The Fine Structure Negative Feedback Thread

Obviously Fine Structure is not the last thing I will ever write. If for any reason you did not enjoy the story, please take the time to share your feelings here below - in particular, what aspects of the story are weak, what aspects of my writing are weak, and what things you would like to see me pay more attention to in future stories. Thanks in advance for all your comments.

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Discussion (29)

2010-01-27 17:02:47 by Dentin:

Sam,

I truly loved the story and clearly need to go back and reread it all. However, I think it could use a couple passes of global optimization.

Consider that the work consists of a number of independent modules of varying quality and size, written at different times over the course of many years. Nothing exotic, just a cleanup/editing phase to take care of minor plot holes, improve explanations (or move explanations elsewhere for dramatic effect), and make wording more precise/clear. IMHO, this would be the icing on an already very unique work. I do not in any way advocate a complete rewrite, rather something more akin to running 'indent' and 'lint' on it, then cleaning up all the warnings.

For some reason there seems to be a tremendous resistance to retconning/updating works of literature, but I see no reason for there to be. I also see the value in preserving previous versions and drafts, and it would be neat to have both revisions available should you decide to do updates.

Thanks again!

2010-01-27 17:12:46 by LabrynianRebel:

Before you ever publish this (hoping) you should go back and make some minor additions here and there and simply brush things up, also I think a differant version of "The Astronomer's Loss" would be included in such a book that's consistent with the New Cosmology (or else the readers will be confused and an explanation to why it doesn't fit doesn't really work in a novel)

2010-01-27 20:01:17 by mlah:

I liked it overall but the one thing that bugged me was you used just crazy pseudoscience. I don't expect it to follow science exactly, that would make for fairly boring stories but so much of the story is based of how the science in the fine structure universe works but never actually explain how it works. It pretty much comes down to you saying "I say this happens so live with it" in which case the I don't think you should tie it into science at all. If you are going to call it science it needs to make some kind of actual sense.

2010-01-27 21:24:46 by Dentin:

I actually thought it made a lot of sense. It doesn't appear to reflect what we currently know of reality, but pretty much everything is described in a way I thought was internally self consistent.

2010-01-27 21:43:20 by Vitronus:

The Astronomer's Loss was an interesting standalone piece, but it feels rather contrived in Fine Structure.

2010-01-27 22:42:48 by Ian:

As amazing as the writing is, I felt that within the last three or so installments, you ramped up the speed and were eager to finish. I'm not sure how accurate that is, but that's the way the writing felt. The ending merely felt thrown together because of the speed that it arrives. You said yourself at the end of "Last Ergs," "Fine Structure has become increasingly exhausting for [you] to write," and, "Any one of the six stories that make up this chapter could have been expanded to the size of a full chapter by themselves, particularly "The Red" which is about the right length already. The problem is that doing that would have been monumentally time-consuming for me (I don't know if anybody's noticed, but it takes me about a month to churn out each chapter) and four of the six stories themselves really aren't moving the plot forward so much as filling in gaps in Known History, and making certain matters more clear and explicit."

I understand the exhaustion as much as the next guy who's never personally experienced it. I would never want "Fine Structure" or anything else you write to become a chore. When it stops being fun to write and starts becoming work, that's when the quality starts to dip. Unfortunately, though, you went the opposite direction and the quality dipped because you wanted to finish it as quickly as possible.

While those expansions you said are possible may not add much to the plot itself, making things more explicit and clear is exactly what this story needs. Make the plot lines that need to be wound up clear so that when they are wound up, the reader actually notices them and says, "Oh man, that was great." Otherwise, there's no real sense of satisfaction attained from reading the ending.

Granted, the writing is amazing. Excluding a couple of bits where I'm not sure if your heart was really in it, every chapter you've produced has been great. But I want *more* of the writing not *less*. And I think that's where your ending suffered. It's rather unfortunate, and I really hope you go back and expand "Last Ergs" and other chapters which are similar into the length each bit deserves to be, but thanks for producing what you did, Sam. Even as it is, you kept me reading for long enough that I would buy it if you published.

