Translated by Simon Geoghegan
An old codemage teams up with the artificial spirit to investigate the murder.
Welcome to an alternative world of wonder, where magic and technology are inseparably entwined. A place where sorcerer programmers code spells and weave them into items and artefacts to imbue them with special and specific properties.
Magister Sajar Randhar, a seasoned expert in magic security, investigates crimes together with his greatest and most ingenious creation – Spirit, the world's first and only artificial spirit. Magister keeps her existence a secret to protect her from the dangers posed by the magical world's politicians, secret services, criminals and corporations. Or perhaps, to protect the magical world from her?
Programagic, a detective techno-fantasy series by Anton Eine is an explosive mix of science fiction, fantasy and magical realism, seasoned with a healthy pinch of exotic dark humor.
This collection includes the first two stories of the series – a short novella Behind the Fire Wall and a full-length novel Beyond the Speed Limit.
Review by Goodreads user Fascinating!
Aug 10 2022
Fascinating! I loved the way that the author has weaved different elements together to make what was, for me, a new type of fantasy story. If you like sci-fi, fantasy, detective stories or just unusual novels, then I really recommend you give this a try!
The characters were well written, the twists great, and Spirit was captivating. There were some rather amusing takes on our world, people and places, that made it interesting.
I am looking forward very much to the continuation of this series!
Review by Ranfy Green This may be addictive
August 11 2022
Military, mystery, and magic with a software background. What more can you ask of any fantasy? Well, what about vivid, intriguing characters and lots of action? This had better be the beginning of a long series because you will read the last page and want more!
Review by Olivia DuBets Intriguing story from the beginning
August 7 2022
From the first moment I read this fantasy-detective story, I was literally mesmerized by the feeling of how the virtual magical world actually takes precedence over the existing reality.
I can't wait for the story to continue. What will happen next to Spirit..
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves captivating detective fantasy stories with a good pinch of humor.
Review by Amazon Customer Great entertaining read
August 7 2022
Perfectly proportioned mix of science and magic. Great sense of humor. I couldn't put the book down until the end.
Review by Amazon Customer Thought-provoking reading with deep underlying ideas
August 10 2022
This is a novel not just for fans of Sci-Fi fantasy. Interweaving of genres will keep different audiences interested. Thrilling plot twists provoke readers’ expectations of unrealistic ending while bringing them back to reality due to thought provoking underlying ideas and humorous -- and witty at, the same time -- the author’s reminders and notices sounding from behind-the-scene-like that hint at the issues of today, even though showing-up in the context of the imaginary future. A reader merges into the text not only due to the direct author’s address set by the 1st person narration but also due to the feeling of being involved into the conversations with the author.
Review by Goodreads reviewer I love it
October 6, 2022
I love it. The beginning was a big information learning curve, but woven into this were hooks that kept me turning the pages. His writing style is easy to read with common speech woven into it which gave me a good connection to the characters. I found the characters to be relatable and well rounded. Every point in the book is relevant and related to something earlier or later, and the author has been able to seamlessly link these. There are many very unexpected twists which made the book all the more enjoyable. Being a futuristic sci-fi, I enjoyed the reference to things we can recognize, for example, place names.
Review by Jennifer deBie Paced for adrenaline junkies 5/5
January 16 2023
Step into a world where magic and technology meld and twist with Anton Eine’s Beyond the Speed Limit. While prefaced by the prologue novella, Behind the Firewall, Beyond the Speed Limit is our first true look at Eine’s Programagic series and the expansive world contained therein. A world where elemental magic is fueled by equations, magisters spend decades honing their particular fusion of technology and power, and where the creation of a fully autonomous artificial intelligence, or ‘soul’ is one of the highest taboos imaginable.
Enter Magister Sajar Randhar, an only mildly disgraced programage specializing in all sorts of dangerous spells and the gadgets that contain them, and the artificial soul, Spirit, his greatest creation and closest companion. The prologue novella Behind the Firewall introduces Sajar and Spirit beautifully, giving readers solid understanding as to why Sajar is on the outs with many of the powers that be, and why Spirit’s existence is such a dangerous secret to keep, but reading the novella is not totally necessary to understanding the characters, the world, or the circumstances of Beyond the Speed Limit. Eine has a deft touch when it comes to delivering backstory and the novel is a complete story enhanced by its prequel, rather than a narrative that relies wholly on the shorter text. Readers should read both, they’re excellent!, but will not be lost if they read one story without the other.
