Fine Structure is noted for its highly nonlinear, not to say garbled, presentation.

As part of work on an end-to-end rewrite of the story, I assembled a chronological listing of the chapters according to the in-universe timeline, which I found made somewhat more sense.

Read from top to bottom.

Today in Fine Structure...


Remember to ignore the "Next: ..." links at the end of each chapter! Those will take you to next chapter in publication order, not the next chapter in chronological order.

Towards the end, the timeline starts jumping around even within the confines of a single chapter. Also, I think some characters appear before being introduced. Still, without dissecting the chapters themselves this is about as logical as the order gets.


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Discussion (26)

2016-03-18 15:35:34 by ratherdashing59:

I always liked the non-linear quality of the story. I think it adds to the suspense and confusion. I feel like it's important to convey a sense of confusion to the reader because it helps them understand the characters' perspective.

2016-03-18 16:33:27 by Mike:

I'll have to take a spin through this, but I do hope the end-to-end rewrite stays at least a little nonlinear. I liked watching the threads come together as explanations for previous events were gradually revealed. In particular, 1970- seemed to be placed acceptably the first time around.

2016-03-18 17:04:16 by qntm:

This listing should not be construed as an indication that the rewrite will be 100% chronological, or that this is the best way to read the story (c.f. that well-known Memento Easter egg). Still, this was an important exercise to familiarise myself with the overall structure of the story, which in my mind comes off as deliberately obfuscated rather than simply nonlinear. It breaks down into acts:

1. Something is wrong with the universe's physics! Attempts to discover the truth culminate in us finding out who Mitch really is
2. Failed attempts to repair science by sending Mitch home reveal that Oul is alive and gunning for Earth, concluding with the Crisis
3. Tens of thousands of years of calculations pass, at the end of which Ching, not Mitch, saves the world

I sometimes wonder whether calling the story "Fine Structure" subconsciously primed some readers to believe that yes, the structure of the story is indeed fine (as in intricate and beautiful).

2016-03-18 17:22:45 by qntm:

A partial list of problems in the current story:

* "On Digital Extremities" is in the wrong tense
* "Power Of Two" is written from the wrong perspective
* Subdirectory structure would be difficult to manage in book form
* Odd and inconsistent capitalisation choices in chapter titles
* Persistent overuse of the word "guy"
* Story now takes place almost entirely in the past ("this is not over and I am not dead" is mid-2009, the Crisis is in March/April 2017) and has some quite dated references
* Superheroes occupy only the first third of the story and become entirely irrelevant for the second half
* Detective Haddon and Srin Shapur drop out of the story entirely at the same time as Tom Muoka, unnoticed even by Ching
* Calrus' mind control properties aren't set up well and Ching's grievance with him is somewhat tenuous
* What the hell kind of name is "Calrus", anyway?
* Adrian Ashmore's sentence seems improbably harsh
* The DSFR cooperates unrealistically happily with Ching, allows him to keep his knowledge of how to build a Power detector, then basically lets him betray them and escape
* Why are Calrus', Zykov's and Poole's powers all so disparate?
* Where and when did Calrus get his powers? How come Oul has an egg and Xio doesn't? Also, why does Oul have an egg on Earth if the real Oul is on the other side of Alef?
* Why was Poole at the teleportation experiment and why did the Imprisoning God target her?
* Is the whole deal with storing and uploading Calrus' mind really necessary? What happens to Xio when Calrus dies?
* Wouldn't Mitch just give up on getting home eventually?

2016-03-18 18:49:49 by skztr:

* Superheroes occupy only the first third of the story and become entirely irrelevant for the second half

While I love how the story turned out, this was my main gripe while I was reading it "as chapters were released". An excellent premise about Super Powered individuals (essentially: "The next one is always as powerful as all of us who came before put together, +1; and we just accidentally killed the next one"), with awesome and unique writing from the perspective of the powered individuals... just got abandoned without any real resolution

I really feel like the main story would benefit from having the entire "powers of two" section taken out. I say this as someone who enjoyed reading that section one entire and complete lot. Maybe come back to it some other time, and separately.

