A Spark is a mad scientist. The term comes from The Spark, short for "the spark of genius", the mental attribute which is the sine qua non of a mad scientist.
- 1 General characteristics
- 2 Breaking through
- 3 The Crazy
- 4 Terminology
- 5 Sparks and Politics
- 6 Each Spark's characteristic style
- 7 Distribution of the Spark
- 8 Associated traits
- 9 Beyond the Spark
- 10 See also
- 11 References
To quote the Professors Foglio, the Spark is "whatever it is that makes Mad Scientists what they are. A poorly understood concept that identifies and incorporates a batch of personality traits shared by those who have it." They are "people who seem to have the ability to tinker with the laws of physics as we know them. They are brilliant, focused, and often impatient with those whose thoughts don't run with the speed or in the direction of their own. Because of this, some of those thoughts have veered off in truly alarming directions. This makes them dangerous and shortsighted...".
Sparks tend to inspire(or at least ) in lesser mortals and thus acquire a coterie of minions. This intuitive ability and associated charisma come at a price, however: Sparks are mad scientists who often lose awareness of and even concerns in their pursuit of technical apotheosis. In fact, down-to-earth solutions mostly strike them as .
There can be competent, even brilliant, engineers and researchers who are nevertheless not Sparks; and therefore will never make the intuitive leaps necessary to "truly warp the laws of nature" and arrive at such creations as Dr. Jekyll's formula, Dr. Frankenstein's monster, a Strong AI implemented in clockwork, or even the absolutely perfect cup of coffee. (However, some apparently sparky creations — such as nuclear submarines equivalent to Captain Nemo's Nautilus, heavier-than-air flying machines, Google AdSense, and mortgage-backed securities — actually do exist in our world.)
The first trip into the madness place is the definitive point at which one may be called a Spark. Prior to breaking through, the individual may have not shown any particular signs; afterwards, there's no turning back. This is usually and dangerous for bystanders, since breakthrough devices are notoriously destructive (with few exceptions). Most Sparks break through in
Young Sparks usually. If the breakthrough device does not kill its creator and everyone in the general vicinity, and the new Spark also survives the retribution of other survivors, he or she becomes part of the incessant power politics of the Gifted, usually as the pawn of an existing power who noticed the chaos, but sometimes (especially with appropriate protection and mentoring) they become players in their own right.
Agatha is a unique case as she did not really break through, the pendant she wore at the time easing and suppressing many of the Spark urges in such a way that she was more 'eased through' rather than break through.
Main article: The madness place
Even if they're not actually driven insane by the breakthrough, Sparks often lose rationality while they're working. This state tends to be marked by, (especially if ), and a serious .
Sparks are variously referred to as
Mad Scientist, and the archaic
Sparks and Politics
Sparks quickly gain , and eventually gather tremendous support unless killed by rival Sparks.through sheer charisma
Those that survive this process of attrition become the power players of their fictional world. If they successfully reproduce they begin lineages that are nothing less than royalty – right down to personal heraldic badges: the Heterodyne Trilobite, the Sturmvoraus Sword-and-Gear, and the Wulfenbach Winged Tower, for example.
However, this does little to satisfy their obsessions, and they spend most of their time dueling rivals when not engaging in dangerous experiments — which is what makes theone of unending conflict and cataclysm.
They are thus almost always generally despised, and are colloquially called "madboys" and "madgirls". But calling one this to his or her face is generally considered.
Each Spark's characteristic style
One of the features of the Spark is that each mad scientist has a unique style. At the grossest level this refers to the spark's preferred medium — which is often fairly easy to describe: Agatha Heterodyne works mainly with clanks and small-to-medium sized weaponry, for example; while Dr. Dimitri Vapnoople appears to have worked primarily with uplifting animals.
See also: List of sparky styles
There's more to it than that, however. A Spark's style seems to remain(at least to those who know what they're looking for) across projects, types of project, and technology levels.
It has been compared to the distinctive style of a painter, except that artistic styles are generally not inherited. Sparky styles can.
There are two major classifications of Sparks: Sparks who go into science, and Sparks who go into the arts. So far, Arts Sparks have not been distinguishable within the context of the histories. Possibilities exist such as Gospodin Rassmussin, a dance master and a member of a sparky circus could be an example as could Van Rijn but in this case their contributions could be no less destructive. Another example would be ; while the technological nature of her displays implies a certain level of engineering expertise, her work seems to be focused primarily on the artistic side of things (and it is nonetheless extremely dangerous, at least for clowns).
Distribution of the Spark
Apparently, only a small minority of the European population have the Spark, usually royalty; the Long War set the standard that unless you possessed some degree of Sparky power with which to keep your castle from being smashed by a spark (anomalies such as Holfung-Borzoi retaining defenses built by the Heterodyne Boys notwithstanding), smashed it would be. Thus, all royals are assumed to be sparks, though the children of sparks are not guaranteed to be sparks themselves, and sparks are occasionally born to commoners.
