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Monday, December 22, 2008

Hunt for the Triggerstone: The Search for "True" Perpetual Energy

Picture of Science Fiction Writer Ged Maybury, taken from

OK. Seeing as I see no distinct theme to our blog page, and seeing as I have been told I could write what I wanted on here, I have decided to post the most recent book review/critical analysis I had to do as part of one of my Uni courses. We had to choose a Science Fiction text and critically analyze it. I chose to do mine on one of my favourite children's books, "The Triggerstone", written by Ged Maybury. I recommend it to anybody who is into science fiction, with some supernatural elements intertwined. In fact, I didn't even know that this book was considered a science fiction book until I did some research on it!

Anyway, here is my review. Feel free to write any comments you wish....


It is an established "fact" that all forms of life require energy in order to keep active (Britannica Learning Library, 2003, pp. 12 and Nicholson, 2000, pp.37). Without energy, we wouldn't be able to turn the lights on at night, keep our cars running, cook/freeze our food , and do the basic tasks we set out to do each day (Nicholson, 2000, pp.37). It is also a fact that many of the energy sources we use rely on an external source to keep them running (Dostrovski, 1988, pp. 3 and Bly & Gunn, 2005, pp. 311). Many human-made technologies used as external sources for creating energy have already negatively impacted on our environment, and environmentalists are urging governments to spend money on creating safer, less pollutant energy sources (Nicholson, 2000, pp. 37 – 38). However, wouldn't it be nice if we could one day discover a “true” perpetual energy source, which does not require an external source of energy to keep it running and is safe for the environment? Such a quest has been on the minds of human beings for centuries.

Science Fiction writer Ged Maybury explores the idea of finding perpetual energy in his book, The Triggerstone, a novel aimed at young teenagers, published in 1993. He also addresses the power struggle between the “natural” realm of pre-modern science and the “unnatural” world of modern science and technology, and how post-colonialists are affected by this. He does this in an attempt to make the reader compare past and contemporary paradigms of science and technology, and question whether current scientific knowledge claims can be considered “valid” on our search for perpetual energy.

The narrative is set on a small island called D'urville, which is located on the very top part of the south island of New Zealand (Google Maps, 2008). A man by the name of Professor Thomas Alderman leads a small group of people away from London to this tiny island during the late 1800's, where they establish a township called Halcyon, a name which means “prosperous” or “golden” (The Free Dictionary, 2008 and Maybury, 1993, pp. 71). Professor Alderman and his followers strongly believe in Professor Alderman's theories of creating perpetual energy, and they aim test his theories on the Halcyon site. Using a pipe organ, along with the earth's rotation and the alignment of the moon, Alderman creates a machine that produces notes which would harmonize with the magnetic energy of the earth, thus tapping into the earth's energy supply and providing the precious source of perpetual energy to the citizens of Halcyon. However, dissension begins to thrive among his followers, driving Alderman to conduct the experiment earlier than he had originally planned. As a result, the magnetic energy of the earth becomes severely tampered with, and Alderman is sucked into another dimension. The remaining settlers, unable to find Alderman, eventually abandon the township and settle in the outer neighboring villages (Maybury, 1993, pp. 39 – 40, 70 – 73, 125 – 127, 175 – 176).

100 years later, 12 year old Jinnie Wright can sense “earthquakes” that nobody else can feel. She tries her best to keep this frightening realization to herself until one evening, in the fields outside her house, an old Maori woman named Ruby approaches her and gives her a jade pendant, and explains how she has been chosen to remove the “thorn” that has been plaguing Papatuanuku (mother earth):

.... You have been crying, kotiro, and you want to know why the earth shakes........

..... Papatuanuku writhes in her pain. We feel her agony, and it is getting worse. The thorn is digging deep......

.... She has chosen you, child. Your ancestors brought the thorn here. She chooses you to remove it......

.... I have done what I can, but I do not understand the science of your people. Neither do your scientists, I think, for they never leave her alone. I cannot pull out the thorn, so she has called you....

