I know we’re still exploring the “Old West”of Mistborn with the upcoming release of The Bands of Mourning (which sounds like it may be bananas) but first I have a couple of really important questions. 1.) Where are the allomantic/feruchemical mecha? and 2.) Give them to me.
The Wax & Wayne quadrilogy is beginning to raise a lot of questions about Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn universe, as well as his Cosmere at large. Why does Scadrial’s “new” god Harmony seem kind of negligent? What’s going on in the southern hemisphere, if anything? Why does it seem like no one on Scadrial ever takes a shower? And when will allomantic and feruchemical technology emerge?
It’s this last question that interests me as a Mistborn fan, not only because I think it eventually leads to faster-than-light travel, but because it’s just plain fun to think of modern day technology and how it could be improved or altered if people were able to imbue objects with allomantic or feruchemical abilities that could be used by normal folks. Steel hoverboards! Zinc-plated speaker systems at dance clubs! Temporal metal computer systems! Hell… combine this with hemalurgy and you would have a whole new field of medicine.
These are all fun ideas, according to my therapist, but the more I thought about it the more it seemed like being able to invest technology with allo/feru/hema abilities would be a societal tipping point for the world of Scadrial. Once access to these powers was so widely opened, once they stopped being “special” and became widespread foundational knowledge, then some really weird stuff would get developed. The only barrier would be the maker’s imagination.
So while I would really love to see how allo/feru/hema tech gets figured out in the first place, part of me also just wants to skip ahead to the really batty stuff. Give me allomantic mecha!*
*Why? Not important. Having a giant mecha is its own reason!
How would the allomantic powers be utilized in a mecha? Or a giant jaeger? Let’s go through the allomantic table and speculate madly.
Steel – This is perhaps the most important metal to consider when thinking about allomantic mecha, as this is the material a mecha would be constructed from. Steel is what makes skyscrapers possible, as it maintains its load-bearing strength without sacrificing flexibility. It is also extremely handy as a conduit material, allowing designers to channel vibrational forces into other materials, like concrete, that can safely absorb and negate them. Iron and carbon are abundant in the crust of rocky planets, and thanks to the discovery of the Bessemer process, steel is also easy to mass-produce with limited technology. (It also LOVES to rust and its pliable properties make it susceptible to forced resonance, but we’ll get to that.)
If the world of Scadrial figures out how to imbue allomantic abilities into technology, then the mere presence of a giant steel mecha would be a devastating weapon. Steel lets an allomancer push on other metals, flinging them away if they are of less weight than the individual pushing them. If a steel mecha is itself using an allomantic push, then the weight of that mecha would lend tremendous power to its allomantic pushes. A giant mecha could known down an entire building with a distant wave of its hand. And a jaeger could flatten an entire city before it ever reached it!
Iron – Iron enables an allomancer to “pull” other metals towards it. There would be a fair share of iron mixed in with the steel construction of a mecha, but as opposed to the offensive power steel would provide, iron and its allomantic abilities would probably be better used in ensuring the structural integrity of the mecha.
Due to the sheer size of a mecha (think everything from “slightly larger RoboCop” to “walking skyscraper”), each step it took would generate vibrational force, or shock, to the mecha’s frame. One consequence of this is that the shock would rattle loose the thousands, if not millions, of connective parts between the machinery of the mecha. Iron supports and joints could alleviate this by absorbing the compressing and expanding forces of the shock, and by maintaining a precise allomantic “pull” with the metals around it. The pull would need to gauged in conjunction with steel-pushing, so that the movements and stress on the mecha are calculated exactly. Otherwise, too strong a pull might collapse the mecha, or too weak a pull would result in its leg parts flying away whenever it took a step.
Pewter – Pewter increases physical strength and endurance, and while that seems straightforward, it gets confusing when you apply it through technology. Is a person still burning pewter and applying its effects to the mecha, or can a mecha itself burn pewter? If the mecha can burn pewter, then that would undoubtedly be a huge help in making the mecha strong enough to prevent being torn apart by its own weight. This would raise the uncomfortable question of whether the mecha was sentient, however. And if burning pewter makes the mecha sentient, does that make it wrong for humans and allomancers to control it?
Tin – Burning tin to increase senses would be of the utmost important in a giant mecha. A mecha’s mechanical systems would require constant maintenance, and tin is a logical shortcut to creating effective and powerful internal and external sensors for a mecha.
There’s a question of how tin would function in this regard. If a machine is itself a sensor, then does pairing it with tin make the sensor more detailed? Does it increase that machine’s sensor range? Does it do anything to the machine’s functionality or does it only affect the end-user? For example, say we were pairing tin with a sphygmomanometer. Would it give a more detailed read-out of your blood pressure because it can sense minute changes more easily? Or would it simply make the person feel the machine’s pressure sleeve more intensely? Sphygmomanometer, you raise so many questions!
