I was thinking about this all the way through the first half of Fine Structure (because it seemed like a pretty obvious twist) and then someone actually suggested the possibility in the comments some time after Sundown, which was when I dropped the idea entirely.
Mitch Calrus, originally a mathematics teacher, becomes Xio's host body in Sundown, in the same way that Mikhail Zykov became Oul's host body in the events described in The Chaotician. The concept that information and thought are separate from matter means that the mind is distinct from the body. Note that the original Mitch Calrus dies, presumably of old age, some time in the 21st Century, while backed-up copies of his mind (well, Xio's mind) are resurrected in clone bodies or donor bodies many more times between then and 22985. However, mainly due to habit, Xio never really drops the "Mitch Calrus" name. Note that the Calrus seen in Crushed Underground will have a different physical appearance from the original, and the Calrus seen waking up in the second half of Postmortal is a soldier (whose name I never got around to inserting anywhere) who volunteered to have his mind overwritten with Calrus'.
As cosmic entities, the major difference between Oul and Xio - other than Oul being vastly more powerful - is that Oul is mindless. It is just a weapon or monster which has been let off its chain. Something that both individuals have in common, though, is that they show equal disregard for tiny, bacterial-level human beings. Oul because it is incapable of caring, Xio because he honestly doesn't believe that they exist.
When earthed in the human bodies of Zykov and Calrus respectively, these things change a little. Oul gains a great deal of intelligence, deviousness, tactical ability and so on, though he remains utterly indifferent to the fate of humanity. Xio, however, graduates beyond this. Though it's not clear whether he actually comes to respect or identify with humans, he does at least recognise that his goals and humanity's coincide.
The lesson of the story is that both Xio and Oul are the aggressors from humanity's point of view - they brought the war to humanity's doorstep. So, it is humanity that drives them both away again.
It is not a coincidence that Ching landed in 22985 at about the same time as the Sun falls into Umbra. In fact, it is a kind of causal loop. Oul's death has to occur at some point between when Ching lands and when the "solid moment in time"/"temporal wall" arrives and sieves Oul out of the universe entirely. So, by definition, Ching has to land at the moment when Oul is, by whatever means, killed. As luck would have it, Ching is able to save the universe and kill Oul manually instead of having to wait for him to die of "natural causes".
If that makes no sense, then yes, it's a coincidence.
Calrus was always Xio, he just didn't know it yet. Or possibly he did.
Ching is by far the most gifted student of the Script out of anybody in this story. Originally he is working on the Medium Preonic Receiver, which is (coincidentally) an application of Script technology. This project lasts years. Once he finds the Script, however, he builds his little device which is capable of detecting Powers by himself in a relatively short space of time and with relatively little equipment. By the end of the story he is at about the same level of knowledge as Jim Akker, and he has figured out how to take apart the mental blocks put into his head by Mitch. In order to do this he had to develop significant mental powers. He has also built his own Klick device - which, remember, is a metal box with nothing in it, which serves as the focal point for a machine which its user builds entirely in his or her head. Duplicating and cancelling out Mitch's 4D powers is relatively trivial for him.
Of course, once Ching reaches 22985, he travels to Antarctica, retrieves the Solution from the big dome, and thereby summons all of Xio's remaining power, becoming basically omnipotent.
As established in Last Ergs (sub-chapter "Escape From Planet Earth"), Alef is a discontinuity in an otherwise unbroken circle of universes making up the multiverse. The universes on both sides (+1 and -1) have now spent tens of thousands of years studying, analysing and failing to penetrate this barrier. In addition, it's been determined that Alef is the source of the reason why several critically important technologies, most notably afterlives (Jacob's Ladders), are blocked off from the multiverse at large. Alef is a massive enigma and solving it is massively important to them. They have been waiting for a long time, poised. Also, they have MITT-like technology, ramped up by a factor of a million, by now.
The multiverse is a closed loop. Alef is a point on this loop which can't be passed in either direction, so the multiverse is effectively a line with endpoints. That changes at the end of Science Fiction Future.
Anne Poole's role as an agent of the Imprisoning God isn't really important to the story, which is why I pretty much ended up omitting it. You can come up with any explanation you like. I did, however, have to put together a pretty monstrous piece of internal justification just to convince myself that doing this was legitimate, and in the explanation I came up with, Anne wasn't actually an agent of the Imprisoning God. In fact, she is a stupendously intelligent physicist who happens by chance to stumble upon the Imprisoning God's power and earth some of it in herself, much like the Powers' energy comes from Oul and the United States Special Air Corps uses superhumans who tap into Xio. She manages to keep this a secret - or at least, cannot decide how to break the news to others - up until the teleportation accident, when her past life is pretty much nixed.
These events were removed from the story by the same means that Muoka himself was. You will never know.