And what a story it is! Hackers, backers, and expansive underground double dealings abound when Sajar and Spirit dive headfirst into the world of competitive flying cart racing. An old friend of Sajar’s has died under strange circumstances and his widow wants the answers that only our two protagonists can find. Together they will navigate tempers, temptations, and a whole lot of subterfuge, with plenty of quips about age, youth, and good whiskey along the way.
Paced for adrenaline junkies and written by someone looking to break the mold on genre fiction, Eine really has something special with these first two entries to his Programagic series. This reader is very much looking forward to see what mischief Sajar and Spirit find themselves in next time.
Review by Barb Taub If the Apple Store had a Genius Bar in Diagon Alley...
January 23 2023
"If you’re reading this, I’m either dead or behind bars."
In the prequel to his Programagic Cycle, Author Anton Eine hooked me with that great first line. My review of that intro applies to Beyond The Speed Limit, the first book in his new series, which introduces us to a disturbingly familiar magic world.
QUOTE: "These days, instead of a wave a wand all you have to say is, “Let there be light,” and the interface spell running your house or flying chariot will carry out your every command. They can cook you dinner using standard or customized recipes, order the shopping, clean the house, turn on the music or even transmit a live or recorded image on your crystal ball."
At least, it’s familiar to any of us who have wandered the aisles of Fry’s or Best Buy, tried to set up our own router, or attempted to understand anything a twelve-year-old child tells us. Or to anyone like me with a basement full of obsolete electronic relics of bygone days, and completely useless knowledge of forgotten programming languages like Basic. (VCR/Walkman/DOS anyone?)
Beyond The Speed Limit works on several levels. First, of course, it uses the technology rules we accept but for the most part don’t understand any more than if they were in truth magic. It’s as if the Apple Store had a Genius Bar in Diagon Alley. This world might be magic-powered, but it follows rules just as strict as the physics we know in our own. A magic wand dropped in water in Sanjar’s world is just as dead as a water-drenched cellphone here. Spells written in old languages won’t power a modern magic wand any more than DOS will run your iPhone.
Second is the tongue-in-cheek humor of the references to things in the magic universe that directly mimic familiar elements in our own. (Book of Faces, anyone?)
Third is the plot, a classic SciFi thriller with plenty of chase scenes, epic battles, and universe-high stakes, with a reluctant hero, Magister Sajar Randhar, trying to solve the murder of his friend.
Another element is The Singularity, which (for SciFi fans at least) refers to the moment that an artificial intelligence (AI) achieves self-awareness. Sajar’s creation, an experimental AI hologram he calls Spirit, somehow achieves this in the prequel. Now she’s Sanjar’s secret companion, a being whose processing power and speed far exceed those of humans, but who lacks understanding of the complex rituals that make up humanity, or the soul.
QUOTE: "Her processing power was nothing short of incredible. However, she lacked the intuition to immediately spot unusual or important bits of data. Her analytic algorithms could miss things that might seem obvious to us or require more time to process them. I had provided her with something akin to a subconscious, and it was a very powerful source of her insights but an artificial soul nevertheless functions in ways that are different to us."
As the aging technomage Sanjar tries to solve his friend’s murder, Spirit is his secret weapon. But the AI construct is also a self-aware entity, applying her vast computing resources to develop her sense of identity into a female and somehow endowing that self with gender, and emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy, and even love.
To uncover and try to combat a deadly conspiracy that threatens their society, Sanjar and his secret companion take part in a deadly sport in which drivers of magically-enhanced racing vehicles race in a course full of high-speed danger and magic snares.
I thought the endless puns on things and locations in our world (God bless Murica and the Divided Kingdom!) were a little over the top. But I loved ultimate character development as Spirit invents herself while her supposed creator, Sanjar, looks on bemused. I enjoyed this update to the classic SciFi debate about whether a constructed being can become self-aware and what they might look like. If Spirit is clearly capable of computing vast amounts nearly instantaneously, what is to keep her from attempting to wrest control from her human creators? And of course, does her perception of these inequalities constitute a soul?
If you love the classic science fiction of Clarke and Asimov, the high-speed action of a James Bond thriller, or even just the speed and coordination of online gaming, I think you’ll appreciate the combination that is the official first book of Anton Eine’s Programagic Cycle, Beyond The Speed Limit.
Oct 31 2022
In a Nutshell: A strange combination of fantasy, science fiction, action thriller and crime investigation. The result should have been a hodgepodge mess, but it isn’t! This indie work manages to hit most targets right in the bull’s eye.