2010-01-28 00:05:29 by AndrewFL:

The build up was so long and the story had grown so complicated, that it was a bit of a let down for it to be resolved as quickly as it was, in the last couple of chapters.

The pace of the resolution is my ONLY issue with it however.

2010-01-28 06:12:17 by kabu:

The ending feels a bit rushed. I really like some of the "deleted scenes" for giving hints at Xio's true nature, but I understand that they didn't fit well with continuity.

For the rest, see the Positive Feedback section.

2010-01-28 08:18:41 by skztr:

I suppose it's a bit of a cop-out to put something like "I wanted MORE!" in the negative-feedback section, but still:

I liked the whole "Powers of two" superhero premise, and though I may have my dates or other details reversed, I seem to recall liking the idea since first reading it in a day-log of yours on e2. Perhaps unfortunately, that part of the story seemed to become more of a side-effect of the main story, and never reached the sort of position it had been building up to. While I loved "fine structure", and I loved the "powers of two" arc, combining them made "powers of two" take a back-seat that I don't think it deserved.

I was typing this is Q&A, but it sounds more like negative feedback, so I re-worded it and stuck it here. Still, I do wonder, Q&A-wise , was the "powers of two" part of the story originally intended to have a greater role in the conclusion? And now that you've got it in as part of Fine Structure, is is "out of your system", never to be revisited?

2010-01-28 08:33:45 by eneekmot:

Like Dentin said, you really ought to do an editing run of Fine Structures, if only to prepare it for paperback novel format. I understand that the changing chronology was a fun part of its presentation in its online format, but now that it's done it'd be nice to have it in an easier-to-read format.

Secondly, it DID come as a big surprise when Mitch is revealed to be a telepath. You do have that part early on where he steals money from a bank, a very simple "with great power comes great responsibility" moment, but I think this side of Mitch could have been better-developed.

On the flip side, we mostly see Oul's Powers doing good stuff, saving humanity like superheroes should. I totally missed the irony (and implications) of this until I started reading the comments threads an hour ago. Maybe you could have stated it explicitly at one point to contrast with Mitch being selfish.

2010-01-28 10:15:40 by Vladimir:

In my opinion, most constituent parts of the story - the "powers of two" sequence, the "failed teleportations" sequence, the Crashes, etc - deserved better, more specific plot development and explanations. Right now they all fall under the umbrella explanation that "generic superpowers did it". This is IMO the worst shortcoming of Fine Structure: it has brilliant setups, but the resolution is meh. It would've been great, for example, if Ashmore and the Michaelson lab crew played some role beyond generic victims.

2010-01-28 12:07:21 by qntm:

This was the problem of simultaneously trying to write an ongoing story and making each chapter stand alone as much as possible. "Failure Mode" is mainly about an accident which goes wrong, and how the victims of that accident deal with that accident.

It does have some broader purpose, though: it shows in the most dramatic possible way that the laws of physics are changing in order to hurt people. Also, Ashmore's final message is clearly directed at the Imprisoning God (not to be revealed as a sentient creature until "'Verse Chorus", five months later) and foreshadows the ultimate conclusion of the story, in which all the laws of physics are unlocked and humanity wins.

2010-01-29 22:40:09 by cryforhelp:

I've followed the story since you had the first few chapters up, and never went back for a re-read. In that time I have _completely_ lost track of who's who, and in which timeline and era they are. I will go back for a re-read, now that it's completed, but I'd like some sort of character summary, like you did with 'concepts of fine structure'.

2010-01-30 07:04:19 by David:

On a completely different note, the character encoding of "2048" seems to be slightly messed up. The content-type tag specifies UTF-8, but the text is encoded as Latin-1, which means the center-dot symbol in the equation "|[A]| = p(·,|[A]|)+1" shows up as a question mark in my browser.

2010-01-30 09:53:36 by qntm:

Fixed.

2010-02-05 16:03:29 by DissatisfiedCustomer:

This isn't going to be popular but... I loved the series right until the end when you chose to resolve things by killing every human being on Earth. You scan them, you virtualize them, and whatnot, but from my point of view it's still killing them. To enjoy fiction -- and especially science fiction -- I've got to be able to get into the minds of the characters and the mindset of the society. I'm the average guy in the street in real life so I look for satisfaction in story endings that would satisfy me if I was Joe Average living in the story as well. You blew up my planet, Sam. You murdered me. Recreating me in virtual reality, well, thanks for the thought but I'd rather you'd asked first.

2010-02-06 02:10:55 by Andrew:

Disappointed, reading the last section carefully enough makes it seem like all of Humanity Zero was teleported out before the Earth exploded, safe and sound. They had to be reduced to their component atoms, but I assume they made the trip alright.

2010-02-06 04:14:56 by YarKramer:

Hmm. If I must gripe, I'll say that I seriously think you ought to have done something more satisfying with Thomas Muoka than abruptly ceasing to mention him, revealing in the *very last chapter* that if he survived at all he suffered a fait which is arguably worse than "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream," and then refusing to give any kind of explanation for this because *the possibility of anyone knowing this has been removed!* Yes, the possibility has been removed in-character, but since *I'm* not a character in the Fine Structure universe, it feels kind of annoying and pointless, as if the author was saying "Something interesting happened, but I'm not gonna tell you, nyah-nyah!" It would probably be better off without that at all. At the very *least* you could insert a chapter right after Muoka's final mention with two page's worth of "But Muoka saw SOMETHING and had to be removed!" but if you're going to refuse to give any explanation at all, you can probably come up with a more satisfying example of "Mitch being a flawed human who did some regrettable things."

For that matter, it could have done with more/better leadup in general. I may have forgotten previous examples (see other comments to the effect of "I completely lost track of everything"), but it's as if this "flawed" aspect of Mitch Calrus had no foreshadowing or telegraphing whatsoever, with the sole exception being "Crushed Underground," and it seemed completely out of the blue. Ditto Ching coming out and resolving things; I don't know if you planned it beforehand, but for such an epic conclusion, you introduced the solution to the problem in the same chapter that it was used, making it seem like an ass-pull. A great deal of this could probably be solved simply by putting everything in chronological order, though, and maybe insert a chapter here and there to remind us of Ching trying to solve the issue, but the rest of it, there was no hint of "Humanity should be the ones to solve this!" until a member of humanity does, in fact, solve it.

2010-02-12 05:09:01 by Eleanor:

The Muoka thing feels, well, lazy. We never heard anything about it until Ching brought it up in the last chapter. That is his main reason for offing Mitch, but because it is not telegraphed ahead of time, it just comes out of nowhere.

Saying that Muoka got zapped by an antimeme and that's why we never heard about the whole thing, really reads as a copout instead of a clever explanation.

The story is awesome but this piece of it didn't work.

LN||

2010-02-12 10:39:37 by qntm:

I'm tempted to argue that it *is* telegraphed by the fact that Muoka drops out of the story entirely without any explanation...

2010-02-14 21:37:38 by Eleanor:

A lot of people drop out without explanation when their part in the story is over. We had no reason to think the silence about Muoka was any more important than the silence about Alex and Rula, that hiker couple who stumbled on the lab containing Oul's Egg. Or the silence about Arika after she lost her powers. Or Ching's wife for that matter.

LN||

2010-02-23 12:55:48 by Val:

I've read all your stories, and enjoyed all of them, for the ED stories through PDC to Fine structure, but I think there is something with your characters that can be improved upon. In many stories the main character has an ideology of not harming anyone, not even in self-defense. The problem I saw is not with the ideology itself, but sometimes how inappropriately it is presented, like a propaganda. Please don't misunderstand me, it's perfectly OK for you to have this ideology and have some of your characters behave like this as well.. but sometimes it feels unnatural (I mean, their personality regarding this question is very very undetailed and uniform), and it's strange that nearly all your characters behave 100% the same in this regard. In the rare case one of them doesn't, than we can be pretty sure we're talking about either a villain, or someone who went completely insane.
I felt this problem the most in "Tyro", but it pops up quite often elsewhere too. Arika in Fine Structure is a notable and beautiful exception with all her moral dilemmas. Better yet, I can see an overall improvement in Fine Structure compared to other stories, but there is still place to improve. Justifiable self-defense and gun control is not an all black and white issue. It might be for some characters, but if all of them are either completely against it or completely insanely trigger-happy and nothing at all in-between, that can make their personalities too uniform.