(Maybury, 1993, pp. 17 – 18)

With the help of Marama, (a good Maori friend of Jinnie's), Damien Money, (the school geek), and Ariel Bennett (Jinnie's next-door neighbor), Jinnie attempts to find out what the “thorn” is and figure out exactly what she needs to do to remove it from Papatuanuku. But with outside forces trying to prevent her from carrying out the task - an ancestor of Thomas Alderman who tries to replicate what his great-uncle was unable to achieve, the two sleazy American scientists who try and steal Alderman's ideas for their own greedy purposes, and Damien's betrayal to Jinnie by acting as a “double agent” between her and the two scientists- it is a race against time to save the planet before it is too late.

As previously mentioned, mankind's search for perpetual energy has existed for centuries. Such evidence of this search can be found in the works of the early alchemists who, in their attempts to transmute base metals such as lead into gold, were also trying to create the magical elixir that would sustain life and provide immortality to mankind (Martin, 2001, pp. 21 – 22, 37 – 38). The Philosopher's Stone, the stone that western alchemists were trying to produce that would turn base metals into gold, “was merely the test employed to check whether the Stone was genuine, and its real purpose was to bestow spiritual wealth and prolong life” (Martin, 2001, pp. 21) During the Middle Ages, it was often compared with the Holy Grail and even Christ himself (Martin, 2001, pp 37). Wolfram von Eschenbach, a famous German poet from the Middle Ages, commented in his poem Parzival, that:

“(the Grail) is a stone of the purest kind... called lapsit exillas... There never was a human so ill that if he one day sees the stone, he cannot die within the week that follows... and though he should see the stone for two hundred years it (his appearance) will never change, save that perhaps his hair might turn grey.”
(Martin, 2001, pp. 38)

Unlike the western alchemists, eastern alchemists were conducting experiments to produce a potion that would sustain life, rather than create a stone for that purpose (Johnson, 2004, pp.43, 64 – 65). However, this essay will be focused solely on western alchemy, because the Triggerstone, the machine that Professor Alderman had invented for the purpose of creating perpetual energy, is a representation of the Philosopher's Stone that western alchemists were trying to create.

MUSIC, NATURAL MAGIC, AND THEIR HEALING PROPERTIESThe theory that Professor Alderman was trying to prove with his invention is based on another earlier, recognized, “valid” knowledge claim. In 17th century England, the study of music and natural magic e.g. Astrology and Thaumaturgy were accepted as “real” sciences, and they were taught as such (Gouk, 1999, pp. 91). Although magic, of course, was never taught publicly for fear of the church, it was however taught in private (Gouk, 1999, pp.80 - 90). This was contrary to the study of music, which was first classified under the study of mathematics, before it eventually became a category of its own (Gouk, 1999, pp. 91).

During this time period, the philosopher Robert Fludd wrote a text entitled Utriusque cosmi... historia, otherwise known as History of the Macrocosm and Microcosm (1617 -1621). This work outlined Fludd's version of music theory, how music “(served) both as an organizing principle of the universe and as a manifestation of cosmic harmony” (Gouk, 1999, pp 95). It also showed through its illustrations “the various secret harmonies found throughout God's creation” (Gouk, 1999, pp. 95).

Italian Music Theorist, Vincenzo Galilei, father of the famous philosopher Galileo (Goldberg Magazine, 2003), had theories that were similar to Fludd's. According to Suzannah Clark and Alexander Rehding in their book Music Theory and Natural Order from the Renaissance to the Early Twentieth Century, Galilei proposed that:

Music (tuned) the cosmos according to Pythagorean ratios, and (scaled) the human soul to the same proportions. This enabled the inaudible sounds of the heavens to vibrate within the earthly soul, and conversely, for the audible tones of human music to reflect the celestial spheres, so that heaven and earth could be harmonised within the unity of a well-tuned scale. This scale came to be pictured as a monochord that connected the stars to the earth like a long piece of string that vibrated the structure of the universe. As the invisible and inaudible harmony of the spheres, music imposed a unity over creation, linking everything along the entire chain of being. When music moves, the earth moves with it......

..... As the cosmic monochord, (music) animated the universe and tuned its very being. To disenchant music is therefore to untune the entire world. This is why tuning has apocalyptic overtones. The slightest change in global temperament can cause a collapse of the cosmic order.

(Clark and Rehding, 2001, pp. 21)

Alderman, in his attempt to create perpetual energy using his invention, tried to create a mechanical, synthetic version of what Galilei had described, something which already “existed” in the natural, pre-modern realm. He used Astrology to predict the exact time he should activate the Triggerstone and produce this never-ending energy source. However, because it was a human-made technology that was used to extract perpetual energy, it interfered with the already existing harmonies found in the natural world, causing chaos and disenchantment to occur. It required “natural” science and technology to be able to repair the damage that had been done. Jinnie, our hero, does this by singing to the jade pendant given to her by Ruby. The harmonies produced by this natural form of “tuning” restored the universe to its original form and healed the wounds that Papatuanuku was suffering from (Maybury, 1993, pp.138 – 143, 178 – 181).

At this point, the reader would question whether or not these two earlier theories fit in with today's standard view of science and technology. According to Mark Erickson, whenever a scientific revolution occurs and a new paradigm of science and technology is introduced, much of the “old” science will be disposed of, as it has proven itself “incompatible” with the new paradigm (Erickson, 2005, pp. 106). This has been the case with the studies of alchemy, music and natural magic. As scientists made further discoveries of “true” scientific principles and created new “valid” knowledge claims, these earlier theories no longer had place in the revised paradigm of science and technology.

According to the current paradigm, the first law of Thermodynamics dictates that energy “cannot be created or destroyed, but can be transformed from one form to another” (Hokikian, 2002, pp.XV). In other words, one cannot create something from nothing (Hokikian, 2002, pp. XV). Even the sun, which was once considered a “true” perpetual energy source, receives its energy from the “burning... of the non-renewable hydrogen present in (its) core” (Dostrovsky, 1988, pp. 3). In short, according to the current standard account, no found energy source can be considered “strictly perpetual” (Dostrovsky, 1988, pp.3). This eliminates the Alchemists' theories about the Philosopher's Stone and Alderman's theory of perpetual energy.

Erickson further explains in his book Science, Culture and Society, how the current paradigm is more based on rational, factual, tangible theories, rather than irrational, superstitious, intangible ones; it is based on facts rather than on metaphysical, faith-promoting “stories” (Erickson, 2005, pp. 55 – 56) Therefore, the 17th century theories of music and natural magic being the operative agents controlling the universe, and the much earlier theories of alchemy, no longer fit in with the current paradigm, as it deems these theories to be “non-factual” and “irrelevant”.

However, it is interesting to look at the scientific knowledge claims of Philosopher Karl Popper, who in his book entitled The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935), claimed that scientists conduct experiments with the determination to prove that a theory is false, rather than try to verify it (Erickson, 2005, pp. 57). Erickson further states that “just because scientists have collected many observations that confirm a theory doesn't mean the theory is correct, just that evidence to the contrary has not yet been found” (Erickson, 2005, pp. 57). Could it be possible that scientists might one day “prove” the first law of Thermodynamics to be false, thus re-introducing the possibility of discovering “true” perpetual energy? This will remain a mystery, until that day eventually arrives.

Another element to Ged Maybury's novel is that it takes a technologically deterministic viewpoint. It claims that society, in its attempts to continually advance and progress, is being overrun by technology, and the impacts this has on our environment are quite negative. While it has been "proven" that it is how technology is used, rather than the technology itself that determines whether it is “good” or “bad”, and that all forms of technology “(have) an equal capacity for the enhancement or degradation of life” (Murphy & Potts, 2003, pp. 22), the novel hints that humans tend more to create technologies for the purpose of the latter, thus labeling technology as something to be feared.

Examples of this “fear” of new technologies destroying our planet can be seen in the science fiction novels and films of the 1950's, where the greatest uncertainty and fear was found in the production of a newly discovered technology – the atomic bomb (Booker, 2001, pp. 65 – 104). Science Fiction texts such as Mordecai Roshwald's Level 7 (Booker, 2001, pp. 79) and films such as Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove (Booker, 2001, pp. 93 – 94, 101 – 104), all depicted the general publics' fears of the devastating affects this new technology would have on our environment. These fears became realized "facts", such as when people learned about the destruction of Hiroshima (Booker, 2001, pp. 65 – 66) and the crippling health of the Marshall Islanders after their exposure to nuclear waste (Crease,
2003, pp. 110 – 116).

The early 1990's saw a revival in raising environmental awareness, and how humans should commit to repairing the damage that the use of past technologies has caused. This was reflected in the literature and media of the time, such as in the film Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992), where the “evils” of modern technology were represented in the villain, Hexxus, “the very spirit of destruction” (F.A.I. Films, 1992) and the “Leveller”, the human-made machine that Hexxus takes possession of in his quest to destroy Fern Gully. Coincidently, the reader would also notice that The Triggerstone was published in 1993, one year after Fern Gully was released.

It could be argued that Professor Alderman's intentions were good, in that what he was attempting to do would have (in theory) benefited humankind. However, it could also be argued that his intentions were those of greed, as his desire for inventing the Triggerstone could be seen as a quick solution to fulfilling the need for a basic necessity, without giving thought to the effects that his experiment might have on the environment.


Thankfully, governments are finally listening to environmentalists' concerns and are looking into funding alternative energy sources, such as solar power, wind power, hydro-electric power, tidal and wave power (Nicholson, 2000, pp. 38 – 41). Although these alternatives cannot be considered “true” perpetual energy sources, they do however reduce the amount of damage and pollution caused to the environment. As more post-colonialists take active responsibility in preserving the planet, we will have better chance of repairing the damage caused by irresponsible usage of modern technologies.

CONCLUSIONTo conclude, I believe the central message of Ged Maybury's book to be that the pre-modern views of the world have been replaced by the new paradigm of modern science. This new paradigm brings with it new technologies, which are seen as a threat to the natural world. As a result, post-modern communities are trying to repair the damage that has been left behind using other technologies, and they must deal with the huge loss of knowledge which would not have been lost, had the earlier paradigms of science and technology had not been ignored. Had this not have happened, we might have been able to discover that precious, never-ending source of perpetual energy that the alchemists and philosophers of old had been searching for.

Bly, R. and Gunn, J. (2005) The Science in Science Fiction: 83 SF Predictions that Became Scientific Reality, BenBella Books Inc
The text from Bly and Gunn addressed the idea of perpetual motion machines, and how Robert Fludd had tried to create such a machine that would grind grain. The book explains that the experiment did not work, because “there is no such thing in the universe as free energy. Friction created by the wheel and pump turn some of the kinetic energy into heat and noise. What is left over is not enough to both grind the grain and keep the wheel going indefinitely” (Bly & Gunn, 2005, pp. 311). To me, this emphasized what Dostrovski had written, that the energy sources we use rely on an external source to keep it running (Dostrovski, 1988, pp.3), hence why I cited this text alongside Dostrovski's in my introduction.

Booker, M. K. (2001) Monsters, Mushroom Clouds, and the Cold War: American Science Fiction and the Roots of Postmodernism, 1946 – 1964, Greenwood Press, Westport, Connecticut, London
I was trying to find a text that would somehow link my ideas between the Crease reading from week 8 and my essay. Through this book, I was able to link my ideas together. The examples given in Booker's text was what I needed to be able to link Crease's text with my essay, to support my argument that Maybury's novel reflects the technologically deterministic viewpoint of how poor usage of technologies is having a negative affect on our environment.

Britannica Learning Library (2003) Science and Nature, Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc, U.S.A.
This children's book was written for the purpose of helping children see science in our environment. The section written on energy and its many different manifestations impressed me, and gave me the inspiration to know how I could begin my essay, hence why it is the first text to be cited.

Clark, S. and Rehding, A. (2001) Music Theory and Natural Order from the Renaissance to the Early Twentieth Century, Cambridge University, viewed online, 8 September 2008,,M1
I was trying to search for more articles by Penelope Gouk online and stumbled across this text by mistake. I was excited to read the authors' commentaries on Galilei's theories of music and how it is the cosmic monochord linking the earth with the universe. Up until this point, I never knew that Alderman's theories were based on real scientific knowledge claims that had actually existed in the 17th Century! I was always under the impression that Ged Maybury had made this theory up for the purpose of his novel. I decided that this text was vital for my essay, because I could see Galilei's theories being reflected in Alderman's theories of perpetual energy and the machine he invented.

Crease, R.P. (2003), Science and Other Cultures: Issues in Philosophies of Science and Technology, New York & London, Routledge
One of the three texts from the required course reading I decided to use. I wanted to use it in order to support my argument that Maybury's novel claims that humans mainly create technologies for the purpose of destroying life, rather than preserving it. I wanted to prove how the book takes on this technologically deterministic viewpoint, and wanted enough historical evidence to show why Maybury would want to take on such a viewpoint in his novel.

Dostrovsky, I. (1988) Energy and the Missing Resource: A View from the Laboratory, Cambridge University Press
In trying to compare past paradigms with today's standard view, I came across this text. I felt that the author's critical opinions on the possibility of a perpetual energy source, and his claims of how the sun itself cannot be considered a “true” perpetual energy source, were important, and therefore needed to be included in my essay, to illustrate what the current paradigm of science and technology is.

Erickson, M. (2005) Science, Culture and Society: Understanding Science in the Twenty-First Century, Cambridge, UK and Malden, MA, USA: Polity Press
The second out of the three texts from the required course reading I decided to use. This was one of the “easier” texts to include in my essay, for it clearly explained what our current view of science and technology is, and how scientific revolutions and new paradigms are being created each time a scientific revolution occurs (Erickson, 2005, pp. 106). Through this text, I was able to compare the current standard view with the two 17th Century theories I had previously mentioned in my essay.

Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (1992), DVD recording, F.A.I. & 20th Century Fox, U.S.A.
To address all the criteria for this essay, I had to find at least one other text to compare my Science Fiction text with, and after having read Maybury's novel through, this film was the first “other” text that came to my mind. Both texts carried the same central message of environmental awareness and both texts carried the notion of technology being something to be feared of, as it has become a threat to our environment. The movie was actually based on an Australian novel about a tropical rainforest in New South Wales of the same name, and I originally wanted to find this book, as I had read it once before as a child, and the book had a lot more insights that the film simply could not cover in its 73 minute time span. However, I was unable to find the book, and so decided to use the film instead for my essay.

The Free Dictionary (2008) Definition of Halcyon, viewed 8 September 2008,
I knew that there was some sort of symbolic meaning behind the word “Halcyon”, the name Alderman and his cult followers gave to the township they established, but before I read up to the page that explained its meaning, impatience got the better of me, and decided to try and look for the definition online. Later, I came to the page where Eve Caldicott (the museum curator on D'urville Island), explains to Jinnie the symbolic meaning behind Halcyon (Maybury, 1993, pp.71). I decided not to let the online dictionary definition go to waste, and so combined the two and cited it in my essay.

Goldberg Magazine (2003) Vincenzo Galilei, viewed 17 October 2008,
The Clark and Rehding text prompted me to find out more about Vincenzo Galilei, and so I did some online research and found this brief biography on him. Somehow, I felt it important to note in my essay how he was the father of Galileo, as the biography mentions how Galilei had been a big influence in his son's life (Goldberg Magazine, 2003).

