Indistinguishable from Magic

No, this isn’t a blog devoted to how awesome Aaron Diaz is (although he deserves one >sigh<). This is where I think about alien technology.

As Arthur C. Clark famously said and the Strugatsky brothers demonstrated so well, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. That means that if, for example, we ever meet aliens, they will probably be using devices that:

a) make their lives easier or more convenient

b) don’t make any sense

and c) don’t play well with humans (not having been designed for us to use)

So what can we expect from alien magic-technology? Here are some of my ideas. Add yours in the comments.

  1. pixielights (are these glowing, swarming light sources animals of some kind? Robots? Windows into the hearts of stars or other universes? All we know is they fly around, illuminating whatever people look at, and they breed)
  2. the constituator (this field breaks objects apart into their constituent mono-elements)
  3. a foreshort telescope (actually a tube that is shorter on the inside than the outside. A small one appears to be a telescope. A big one is an FTL superhighway.)
  4. A 4D cannon (shoots you or your luggage on a parabola through the fourth dimension, meaning when you “land” you pop into 3-space somewhere far away from where you set off. An alternative means of FTL travel)
  5. inertia canceller. (decouples mass from inertia. Sorry, Einstein.)
  6. a four to threespace down convertor (just like a 3 dimensional gas can suck heat off a 2-D surface, this thing sucks up ambient heat)

Other ideas?

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  • Adam Thaxton

    Oh, I loved the hell out of Roadside Picnic.

    Given that there are some weird things being done with gases lately – namely, data storage, “below” zero kelvin energy storage, and molecularly stacked microrockets, you could have literal cloud computers that behave like swarms and can change their matter state at will.

    Sound beads – these are little black things that look like scabs or blood clots and they emit a horrible grinding noise when picked up. Are they music devices or components to something bigger?

    The Rod – it’s about half a meter tall, hovers two meters above any nearby solid surface, and every twenty hours and fifteen minutes, emits pulses of light that reify into sodium when the come into contact with hydrocarbons.

    • dan

      Do you have a link for that ” “below” zero kelvin energy storage”? Cause that sounds really interesting.

      What you’re describing sounds to me like utility fog (, which is definitely a cool concept. I can imagine an alien gentleman walking around with a nimbus or halo of vaporized computer.

      I like the idea of objects that make noise when you touch them (or look at them? or think about them?) And how do they make noise? They have nothing resembling speakers; they just cause the air to vibrate. Loudly.

      The Rod is very…specifically enigmatic. What happens to whatever it was that the beam of light hit?

      Another idea that occurred to me was a computer program that, when run, generates electricity. From what? Oooh.

  • dan

    I read that article and what I understood of it sure sounded like magic. Insane. And it reminds me of this:


    Something like this, but actually impossible, not just seemingly impossible.

    Also, something that looks like a written language, but interacts with some weird hidden technology, such that the “writing” tells the object what to do. What if the material that responds to the writing is infectious somehow? Maybe it can silently convert ordinary matter into writing-matter, without seeming to have changed outwardly.

    • dan

      Chinese puzzle balls are the most awesome things evar!
      Perhaps the aliens could do something with higher dimensions, where the balls or projections off them seem to pass through each other?

      And I like the idea of magic writing that changes the behavior of real objects like programming language in a computer. The fact that the apparently inert writing effects All objects in the area only makes it more magical.

  • dan

    And here’s some stuff I wrote on the way home last night: alien weapons. Or anything alien things we humans use as weapons:
    teleport sideways and die
    willow wisps controlled by hand signals
    superinfinite temperature
    puff into froth