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Old 3rd August 2007, 05:08 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Society with superpowers

Most stories involving superpowers restrict them to just a few people. "The X-Men" and its X-derivatives imply that the powers come from a next step in the development of the species, but doesn't extrapolate to a future in which such powers are common. "The 4400" seems to be going for a world in which superpowers get more and more common rapidly and become present in at least a large amount of the population if not all of it, but it hasn't really gotten there yet.

I've tried to imagine, for a story I'd write if I were motivated enough to write my stories out all the way , what a society would end up like if magical abilities were widespread, not just restricted to a few wizards and such as they are in most fantasy stories.

"The 4400" seems to be saying so far that a society in which different people all had different powers would be much better off because thsoe powers could be used to solve problems that are hard or impossible to solve in other ways (curing disease, cleaning pollution, growing plants in a desert). The whole series is even based on the idea that something goes very wrong in the future and threatens humanity's survival, and the reason why people were sent back in time to create this world with superpowers was to solve/prevent that problem. But I think they have it backward.

It seems to me that if everyone's ability is different (or at least there are enough that the redundancies seldom or never meet), then everyone, or at least many people with the right kinds of powers, has some way that (s)he can take advantage of or harm others freely, because each one person's power is everybody else's weakness. The result would be anarchy, without law enforcement being able to do anything about those who would misuse their powers. The only reason the system we have now works as well as it does, despite imperfections, is that the authorities generally have more power at their disposal than the criminals do; take that away by making superpowers the main issue instead of technology, and splitting it up into a wider variety of different and unpredictable kinds of power, and criminals become much more likely to get away with it.

The only way I can see around this is if law enforcement agencies somehow had on their side the ones with a certain class of superpowers: the people I'd call "metamutants" because their powers are generally in reference to other people's powers, like the ability to do whatever they can do or to neutralize theirs or to identify their powers so that an appropriate counter can be planned. I'd also include Professor X's ability to take control of other people, since that would also prevent them from using their powers while they're being apprehended or such, and maybe even Hiro Nakamura's time-freezing ability, since other people can't use their powers if time's not passing for them. Notice that these aren't necessarily the most "powerful" people: folks like Iceman, Pyro, Magneto, and Storm can have much greater influence on their surroundings and do more damage to other people and objects, and the ability to fly or turn invisible/undetectable or pass through solid objects would mean you could show up in very sensetive and vulnerable places where you weren't supposed to be and weren't expected. But it seems that they wouldn't be as useful for law enforcement, since then it's always a matter of pitting power against power, which means you can't ensure winning the fight.

But then, how does the law enforcement agency decide whether someone's power is the right kind and (s)he can be accepted? And what do they do about metamutants who don't want to join? (...sorto like what the question of what the galactic Republic did with children who could use the Force but didn't want to be Jedi...)

Of course, if magical powers were generic so everyone essentially had the same set, just not equally, then that's a whole other question with a whole other answer... as is the scenario in which people have the same level/amount of power as well as the same generic type... which also suggests that some technologies would never have been invented because they only do things that people could already do anyway...
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Old 3rd August 2007, 08:26 AM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Society with superpowers

Interesting. But if everyone had powers then only those without powers would be special. If everyone could fly without getting exhausted then there would be no need for cars or planes. If everyone could manipulate fire or water then there would be no need for firefighters, or hosepipes or all sorts of things. If everyone could read thoughts then no one could lie and get away with it.
I think its an interesting idea that super/mutant powers being spread amongst everyone would not only change the way in which lives are lived but would create an uneasy balance between good and evil (as there always is)
But then the powers wouldn't be powers.
As in Iain M Bank's culture novels some of the culture people have such highly developed genes that they could be seen as super powers. I think it's player of games, but when goes to a planet with much higher gravity his body changes to adapt him to the planet, he soon becomes much more muscular. Also in the culture novels they have drug glands that they can use to increase their matabolism, slow time, concentrate, or just plan get hammered.
The thing with super powers is they are never explained scientifically. Like in Heroes, how does Nathan fly, what powers his flight, at least archangel in Xmen had wings that grew. Surely that makes something like Heroes not quie sci-fi as there is no scientific explanation apart from random evolution that explains powers. But although someone might be able to evolve with much better hearing how would someone evolve to create fire, or melt objects.
A story where everyone had evolved a few particular powers might be interesting in that we could see how the society might change.
As for the law, yeah if everyone had powers the law would need some kind of weapon against them. If guns were no longer a threat to someone then they wouldn't be controled by the law unless there was a greater threat to them. Like you say the threat of removnig thier powers.
hmmm, that gives me an idea.
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