Degrees and limitations
The common perception of the Spark is personified by most of the main characters of Girl Genius (Agatha, Tarvek, Gil, the Baron) - mad geniuses whose genius and madness have shaped the world. This is not always the case.
Just as in real life, many talented individuals are born in poor areas, cut off from the education and resources that would enable them to put their talents to real use; a spark lacking such would at best be able to build a very dangerous boot. Also, there are varying degrees of talent; just because one has the ill-defined ability to "warp the laws of nature" does not mean one can do it in an effective manner.
Many with the Spark have just enough talent and/or knowledge to draw unwanted attention but not enough to protect themselves; peasants tend to grab torches and pitchforks upon learning a new spark has broken through, hoping to forestall the inevitable rampage through the application of pointy steel and fire. Surviving a trip to the burning windmill is likely to draw the attention of an established spark, who is equally likely to see an untrained one as either an undesirable competitor or a desirable test subject.
Master Payne's Circus of Adventure is filled with such Sparks; by disguising their creations as performance art they are able to hide their talents while applying them towards earning livelihoods. In addition, Dr. Dimitri Vapnoople was apparently incapacitated by the Baron's brain coring.
Null sex correlation
It is (or has become) generally understood that, despite the "girl genius" of the title, there is no (measurable) inherent difference in probability of males and females breaking through.
There are many more male than female Sparks in Agatha Heterodyne's Europa, but this is apparently due to external forces. There were hints  that this was due to the efforts of Prince Aaronev VI to revive the Other, using, at least in part, female Sparks captured by the Geisterdamen during their search for the Holy Child, a theory eventually outright stated by Tarvek.
Those female sparks that have been seen to date tend to be living in hiding (e.g. Countess Marie), living under the protection of a major power in Europa (e.g. in Paris or England), or such strong sparks that they have been able to protect themselves since shortly after breaking through (e.g. the Ancient God-Queens, Agatha herself).
Sparks are known for generally having a stronger constitution than ordinary human beings. For example, Othar Tryggvassen, Gentleman Adventurer, has survived airships. Some sparks have also displayed the ability to achieve feats of superhuman strength and reflexes -- for example, the ability to . (That might just be Gil, however.) These may be examples of phenomena where the body simply ignores its limits.
The fact that many of the musical characters are also Sparky suggests that the Spark may be associated with musical ability. At the very least, the mathematical construction of music may "click" with the Sparky ability to warp physics, even a little.
Highly variable neurochemistry
Beyond the Spark
There is evidence that some sparks can reach a "hyper-spark" state, attaining a level of intellect and ability even beyond what the strongest sparks are normally capable of. For instance, it has been implied that the Heterodynes have gained much of their power, directly or indirectly, from the Dyne, which despite poisoning most other people. Additionally, (including Agatha) have an especially strong reaction to being electrically shocked after drinking the Dyne's water, gaining a level of "supreme clarity" and sparky energy beyond what they would normally possess. Unfortunately, this condition is temporary; it requires an unsustainable buildup of energy within the body, and will cause the subject to explode if the energy is not dumped elsewhere. Queen Albia calls this " ", implying that other people have also found ways of reaching this state, and that the experience becomes less dangerous after the first time. (Or rather, that it becomes less dangerous for the spark, but more dangerous for everyone else!)
The Ancient God-Queens achieved a sustainable, permanent hyper-spark state, which involved actually , i.e. becoming . It's unclear how they accomplished this, but given the nature of the only second breakthrough seen to date, it likely has something to do with extradimensional energies and/or intelligences. The second breakthrough also seems to grant some degree of additional powers, such as (near-)immortality, shapeshifting, telekinesis, and a "halo" of floating symbols around one's head. It's not clear what relationship (if any) this has with "peeping into the infinite", though at least superficially the latter seems much like a temporary, limited form of second breakthrough. Additionally, Lucrezia Mongfish has that this state requires some form of consistent power source, though it is unclear what she meant, or if her suggestion was deceptive in some way.
It should be noted that, while these "hyper-sparks" are remarkably strong even by the standards of powerful sparks, they are not invincible, and they have been outmaneuvered and even killed by strong, experienced, and prepared regular sparks, much as regular sparks are often killed by non-sparks, constructs, and even their own experiments run amok. Lucrezia Mongfish, despite having given no indication to date that she ever attained a second breakthrough herself, has hunted sparks and hyper-sparks alike through history. Queen Luheia was killed by the Grey Witch (who we know little about but is likely a regular spark). Queen Albia maintained her grasp on England in the face of a rebellion a few hundred years back, but much of her kingdom has been sinking deeper and deeper into the sea since then. And Dimitri Vapnoople not only challenged Albia once and lived, he also, in combination with Agatha Heterodyne, banished the nascent god-king Lord Snackleford to dimensions unknown. So hyper-sparks, however much they might claim otherwise, are not literally unstoppable gods.