Some notes on Fine Structure so far (2008-05-04)

At the time of writing, the most recent chapter of Fine Structure is "The Story So Far", which ties together three major plotlines in the story: Ching's story thread, Mitch's thread and the teleportation saga begun in "Taphophobia". The latest development is that my seemingly unrelated story "Unbelievable Scenes", which I wrote in 2006, is part of the Fine Structure. In fact, it always has been.

History of Fine Structure so far

Fine Structure has been developing for a long time. "Unbelievable Scenes" (May 2006) was the first chapter of the story which I wrote. It was always intended to be the start of a very much larger story, although it can also stand alone. After this I wrote several more standalone stories set in the same universe: "On Digital Extremities" (July 2006), "Power Of Two" (December 2006), "Crushed Underground" (May 2007), and "The Astronomer's Loss" (June 2007). All of these stories make sense if read in isolation.

However, before all of this, I had written "Forgotten things in space", which features a man named Calrus. On a whim I decided to reuse that name for "Crushed Underground", thus retroactively incorporating "Forgotten things in space" into Fine Structure. "Forgotten things in space" was written in December 2005 and is the only actual retcon.

I started another apparently unrelated story with "Taphophobia" (June 2007) and yet another in "Indistinguishable from magic" (September 2007), though the eagle-eyed will have spotted the reappearance of the "Calrus" name. They will have also spotted the name "Ching" appearing in both "On Digital Extremities" and "Power Of Two".

Up until this point, all the stories were listed under my Fiction directory and the connections between them were not explicit. In fact, some long-time readers of my website will know that I have previously reused names between unrelated stories so they would be forgiven for assuming that I had done the same here.

In September 2007 I created a dedicated Fine Structure subdirectory and moved over all of the Fine Structure stories except "Unbelievable Scenes", "Forgotten things in space", "Crushed Underground" and "The Astronomer's Loss". This is probably where most of you came in. This is also the point where I stopped writing other fiction and began focusing exclusively on Fine Structure. A noisy and interested audience puts the pressure on.

First "retcon"

In February 2008 I retroactively incorporated "Forgotten things in space", "Crushed Underground" and "The Astronomer's Loss" into Fine Structure, moving them over to the FS directory and including them at the appropriate spots in the listing (which is sorted in ascending order of creation date, in case it's not obvious). This threw a whole lot of people for a curve and, in the absence of any commenting system on at this time, an informal discussion started up here.

At this point I promised that one additional story of mine was part of Fine Structure and some speculation began as to which one this might be. "Unbelievable Scenes" was correctly guessed by a few people, though I can't drop any hints as to the accuracy of their reasoning... after all, the reason why "Unbelievable Scenes" is relevant has yet to be revealed...

Another popular choice was "I don't know, Timmy, being God is a big responsibility", which would have been an enormous cop-out.

Some suggested that the Ed Stories could connect in. Here's why they don't: the Ed Stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. They are finished. I have learned a lot from writing them and now I am writing something else. Sometimes there is the temptation to write more in the same universe, but it is not strong and it does not come often.

Second "retcon"

In May 2008 "The Story So Far" was written and "Unbelievable Scenes" was officially "retconned" in.

I should state again here that "Forgotten things in space" is the only true retcon here. Everything else is more like revelation for dramatic effect. There are several other stories of mine, which are not incompatible with Fine Structure as it currently stands, nor with any future plot developments I have sketched out. These go back as far as "Some particles just shouldn't be accelerated" (February 2004!). However, I dislike altering past history for the sake of altering past history; it kind of subtracts from my original intentions at the time of writing of the retconned story, and it implies a lack of planning on my part. Which would never do. Besides which, "Forgotten things in space" has proven troublesome (more on that later).

Once the next chapter of the story is uploaded, "Unbelievable Scenes" will be inserted into the Fine Structure listing at the appropriate position (second). I noticed some people still discussing which story will be incorporated next, so I'll say this loud: There are no more surprises planned. All my cards are on the table now.


Fine Structure is to be continued.

"Forgotten things in space", by virtue of being written before I started work on Fine Structure, has proven troublesome to incorporate into the story/timeline. It also fails quite spectacularly as an opening chapter to grab the reader's attention. "Unbelievable Scenes" is better for this. Also, the events described in "Forgotten things in space" are not especially important to the story I currently have planned. And, of course, it is a retcon, which I dislike for the reasons outlined above. Therefore, I am reserving the right to strike "Forgotten things in space" from the record at some point in the future if it really becomes necessary.

If you think Fine Structure is the greatest science fiction you have ever read, then I suggest you go and read some good science fiction, since you have obviously never read any. For example Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross and Iain M. Banks. It should be plainly obvious by now that I also take a great deal of inspiration from comic books and comic book storytelling techniques, so in that vein I recommend Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis. As for non-books, check out my excellent peer The Custodian on Everything2 (scroll down until you reach the "fiction" heading and go from there).

If you have some specific questions (which you think I might answer) then ask them in the discussion thread below. If I decide to answer I'll move your post up here and answer it.

Oh, and one thing I forgot to say initially: if you have enjoyed the story so far, why not share it with your friends? Bonus points for anybody who dupes David Brin into reading "Crushed Underground" onwards.

