Susan
The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey


Frequently Asked Questions

    Q -- If her name is Sara Corel, then why is the book named 'Susan'?
    A
-- It's a surprise, hopefully an amusing one. You'll just have to read through the book to find out. And when you do -- please, no death threats...

    Q -- Will we ever find out anything about the beings that sent her?
    A
-- Not in my lifetime, I'm afraid. That's why they're called Cryptoaliens, 'crypto-' being a combining form that means 'unknown'. One could speculate that they're Cryptonians from Cryptonia on the planet Crypton, and that would make Sara a Cryptonite.
    The whole purpose of sending Sara to us is as a kind of test of our character, to see if we've got what it takes to choose our own destiny as a race. We're not allowed to look in the back of the book for answers.
    And there's the Prime Directive concept, whereby a highly advanced civilization would forbear from contaminating a developing civilization with technology they aren't ready to handle. The very fact that humans are around at all can only mean one of two things: that there are no advanced civilizations out there, or they are very ethical.

    Q -- Why now?
    A
-- It won't be long before our species will come barging in on the ancient and glorious cultures that have populated our galaxy for billions of years. Next thing you know, humans will be working in every convenience store and fast food joint in this quadrant. Then it'll be too late.
    And then there's this computer thing. More and more, they're becoming important, even vital, to our everyday lives. It won't be long before just about everything becomes integrated -- linked and controlled by the world-spanning instrumentality of the Internet. We're only scratching the surface so far. But just imagine what a really huge, tremendously advanced super-duper computer with the capability of communicating with every device we have could mean for our planet.
    That would be Sara.

    Q -- You mentioned in the Interlude story that Sara is some kind of 'degenerate'.
    A
-- That means she is made of 'degenerate matter', which is what you get when a star runs out of fuel and gets fantastically compressed. That process is carried to an extreme in a supernova, when a very large star blows up, leaving either a black hole (very bad -- try not to fall into one) or a neutron star (very heavy -- more than twice the mass of the sun, but only 20 miles across!). The interior of such a starcinder is pure 'neutronium', and the crust is solid crystalline degenerate iron. It's just unbelievably strong material -- ironically, in a place where even such fantastic strength is irrelevant.
    Sara's actually just a thin film of the stuff, a kind of human-shaped soap bubble. Colin Roald, a reader (who happens to be an actual scientist), figured out how much she 'weighs' based on this information:

    Okay, a square foot is about a tenth of a square metre, so ten thousand square feet is about a thousand square metres. For 'thinner than a soap bubble', call it 1 micron thick, so we have 1e-3 m3 volume. Water weighs 1000 kg/m3, and iron is heavier than this; call it 10 times for sake of argument. This gives us a mass of 10 kg for 0.001 cubic metres of iron. This nearly-degenerate stuff you're talking about is 1e12 times heavier that that, which means her skin only(!) weighs 1e13kilograms.
    That's 10 billion metric tonnes! She'd better be permanently levitating, or she'll crush whatever she steps on.

    Sure she's permanently levitating. Don't know how -- those durned Cryptoaliens are too clever for me. Her walking -- all of her movements, actually -- is a simulation. She's got a no-brainer default setting in her software that lets her simulate about 125 pounds (yeah, I'm a pounds guy) and an appropriate amount of inertia for that virtual mass. Had to start out that way or she'd still be oscillating back and forth through our planet (negligible friction to mass ratio). But she can choose anything from zero to whatever.
    That makes her a pretty stable platform when necessary.
    It gets worse.

    The gravitational constant is 6.7e-11 N m2/kg2, which means that a 70-kg human who steps within 1 metre of her will be attracted by a force of 47,000 N, or 10,000 pounds! Whatever her levitation mechanism is, it had better be able to nullify her intrinsic gravity entirely.

    I was afraid of that. My calculations were way off here, figuring only a fraction of that. Which still has to gotten rid of, somehow. I suppose, if the aliens can levitate her, they can take care of the rest of it, too. They've had a few billion years to figure it out.
    Arthur C. Clarke once wrote something like, "An alien technology that is sufficiently advanced would be indistinguishable from magic."