Zinc – Zinc, as an allomantic material that enflames emotions, would undoubtedly have a wide sphere of influence when used by a giant mecha. Would this be at all useful, though? Emotional manipulation is a delicate art, one based primarily on the context it is used within. A mecha dropping a zinc bomb (or field, or sphere, or whatever you want to call it) could enflame an entire city, but to what end? Zinc inflammation doesn’t immediately equal actual riots, so what good is it for?
Brass – Brass pacifies, and while that would be extremely useful in clearing out a swarm of opposition, (Imagine a bunch of fighter pilots suddenly giving up all at once!) it may not be useful for much else. Maybe making people less afraid of a giant mecha? Do not fear, people of Elendel Basin, Mecha-Wax is good! Mecha-Wax is friend to all children and animals!
Copper – Copper creates a cloud that hides allomantic pulses, but if you’re walking up to a city in a HUGE ROBOT THING then you’re obviously not trying to hide where you are and what you’re doing.
There’s an interesting side effect here in that a mecha’s myriad assortment of internal systems would be wired to each other through copper lines. An enemy infiltrating a giant jaeger may have a hard time locating key systems as a result. This is a handy fallback defense to infiltration of such a sizable jaeger-type weapon.
Bronze – Bronze senses allomantic use, which adds an extra category to the tin-enhanced sensors of a mecha. By pairing bronze and tin in a mecha, it probably wouldn’t be hard to build a livefeed screen that measures and tracks allomantic use in an area.
Duralumin & Nicrosil – Here is where things can get really fun in a mecha. A mecha would almost certainly want a duralumin engine (a battery of the metal, really) to drive its allomantic usage. This would make the mecha’s already titanic steelpushes even stronger, but to push this mecha even further into the territory of the truly insane, let’s consider the use of nicrosil “overdrive” units! A machine that burns and directs the enhancing power of nicrosil could be stationed within or around a mecha, but separated from the body and systems of that mecha, and activated when the mecha’s duralumin engine burns steel. These amplification effects could stack, creating a steelpush strong enough to crumple the very mecha that produces it from feedback alone!
Aside from weaponization, this set-up would be an effective mobility system for the mecha, granting it enough power to move rapidly in emergency situations.
Aluminum & Chromium – Where duralumin and nicrosil present opportunity, aluminum and chromium present some surprising roadblocks. While our mecha is made primarily of steel, supported with iron, and threaded through with copper, it’s also coated in chromium and stuffed with aluminum. Chromium, while brittle, is useful as a coating to prevent rust, and aluminum is a handy and abundant insulator. Both of these metals drain allomantic reserves, but they’re also necessary in the construction of the mecha, as a machine of that size and complexity will have issues with rust and heat generation. Aluminum in particular would be necessary to channel the tremendous amount of heat a jaeger’s movement and structure would both capture and produce. Ultimately, a mecha would have to include these two metals, because while it’s difficult to weaponize with them, it can’t even exist without them!
Gold – Along with zinc, gold is probably the most useless and unnecessary metal in a mecha, as its main ability is to let a user sees its own past. (Although maybe mecha are big on self-reflection, who knows.)
Electrum – This metal, which allows allomancers to see the future, would be an absolute necessity in the sensor system of a mecha. Not only would it allow the mecha to foresee and analyze incoming attacks, but it would allow for the construction of a perfect system of maintenance in a jaeger, alerting the jaeger and its crew to problems before they become disastrous.
Cadmium Bendalloy – Cadmium Bendalloy, which slows time for the user, pairs well with electrum in regards to anticipating and addressing attacks and problems. It could conceivably be used as a replacement for chromium, as well, in regards to preventing corrosion, although this strikes me as excessive. (Really? I’m writing an article about giant magical mecha and this strikes me as excessive?) Bendalloy Cadmium – Bendalloy Cadmium has an unexpected but vital use in a jaeger: electrical power transmission. Jaeger will need huge amounts of power to run, but there’s a physical ceiling in regards to how much power a jaeger’s circuits can hold at once. Copper wires and circuits can be overloaded by excessive power loads, meaning that certain actions that a jaeger wants to take would be delayed by the transfer of power. It’s like filling up a glass of water. You can’t do it instantly because the faucet and the container can only hold so much at a time. Bendalloy Cadmium could eliminate this delay if laced into the power system by speeding up the time it takes for power to transmit through the mecha. To the mecha and its crew, it would seem as if every system is always receiving maximum power!
As we can see, Mistborn’s magic system of allomancy makes mecha downright dreamy. Maybe we’ll see some way down the line!
And maybe we’ll see some that combine feruchemy and allomancy, too. That could be a truly unstoppable machine.
(That’s not what Odium is, is it?)
Chris Lough writes about fantasy and superheroes and science and stuff on Tor.com. This kind of article is essentially what happens when you read Mistborn and play Xenoblade at the same time. His website has more writings.