeons.  Trained mages can easily shape stone or metal, lift objects, and stoke fires.  There are mages and magical practices that focus only on practical applications – mages that do this often practice only a single element, and are often called “Fab mages.”

Over time, manufacturing has become more and more automated and less and less magical.  Science has figured out how to duplicate magical creations – without the issues of creating enchantments sensitive mages may feel.  This has accelerated in the last century or two, and is producing disruptions in both the manufacturing and magical communities.

Magic is still very prominent in construction, where Lithomancers shape and mold stone and stone derivatives like concrete.  They can very quickly raise buildings with the help of others.  Such shaped stone is called magestone.  The guild Crimson Cornerstone is the largest Guild of construction mages.

More exotic technologies may use enchanted or specialized mage-manufactured components, such as unusual weapons or special slate components.

Common Technologies

Aerobarges – Extremely large Flyers relying on anti-gravity technology – large, aerial platforms akin to ships of the air.  They are slower than Flyers, but their stability, safety, capacity for cargo, and ability to offer a less confined experience.

Autocoaches – Powered vehicles for transport – what we would call cars, trucks, and buses.  The term is used for  any powered human transport, but terms like “bus” or “hauler” may also be used.

Bridges – Bridges are teleporation devices used to travel between planets, large platforms powered by techno-magical creations to instantly send people and cargo between worlds.  This requires two Bridges to syncronize – and between orbits, timing, breakdowns, and planetary rotations, schedules can be notoriously unreliable or strange.  Bridges are run by an organization called The Bridgers, a non-religious but very philosophical organization that takes their job as serious as any creed.

Clackers – Flashminds bonded to mechanical bodies, usually used in combat during the War and at times for executions.  Clackers are, like AI, forbidden technology.  As many were designed for hardships, however, they can last for centuries – and recovering them is a sure insight into past technologies if one doesn’t accidentally reactivate one . . .

Flashminds – Artificial intelligence, often ones made by magically copying a human mind. All AI is forbidden on Telvaren due to past experiences and disasters.  Attempting to use or create them is met with stiff penalties – often fatal (if unproveably fatal)

Flyers – Aerial transport devices – what we would consider airplanes.  Many use anti-gravity technology for takeoffs, landings, and stabilizing the passenger.

Slates – Slates are portable, flat screen devices used to access the Network.  They are used most commonly for email, video calls, and research.  They are similar to cell phones and tablets in our world.

The Network – The Network is a world(s) spanning communication tool for transmission of information.  It had existed in several incarnations, and is now on version 3 – the former versions having fallen to magical problems and strange technical problems like Flashminds.  It is usually used for email, video calls, and visiting “sites” of information.  It’s obviously similar to the internet, though the heavy need for security and caution over technology mean it tends to be used more practically and cautiously.

Variable Weapon – A term for customized weaponry, often weaponry that transforms between multiple states, at times in ways that seem to violate the laws of physics.  This functionality is due to magical components that many contain – or components based upon magically created templates.  Variable weapons are carried by technics, members of Warrior Lodges, and some military specialists – but are looked down on as flashy and hard to maintain by many Constables and members of the Military.


The god of technology and engineers is Xomanthu, who is the arguable head of a large gaggle of gods and goddesses involved in the spheres of technology.  He is not the oldest of the gods, but seems to be the most forward thinking and social of his company of deities.  He’s usally portrayed as male or gender-ambiguous, with multiple arms – “Xomanthu’s many hands” is a common invocation, oath, or curse.  Xomanthu likes to be involved in people’s lives, though at times his involvement can be complicating.

– Steve

Changing Tech Culture’s Attitude Towards Women

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com  Steve’s Tumblr)

Management consultant Erwin Van Der Koogh wrote an essay on tech and how women are treated, “This industry and living life on the lowest difficulty setting,”  Go read the entire thing, but he pretty much sums it up by noting that at a tech conference his worst fear is making a mistake, but a female colleague’s worst fear is sexual assault and harassment.

It pretty much sums up issues of women in tech in that they face inordinate issues men don’t face, and these issues are pretty horrific.  When people say white male is the lowest difficulty setting in, say, tech, that’s because we’re not facing the same challenges.  We’re playing a game with infinite lives; women are playing Dark Souls III.

His experiences and those of the woman he writes about are not alone.  I’ve talked about bias in tech to a room nodding sadly.  Everyone in tech who listens can hear stories about sexism.  Just watch the news in tech, and stories of bias pop up repeatedly.

It’s wrong.

It’s wrong on any number of ethical levels, moral levels, societal levels, and civic levels.  Bigotry of any kind is corrosive, acid on the soul, eating away decent things.

It’s wrong in tech, an industry that should put ideas and work and creativity first – but too often doesn’t.  When someone’s gender matters more than their work, then that’s anathema to what we’re supposedly about.