    Q -- Recently I read Beyond Star Trek: Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time by Lawrence M. Krauss. In this book Mr. Krauss postulates some interesting theories on future computers that would utilize quantum circuitry, that is, circuitry that operates on a subatomic level. I think that given the complexity of Susan's internal computer, it must be based on the principles of quantum circuitry. So is my hypothesis sound? Or am I way off base here? I mean, I'm just curious.
    A
-- I've had some fun with the concept of Sara as an artifact produced by an extraterrestrial civilization so advanced that we puny earthlings can only guess at processes we may not even be able to understand. Since she is fundamentally indestructible, our best scientists can't open her up to see how she ticks, and since she is purposely ignorant, she can't answer our questions. I would think this would be highly frustrating to real, live, actual scientists, but several of them have told me such an insoluble puzzle would be a wonderful challenge.
    I've heard of the book you mentioned, but haven't read it. The concept of using quantum circuitry is probably an accessible technology, meaning that it's within our ability to master eventually. I wonder what tricks lie beyond such technology, though. It may be possible that if humans continue their scientific progress through the next billion years, other, more subtle processes might be discovered. I am assuming, for purposes of my story, that Sara's Cryptoalien creators have at least a billion years head start on us -- which is probably reasonable. Of course, there may be a limit to discoveries at some point, but I don't think that the limit is accessible to us at this time.
    I think that the best our scientists can do regarding theories of Sara's internal processes and construction is to attribute her abilities to something an indeterminate number of evolutionary steps beyond the most far-fetched ideas they can imagine.
    Still, even a merely quantum-based computer would have some awesome potential, considering that it appears that Sara is constructed from a few billion tons of highly degenerate matter from the surface of a neutron star and that every bit of it is part of the vast computer that constitutes her makeup. Sort of like a mountain of Pentium-Zillion chips in a massively parallel matrix, compressed to human proportions. We're talking Mega-Googolbytes of RAM here. You'd think she'd have a twelve-figure IQ. Might be the biggest challenge her makers had was suppressing some of that so that we could carry on a conversation with her.

    Q -- In the relative comparison Chart on your website, you state that Sara has no telekinetic powers. However, I have thought of a way she could simulate them.
    You have stated in your stories that Sara's eyes can perceive and project most of the electromagnetic spectrum. It should therefore be theoretically possible for her to project an electromagnetic 'tractor beam' from her eyes, which she can use to attract, repel, or hold an object or person in place. As long as she kept her eyes on whatever she was moving, she wouldn't drop it.
    What you think?
    A
-- Great idea. A tractor beam isn't actually a telekinetic power, per se, but it would be a reasonable facsimile thereof. Tractor beams are generally accepted in most classic science fiction, so I don't think too many readers would have a big problem with it. If her Cryptoalien makers can achieve anti- and/or null-gravity, this should be a piece of cake. I don't currently have any narrative use for such a talent, so far, but it may be an interesting thing for the boys at NASA to discover.
    I had already planned for Sara to have a 'magnetic personality'. I don't see why she couldn't generate an extremely powerful magnetic field, localized to any part of her body she wants. Perhaps strong enough to rip the steel rebars out of a concrete highway from several feet away. Which would also imply the ability to generate an electric current. How about a nice, blindingly brilliant electric arc between the index fingers of her outstretched arms? Would a couple of billion volts be sufficient? Would you like that in AC or DC?
    Actually, I wanted her to have that ability so that she could get a better grip on things, at least if they're metallic. Actually, such an ability is necessary in order to produce radio waves and x-rays, so it's not too much of a stretch.
    One little thing -- her eyes aren't really eyes. There is no transparency to her 'lenses'. They are a simulation caused by the microscopic software control of her 'skin's' surface (a complex, almost quantum-level folded topography) to produce a holographic effect. This attribute gives texture and color to the different parts of her skin, costume, hair, etc. To paraphrase another reader, she can query every photon that impinges upon any part of her surface as to direction, energy and frequency. Her computer brain unravels and organizes all this data and delivers a simulation of 'seeing' with her 'eyes' to her AI consciousness, in a manner that closely resembles what humans would see -- even though she can actually 'see' in all directions at once, from low infrared to hard x-rays and neutrinos. That's called 'kreening', though there is an active element to it as well (radar, sonar, magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography), plus stuff like gravitometry, interferometry and (for all I know) dowsing. Anything our technology can come up with, she's got it -- and then some. It's mostly in the background, closely monitored by AI information gathering and evaluation routines in her computer brain, but she can access any information she wants, or interesting phenomenon can be passed up to her consciousness if necessary.
    Well, the point is, the tractor beam can emanate from any point, not just her eyes. For that matter, so can her laser emissions. But I thought the 'glowing irises' image would be cool. And, after all, Alex was looking for some kind of light emission from her eyes, in accordance with the familiar comic book paradigm. Sara was only too happy to oblige.
    And, remember, she demonstrated a sort-of telekinetic power in Chapter Six: School, when she zapped her peas around the table with little laser bursts, causing tiny explosions on one side. I believe her computer brain would be fast enough to effect the same kind of trick on, say, a few simultaneous streams of machine gun bullets. And she could probably chew gum at the same time.

    Q-- What's with the two 'Interludes'?
    A
-- Well, the first one is probably part of Sara's training, a way for her to assimilate some of the popular cultural elements she'd been exposed to up to that point as a basis for integrating into our society. Our literature and movies tell every one of us a lot about ourselves, and this is a way of dealing with that and internalizing the influences of her adopted world.
    There's also the element of extrapolation, wherein some of the situations she encounters are schematics of the kinds of dealings she can expect to have with human society. As a literary device, it allows me to set up some situations later in the novel. When the reader (and Sara) eventually comes to appreciate the duality of Sara's nature, it will become apparent that this was actually a trip 'within' Sara to confront her alter-ego, Susan. The vast, underground, alien computing machine is a metaphor for the Cryptoalien artifact that hosts Sara's personality.
    The second one is a 'spirit quest' through humanity's varied mythologies. It's purposely ambiguous as to whether or not Sara's actually 'dead' or just having another virtual reality trip -- as a means of emphasizing the inherent unknowableness of the state of being we call 'life'. She -- and we -- can never be sure if our experiences are truly authentic or if reality itself is a subset of another kind of virtual reality.
    Both of the Interludes have common elements. For one thing, there's a major shift to Sara as the POV (Point of View) character for the duration. In the rest of the story (the Parts), the focus is on humanity's interaction with and reaction to the Cryptoalien gift, as a way of holding a mirror up to ourselves. The Interludes are also a lot busier than the rest of the story, more of an action/adventure kinda thing. I hope you realize that each eight chapter Interlude has more stuff going on in them than most sci-fi bookshelves.
    Maybe someday I'll write a few more, completely apart from the novel's story arc. They're a lot of fun to write and they can be about practically anything -- not even the sky is the limit.