Just to be clear: at this point in the story, Mikhail Zykov is the shell of an insane convicted murderer who was sentenced to execution, containing Oul's raw lust for the destruction of all intelligent life on Earth. But he is not Oul. He is under Oul's control, which basically makes him a pawn. Zykov is nuts, psychotic, and he is playing mind games with Calrus. Zykov's plan is infallible. Remember, to come up with a plan to defeat Oul was going to take twenty thousand years of supercomputation. Zykov was going to blow up an entire solar system in order to kill one guy. How could that fail? Even if this doesn't convince you, it convinced Zykov.
No, although I may subject Fine Structure to a very substantial rewrite once I can summon the energy to return to it. Right now I am on a break.
He made it home.
Contrary to what is stated in Too Much Information, humanity is not the first and only sentient species in the universe, but the second. Oul was inadvertently summoned by an alien species on the other side of the universe, and Oul instantly destroyed that entire civilisation. Then a great deal of time passed before he was called by Zykov, who is a relatively tiny fragment which crystallised out on Earth much later.
This is one of those things which I should have left out because I didn't manage to explain it in any way and it doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. Oul is humanoid because the Power is shaped by local ambient intelligence. If he went to Mars, Oul would look like a Martian.
The clue is in the title of that sub-chapter. Only two people are killed in the final battle, namely Ching and Oul.
No, just Oul.
The "low-level" superhumans - the annual Powers and the ones created by the US Air Force - have a pitifully tiny quantity of power compared to Xio or Oul. Earthing the entire whack of power is massively computationally complex in either case.
Right up until the moment that you asked that question, I actually honestly believed that yes, Klick had been correct and all of his victims had in fact been jettisoned safely into higher dimensions ("heaven"). Certainly, this is what Klick and also Mike Murphy believed. However, you've correctly pointed out that that would mean that this escape route, unlike all the others, actually worked. This is not a reconcilable contradiction so I'm forced to conclude that no, it did not work. Klick was sadly mistaken (though there is no way that he could have known that he was mistaken). So was I.
Because I'm evidently very bad at "dropping just enough hints to allow people to figure things out". Sometimes really minor stuff got picked up on, but I guess a lot of the clues I put in there were far too subtle and there is plenty which I just didn't bother to hint at at all, either because I forgot or because I decided it wasn't important enough.
I don't know.
You would have to ask Mike Murphy about that.
I don't know.
Fought Oul, killed Oul and died himself.
Ching would probably have been killed, along with almost every other ordinary human being in the world, if he hadn't died of old age before they began.
Yes, he did. In the moment after Arika catches him in 'Verse Chorus, he actually changes his mind about trying to find his way home, and decides to stay with Seph.
Yes, yes, and maybe.
No, people continued to die like they always have.
The egg is what happens when a cosmic being's consciousness "condenses out" in real space. In the same way that matter gathered together under gravity can ignite to form a star, Oul and Xio's cosmic intelligences gathered together - pulled by the intelligent thought of all living humans on Earth - and formed an egg. Each. This is why Xio's egg in particular was found in the place where human intelligence first occurred.
Yes, this does contradict the fact the Oul has no intelligence. Sorry.
Good heavens, yes. This is the only reason for there to be a re-write at all.
That was Xio's egg. You know Oul had an egg? That was Xio's.
She and Jason Chilton killed one another.
All three theories are equally plausible. Those events were antimemeticised so you'll never know which explanation is accurate. Maybe a fourth theory could be the actual case. You don't know.
This isn't the case, Oul's victim just needed to be nearby.
That was Ching.
The multiverse arose because of the events of 'Verse Chorus. Ching knew exactly what happened and he was able to prove mathematically that a multiverse had arisen. In There Was No Leak when Ching says "I know you're watching. Help us!" he is actually speaking to observers in other universes, because those other universes have already begun to diverge slightly from his own and he suspects that there may be an alternate Ching there watching him. After twenty thousand years he knew that people would be watching and waiting to rescue everybody from Earth as soon as the walls came down. I hoped to make this fact more explicit but I didn't.
The Zeroth Law is from Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics. The Golden Rule is a real ethical concept. Both of these refer to the idea that Calrus and Poole are acting for the greater good of humanity, and in order to do this humanity still has to remain recognisable.
No, the sedative did not work. Yes, the other person was killed. Notice how the narrator wakes up "clotted" to the ground.
Ching has 4D powers by that point.
No, I'm not going to self-publish. Whatever the case, I would never publish a version of the story which was broken.
John Zhang created the Umbra as a permanent solution. He had no clear plan as to how to destroy it later, because he didn't assume that this would even be necessary. Of course, for the long-term survival of the human species, interstellar travel to other planets is needed, and for Xio to defeat Oul and for FTL to become possible again, Umbra needed to be destroyed. So it was only later that Calrus and Anne started working on an ultimate plan for destroying Umbra at the appropriate time.
