So I’m listening to The Blood of Elves and thinking about breeding magical ability and the The Wheel of Time and all that, and I realized that I’ve never seen anybody go into the population genetics of magic.
What if there was a single mutation, call it Mutation X, that produces a gene (Gene X, obviously), which produces an enzyme that channels energy from the 13th dimension into heat? What would you get?
Exploding babies. That’s what you’d get. Not very advantageous. Especially since they’d probably take out their families too.
Alright, but what if Enzyme X only works in neurons, and only when the neurons are linked in a large and dense network that is undergoing some very specific activity?
I thought of some mutations that might tone down the tendency to explode, but in order for them to have enough time to evolve in the first place, I’d need to start out with a weaker form of Enzyme X, which would take more time to evolve to the point where you could use it to throw fire at people.
So that’s what I did
Our story begins in early Oligocene, when the X Gene first appears in a basal simiiform (the ancestor of monkeys, apes, and humans). After a substantial metabolic investment reaching and sustaining a particular state of cortical activity, these monkeys were rewarded with heat. This mutation allowed them to survive colder environments, which gives magic monkeys a wider range than real-world monkeys. That, in turn, causes some interesting things to happen in Antarctica, but otherwise doesn’t effect the course of history much.
Mutations that up-regulate Enzyme X production or improve the efficiency of either the enzyme or the cortical structures that trigger it pop up regularly. The problem is that raising the brain above 100 degrees c will kill any monkey that tries it. Various solutions evolve, such as living in cold water (don’t swim around the Tierra del Fuego), or restricting magic-use to parthenogenic clones (don’t venture into the baboon-hive). But then apes evolved bigger brains.
Hominids (orangutans, humans, and everything in between) developed the brains to project the energy dump outside of their brains, allowing them to raise the temperature of an arbitrary patch of air to 100 degrees or even higher. This ability was enormously beneficial, but also dangerous. Mutations that decreased Enzyme X production became fixed in orangutans, who make warm patches of air all the time, but to little effect. Other hominids delayed onset of enzyme X expression until puberty. Chimpanzees and hominins have an additional mutation, which makes the magical mental state painful, relegating its use only to dire situations. This made enzyme X safe enough to allow up-regulating mutations to spread, especially in Eurasia.
Australopithecus species evolved one potent form of enzyme X, which allows them to cause explosions anywhere in their visual range. Especially on the Eurasian step, they are deadly predators, and we call them “goblins.”
African Homo hominins evolved up-regulation separately as they migrated north. Homo erectus are less magically powerful, but more intelligent than goblins. We call them “elves.” H. neanderthalensis (“dwarves”) and H. sapiens share language and another up-regulation mutation, but it seems the last mutation was in humans alone. For us, the X-gene is recessive. This allows up-regulatory and pro-efficiency genes to accumulate in heterogeneous individuals, where they can do no damage. And for every cottage hut that explodes, there’s another with a sibling who makes sure the meat is always well done.
It has turned out to be a stable equilibrium. 75% of humans have no more magical ability than a tarsier, but the remaining 25% can, after puberty, and at the cost of intense pain, raise the temperature of anywhere in sight into a furnace hot enough to melt lead. There are rumors of elf-human hybrids who can melt iron with their minds.
So that’s fun.