Discussion (18)

2008-05-05 01:11:14 by GSC:

I don't think your science fiction is the best ever -- I'm an avid reader of it, and there's some truly amazing stuff out there. But that doesn't mean yours isn't quite good, not at all. Plus the way you're presenting it is quite captivating, revealing a little at a time, connecting and making sense of some things while revealing new mysteries. Though the fact that I like that doesn't mean that I don't want you to write _more,_ and _faster._ Keep up the good work!

2008-05-05 02:57:14 by JonnyAxehandle:

"There are no more surprises planned. All my cards are on the table now." Dang, I was hoping to see The Library integrated. Oh well, you have used the gray goo scenario in unrelated stories, no reason why you can't do the whole "alternate universe that's an index of ours" thing twice.

2008-05-05 03:43:57 by atomicthumbs:

"Oh, and one thing I forgot to say initially: if you have enjoyed the story so far, why not share it with your friends?" k

2008-05-05 05:44:03 by David:

I agree that Fine Structure doesn't look so amazing when compared to the big-name SF award winners, but it's nevertheless a lot better than some of the stuff that manages to get published by the likes of Asimov's and Analog, in my opinion.

2008-05-05 06:56:40 by Sean:

While it's true that your stories are by far not the *best* I've read, I will say that it has been a fascinating thing to have watched your style develop, both by delving into your past history and by checking by for the past 18 months. I congratulate you on having done something creative and impressive. I myself plan to try to enter the business after my MS is done (I've got a three-way tie for future plans: physics, fiction, molecular biology). Maybe in 18 months I'll have something to offer you.

2008-05-05 13:34:28 by Markus:

I've been reading your stories for years (started out on E2). They are good. Not great, but good. And I like to think, that even the big names started out with stories like yours. btw: if you like Charles Stross, you should definitely read Alastair Reynolds' "Revelation Space" saga.

2008-05-05 14:47:45 by Jymbob:

Yeah. I can also recommend Alistair Reynolds (and did at my birthday party, Sam. Take heed!), although I actually started at Redemption Ark and need to fill in some back story (Revelation Space, Chasm City) at some point. Seriously. How difficult is it for authors to number books in a series for the uneducated? I was about 5 tense chapters into Absolution Gap before I was convinced I was reading the next story in the series, and then I found out I'd started at book 2! Oh, and there are some spin-off prequels? Great... Thanks for making it up to the party, Sam. As always, good to see you.

2008-05-05 15:42:27 by Markus:

Absolution Gap is actually the third book ^_^ The reading order I'd recommend: - Revelation Space - Chasm City - Redemption Ark - Absolution Gap - Then the short stories and novelettes Chasm City is somewhat in sideways, it stands alone and you can read it anytime, but second is a good place IMO. ->

2008-05-05 18:52:16 by Vitronus:

A major part of Fine Structure's appeal is its unique format. Unfortunately, by its nature, future readers will never get the same experience as those of us who have been following Sam's stories for a while. They will never feel 'wowed' by the revelation that seemingly unrelated stories, which they read in the past, were linked all along!

2008-05-05 21:15:01 by SirQuady:

Vitronus, that's why I'm glad this page here, "Some notes on Fine Structure so far" is here. Without it I would have never known about/noticed these additions!

2008-05-06 03:15:19 by Andrew:

Hah, what a coincidence. You give a shoutout to Warren Ellis the day after I link to Fine Structure from Whitechapel, Warren's own forum. Small SF world, I guess.

2008-05-06 05:33:00 by David:

Vitronus: I completely agree. Seeing that last line of "Failure Mode" on the day it was posted really sent a shiver down my spine.

2008-05-06 13:37:16 by Rabidwerewolf:

I havn't read all that much good sci fi though I enjoyed the hamilton that I have read I found him rather crass which was off putting but your work ROCKS

2008-05-06 13:39:48 by rabidwerewolf:

all I can say is that your work has a unique feel to it which I love (oh that and the fact that none of it is X rated) your writing rocks

2008-05-07 21:56:28 by Mick:

This is some of the best sci-fi I've ever read, and I do read a lot. Perhaps not the best, but pretty darn good. I agree that reading it as it comes out is certainly the best way, and I can't wait until I can read some more. Keep up the good work!

2008-05-08 00:09:45 by frank:

this is excellent

2008-05-12 08:40:51 by pozorvlak:

I liked your work enough to work out a detailed timeline for Fine Structure (which I really ought to update at some point), so obviously I think it's pretty good :-) Maybe not as good as some of the authors you list (isn't "The Atrocity Archives" brilliant? I just read it the other day, in two long sittings), but better than a good fraction of the SF out there. Including much of David Brin's output, IMHO :-) Further to the X-rated thing: I have no objection to sex in literature, but no sex at all is infinitely preferable to the ham-handed heavy-breathing depictions beloved of, say, Larry Niven. Or, God help us, Isaac Asimov. It's kinda refreshing, actually.

2008-05-24 15:18:40 by ChrisJim:

I disagree with a lot of posts above. My main hobby is writing and performing (comedy, but also plays), and Iain M. Banks can't hold a candle to you. You've not indulged in 'quests', you've not bored us to tears with worldbuilding, and your characters actually have a little characterisation beyond "I am a smarmy git", although I can't but wonder if this last is simply Banks' own personality bleeding into his fiction.

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