Where the book worked for me:
😍 Just as in the prequel, technology and magic make for an awesome combination in this story. Sajar’s spells and programming knowhow worked wonders and kept me enthralled. Some also creeped me out.
😍 Spirit is yet again my favourite character. I simply love her attitude! No other fictional (or even real life) AI matches up to her personality. She is almost a human in this story, and it becomes easy to forget that she is an AI character. A certain development didn’t make me much happy, but as she is an AI who is developing and enhancing herself with every human interaction, I realise why the author took that call.
😍 The character development of Sajar is no less. He begins with cockiness, but soon realises that he has to compromise on his need for self-reliance to some extent. The rest of the characters might seem less layered, but they are pretty well-defined considering the scope of the story.
😍 Keeping in tone with the title and the investigation being set in the racing world, there are plenty of high-speed car chases and action sequences. These are so thrillingly written that they are easy to visualise and full of adrenaline-pumping events.
😍 There are plenty of Easter eggs, just like in the prequel. It was fun trying to identify which real life place/person/thing was being alluded to. A few of the references did go over my head, but most were hilarious. Of course, readers need to have an open-minded sense of humour to get the jokes because there is a certain satirical aspect to a few of these hidden clues and some are too tongue-in-cheek.
Where the book could have worked better for me:
😔 There is a tendency to info-dump at times, especially to explain the technical aspects of warfare and how physics works in magic and so on.
😔 I am not a big fan of the cover art, though now that I have read the book, I see how it fits the story.
⚠ The novel does require a minor round of editing for a few repetitions and some spelling errors. But keeping in mind that this is an indie effort, and a translated one at that, I'm more than happy to let this point slide.
The story continues from the events in the prequel novella, Behind the Fire Wall. This prequel is also a part of this ebook on Amazon, so you don’t need to get that one separately.
(On an aside, I am impressed by the author's decision to take off the prequel from Amazon and distribute it only as part of this novel so that readers go through the books in the right order and don't miss out on the backstory. How many indie authors do you know who are willing to let go of an opportunity to sell more?)
Overall, I enjoyed this action adventure cum crime thriller. It made great use of its myriad subgenres and brought them together in a mostly satisfying manner. Definitely recommended.
PROGRAMAGIC, Book 1.01
Behind The Fire Wall
If you are reading this it means one of two things – I am either dead or behind bars.
If it’s the former then this testimony should bring those guilty of my death and the hacking of the Fire Wall to justice.
If it’s the latter then I hope this testimony will help prove my innocence and extricate me from the predicament I currently find myself in before it’s too late.
This whole sorry chain of events was set in motion when I arrived at work this morning to find myself under arrest and escorted by security to my superior's office. There I was accused of gross incompetence, criminal negligence and suspected criminal intent, which had resulted in a successful break-in into the Fire Wall – this is a charge I'll never accept.
You have to understand, I'm one of the best specialists in my field and very proud of it. But this isn't just a question of my professional reputation although there are very few people alive who know as much about data protection systems as me. Nor is it just a question of me needing to prove my innocence.
It's just that I, and I alone, have been managing the Fire Wall project in its entirety from its conception to the present day. It was me who wrote every single piece of related code and programmed all the security algorithms. The Fire Wall is my baby and ultimately my masterpiece. I know its functionality inside and out. There’s no way anyone could break into it and there's no one on this earth who's going to convince or persuade me otherwise. It is totally unhackable and that's all there is to it.
Nevertheless, there’s no getting away from the fact that someone has broken into it. There has been a break-in and something extremely important, a key to be precise, has been purloined as a result. Its disappearance poses a serious threat to our national security.
The fact that it had happened and my inability to accept it, knocked me off my stride and when I was called in I didn't even argue or fight back. I was immediately barred from work until the completion of the investigation. My security clearance and system access have been denied and I have been put under house arrest with a 24-hour armed guard patrolling the perimeter of my house.
House arrest! Me! One of the highest-ranking mages in the country. Have they gone completely mad!? How dare they?
I’m not some programmer monkey working for peanuts in a semi-legal immigrant sweatshop, developing magical software for cheap and tacky wands. Although I have to admit, I used to do plenty of jobs like this when I first embarked on my illustrious career.
My family had just moved to the Murican Empire from Hindaha and my father was teaching magical calculus at the Imperial University in Apple-City during the day while moonlighting as a public flying coach driver in the evenings.