2016-03-18 19:10:02 by qntm:

In fact I've thought about that whole possibility, and it may yet still happen. I think there's a complete story left once I subtract all of that stuff out...

But it would be a real shame, because so much of the story is inspired by comic books and superheroes. This is essentially my take on superheroes in the way that Ra is my take on magic. That's one of the major reasons why the whole thing is written in the present tense, that's why I have "Year Ten" and so on (implying the existence of a "Year One"), that's why Mitch has a power set almost identical to Martian Manhunter's, that's why "'Verse Chorus" introduces a multiverse. Oul is Galactus! I'd lose the "Power Of Two" action sequence, I'd lose the "Capekiller" action sequence and I'd lose the high-concept, three-bullet-point lede.

And remember: my other option is to *give that whole arc some real resolution*. Extend the superhero themes through the entire story, make it all count. It's a big job, but I think it's doable...

2016-03-18 19:49:08 by Ganeriii:

Dude, who cares about those minor issues, I've been dying here for the past half year waiting for something new from you! I mean, I can imagine you would really want to perfect something you wrote, but seriously, Fine Structure is one of my favourite things already as is and I think many people would have the same opinion.

2016-03-18 21:25:32 by qntm:

It's been a long while since I put any fiction on this site, but are you aware I spent most of 2015 writing for the SCP Foundation? <>

2016-03-18 22:06:14 by Ganeriii:

I was not aware there was so much on there! I think I read something at some point but it's getting quite hard to remember now...

2016-03-19 00:49:53 by camlorn:

I'm going to have to fall in the too hard on yourself camp. This is already really good. I much prefer it to Ra.
Hopefully constructive criticism:
There's only one plot hole that I feel like there isn't already an answer for somewhere and that I also haven't seen mentioned anywhere by anyone else. Why not just nuke our universe to start with? My "solution" is that Calrus is a coward. But the imprisoning god should already have a list of technologies that would allow escape, and they really should be switched off to start with. I see no reason that it shouldn't have just killed him in basically the manner Ching and Pool do except presumably the imprisoning god has more power and could probably do it with less effort. A "life is valuable" justification doesn't work for me either because the story makes it sound like life is more common than hydrogen.
I think that dropping the superhero aspect would be a mistake. At the very least it would probably change my interpretation of Mich. With that backdrop bringing to mind the archetypal stories, he becomes misguided and flawed as opposed to a supervillain. Then again I suppose that could also be sufficient reason to remove it, as you seem to be trying to subvert the trope. Removing the segment where Erica loses her powers would probably eliminate a lot of this impression. When you use the superhero stuff in this day and age, I don't think you can avoid this feeling of "everyone can be redeemed."
Making Ching one of the powers might work thematically, though I'm not sure how well it fits with the rest. You could maybe set it up as two mostly separate plots with Ching in common between them and bring it together for the ending.
And finally, settling on one name for Mich would be helpful. I gather that Xio is a separate entity, but switching between Mich, Calrus, and Xio is somewhat confusing. If he's most commonly known by one of those then the story should refer to him that way exclusively, at least in my opinion (but if Xio is separate that makes sense, if clarified. Except that Ching refers to him as Xio in conversation, I think).

2016-03-19 23:10:42 by lost in the woods:

Expunge the superheroes. They're cool, but they don't quite gel with the rest of the story. The concept of the Fine Structure as a whole is much more interesting.

2016-03-20 07:26:25 by scratskinner:

I say keep the superheroes, if only because being able to pull things together like you intend is a worthwhile goal in its own right. It would be good practice for the Ra rewrite.

2016-03-23 14:28:41 by theTrueMikeBrown:

I am excited to see what comes of a rewrite. I loved the original stories.

I always did wonder about what happened with the double crescendoing superheroes, and I thought about that plot point a lot while the stores were being written in the first place (it was super fun to me to try and come up with an explanation as to how they would deal with them in the future).

