Magic is real.

Discovered in the 1970s, magic is now a bona fide field of engineering. There's magic in heavy industry and magic in your home. It's what's next after electricity.

Student mage Laura Ferno has designs on the future: her mother died trying to reach space using magic, and Laura wants to succeed where she failed. But first, she has to work out what went wrong. And who her mother really was.

And whether, indeed, she's dead at all...

Read from top to bottom. Ra is in progress, and will probably conclude next chapter. It seems to take me about a month to write each chapter.

Today in Ra...

  • to be concluded

Appendices

Downloads

  • Ra (EPUB) transcribed by raylu. Contains all chapters up to "It Has To Work"
  • Ra (EPUB) transcribed by Bela Lubkin. Contains all chapters up to "Why Not Just", and appendices

External

Precursor work

Ra is adapted from work I churned out during my 30 First Drafts project in November 2010. Remember, these are first drafts, written in an average of two hours each. Ra is a whole different story, and any similarity in plot or universe is coincidental...

Spoiler policy

A spoiler is when you discuss the events of a later chapter in the thread for an earlier chapter.

Speculation is never a spoiler. However, speculation should always be posted in the thread for the most recent chapter you have read.

Typo policy

Comments or parts of comments pointing out typographical errors will be removed at the same time as the errors themselves are removed. Thanks for paying attention!

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Discussion (46)

2011-09-09 19:49:16 by GaGa:

Oh la la.

2011-09-09 19:51:06 by Shnakepup:

Not seeing anything. This just popped up on my RSS...?

2011-09-09 23:15:15 by Sgeo:

Shnakepup, click Thaumic City

2011-09-10 01:31:46 by WhoKnows:

YES YES YES YES YES YES. I've missed Sam's fiction wayyyyyyyy too much.

2011-09-10 01:34:46 by WhoKnows:

Also, please tell me you're going to do more on Magic NASA. Because those stories were AWESOME.

2011-09-10 04:32:15 by anonymic:

I swear I've already read this. Posted somewhere else on the site? Or I've had the absolute most amazing deja-vu.

2011-09-10 07:26:26 by George:

Oh, I'm glad to be seeing you doing fiction again.
I have missed your narrative style.

2011-09-14 22:20:18 by Knut:

+1 to the four posts above me. It is BEYOND AWESOME that we will finally have some propper fiction to look forward to again!

By the way, does the magic in "Ra" still operate on the "you need to believe"-basis?

2011-09-22 14:48:57 by Leahnnovash:

You're not wrong. He has already wrote this one, when he did that 'a-story-every-day-during-a-month' challenge. It ends with [censored due to spoilers]. I am glad he is revisiting it. Maybe now we will see how the rest of the story goes? Will Laura manage to [censored due to spoilers]?

2011-09-22 17:42:15 by Sam:

To quote my comment from elsewhere:

You should assume that NaNoWriMo is entirely "non-canon" and that Ra is a whole new story. Anything that is being reused, you'll know I'm reusing it because I'll reuse it explicitly. For example, you shouldn't assume that magic Space Shuttles exist, or that Laura Ferno is her own adoptive grandmother.

2011-09-29 18:05:14 by Leahnnovash:

But I want to see the end of that story!!! :'(

2011-09-29 18:25:32 by Sam:

I never wrote an end to that story. You'll have to figure out one of your own, sorry!

2011-10-02 06:46:56 by MHD:

This is so awesome.

As always your work is fiercely inspiring!

2012-02-01 03:49:25 by Jake:

RSS posted "What You Don't Know" ahead of time. What happened, Sam?

What You Don't Know
from Things Of Interest
Ra » Previously Dr. Dan Czarnecki arrives at the lecture theatre thirty seconds after the lecture was supposed to begin and stalks down to the front through a noisy cloud of conversations-in-progress. He throws his leather briefcase at a chair, grabs a marker pen from the nearest shelf and begins scrawling a board-wide equation on the far left whiteboard. His handwriting is appalling, even worse on the board than it is on the heavily photocopied notes he sometimes remembers to hand out. Today, the marker pen is running out. Czarnecki realises this halfway through the equation, glares at what he's written, glares at the pen, caps it and hurls it overarm into the waste paper bin at the other end of the wide, mainly circular stage. The bin is metal, and there's a sharp and satisfying tang as it catches the pen. Czarnecki finishes the equation with a different colour. Only then does he turn around and start removing his gloves, hat and coat. This is also the point at which he will start speaki...