And on top of all that, he somehow managed to find the time to teach me everything he knew about magic, spells and energy flow while awakening every curious instinct in my empty young head that would later give me the drive to become a great mage.
I am none other than Sajar Randhar who was behind the development of driverless flying chariots and inter-city ships, thus freeing all flights of human error.
I was the inventor of the technology that would allow everyone to store their data in a cloud, relieving them of the need to shut up their most valuable possessions behind the physical walls of a safe or vaulted crypt.
And it was I who developed the Great Southern Wall's magic protection system when Norton the Orange – the mad dictator who ruled over us back in those dark days – decided to “protect” the Empire from immigrants crossing the Empire's southern borders. For the record, being an immigrant myself, I have made my personal position clear in no uncertain terms. But, as a government employee, I was bound hand and foot by my contractual obligations to act against my better principles.
I was the brains behind the spaceship control firmware back when Meelon Usk decided to challenge the final frontiers of physics by bursting beyond the planet’s atmosphere and into the merciless black void of space.
However, thanks be to the gods, I had nothing to do with the Book of Faces, for which I take even more pride and credit. I have absolutely no truck with social magi-tainment with its institutional cretinism, cheap tricks and endless advertising. I am a specialist in magic security. A specialist of the highest order, in fact. I might well be the best out there, but my innate modesty prohibits me from making such a claim.
Suspend me from work? Well, all right. I might have deserved it, given that my Fire Wall has been breached, its top-grade security notwithstanding. Investigate me? Fair enough. I might have done exactly the same in their shoes, although it would have been more logical to invite me to lead it. Pull my security clearance? By all means. Although it makes little sense. After all, it was I who coded the entire security system in the first place.
But accusing me of incompetence and negligence – well, that's where I have to draw the line..!
You can lock me up in my own home. I could think of a lot worse places to be – I have a magic bunker that is so well protected that I could easily survive a Third Magic War. You can guard its perimeter 24/7 and shut down all communication channels with the outside world – at least the ones that you've managed to detect, anyway.
But no one will ever be able to stop me from running my own investigation. After all, if someone has indeed managed to hack my impenetrable Fire Wall, then it's up to me to find out who’s done it and how.
Without my magical guidance, the investigators won’t even be able to find their way to the john. Unless, of course, this whole series of events is a set-up aimed at framing me personally, in which case getting to the bottom of this is going to be a matter of personal survival.
Especially given that I already have a prime suspect – in fact my only suspect. The only person with the technical expertise to have committed this crime. Namely, me.
The only problem with this watertight hypothesis is – I didn’t do it. The only alternatives are that either I have somehow convinced myself that I didn’t do it or that I did indeed do it but don’t remember doing so.
Seeing as I’m absolutely certain that I have had nothing to do with the break-in, I’m not going to get very far interrogating myself. Still, there remains the possibility that I might have been hypnotized or forced into doing it – a particularly powerful spell might have done the trick. They might well have erased or replaced my memory. They may have done all sorts of unnatural and abominable things that I might not be able to remember.
Which is why I need to check all the records and pinpoint my whereabouts at the time of the crime last night. And when I say all the records, I mean those I couldn't have erased or altered myself.
You might think I’m being paranoid but in the century and a half I’ve been practicing High Magic I’ve seen more than my fair share of the world's dark underbelly and have the enhanced security measures to match whatever it might throw at me. Especially, considering the importance of some of the projects I’m currently working on, not to mention the prototype spells and priceless artefacts that are stored here.
“OK, Spirit! You can show yourself!”
Instantly, a small cloud appeared, manifesting itself into the shape of a young and rather alluring elfin maiden clad in nothing but a short silk bathrobe, her fair hair twisted into two braids. Her appearance had evidently been calculated to do me a permanent mischief.
“Hi, darling. You're home early, I’ve barely had time to start missing you.”
“Tell me something, I don't know,” I replied gruffly as she flashed a smug smile, satisfied that her appearance and the irony of her remark had hit home.
“Why don't we watch the match together? I have more than an inkling that the Grimvault Dwarves will make short work of the Red Unicorns…”
“Sorry, Spirit, there’s no time for the game today. It looks like we’ve got a problem.”
“Yes, I know! We're out of milk, but don’t worry I've already got it covered. The order will be coming first thing tomorrow morning, fresh from the pail.” She surveyed me with a playful sparkle in her emerald-green eyes, her enormous eyelashes fluttering provocatively with every blink.
