For those of you just tuning in, of which I am pretty sure there are none, this conceit is that periodically stuff falls from the sky that any untrained sophont¹ can cause to turn into more or less any noun -- objects, creatures, and abstract things like 'my ability to fly' or 'the fourth primary color' or 'Beethoven's Fifth'. Most of this stuff is not around any more because some idiot made a type of creature that can replicate itself (given access to more stuff from the sky) and, once it's replicated enough, has both the ability and the inclination to establish a hegemony over all or most of humanity, whittle down the numbers of or outright exterminate other sorts of creatures, and track down most of the objects and the more annoying abstract concepts and destroy or repurpose them.
Aside from the rings of the gas giant it orbits being partly made out of magic stuff, the physics of this world are mostly as you'd expect, and the only ways to break the laws of physics are to be made of magic stuff or have the assistance of it (q.v. 'my ability to fly'). However, that leaves a tremendous amount of room for things that could not come about without supernatural assistance but which are not themselves supernatural, and the tone of the setting demands that these things be fairly bizarre. The second type of weird creature introduced in the first five hundred words of the WIP is a kind of semi-sentient biological aerostat that looks roughly like a ctenophore, which is a category so diverse that this comparison is actually, technically, accurate. I had assumed initially that they were magic, but outside of my prejudices about creatures that no sensible evolutionary process would give rise to, there's no reason for them to be. It's quite possible to turn magic stuff into creatures that can produce mundane offspring, or to turn it into a factory for producing such things -- I've mentioned cornucopia machines before.
This becomes a problem because there's no reason for the setting not to be seething with weird shit of varieties that I don't want to deal with. What's the first thing you'd do if you had a machine you could configure to produce any one thing? I'd start making sex toys, because that's where the money is and, well, because my interests are fairly narrow. But I don't want to have to deal with a self-reproducing race of robot girlfriends. There's a whole book in that, for one thing, and for another thing, a dozen people have already written that book.² More importantly, I want to write this book, which does not have room in it for me to deal with the implications of robot girlfriends; yet I can't ignore those implications if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror.
Some of it I can handwave. Robot girlfriends that you can breed in your backyard are ... extraordinarily disgusting, I realize now that I've written that phrase, but they're also bad for business. Things that can reproduce are probably more along the lines of weird A Wizard Did It-style biological experiments. The cultures that had robot girlfriends, and I'm sure some cultures did, have been dead or subjugated for between twenty and a hundred years; most of those things are probably out of commission now, because planned obsolescence. I can deal with one or two robot girlfriends, just not one in every driveway.
Hmm. I may have just talked myself into feeling better about this.
Now that I'm thinking about it, this raises questions about Nishimura's friend the revolting monster. He is designed to have some specifically conditioned magic stuff plugged into himself; he can function without it, but it's as basic a drive for him as eating. It's also fantastically illegal, and he could care less about that, but it makes it damn difficult to get ahold of the magic stuff he needs. He is probably my primary villain, though there is another contender for the job. I had assumed he belonged to some race of magic-stuff creature that is given just enough stuff not to go extinct³, of which there are several, but he may actully be some kind of weird android. I'm not sure I like that, though. It makes his appalling physical appearance seem improbable somehow -- which is an arbitrary, irrational judgement, but, well, it's my party.
On the other side of the coin from all this I have the problem of making sure there's enough weird shit in the world for the conceit of the setting to feel sufficiently explored. Nothing drives me crazier than an interesting premise that the author never goes anywhere with. I don't have enough thoughts about this to make a full paragraph, it turns out. There it is. This irritates me, because my brain usually spits this stuff out in something very close to essay format; I feel like I've tried to step up onto a stair that isn't there. Good thing I'm not getting paid for this.
Nor do I have any closing remarks!
¹ But training helps, if you want consistent or precise results.
² I'm sure a couple of people have already written this one, but I have yet to encounter their versions of it, and until such time as I do, I don't care.
³ He needs more stuff plugged into him because he is supposed to be, more or less, a human being with magic powers of some kind I haven't devised yet, and it's impossible to make anything that complex from a single unit of magic stuff. You can make a full-featured human being (or other sophont with a biology), but as soon as you start adding supernatural abilities you have to compensate by taking away other types of complexity, like the personality, or the fingers. And that's if you have a really good unit; it would actually take about one and a half of an average one to make a human being. This is all relevant to the plot.
4 Who I don't even like. I was so disappointed. I was halfway into Perdido Street Station before I felt like the plot had started, and to get there I had to wade through piles of dialogue that is frequently horrible. Aspects of the setting are delicious, but none of them are central enough to Perdido Street Station to keep me reading. Are his later books better? Did he ever, say, figure out that nobody fucking talks like that?