I think they should stay in.

2016-03-25 09:16:23 by jalapeno_dude:

I am confused about the order of Leaving the Real World and Fight Scene. If I trust that Freak Tornado and Capekiller precede Leaving the Real World, as presented here, it means that both Susie and Arika are *totally lying* about what just happened in the phone conversation they have with Ching at the beginning of Leaving the Real World, when I can't think of any reason for them to do so. If I assume that they're not doing that, it seems like Fight Scene has to come after Leaving the Real World, which is still a little awkward because Arika and Susie have to leave the house before Leaving the Real World, then return to it again at the beginning of Freak Tornado despite knowing that Moxon knows they were both in the house. Am I missing something?

2016-03-25 09:25:16 by jalapeno_dude:

Actually, on rereading the beginning of Freak Tornado again it seems clear that it's happening after Leaving the Real World, so it looks like you just have a mistake in the list above. Still a little strange that Arika isn't more alert after having had Moxon come to the house earlier.

2016-03-26 12:17:22 by qntm:

Honestly, I think that's probably just a continuity error.

2016-03-29 12:39:55 by Omegatron:

Are you going to keep the original version of Fine Structure around as an appendix or something after the rewrite?

2016-03-29 14:08:31 by qntm:


2016-03-29 19:51:14 by Creaphis:

This might sound strange, or maybe this is perfectly in keeping with the idiosyncrasy of your reader base, but I enjoy the challenge of darting around through time and space to piece a storyline together. Fine Structure and Ra are both puzzling, but puzzles are fun to solve. A story in which B consistently follows A, and in which the rules the world operates under are clarified up front, is a story that lacks the reward of hard-won understanding.

I can understand why you want to rewrite previous work - it's hard to ignore plot holes and dropped threads when they're just sitting there in the archives, seizing your attention, giving you twinges of guilt, like last month's IKEA purchase that's still sitting half-assembled in your living room. I wouldn't call this a "rewrite" though; it's really more of an adaptation. Episodic fiction and novels are completely different mediums. With episodic fiction, it's perfectly fine for the story's focus and style to shift as the author and readers develop their interests. It's perfectly fine to unceremoniously drop elements that could get in the way later - if your readers notice, they won't care, as long as the newest story is interesting enough to justify the departure. Each episode is a short story unto itself, without the inconsequential connective tissue that you find between a novel's important parts. A start-to-finish rewrite of Fine Structure to favour a single large arc would transform it into a different beast.

I'm looking forward to reading whatever you come up with, but I've also been enjoying other imaginative, disorganized, piecemeal fiction when I can get it. It's cool to learn you've been writing SCP stories. I'm an addict.

2016-03-30 04:50:03 by atomicthumbs:

>Also, why does Oul have an egg on Earth if the real Oul is on the other side of Alef?

with many cellular automata it is possible to start with a small structure that produces a great deal of chaotic growth as well as another, specific target structure

2016-03-30 04:54:59 by atomicthumbs:

>It's been a long while since I put any fiction on this site, but are you aware I spent most of 2015 writing for the SCP Foundation?


2016-03-30 05:03:04 by theTrueMikeBrown:

I just reread the entire thing again. In chronological order it does make a lot more sense, but was less fun to try to put together.

Also, I don't remember chang using his time based attack on xio in the last chapter (somehow in my mind he did it earlier in the story). Is the rewrite already going on on the live chapters on the website? That might make a lot of the comments make less sense.

Either way, when it comes out as a book I for one will buy it and tell all my friends about it again.

