10 May 2022

From Author Morgan

We are excited to feature "Beyond All Known Parameters" by Mike Morgan in the marvelous May 2022 issue of Electric Spec. Mike was kind enough to send along some comments about his story.

Where did Beyond All Known Parameters come from? It came to me in a dream. No, seriously.

Very few of my stories are based on my dreams. Most of my dreams are too fragmented or nonsensical to be worth mining for fiction ideas; this night-time product of too much cheese, though, it stuck with me for days. A man of metal in a world of high fantasy. A Cyberman from Doctor Who who suddenly finds himself in Lord of the Rings, if you will. What would he do? How would he process the reality of magic when he was, without exaggeration, a being constructed out of science? That image, of the metal giant pushing his way through a magical barrier, and winning, because he couldn't see nor accept that it was there... that is straight out of my dream. I needed to do something with that dream-tale.

Of course, sitting down to write I was faced with the reality of taking that dream-image and wrestling it into something a bit more coherent. Where was the metal giant from? What world did he find himself in? What character would make more sense as the narrator? Who were they struggling against?

Then Donald Trump became president of the USA and I saw ignorance and barbarism threatening the institutions of American democracy. Barbarism, I thought: that's what they're fighting. They're the last hope defending something precious, something irreplaceable.

There's a place in Greece called Ionnina. That's a beautiful name, Ionnina. A name to conjure with. Thinking of names is never easy for me, and I was in search for a name for the city of civilization, the city in my fantasy landscape that our heroes, including that metal man, would be defending from barbarians. Ionnia, I called it. How very Greek. Greece is, as you know, the birthplace of democracy.

So, heroes defending civilization from forces that wanted to tear it down, and a metal alien in a world of magic... those were decent ingredients. I felt I could do something with them. But why did the barbarians - I settled on trolls as the foes, echoing the modern enemy found on the internet - why did they want to destroy the results of science and thought and art? What was their motive? Well, Trump came to mind again; they felt slighted, they felt unappreciated, they felt they weren't praised enough... Yes, that seemed right. A narcissist leader who wasn't getting the praise he craved - that'd be the motive. Civilization and progress under imminent threat of annihilation because of one troll's ridiculous hurt feelings.

Now, I needed a hero. Fantasy stories often lack female characters, let alone protagonists. I don't like that in fantasy - give me a woman lead. So, a woman telling the story, I thought. Good. But not a woman in skimpy fantasy armor. No, real armor. A woman who knows how to fight. Someone competent. Someone who starts our story in a state of utter defeat and who can turn that around, who can find victory out of hopelessness, because she's smart, because she's an example of why intelligence wins over brutish hate.

Ah, but what role was the metal giant - let's call him Eldarion - playing in all this? He's an intelligence (literally a personification of intelligence) who has never seen magic before, but he needs to be more than that. He's the source of the victory. In a world of magic, he's the wellspring of the science that saves the day. No wonder the trolls don't see it coming.

The title, you ask? What's that about? A metal man in a land of magic would feel out of his depth. He would be operating well outside his programming. I think many of us know that feeling all too well. I feel it on a regular basis. I especially felt it the day I brought my first child home from the hospital. They're letting me be in charge of this unutterably precious cargo? They're trusting me to drive a car with my baby in it? It's the secret every parent, most particularly every first-time parent, shares - we have no clue what we're doing. (Apologies to everyone else on that Houston freeway that day - I was the guy driving at fifteen miles an hour, terrified of jostling mother and child.) Hopefully, some sense of that came through in the story - of a new parent not knowing how to be a parent. We figure it out, of course. Mostly.

That's the thread that ties it all together. The machine man doesn't understand magic. People in the fantasy land don't understand modern science. But they all understand that feeling of finding themselves off the edge of the map, in a place where they have no idea what to do.

I guess it's familiar territory for us all.

Thanks, Mike! Very interesting!
Be sure to check out "Beyond All Known Parameters" and all the rest of the stories on May 31, 2022!

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