2012-02-01 09:25:03 by Sam:

It's not finished yet (marked as hidden, you shouldn't be able to see it). Obviously a problem with my RSS generator doodad.

2012-02-01 14:09:30 by Thrack:

It's also in the Sitemap, just so you know.
So will it be reposted in the RSS in some way? Or will I have to check back periodically? Personally I don't mind either way, I only *just* started using RSS feeds so it wont make a difference to me though naturally there are others who have probably used them for years.

2012-05-29 19:49:19 by Guy:

Hey- comments are disabled on Broken 'Verse.

That said, oh damn here comes fakebenj.

2012-06-19 18:33:48 by RHITphil:

Who are you and why hadn't I heard of you before? This is great work. It scratches an itch deep in engineer-me.

2012-09-09 11:05:04 by ayin:

patiently refreshing qntm.org every day for an update on this brilliant piece of work

2012-09-13 16:57:03 by Kazanir:

Amen to that.

2013-01-17 09:47:38 by Sengachi:

I never realized how much I missed this until I found it. Up until now, whenever I've read a magic-based book, I've generated a system of physics to fit it. But actually reading something that has a system of magical physics in place ... it's soothing. I didn't realize how hard my brain was working to compensate for author's inconsistencies until I didn't have to. This is awesome.

2013-02-27 13:10:13 by Iano:

Theory-- Rachel ferno was possessed by the same or similar thing as benj was during the events of the shuttle failure.
I find this more likely than her having a ton of knowledge far beyond everyone and not sharing it.

2013-03-01 01:16:45 by IanO:

More comments, after re reading the whole story I noticed some pretty cool re occurring themes. Specifically the conflict between rationale slow thought and passionate progress is repeated three times in the story: in the discovery of magic the son makes assumptions which he reacts angry to while the father is jut trying to verify an observation, Laura and her sister talking about how magic may not occur in space, and the patient discovery of the Jesus machine.

Add in the presence of some anachronistic powerful organization with magic far advanced beyond current technology, the narrative is set up to be an exploration of progress--how should it happen and what if it happens uncontrollably fast?

Also, Sam seems to really like the idea that there is a possible utopia awaiting humans (as seen in fine structure and Ed stories) that we are barred from. I'd be interested if this narrative confirms this hypothesis or if it asserts the problems of progress--magic being used violently, for example. It's worth noting that all the super powerful organization has done so far is kill people.

These notes were based on the latest story being the one with the introduction of The Past and The King, etc.

2013-03-01 20:27:14 by Sam:

It's not a utopian future that humans are barred from, so much as a utopian future that humans must fight for. In Fine Structure, of course, an actual cosmic being has to be fought. In Ra, the situation is a little more complicated.

2013-04-10 17:22:58 by Mike:

I am now checking this page every single day for updates. It took me a few chapters to get hooked on Ra the way I was with Fine Structure, but I really like where this is going.

2013-04-10 20:28:46 by Sam:

Mike, you will drive yourself crazy that way. Get a feed reader and subscribe to http://qntm.org/rss.php?ra

2013-08-14 15:51:40 by Joe:

I too am avidly awaiting Any new postings on this story;
As I exclaimed to an acquaintance: "if this is the best hard scifi I ever get to read then I am perfectly content"

2013-11-08 13:30:16 by Mike:

Minor nitpick: shouldn't Invisibility theory go here, too?

2014-01-27 14:19:57 by Eitan:

Sam, have you ever read the Young Wizards series?

2014-02-03 20:28:31 by Sam:

No. You should assume I'm illiterate.

2014-02-03 23:53:30 by Eitan:

Hah, it's just that it has a similar concept. Of course Young Wizards is nowhere near as intricate and science-y as Ra, but it is pretty awesome.

2014-03-18 15:39:02 by Camlorn:

Yeah. Young wizards is good.  I think I've read it like 3 or 4 times.  Much less sciency, but magic is programming and entropy is important, etc.  Somewhere between modern fantasy and soft sci-fi, depending on which book you're reading.
I should read Ra now that it's long enough; the total time it takes me to read Fine Structure is about 3 hours (I'm on read 3, and come back to it every 4 or so months).  I can't figure why I never noticed the at least superficial similarity between Ra and Young Wizards before.  Come to think of it, Fine Structure also has a similarity in Eka (it may be more than superficial, but I've never been able to satisfy myself whether Eka is a source of knowledge or the actual framework of thought needed for the Klick device and some of the other stuff that people do.  I'm going with the former.).
I think Ra is the only thing left of yours I've never read, mostly because of my self-imposed don't-read-uncompleted-series rule, and this comment has gone off on a tangent.