2016-03-30 07:46:33 by johnalexanderlaing:

Given that Unbelievable Scenes ended with a double knockout, maybe Xio's Egg is over at the far end of the supernova stack? Two boxers, each with a fist on the other's jaw (which I suppose makes Calrus's connection to the rest of Xio somewhat like the girl from Midori Days), two nations each with a humanoid doomsday missile in the airspace of the other's capital. The egg is some sort of logistical base, surrounded by a last-ditch absolute shield but incapable of independent action other than choosing hosts with 'lightning.'
The Imprisoning God's "egg" would then be inside-out, enclosing Alef. It was created for the purpose of containing Oul, and is more than sufficient for that on a tactical level, but, strategically, if the Imprisoning God knew exactly what Oul was, then someone in the larger multiverse would be able to interrogate the IG, recreate Oul, and the mess starts all over again.
So, then you've got the "remember, we agreed it's not a sphere?" bit, you've got Mitch saying "the Enemy is dead!" and getting smacked down with a big NO, and you've got the Batman/Joker "we're not so different" thing or the Captain America/Iron Man "take that armor away, what have you got" thing. To get someone out of the IG's box, you must prove that they have some quality which Oul inherently lacks.
Maybe the folks in Berlin actually did make it, because the device displayed proof to the IG that they had minds, but Paul Klick was unaffected due to some self-reference problem. Applying that same principle in a more comprehensive, less callous way would bring it all back around to the idea that everyone can be saved.

2016-04-01 10:55:05 by FK:

@sam: Thanks for the link to your SCP writings. I'd caught the first one or two, but hadn't realised there was more. Do you have more Antimemetics in progress, or are you done with that? Also, any particular reason you didn't also post them here?

2016-04-04 12:37:53 by skztr:

On the re-read, I definitely think I (conflictingly) preferred the non-linear presentation for the "post-crash" stories, as they are short enough that it felt nicer to see them as "glimpses", which I could build up in my head as larger than they actually were. However, I did find them a *lot* easier to follow in this format.

Regarding the eggs: The thing which always bothered me about Oul/Xio's eggs wasn't "why are they so far away?" but rather "why are they so near?" ie: given an entire merely-infinite universe, these things landed essentially right next to each-other. I can put things through my head like: perhaps Oul entered the universe at the furthest point which FTL communications were able to reach prior to the prison guard's intervention (which is still, in cosmic terms, in exactly the same place); Or maybe a 2nd, related technology was also locked out, after Oul had already instantaneously teleported to the edge of some local gravity well (screw drives?). The explanation that humanity is the 2nd intelligent species, and the other was also in the Milky Way, feels wrong, unless you want them to have seeded Earth.

I feel like Tom Muoka should have been a more major character prior to his erasure, so it would be easier to question his absence. I'm horribly bad with names / characters, though, so maybe he was already completely relevant, and I just don't remember anybody who doesn't have super-powers. Maybe the fact that he's forgettable is the point, though, so readers may go "Oh yeah, him..", but given that everyone at some point dies / retires dismissively, it's easy to assume that he was just one of those never-mentioned-again characters. Being with Ching during his realisation might have helped this.

I still don't like "Mitch's Reveal", as it still feels outright hostile / hateful, whereas the arc of the story always seemed more like it's not that he *doesn't like* humans, but that he is almost entirely indifferent to them. ie: he sees them as "cute", at best, but for the most part he doesn't care if trillions of them need to die in order to make sure his computer keeps running. I would expect Mitch to react towards Ching as one would react to one's pet chewing on the couch (followed by how one might react to one's pet trying to chew on *them*)

I had forgotten that Arika did get a "proper ending". Still sad that she was dropped from the main story, but I loved *her* story.

2016-04-18 16:54:31 by Ninety-Three:

Speaking of plot holes and story problems, I was re-reading the archives, and I realized a problem with Gorge. I'd comment there, but there's no comments section on that story (why is that incidentally?).

So the nanobots eat the probes and learn about space travel, which cues them to start spreading across the galaxy. But shouldn't they have already known about space travel? Maybe their host civilization hadn't invented wormhole drives, but surely they had put their version of Curiosity on their version of Mars. Why didn't the nanobots learn about basic rocketry and hit the other planets in their system?

Heck, did the civilization not launch any satellites before the nanopocalypse? The characters clearly would've mentioned satellites if there were any, so either the nanobots somehow knocked down the satellites without expanding to other planets, or this world invented hyper-advanced nanobots before Sputnik.