And as a white guy – and if you’re one of me in tech – as Erwin points out, we need to make an effort to solve it.  I’ll put it simply – we’re having a comparatively easy time, we have the (at times unwarranted) attention, so we have the ability to make a difference, and we should.  Else we’re letting our industry be something it shouldn’t be, as well as letting our fellow techs drag themselves down with their own bias.

Tech should be what we think it is.


Erwin proposes solutions where we work on ourselves, which is vital.  Start with yourself – I can thank my lucky stars I had several female managers and co-workers that helped me see sexism and deal with it.

I’d say we also need to call out sexism in tech when possible, be it in person or on Twitter or whatever.  Just get into the habit of it.

However a big thing we should do is change the culture of tech.  To do that, there’s plenty of places to get involved in REALLY changing the culture – the organizations.  If you want to make a difference promote these or help out.  We change the culture by getting involved and supporting women getting into tech – and staying there.

  • Girl Develop IT – A nonprofit that provides accessible programs for women who want to learn coding.
  • Girls Learning Code – A Canadian non-profit that focuses on helping young women learn technical skills in a supportive atmosphere.
  • Girls Teaching Girls To Code – A Bay Area program where women in CS teach Bay Area high school girls to code.
  • Grace Hopper Celebration – Produced by the Anita Borg institute, this is a celebration of women in computing.
  • Ladies Learning Code – A Canadian non-profit that focuses on helping people learn beginner technical skills in a comfortable, social way.
  • Made With Code – Promotes women in coding with projects, events, and mentoring. Has several alliances and supporters.
  • Mothercoders – An organization focused on helping mothers get tech-savvy and up-to-date for this economy
  • National Center For Women And Information Technology – Focuses on correcting gender imbalance in technology, and bringing the balance of diversity to the industry.
  • Rails Girls – A worldwide group that works to empower women with technology.
  • The Ada Initiative – An organization that supports women in technology, with a heavy emphasis on codes of conduct, training, and an embrace of open source.
  • Tech Girls Canada – Provides national leadership for the various industry groups in Canada encouraging women in tech careers.
  • Girls Make Games – A series of international summer camps encouraging girls to explore the world of video games.

The resources are there.

– Steve

Technology, Humanity: Values And What We Value

OK let me wade into the Paul Graham clusterbumble.  For those who haven’t kept up, Graham made a rather bizarre post about economic inequality that pretty much got him roasted like nuts by various people.  Though I think he sort of meant well, it was a bizarre case of self-aggrandizement, ignoring actual inequality issues, and defending some wealth inequality in a way that amplified the other problems of his “position”.  It was, to be charitable, a piece by someone wanting to sound smart and informed and revealing the opposite.

One of the place where his walnuts got toasted was over at Medium, where “Holly Wood” noted his defense’s problems, and this quote stood out, as noted by my good friend Serdar.  In a nutshell it caught everything wrong with the elitist ideas in Silicon Valley (not I don’t say “of” Silicon Valley since it’s a lot more diverse here than people realize).:

You end up going to absurd lengths to rationalize mediocre ideas because they happen to make tons of money instead of questioning the legitimacy of a system that confers so much value on to stupid things. To stay consistent, you have to defend the logic that the creepy women who founded Peeple contribute more value to society than literally thousands of 4th grade teachers.


Serdar rightly notes that this leads us to the uncomfortable position of having to evaluate our values.  Some of our values may not just be bad ideas, they may be actively harmful.

Ultimately our values dictate what we value.  What we think is important affects what we seek out, do, and create.

And, right now, too much tech – too much of society – is based around the idea of the almighty dollar as the arbiter of value over all else.  It doesn’t take much effort to realize that if you ultimately value ‘someone making a ton of money, hopefully me’ it says that your values . . . really aren’t that valuable.  It’s just numbers and pieces of paper being pushed around and biggest pile wins.  It’s trite, meaningless, and damned dangerous when we have other issues to solve and more important things to pursue.

It’s time for technologists – including myself – to ask what our values are and take action to keep, expand, and enhance what is truly of value.

Know what?  The whole pile-of-money-is-best idea is a bad idea.  All it leads to is less  and less people with more and more money, stabbing each other in the back to get to the top of the mountain while everything buns.  You can pretty it up anyway you want, but that’s what money-is-all – an all-to-common value held by people – leads to.  A deathmatch where nothing is left.

Not particularly valuable is it?

As Anil Dash notes in his own essay, it’s time to make our technologies, companies, and what we do with them more humane.  He’s damned right on this.  If technology is only about the biggest pile of money, then it’s worthless, valueless.  It’s just a way station among meltdowns and moneygrabs.

And you know the whole idea that Silicon Valley is a bunch of bloodsucking neo-libertarian asses?  Not true.  Not even some of the people we think are that way.  All of us here are people, and a lot of us are trying.

But I think we need to consider our values. And that should be humanity first, because we’re all human, and it’s better to be human together than inhuman rushing to be last man standing on the then-worthless pile of benjamins.

– Steve