About Hypergenius

So that’s not my view, and it’s not how I’ve been writing these characters. But there is definitely differences between them. I’m writing this post about how that works.

In my view, hypergenius is entirely dependent on the mundane human qualities of the person in question.

In the real world, there’s always a stumbling effort toward an end goal. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” In this universe, hypergenius is the ability to jump to that thousanth step. It will certainly take attempts and learning experiences along the way, but if you can do a thing, you will do it faster and better than anyone else in your field. It prunes unproductive failures from the branching tree of possibilities.

That success unlocks other doors, of course. Once you have a lightbulb, and understand how it works, what do you do with that? You follow that path and you eventually get to CRT monitors, light-emitting diodes, etc. But you can get there in months, not decades.

There’s some cutscenes back in the original game, here and here that talk about the mechanics behind it. What they amount to is: whatever delivers a pleasurable or positive impulse to the brain, whatever signifies success and satisfaction, is what the effect will select for. But that’s totally unique! If Sidorov likes magnets, he’s going to be really good with magnetic tech aaaaand that’s it. Alycia isn’t out there building things but she’s really into stealth and infiltration and intelligence analysis and martial arts, so she’s nearly flawless at all those things. And someone like Dr. Chin, whose mind won’t settle for less than world domination, is good at… everything you’d need to dominate the world. Which is everything.

Marvel 1602 had a great bit where the Reed Richards of that time was sitting there thinking “what if light had a speed”. Individual geniuses can get a lot done, even just by inference (Stephen Baxter’s “Manifold: Time” gives a good explanation of how a genius kid figured out relativity by looking at gold, and you can infer things about the history of the universe just by looking at the night sky and asking the right questions). But you’re still limited by what you know to get things done (Leo can build amazing robots, but he just can’t do nanotech yet because he doesn’t know the science, for example). Alycia still needed training to do what she does, and even with her patches, Nono can’t pick up that kind of super-spyness in one day just by watching that. She has the drive, but not the mundane expertise.

There’s definite synergies between mundane genius (here defined as the ability to form mental connections efficiently) and hypergenius (the ability to shortcut through the bullshit of an iterative process). And even if not, there’s both biological and psychological reasons why a power like this is unstable. Too much of it, and you’d become consumed by the need to indulge in it. Inventing stuff becomes a Skinner Box where you’re just fiddling with stuff to get that hit of success, because your brain works in such a way that you can get it much faster. And the mutation can jump to new interests, as Rossum noted with Leo - math to fighting, because Leo as a nerdy weirdo had to defend himself a lot. But that could become cancerous, or otherwise detrimental, as one part of the brain starts taking over other parts.

So the world definitely has its share of lab explosions and tragic failures and the like, but the reasons why there aren’t more world-dominating big brains extend far past that, and I’m happy with that because it gives me a lot of room to tell a lot of stories.

A conceit of “mad scientist” types in comics is that they invent these amazing gadgets that can never be replicated. Well, why not? As mentioned, stories like “Girl Genius” tell us that the inventor is somehow warping reality, and that’s not really something you can build a factory to replicate.

I try to be a little more respectful of the integrity of the cosmos here, so the reasons why the world isn’t filled with hypergenius inventions comes down to reasons like these:

The inventor doesn’t want the thing replicated, and has taken steps to ensure that. This is where Dr. Chin would add self-destruct devices to his gadgets before Byron Quill got his hands on them, and that’s why Jason had to sprint out of the base just ahead of the onrushing fireball.

The would-be replicators can’t figure out the key features or processes that makes the gadget work. All of Leo’s gadgets are grounded in real science - I’ve made sure of that. Carbon allotropes, graphene batteries, etc. are all theoretically possible. We might be able to build a robot as strong and tough as Summer. But Leo did. How? By arranging these things in the specific ways that made them work. If Saito’s scientists pull the X-18 suit apart, can they figure that out? Maybe, maybe not. Leo doesn’t seem too worried about it, but maybe he should be?

Someone or something is stopping the effort. Maybe Sidorov built a hundred hover-tanks, and maybe he had a factory to make ten more every day - except a rival bombed the shit out of it, and the hypertech needed to make the factory was extremely expensive. And part of AEGIS’s mandate is to roll up on reckless inventors and take appropriate action.

The inventor wants replication, but isn’t in a position to arrange it yet. Leo wants to profit off his carbon tech, mostly by selling cheap and durable construction materials. But he doesn’t have the marketing muscle or influence to do this yet. Aria is working on it, but she’s got a limited reach of her own.

What all these things do is take the problem out of comic-book cosmology, and put it squarely where I as a writer want it: in the realm of human conflict.

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Which is completely legit. Different writers off the same source material, and as long as there is a general consistency from the preceding material, it’s all cool (Midichlorians! Wait, unhelpful example). On consideration, a less developed version of my thoughts here have run through supers games I’ve been doing for a long time to explain why we don’t all have Fantasticars, but “super genius” is a trope that’s been explained all sorts of ways, and your explanation (super-extrapolation!) certainly makes as much sense as any other, and seems emininently workable in the situation.

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I could ramble about status quo in comics and how I admire the MCU for pushing big changes onto their world without also disrupting daily life. Instead I’ll just say that every plot device should serve a story purpose, and that I try to create economical devices - one conceit, many new applications. This interpretation of inventive genius gives me:

  • an explanation of why we don’t have a world full of geniuses (the mutation breeds true, but is more and more lethal in the second and third generations)
  • multiple ways to interfere with the power (chemical treatments, advanced dimensional science)
  • clear differentiation between characters (not everyone with the gift is a scientific polymath)
  • superhuman capability in other fields (computer hacking, magic, law…) without forcing me to write true superhuman intellect
  • Nono’s patches, where instead of just being born blessed, someone can struggle to achieve a new power
  • Leo’s wish to transfer the gift to his robot creations, making them truly independent

This is one reason worldbuilding is so important to me - the story you make has to rest on the world you build, and a solid foundation can support a lot of story. :smiley: