The Making Of Fine Structure

So let me tell you what I was trying to achieve with Fine Structure.

This is going to be a little difficult for me to write because one of the first and most important things I was aiming for here was to write as original a piece of science fiction as I could manage. I deliberately tried to avoid invoking as many science fiction (and general fiction) tropes as I could. Irony? I wanted to create something which was pretty new. The central concepts of Fine Structure - most notably, the concept of information as a substance with an equivalence with energy and mass - was, as far as I know, pretty much entirely original, as well as naturally (through a little creative application) giving rise to a surprising number of wonderful new technologies and powers, such as teleportation, telepathy, mind control, memes, antimemes and other things which are generally impossible. Memes and antimemes in particular, as powerful tangible objects with offensive capabilities, are pretty new in modern fiction. This also gave rise to the concept of the Script as an informational representation of the Structure - "the same thing from different angles". The Script also builds from a concept I first outlined in the Ed story the annoying orange orb outside my window each morning, which in turn was inspired from the line in Futurama where it's revealed that while FTL is still impossible, scientists have simply increased the speed of light to enable intergalactic travel.

The major source of inspiration for the Powers plot, meanwhile, was comic books. I love comic books. Like all media, they have their criticisms, but most of all I like the scale of the stories, the absence of anything in the way of a budget, the lack of restriction on who can appear where, and the idea of working in a shared universe which has so much historical significance and inertia after being built up by previous generations over decades and decades. Comic book movies do exist, and despite the limitations of the medium they have, for the most part, served well. Comic book prose, meanwhile, has usually been pretty unpleasant. I can't get past the first chapter of the Crisis On Infinite Earths novelisation and it's written by a guy who writes truly tremendous comics. They are simply different skills. Tying together as many superpowers as possible inside a unified and logically consistent framework was fun, sure. I'm particularly proud of the fact that Mitch Calrus' power set is almost exactly the same as the Martian Manhunter's. X-ray vision, invisibility, intangibility: all covered in one entirely rational leap of logic! But the main challenge I saw in front of me was "how do you write a comic book fight?"

I wanted to put the reader right there in the moment. This is why Power Of Two is written in the first person perspective, and why the whole story (other than the anomalous On Digital Extremities) is written in the present tense. Comic books are written in the present tense, and these days the "internal monologue" is pretty ubiquitous, and both of these practices put the reader closer to the action. It feels like it is happening now to me, not something that was happening then to that guy. I also wanted to capture the scale of threats which comic book universes feature so frequently, in a way which felt as close to reality as I could manage. In case you hadn't noticed, Oul is the Galactus of the Fine Structure universe: the cosmic, unstoppable supergod which we see coming from space to destroy the whole Earth, which we then drive off with our superior science and heroism. This is also why there's a Fine Structure multiverse. It just occurred to me one day that there should be a multiverse, and this is where the chapter 'Verse Chorus, in which the multiverse is created, came from. The underlying thread of a series of superheroes, each one being twice as powerful as the previous one (and hence more powerful than all the previous superheroes combined) is one which I've had in mind for years and years.

I wanted to capture the pace, scale and frantic complexity of, let's be honest here, Grant Morrison and Joe Kelly's JLA comics. I wanted to build a story complex enough to be worth multiple readings, with buried detail for the closely observant - although I've dug most of that up myself in the Q&A. Several of the chapters aren't intended to tell a story but to capture feelings at specific moments in time, similar to how my good friend The Custodian did in his short story Chase scene whose title I immediately knew I had to steal to make Fight Scene. And, most of all, I wanted to be able to build up to a monumental climax in which the whole world and everybody in it is miraculously saved, at tremendous cost, and at the last possible millisecond, from the direst peril. This is how every superhero story ends, right? "All the heroes are dead. The Sun is falling into a black hole. The anti-God makes Earthfall in fifteen minutes. It's time to save the world. TO BE CONCLUDED."

I wanted to improve my descriptive skills, which is why Fine Structure is less driven by dialogue than the Ed Stories were. 1970- in particular was a major exercise in description for me. For future stories, I'm intending to work on my characterisation and giving unique voices to characters. At the moment they all sound pretty much interchangeable.

As for a moral-- an implication for the modern world, as is traditional in science fiction-- well, Fine Structure is a story about the importance of science. The main message of Fine Structure is: science will save the world. Science is the only thing that can save the world. Science is unstoppable, reason cannot be killed, logic cannot be stopped, there is no force on Earth which can stop a scientist from learning, and turning our backs on science will doom us all. Even the gods are rational and obey laws. The future is not something which happens by just waiting for time to pass. And if you want to be assured of a life after death, you have to build it yourself.

Thank you all ever so much for reading.

Discussion (19)

2010-02-02 01:46:09 by Col:

No, thank you, sir, for writing.

2010-02-02 07:44:09 by Fjord:

@Col: Hear, hear!

2010-02-02 08:47:49 by skztr:

If a goal was to translate comic-book style action into written form, I'd just like to say you have succeeded wonderfully. Your writing has changed the way I read comic-book action.

2010-02-02 09:07:40 by scotherns:

You have achieved all you set out to do. Congratulations, and many thanks!

2010-02-02 17:58:10 by kabu:

What they said :P

2010-02-02 18:53:26 by Abdiel:

Although I know you generally reject this kind of comments, I have to say that Fine Structure is one of the best SF stories I have ever read. Thanks for making it happen!

2010-02-02 21:35:16 by YarKramer:

Hah, welcome to TVTropes. Isn't it grand to try to "make something original," only for someone to come up with at least three pages worth of tropes? (At least it doesn't have Cerebus Syndrome and Downer Ending, like the Ed Stories would if they had a wiki-page ...) I'm not a comic-book fan, mostly due to, um, the *bad* parts (must pay a monthly fee, the way some of them have continuities and callbacks so dense you can't possibly keep track of them on your own and just about every third panel has a footnote directing you to "Excessive X-Men #69105" or "When Superman Met Batman #12" for an explanation ...), but I must say that if you were planning on capturing the good parts, this is certainly a resounding success. The way it has sprawled outward and the lengthy time between updates has made me lose track of it a few times, but I have to say that on the whole, it's good.

2010-02-03 15:48:57 by Mick:

First of all, it is utterly impossible to write something without tropes- even if you intentionally avoid tropes, you will merely suceed in useing their anti-trope. That said, this is beautifully origional, amazingly done, and even updated at a reasonable rate. I've been here, reading your stuff for almost 5 years, Sam. Your writing has improved, your plots have improved, your characters have improved, and you know what? They were awfully good to begin with. Thank you for spending so much time to give me so much entertainment, and plenty to think about on the side.

2010-02-03 15:49:26 by Stel:

> It's literally impossible to say anything about this series without it being a spoiler. *grins* Never was a truer point made. Magnificent work.

2010-02-05 23:04:28 by Tyler:

I just want to say that I really enjoyed your story, and I'm going to have to read it again now that I know what's going on. Your work kind of reminds me of Michael Crichton or even Tom Clancy, focusing more on the concepts and story more than the characters. Not that it hurts the story too much. I look forward to reading whatever you come out with next.

2010-02-07 04:12:22 by eneekmot:

Ugh... Sam, you lost me at the TVTropes link! I didn't make it back for an hour!

2010-02-07 05:02:55 by eneekmot:

Good job! I'm anxious to see what comes next!

2010-02-08 02:02:19 by Ryu:

"The central concepts of Fine Structure - most notably, the concept of information as a substance with an equivalence with energy and mass - was, as far as I know, pretty much entirely original." As far as I can tell, the field of physics actually takes this concept pretty seriously and has been doing so for a while.

2010-03-04 10:43:13 by LordBlob:

I want to comment on the comment in first paragraph of information being a physical concept, and hope that having read any other won't cause me to make a useless one. In a Thermal Physics book I studied, one chapter was dedicated to information theory, where the mathematical symmetry between information and entropy was described. As far as I recall, it gave a really trippy description of the universe using the concept of information (also, a recent article appeared in a Dutch newspaper which was a description of the universe that I think was an alternative to Relativity) Seeing that the formation of mankind and life in general is single handedly giving the finger to "constant rise of entropy", and finding the symmetry between entropy and information, I thought entropy might still be increasing, even in the organic structures, but in the form of information. A vague comment, but I hope it is of interest.

2010-03-04 11:29:30 by qntm:

Actually, life on Earth does not contradict the "constant rise of entropy" law. Earth is not a closed system, it is constantly receiving huge amounts of energy from the Sun. When you consider the Sun and Earth as parts of the same closed system (which is still not accurate, but much closer to the truth) you see that pretty much all order arising on Earth is an indirect result of solar energy, which in turn is the result of a huge amount of disorder arising in the centre of the Sun. Total entropy over the Earth/Sun system is constantly increasing at a fantastic rate as the Sun burns up.

2010-03-13 22:52:18 by Voodoo:

2010-02-02 01:46:09 by Col: No, thank you, sir, for writing. 2010-02-02 07:44:09 by Fjord: @Col: Hear, hear! --- Seconding this.

2011-01-29 16:58:28 by Joseph:

Thirded. This I probably the story that I have enjoyed the most in the last five years (at least).

2020-07-12 12:58:59 by matt:

Just finished reading it. In my reviews elsewhere, I've said that if you want to know how someone 256x stronger than a normal human - and can fly - might attempt to rescue a passenger jet falling out of the sky and tumbling about all three axes... this books is for you. I've read a lot of science fiction over the past 40 years. I've never read anything like this.

2023-02-02 00:52:03 by Helaman Wilson:

With respect, my main problem with Fine Structure is that the Prison God *doesn't* appear to have consistent rules. Or, well, not ones which make sense on a Watsonian level. Allegorically, it's God As Enemy To Science. Not my favorite theological stance, but eh. I can call it Abaddon, or something. In-universe, though, its' job is to keep Oul from breaking out. It lacks the ability to distinguish Xio from Oul. And despite this, it doesn't destroy the universe. It doesn't even clamp down on their Powers. It just targets, quite arbitrarily, the technologies whose development was hastened by studying the Set. Why?

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