As I pour more time into 'researching' all the psuedo-science I've laid out in the story, some of the questions that have come up have been very philosophically deep. Particularly, the question of "what is life?" has come up countless times. It's easy to describe characteristics of like (aka what it means to be alive). Things that are alive reproduce/replicate, they can influence their environment, they struggle for existence, etc. But this isn't what IS life, it's what characteristics do things that are alive display? Personally, I think I'm a believer that life is not a component, but a property. To be living is to be whole, and while people love to categorize things (perhaps as a way to digest complex phenomena), there's a whole lot of grey area that makes it impossible to draw the definitive line and characterize things. HOWEVER, storytelling, especially fictional story telling, is just as important to be sensationalist as to be factual. We can play out "what if?" scenarios that scientific method cannot. We can entertain the idea of a god, or of alien races, or of a parallel dimension that connects separate existences together. But sometimes, especially in science-fiction, the closer you bring these fantasies into reality, the more engaging of a platform you have to tell a story. So here's my platform:
Back in the 40's, Erwin Schrödinger (yeah, that Schrödinger) gave a speech not on complex mathematical phenomena, but on classifying life in physical/chemical terms. He had this idea for a "aperiodic crystal", a crystal which held all of our genetic information. In reality, this is kind of what DNA turned out to be, so kudos to him. But there is this idea of an ordered, but not patterned, structure. He also had an interesting idea, called the Schrödinger's "paradox", where he argued that while everything trends to a more chaotic state (aka the second law of thermodynamics), life seems to become MORE structured as time goes on. How can life not tend towards a more chaotic state? Well the idea is that the order created within life must be offset by more disorder created in the surroundings of that life. Which leads to an interesting dilemma:
What if life WERE able to be extracted? Life, in its purest form, must therefor be the ultimate source of order. Just in theory, I have this world filled with disorder, and somehow I'm able to make the stars align and extract a completely pure substance. I must have to create a lot of "waste" to balance it out. This is where the blight in Cypris is born. This is how the world of Praxis 'dies'. Gathis is filled with life "manipulators", but in reality this isn't true -- the reason the faceless can "open up" the lateral to gathis/praxis while Marcus has to create this big life citadel is because they've actually worn the shell of their universe thin. Every action has an opposite reaction. Those rules don't change.
But you might ask, "Hey John, that's all fine and dandy, but what IS life extraction? It seems ridiculous." And it's not, really. Or at least plausible. Consider forces. Forces, as we know it, are really an observable effect on mass. Forces aren't materialistic, they aren't directly observable, and we have zero idea what causes them. They are more an explanation than an example. But what we CAN do, and we've become very good at, is quantifying the effects of these forces. So far we know of 4 fundamental forces: Gravity (which everyone is familiar with), Electromagnetic (eletricity, light, magnetism), Strong (what binds neurons and protons together), and Weak (which causes radioactive beta decay and sort of covers 'the other stuff'). What's interesting is, we REALLY only have good knowledge about weak/electromagnetic. We have theories about gravity and how strong and weak interact, but much less definitive. And for something that governs basically existence as we know it, what's it say if we don't understand the fundamentals?
Here's my take: everyone thinks that objects/mass cause forces. We have gravity because we have mass, there is light because of vibrating photons, etc. But what if it's the opposite? Force dictates mass. We are all trending towards a more chaotic state, that is a 'fact'. If you live in a world where there was ZERO forces, you'd never trend towards a more chaotic state. Throwing the marbles randomizes the order. Gravity causes mass to move. You could (theoretically) have forces without mass, but mass without forces? That's a finer line.
What's interesting is, none of these 'forces' cover what makes something alive. If these are the building blocks of all physical/chemical observed phenomena, then why can't it explain or innate need to replicate (to the cellular level), or emotions. What if there was an "unobserved" force controlling all this? I say unobserved as in not scientifically quantified, but you see it everywhere. What if this 'life force' is what dictates the line between living and nonliving, just like we say as a requirement of matter that it 'has mass' (and thus affected by gravity)? And just like with weak force, we could pinpoint it and say "aha! This is exactly what we mean when we say weak force". Marcus is groundbreaking in that they make this observation of the 'life force', and maybe rather than "extracting" life, they are able to "capture" it like a sponge filled with water. The urecite isn't LIFE, persay, but it contains life in its purest, unadulterated form. It hasn't taken a "host" yet (similar to how a virus is not living until it has its host cell), but it's just brimming with potential. The current rules about what's "living" are all from observation, but this 'life force' could very well operate in more ways than we can just observe. And with this capturing, the opposite force must happen, and that force is responsible for death. In my mind, in "praxis world" life is zero sum -- when things "die" they return to the ground, and from the ground that life is transferred into other things.
Ponder on that for a bit.