“Nope, Spirit. We have an even bigger problem.” And I proceeded to tell her the events of the day. Or at least what I had managed to glean from Full Metal Pat, my immediate superior at the Pentagonal Citadel. I explained to her what we were facing and what sort of help I’d be needing from her.
And, yes, you're absolutely right in surmising that there’s a lot more to Spirit than your average voice-activated domestic assistant. She is infinitely more complex than those interface spells that have become so popular recently and gradually begun to replace regular magic wands.
These days, instead of a wave a wand all you have to say is, “Let there be light,” and the interface spell running your house or flying chariot will carry out your every command. They can cook you dinner using standard or customized recipes, order the shopping, clean the house, turn on the music or even transmit a live or recorded image on your crystal ball. And these are just their basic functions, these voice-activated assistants have become the perfect replacement for the old wooden magic wands that our forebears used to use.
Spirit, however, is a different kettle of fish. As far as I’m aware, she is the world’s first artificial daemon.
She has been ten hard years in the making, but I finally succeeded where the planet's finest magic minds had failed.
Recently, I have managed to make an important breakthrough. I've been testing my creation, analyzing her behavior as critically as I can, looking for flaws and vulnerabilities and editing and adding to her spell code. However, I wasn't sure she was ready to face the world. Or, perhaps, to be more precise, I wasn't sure whether the world was ready to face her.
That's why I have kept Spirit at home in my local cloud. I didn't assign her an anthropomorphous shape – but granted her the free will to take on any shape she chooses, a gift she regularly uses to wind me up.
Spirit isn’t exactly the best name I could have come up with. For old-fashioned superstitious reasons, I was reluctant to give her a name and get too emotionally attached until I was sure I’d succeeded. So, I would just refer to her as a spirit. As in, “Hey, spirit! What's 45,876,476 multiplied by the square root of 958,603,809,348?” Or, “spirit, count the odd numbers from zero to 100,000, omitting those divisible by seven, then count the even numbers in reverse, omitting those divisible by six.”
Once I realized what a resounding success she was, I decided to give her a name. However, by that point, we had both got used to me calling her Spirit, so Spirit she remained.
Most mages’ attempts to create an artificial spirit have hit the rocks because of their stubborn perfectionism. However, in order to create something that begins to approach human consciousness and ultimately transcends it, it needs to be imperfect. So, I have ended up creating something that is sometimes perversely imperfect.
Her quick temper and highly refined sense of humor are occasionally enough to drive me berserk. She is constantly testing me out with her pedantry and caprices, and I regularly lose our jousts of wit and repartee. Time and time again I ask myself what possessed me to make her quite that imperfect.
Most developers would have tried to create an artificial spirit that would conform to the rules of any standard object-oriented magic by logically linking spells to physical objects. More often than not, something like a skull, a crystal ball or a book, and so on.
But I had always thought this was a bit of a dead-end and immediately turned to fundamental magic in my quest for completely new solutions and approaches. I've managed to create all the high-complexity neuron paths necessary for a self-learning system and maintain the stability of its consciousness at the expense of the instability of its form. After all, equilibrium is the quality that keeps the world on the straight and narrow.
However, with her capricious character, I wasn't totally sure that I’d be able to preserve mine.
“All right, old-timer. Quit crying into your beard and let's get down to business.” As Spirit’s tone became more imposing so did her appearance, her hair now in a no-nonsense ponytail, her thick-framed schoolmarm's glasses sitting interrogatively on the end of her nose and her arms akimbo. “I have already monitored all the crystal ball recordings and you do have an alibi.”
“Well, that's a start. So, it wasn't me, was it?”
“It’s still a great mystery to me how someone quite as obtuse as you could have created someone with my exceptional intellectual faculties. Didn't I just tell you that you have an alibi? Do you humans have to have everything spelled out for you? Or is it just you who is so exceptionally cognitively challenged?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised, darling. There’s one born every minute,” I smiled, happy to have managed to get one over her for once.
“You came back last night at precisely 21:43 and stayed home all night without communicating with anyone. There hasn't been a break-in. No one's tried to coerce or manipulate you into doing anything you didn’t want to and you didn't do anything remotely interesting, let alone suspicious. At 22:04 precisely, you produced a remarkably successful bowel movement…”
“Whoa, Spirit, too much information, stop right there! You don't need to divulge all our family secrets.” I protested, somewhat put out. “Our investigation is being recorded, after all. So, delete that last phrase, please.”
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