Google Maps (2008) D'urville, New Zealand, viewed 2 September 2008,'Urville,+New+Zealand&sll-25.335448,135.745076&sspn=55.824026,89.296875&ie=UTF8&ll=40.84706,173.891602&spn=24.086179,44.648438&z=5
I wanted to see for myself exactly where the setting of the book was located, and was able to find D'urville using Google Maps. The photographs of the scenery there, which are included on this website, gave me a better idea of the novel's setting. Mabury had chosen a beautiful part of New Zealand to base his story, which is important to note, as the novel's main message is how technologies are destroying beautiful “utopian” communities and creating “dystopian” ones through their irresponsible usage by humans.

Gouk, P. (1999) Music, science and natural magic in seventeenth-century England, New Haven (Conn) Yale University Press, viewed online, 8 September 2008,
I was kindly introduced to this text by the lecturer, which I found quite useful. The history of music, science and natural magic and how these subjects were viewed during that time period were very useful in pointing out how these subjects were once viewed as “real” sciences, and how society's views regarding them changed over time. This text led me to look for other works by the same author, and as a result came across the Clark and Rehding text, which proved itself to be crucial for my essay.

Hokikian, J. (2002) The Science of Disorder: Understanding the Complexity, Uncertainty, and Pollution in our World, Los Feliz Publishing
This text explained more about the laws of Thermodynamics. The author makes an interesting claim in his introduction, how everything that is going wrong in today's world can be explained by Thermodynamics. I felt this text to be important in trying to explain what the current standard view of science is in comparison with earlier views.

Johnson, O. S. (2004) A Study of Chinese Alchemy, Martino Publishing, Mansfield Centre, CT
This book explained the differences between eastern and western alchemy. While the two practices were slightly different, the goal of finding the magical elixir of everlasting life was the same for both kinds of practices. It would have been nice to have been able to include more ideas from this text. However, because of the word count I was restricted under, I could only briefly mention the types of experiments eastern alchemists were attempting to perform.

Martin, S. (2001) Alchemy and the Alchemists, Pocket Essentials, Harpenden, Herts, U.K.
This text explained the concepts of western alchemy very well, and what the true reason behind practicing alchemy was: to “bestow spiritual wealth and prolong life” (Martin, 2001, pp. 21), rather than try to “get rich quick”. I found this to be important, because it would be implied that if one day a “true” perpetual energy source would be found, we would be able to find the source can sustain and prolong life.

Maybury, G. (1993) The Triggerstone, Ashton Scholastic Pty Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand
The novel that my essay was based on. I had always enjoyed reading this book as a child, and found it interesting to re-read it and gain new insights from it by reading it in the context of the topics covered in the HUMN1004 course.

Murphy, A. and Potts, J. (2003) Culture and Technology, Houndmills, Hampshire & New York: Palgrave Macmillan
The third text from the required readings I chose to cite. It explained the concept of technological determinism very well, and helped me form my opinion of Maybury's novel being a technologically deterministic text.

Nicholson, J. (2000) The State of the Planet, Everbest Printing Co. China
This book was written for the intention of helping children learn about how people can reduce pollution in the environment. The author explains how there are safer, more environmentally friendly ways of providing energy for humans without having to use use nuclear energy or fossil fuels.


  1. Wow! A brilliant piece! I need more time to read and absorb your article Raymond. I am so busy with my other sites. Will be back! :)

  2. Interesting... this is very well written and researched but I did not have the time to read more than a couple of paragraphs. Suggestion: post about three paragraphs at a time or it can get a little overwhelming. I will have to come back when I have more time to absorb...

  3. Thanks Bai and R Max for your advice! :-) Yes, it is a long article, but then again, it was meant to be a 2000 word essay. Perhaps next time, I should write a couple of paragraphs, as R Max had suggested, and split it into small sections at a time, to get readers coming back the next day to read the next bit...... All of this was very helpful to know what I can do to improve my blogging, and I thank you both for the feedback! :-)


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