“Aspiring to Be Angels” Annotations

Warning: contains spoilers


“Aspiring to Be Angels” is a line from Alexander Pope’s poem “An Essay on Man: Epistle 1.” I first encountered it as the title to issue #49 of DC Comics’ Star Trek, Vol. 1 (April 1988) by Peter David, Tom Sutton, and Ricardo Villagran. In the context of the poem, its sentiment is perhaps a poor fit to the Green Blaze adventures, since the passage it’s from is asserting that “who but wishes to invert the laws / Of order, sins against th’ Eternal Cause”—that is, that humans aspiring to rise to a higher level are committing a fatal act of hubris. True, the story shows that metasapience experiments are self-destructive, but at the same time, the story is also about Emerald learning to trust in her potential for self-improvement. I suppose the title can be taken to refer to Emerald’s own doubts about the wisdom of such aspirations, without actually endorsing those doubts.


Scene 1

 p. 25

Hermes is Arkady’s scout ship, of the same class as Zephyr, Emerald Blair’s ship in Only Superhuman. From the name, the shipmind Hermes is probably another of Stavros DiCenzo’s liberated cybers (see “Murder on the Cislunar Railroad”).

p. 25-6

The Iwakura habitat is basically two pressurized modules connected by an elevator shaft, spinning to create artificial gravity—a simpler, cheaper alternative to a rotating ring, sphere, or cylinder. If one side is “the Institute module” as stated, then the other side may be the residential module, where the Institute employees live when they aren’t at work. Or it may be leased to some other occupant unaffiliated with the Iwakura Research Institute. Since nobody from that module offers any help, they may have also been infected, or else they already fled the station before the Troubleshooters arrived. They may have been the ones who called the Troubleshooters in. In retrospect, I should have addressed this.

p. 26

“us waves in the hologram”: An oblique reference to the holographic principle from string theory, the idea that the physical universe is a 3D holographic projection of some kind of underlying 2D substrate analogous to the event horizon of a black hole. This is actually in the sense that a hologram is a 2D means of storing 3D information, rather than implying that the universe is a simulation, but the speaker fails to understand that distinction.

The technological Singularity is the theoretical point at which AI development accelerates beyond the point where humans can predict or control it, and is often interpreted as a near-supernatural transcendence to posthuman consciousness. SF novelist Ken MacLeod has called it “the Rapture for nerds.”

p. 27

Emerald Blair enrolled in the Troubleshooter Corps in January 2106, as seen in Ch. 14 of Only Superhuman. The normal training regimen is 12 months of study, training, and physical upgrades followed by 6 months of apprenticeship/sidekicking under a senior Troubleshooter. This story is set in November 2106, with Emerald getting her apprenticeship 2 months early. Note that, due to the events of Ch. 1 of OS, Emry also gets promoted to full Troubleshooter 2 months early, so she ended up getting a normal apprenticeship period.

p. 27-8

If the Institute module is separate from the habitat module, it suggests the shower that the woman is coming from is not in private quarters, but perhaps part of a gym or locker room.

p. 30

Arkady’s full name is Arkady Changxievich Nazarbayev, meaning that his father was named Changxi Nazarbayev. Arkady is 3/4 Russian with a Chinese grandmother, presumably, so his father had a Chinese given name but otherwise followed Russian naming patterns. Russians are often addressed familiarly by their first name and patronymic, hence Emry referring to him that way here. Arkady’s patronymic was a detail that got lost in the editing process of Only Superhuman, so I took the opportunity to include it here.


Scene 2

 p. 31-2

“Championym” is my own coinage for a superhero code name, making its debut here. I’m hoping it catches on.

In an earlier draft of the story, Emerald’s candidate championyms also included Wildfire, Flare, and Green Flare. Note that “flare” is a Strider profanity (since solar flares are a deadly hazard), so such a name would’ve been seen as rather rude.