    Q -- Is your story set in our universe?
    A -- Not at all. For one thing, the analogues of the characters in some of our movies, TV shows, literature, comics -- as well as other popular cultural icons -- are regular people in the Susan universe (except that they happen to be completely different). Their shows and comics are populated with people from our universe. As a matter of fact, in the Susan universe, you happen to be a very popular superhero.
    Yeah, you. (Personally, I think you look really stupid in lavender tights.)
    Well, duh... It can't happen in our universe, because Sara changes things. That's the whole point of this little exercise. It's a thought experiment. You know, like what if there really were these Cryptoaliens? If they have chosen to not interact with us up 'till now, what changes in our cultural evolution might necessitate First Contact? And what's the best way to accomplish it?
    So I take some ideas I have about such things and surround my characters with them. What happens is up to them. I just write it down.

    Q -- Why is it that Alex seems to be the main character most of the time? Isn't this a book about Sara? Or Susan, or whatever...
    A -- Alex represents a time-honored literary tradition. He is Everyman. That doesn't mean he gets to wear Spandex with an 'E' on his chest. He's a stand-in for the rest of us, a very flawed human being with whom a lot of people can identify. He's like Charlie Brown, Homer Simpson, the Man On the Street, Willie and Joe, Adam, you, me. Prior to Sara's arrival, he was just a poor slob who lived in a sort of idyllic analogue of the Garden of Eden. His interaction with Sara represents our interaction with -- well, let's just call it 'The Unknown' for now (don't want to give anything away).
    There are other archetypes. Dinah, for instance -- the closest thing to a traditional superhero in the book. She represents the Rule of Law. That's why Alex's submission to her in Chapter Eight (Everyman's submission to the Rule of Law) is so important, especially in the last half of Part Three.
    I guess you can figure out what Bruce Wayans represents. Now for a tough one -- Mrs. J. If you figure it out, let me know. The Cryptos haven't even told me yet.

    Q -- Comic books. TV shows. Literature. Movies. Why are you using so many characters from these sources?
    A -- I'm not. Perhaps you think I am because you note a vague similarity in some of the names. Well, that's just part of the joke. Actually, for instance, Alex Luther is nothing like the criminal mastermind you're probably thinking of. People call him 'Brainiac' (a common enough appellation for people who use words like 'appellation'). They don't mean it as a compliment. He takes it as one.
    Likewise for the alien robot known as Sara Corel. OK, so she looks kinda like another fictional blond girl that's super-strong, bulletproof and flies. There's so much more to Sara, though, than that superbimbo in the comics. Like her personality, for one thing. And her origins, physical makeup, other powers like kreening, and her essential Internet connectivity (her main role and function on our planet) as a super-duper-supercomputer. Also, she's no crime fighter, doesn't battle monsters from outer space (she is one), has a bit of an overeating problem, and has a much better class of friends. And you may have noticed that -- in spite of all her powers and abilities -- nothing much really seems to go all that right for her, often as not. If she could, she'd gladly trade her stupid 'S' for what's behind Door Number Three.
    Actually, the inspiration for a lot of what I'm doing comes more from the anime tradition than US comix. Take the relationship between Sara and Alex. It's in the spirit of the wise (but usually bumbling, comic relief) teacher, mentor, sensei of the young (often female) hero(ine) with great powers who is often a 'marionette' or 'metal idol' or synthetic creature of some kind. Dinah is the oh-so-serious companion who provides ethical guidance based on duty, patriotism, sacrifice -- it's a kinda Japanese thing. And the relationship with Jimmie is just the sort of soap-opera teen romance that permeates anime, complete with tragic betrayal, seduction gone awry, hidden motivations and inconclusive outcome.
    Sure, there are references to a lot of books and movies and other pop culture in the First Interlude, but that's the point. The characters therein are not what they seem (naturally). Gundolph is Alex. Surely you figured that one out. Soloman, the Wizard of Haughz, is based on a certain very slick President of the US of A. The obnoxious secretary is Lanna. Do I need to list them all? Anyway, her internal virtual reality integrates all of the influences she's been exposed to and extrapolates tendencies into her future. It's meant as a fable, with elements of parody and literary criticism thrown in by the author to keep everybody guessing.


Table of Contents

Patrick Hill, 2000