2014-04-09 14:38:05 by Sam:

I'm re-reading this and wow, the first few chapters are quite weak, aren't they?

2014-04-11 07:16:50 by Eitan:

Yeah, not a lot that's interesting takes place. You should really put up a minifeed for all new comments on the site so that people can actually respond.

If you're thinking of doing a rewrite, I assure you that Fine Structure needs it far more desperately. I couldn't even follow the basic plot on the first read; I pieced it together from multiple rereadings and by going through your explanations in the comments.

2014-06-10 17:24:54 by Mike:

For what it's worth, I don't think the first few chapters are weak. To me, they feel like the part at the start of a rollercoaster where you're getting cranked up the big hill. They're more or less essential to the story, and while they move relatively slowly, there's a building menace/mystery to them, and once the story really takes off, you're grateful for the setup.

I say this as someone who binge-reread the whole series a few days ago.

2014-07-03 17:27:01 by Pedro:

I couldn't find this on GoodReads so I created it there: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/22635765-ra

If there was already a page there it can be merged to that one; if you have a goodreads account, you can claim to be qntm and link the author page to yours; if you don't have a goodreads acount, you can create one and do the above.

2014-07-04 02:46:27 by Ranko:

I was directed here on a link posted by the author of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, I will have to go and thank him for this, I love your work, just read the entirety of "Ra" as far as Machine Death (currently most recent posted chapter) in the last day and a half. Thank you so much for doing what you do!

2014-07-11 22:18:53 by James:

Exactly this ^ - this is a brilliant story, and I'm going to go insane waiting for both this *and* HPMOR to be finished!

2014-07-12 08:00:47 by SubIgnition:

This is easily top five, maybe top three, out of all the fiction I've ever read. Fantastic story and like the others on that list I have stumbled upon it before its completion.

The only thing you could have *possibly* done better is to rename Nick Laughon. If only for the sake of the cosmically awful "Dante's In Ferno" pun.

2014-07-28 06:13:06 by Andrew Burks:

I also came over on the HPMOR boat.  Good work!  I had a great week binge reading :)
I'm watching closely for the epic conclusion!

2014-08-03 11:26:23 by Irene Knapp:

This is incredible.  High-concept blend of philosophy and computer science, avoiding all the usual existentialist and transhumanist tropes and saying new things about both.  Really solid characters.

You mentioned that you find the early chapters weak?  I don't think so.  With something like this, where "truth" (whatever that means) just keeps turning out to have another onion-layer enveloping everything we thought we knew...  Well, it's really hard to get the reader on the same page as the author.  The buildup NEEDED to be slow.  We all needed to learn the rules, so that we could be astonished when they were broken.

Very much looking forward to the resolution! :D

2014-08-07 15:36:20 by jw:

I'm having difficulty opening the epub file. My Android tablet recognizes it as a txt file so when it opens with a document reader, it's gibberish. I tried moving it to my nook reader, but it doesn't recognize it. Any suggestions?

2014-08-07 15:39:52 by Sam:

Odd. The first EPUB link is served as text/html and opens fine in my browser's ereader. The second is served as text/plain. I don't know why the web server is making this distinction. I don't think this is due to the file extension on the second file (which a very naive server might interpret as "3-thru-work.epub"). It must be something to do with the files' content?

I'll need to do some research. In the mean time, what happens if you download the EPUB locally and then open the local file with your ereader?

2014-08-12 12:46:27 by lxgr:

The problem with the second file is likely that it doesn't have the correct "magic number" for an ePub file. (Basically, the first file in the ZIP archive has to be an uncompressed text file named "mimetype", containing the string "application/epub+zip". This results in a file with the string "application/epub+zip" at an offset of 38 bytes from the start; some software (which probably includes your web server) uses this to determine the MIME type.)

Here is a nice tutorial: http://www.bradleymedia.org/gzip-markdown-epub/

Thank you very much for "Ra"!

2014-08-20 22:49:02 by Sam:

Bela tracked the issue down and has provided me with fixes both for the EPUB and my web server. Everything should be cool now, please advise if it is not.

2014-10-06 14:00:31 by Blind Gardener:

I was reading it and I find some of the actions that occur to be really morally questionable. Are *all* your characters evil?