Alice Neal is named after two of the lead characters from Serial Experiments Lain, Lain herself and her friend Arisu (the Japanese rendering of the name Alice). My mental image of her has more in common with Lain, although the story doesn’t describe her in enough detail to pin down a specific ethnicity. I prefer to think she’s of multiethnic ancestry, like a large percentage of Striders would probably be.

The instability of metasapience was a theory I devised as a storytelling convenience, to explain why the AIs and aliens in my fiction were at a human-equivalent level of intelligence rather than a post-Singularity level. Of course, the real explanation was that I started writing stories in this universe before I ever heard of the Singularity. Once SF dealing with the Singularity and trans/posthumanism became common, I realized I needed a rationale for the lack of such sapiences in my fiction. But once I developed the “Goldilocks Zone” idea, it opened the door to new story possibilities like this one.

Here’s some discussion of the link between schizophrenia and excessive imagination: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beautiful-minds/200903/are-people-schizophrenia-living-dream

And on the connection between paranoia and overactive pattern recognition: https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/the-rise-of-paranoia/

Overall, the modern understanding of mental illness suggests that it’s the result of natural neurological processes being amplified to an excessive degree. This was part of what led me to the idea of sapient thought as a matter of achieving a dynamic balance between neurological processes.

p. 34

“unroll a couple extra dimensions”: Emry is referring to the idea in string theory that our universe contains 10 or 11 dimensions, most of which are “rolled up” on a microscopic scale too small to detect.

Bozhe moi is Russian for “My God.”


Scene 3

 p. 35

Overload/Daniel Weiss and the rest of the Freakshow gang were seen in Chapters 6 and 10 of Only Superhuman.

p. 36

The lover who tried to cheat off of Emry in the original Troubleshooter novel was a woman named Deena George. In the first draft of Only Superhuman, I gave that storyline to Emry’s former lover and Freakshow co-founder Javon Moremba, giving him some closure by having him try to follow Emry’s path to reform but falling short. But using Javon in “Aspiring” would have required filling in too much backstory, so I reverted to a version of the original character instead. It’s fortunate, because it allows me to have at least one story in Among the Wild Cybers that features a same-sex relationship.

Deema’s outing of Emry’s juvenile record plugs a minor plot hole in OS—how her role as the Banshee became public knowledge after her juvenile record was sealed. This was part of the deleted Javon subplot.

p. 37

It was pointed out to me several years ago that Only Superhuman had been somewhat vague in depicting the Green Blaze’s physical strength. I didn’t have her performing a lot of the feats of strength that are a staple of many superhero stories. That was something I wanted to remedy, so in rewriting this story, I tried to insert a number of “superstrength beats” like Emry tearing a metal door open with her fingernails.


Scene 4

 p. 38

Emry’s pep talk to herself about there being no shame in losing as long as you didn’t stop trying is a deliberate homage to The Amazing Spider-Man #33, “If This Be My Destiny…!” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, in which Spider-Man has one of his most iconic moments of triumph and utters some of Stan Lee’s most inspiring words. It’s the second time I’ve homaged that monologue, the first being in the climax of Spider-Man: Drowned in Thunder, when Spidey remembered those words from his past to rally his will to resist another overwhelming challenge. Note that I established Emry as a fan of Spider-Man in Only Superhuman, with his trademark lesson about great power and great responsibility implicitly being a key factor in her decision to apply to the Troubleshooter Corps in the first place. So the choice to echo Spidey’s classic monologue in her thoughts is as much hers as mine.

I’ve long seen Emerald as a very similar character to Spider-Man—a wisecracking comic hero on the surface, but driven by childhood tragedy and an overinflated sense of guilt and responsibility.

p. 39

“She was fixated by every striation of the girl’s irises”: This is a Serial Experiments Lain nod. The art style in that show included some strikingly meticulous rendering of characters’ eyes in close-up.

p. 40

More on Matrioshka brains: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matrioshka_brain


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