“It is unlikely to do anything interesting just now,” Hackworth said. “It won’t really activate itself until it bonds.”
“As we discussed, it sees and hears everything in its vicinity,” Hackworth said. “At the moment, it’s looking for a small female. As soon as a little girl picks it up and opens the front cover for the first time, it will imprint that child’s face and voice into its memory-“
“Bonding with her. Yes, I see.”
“And thenceforth it will see all events and persons in relation to that girl, using her as a datum from which to chart a psychological terrain, as it were. Maintenance of that terrain is one of the book’s primary processes. Whenever the child uses the book, then, it will perform a sort of dynamic
mapping from the database onto her particular terrain.”
“You mean the database of folklore.”
Hackworth hesitated. “Pardon me, but not precisely, sir. Folklore consists of certain universal ideas that have been mapped onto local cultures. For example, many cultures have a Trickster figure, so the Trickster may be deemed a universal; but he appears in different guises, each appropriate to a
particular culture’s environment. The Indians of the American Southwest called him Coyote, those of the Pacific Coast called him Raven. Europeans called him Reynard the Fox. African-Americans called him Br’er Rabbit. In twentieth-century literature he appears first as Bugs Bunny and then as the Hacker.”
Finkle-McGraw chuckled. “When I was a lad, that word had a double meaning. It could mean a trickster who broke into things- but it could also mean an especially skilled coder.”
“The ambiguity is common in post-Neolithic cultures,” Hackworth said. “As technology became more important, the Trickster underwent a shift in character and became the god of crafts- of technology, if you will- while retaining the underlying roguish qualities. So we have the Sumerian Enki, the Greek
Prometheus and Hermes, Norse Loki, and so on.
“In any case,” Hackworth continued, “Trickster/Technologist is just one of the universals. The database is full of them. It’s a catalogue of the collective unconscious. In the old days, writers of children’s books had to map these universals onto concrete symbols familiar to their audience- like
Beatrix Potter mapping the Trickster onto Peter Rabbit. This is a reasonably effective way to do it, especially if the society is homogeneous and static, so that all children share similar experiences.
“What my team and I have done here is to abstract that process and develop systems for mapping the universals onto the unique psychological terrain of one child- even as that terrain changes over time. Hence it is important that you not allow this book to fall into the hands of any other little girl until Elizabeth has the opportunity to open it up.”