By the time of Too Much Information this plan is pretty much final, but there is a lot of time remaining until it can be used. Umbra is an irresistible force and Poole is an immovable rock. Umbra and Anne were both created by the Imprisoning God. This means that if Anne is thrown into Umbra, the laws of physics will break down to such an extent that an intelligent consciousness (Anne) will be able to reset them to her advantage. This is the plan all along. The final years of the plan are a difficult mess (because Mitch is lost and Anne is forced to pull a spacefaring civilisation up by its bootstraps in order to recover him) but as luck would have it this is exactly what happens. The prophecies about Anne needing to be thrown into Umbra, for example, were set by Anne ahead of time. Unfortunately they got "activated" much earlier than planned.
Yes, this was the plan all along. Why? Well, by the time of 1970- Anne Poole has lived for ten thousand years and she has survived for that time - and dragged humanity along with her - mainly by killing a whole lot of people, not just in Crashes but in wars and plagues and so on. Spending twenty thousand years solving Mitch's problem gives her a reason to continue to live, and the human race is basically there to keep them both sane. But she is remorseful about this. It has been necessary to go to great lengths to "keep the human race alive and breeding in its burrow" and she regrets her part in this. She would atone, but unfortunately she is 1) immortal and 2) the undisputed ruler of humanity and guardian of human history. As Calrus notes in Too Much Information, there is nobody to hold her accountable. So, throwing her into Umbra once everything is resolved was Calrus' promise to Anne.
For the same reason that humans build nukes.
In answer to the last question, no, I don't. Firstly because it's just a catalyst for the story, not actually part of the story, and secondly because events in 80+6-dimensional spacetime are way, way beyond anything that I can describe or that you can understand.
As alluded to in least significant bits, for every universe there's a bigger super-universe. So, yes, it goes on to infinity. There would be a final infinite God over all of those finite universes, but just like in ordinal arithmetic, there would then be a God+1, God+2 and so on. It doesn't end.
Exactly what you see in the story, it killed 899,000 people.
This is correct. The Imprisoning God's behaviour is not totally consistent - the precise "punishment" for the various "escape attempts" varies a great deal, as does the amount of abuse that is necessary in order for a technology to be locked out (which decreases over time). However, it does follow predictable laws - this is what is alluded to in Ashmore's final message in Failure Mode and this is how the war is ultimately ended.
Yes. By erasing Muoka, he also erased all of his own memories of anything relating to Muoka.
The main point of this was supposed to be a parable about the power of the imagination is Nkube's final choice. She has just seen her entire life's work destroyed and she now has to decide between dying along with her dreams or carrying on in a life with no remaining purpose. I left her fate ambiguous, because the choice was more important to the story than her decision.
Nkube decided to stay. (And, in case you're wondering how Zykov escaped, he was airlifted out by Yefremova.)
You don't know! YOU DON'T KNOW. THERE IS NO INFORMATION.
Each universe is 3+1D. The multiverse is a stack of 3+1D universes, with ana/kata as an additional direction of travel, making it 4+1D.
Locally, the multiverse looks flat, in the same way that the surface of the Earth looks flat (2D) from up close. But because it actually curves around to meet itself, the space that the multiverse is embedded in is 5+1D, in the same way that the Earth's surface is embedded in 3D.
Yes, they happened. The Arkhangelsk disaster is mentioned in The Chaotician.
Yes, and it briefly worked, exactly as stated in the story.
An "erg" is an old-fashioned unit of energy, which was replaced by the modern "joule".
See Paper universe.
The location of the Power you're trying to earth.
Maybe. I sure didn't.
No. All technologies which were locked out before "'Verse Chorus" stayed locked out for the entire multiverse. All technologies which were locked out after that were only locked out for Alef. Other universes were free to discover and exploit.
All of them.
I never really thought to address that one. You can make up your own explanation for this if you want, but mine would be: "earthing Power" isn't a Script technology any more than "draining lakes" is a Script technology. It's just a thing you can do if you find a big pool of Power.
The 3+1D universe is actually 4+1D in the same way that a 2D piece of paper is actually 3D - because it has a very small amount of thickness in one additional dimension. But you can't move in that direction very far before you have to stop.
There are several, pick one. The laws of physics are in flux at this point. It could be that the Imprisoning God is rolling up his sleeves and about to smite Nkube and her colleagues. It could be that replication really has been locked out... for everybody except the Imprisoning God, who is of course omnipotent. It could even be that when Nkube says "This is not right", she means "this is no longer an acceptable piece of science; it has become abhorrent to the universe".
Questions like this can usually be resolved by allowing the universe to become a little fuzzier.
From "aleph"(א), which is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.