Light Novel Review: 魔法の色を知っているか? What Color is the Magic? – 森博嗣

what_color_is_the_magic(mahou no iro wo shitteiruka? – Mori Hiroshi)

This is the second book in the W series. If you haven’t read Does She Walk Alone you’ll probably want to start there. The back story is rehashed a bit, but I don’t think it’s quite enough for you to want to start from the second book. The books in this series are coming out every few months lately, and these are not the only novels Mori has been releasing during this time. I can’t even imagine how he is able to write so quickly!

One neat thing about this book is that it brings in Magata Shiki from Subete ga F ni Naru, which I think may be a common occurrence in Mori’s books. It’s interesting that many of his stories are loosely connected, and it’s nice to know that there are years worth of books available, so I won’t be running out anytime soon.

One thing that makes me cringe is that when Hagiri Sensei is looking at videos of a district in Tibet that has been isolated from the rest of the world, and there are people of different races there, he thinks that the people who are not asian look like tourists. They are likely dressing and acting the same as everyone else, so I find it jarring that he considers race to be enough to automatically to categorize someone as a tourist.

Another thing that makes this book interesting is that it references FM radio communication as an antique technology that could resist efforts to jam transmissions. I’ll translate a short passage where Hagiri Sensei is thinking about why someone is able to listen to a radio, even during a communication blackout.

長い波長の領域は、最近の通信で利用されていないため、それの対処を怠ったのかもしれない。また、もしかしたら、いまでもアナログ変調による電波がどこかで発信されていて、このラジオはそれを受信しているのかもしれない。アナログであれば、全領域を同時に完全遮蔽することが困難になる。アナログならば、とぎれとぎれになっても、人間には連続した音に聞こえるからだ。

Since bands with long wavelengths haven’t been used for communication recently, maybe countermeasures were neglected. Or could it be that analog modulated radio waves are still being transmitted from somewhere, and this radio is receiving them? If it’s analog, blocking the whole spectrum simultaneously is a challenge because with an analog signal, even if it’s broken into bits and pieces, a human can hear a continuous sound.

It seems like they must be blocking communications using a brute force method by broadcasting in a way that increases the noise level across the entire radio spectrum. This would take a lot of power. Usually digital transmission methods using a spread spectrum would be more resistant to jamming, but maybe in this case they are focusing on jamming spread spectrum signals so their equipment is designed raise the noise level across a broad spectrum and block everything.

Based on the article about radio jamming from Wikipedia, jamming an FM signal would be relatively less challenging. You don’t need to add noise to every frequency simultaneously, but only scan a wide range of frequencies quickly and output noise on top of any signal you find. I would guess the reason FM signals are getting through in the story is that the power of the jamming noise in the narrow band where the FM content is contained is not enough to block the signal completely.

The FM signal blocking would be easy to implement with the right resources, but in the future world of this series, electronics development has stalled out. Maybe, even though the technology is there, they are short on people to apply it. It would be nice to see more detail about the case for analog signals being harder to jam. I have to make a lot of assumptions to try and figure out what is going on, but I think I’m happy leaving it at, “counter measures were neglected”.

The relevant part of the the jamming challenges described in the book is that the complex and amazing ability of the human brain to process a corrupted signal is highlighted. This ties into the main theme of the series, which is the philosophical difference between humans and machines.  I think the discussion about this topic is just beginning in the series, and I’m interested to see where it leads. I’ll have to see if I can read fast enough to catch up before the series is finished, because it would be fun to be waiting on a new book to be released.

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