2010-02-23 13:10:58 by qntm:

I'm interested to know which characters you're referring to and what specific examples you can give? I know I need to improve my characterisation, but please remember of course that I have been writing for a very long time. Tyro, for example, I wrote years and *years* ago, long before I was anywhere near what I'd call a good writer. I don't like it much as a story anymore.

2010-02-23 14:47:31 by Val:

It is very hard to give specific examples, because individual examples can always be justified. I was telling about a more general feeling after reading many stories. I'm sorry if it was a bit confusing, it was not specially aimed at Fine Structure or some specific characters in it: it was nothing more than a general feeling that, how should I explain, the histogram of how characters perceive the usage of force has too few entries. (a saint who couldn't even harm a bug intentionally | an evil villain | and the only one between the two is an occasional well intentioned extremist who commits horrible crimes believing doing the right thing, Klick for example)

In my opinion, this does not harm your storytelling at all, which is amazing. And, in short stories it is OK for the plot itself to "describe" the characters. The only parts which I feel are to be improved upon, when you directly describe what people think, this is where I think this "histogram" could be extended a little by adding a few other shades of grey.

2010-02-23 17:58:42 by Eleanor:

I have figured out what was bothering me most about the antimeme!

Muoka is supposed to drop out of the story sometime after Paper Universe because he's a meme-ghost. Nobody can perceive or remember him, and this effect is so powerful that it broke the fourth wall and affected the text we are reading.

If that is the case then why would he still appear in the story at all? If the antimeme really worked that way, then Muoka should have *retroactively disappeared from previous parts of the text*. We readers would only know about 4 people on the roof of the Medium Prionic Receiver in Sundown. In Taphophobia when Ashmore converses with him, we would at most read Ashmore talking to an unnamed "someone", if the conversation were not just removed entirely.

This seems to be an error in viewpoint, as you switch from an omniscient narrator who remembers Muoka to a limited narrator who is affected by the antimeme. Or maybe it is explained better as a logical contradiction in the working of the antimeme. Either way it is a weak spot in a story that is otherwise quite strong.

LN||

2010-03-23 21:50:42 by Craig:

Loved it! My only real criticism is that it ended too quickly. Might I suggest some kind of "coda"? Ref the end of, say, Heinlein's _Job: A Comedy Of Justice_? Call me a hopeless, soppy romantic but -- is there some way that Ching and Arika could ride off into the sunset together? (or something like that?) Basically: one final chapter of the aftermath, that leaves the reader with a warm, glowy feeling?

Craig

2010-04-18 22:20:29 by Frymaster:

I'd agree that the ending is _TOO_ abrupt; not so much the climax of the story, but the bit after, the "When Everything is Possible" chapter, especially the last paragraph. I have no idea what'd be a good idea to improve things, but a medium-size section from the point of view of some of the characters, being walked through their conservation, would be nice.

I do _LIKE_ the last paragraph, I just think it comes too abruptly ;)

2012-04-14 20:43:47 by Ptorquemada:

Just discovered and read this, and since you did ask for criticism...

I find present tense in fiction to be generally annoying and off-putting. I saw one comment about getting this published in paper form, and if I were an editor at a publishing house I think I'd insist on changing that first and foremost.

The only reason I can think of for doing it this way (other than as a purely arbitrary stylistic choice "to be different") is to convey a sense of "immediacy" ... i.e. this is a story happening in real time, not a story being told by a later narrator, which implies that it's possible for there to BE a later narrator, which for a story of this type is at least a potentially open question.

On the other hand, we already know there are other verses in the chorus and it's not necessarily a verse 0 narrator telling it. And as far as a reader knows, 0 could be on the opposite side of the chorus, which tends to remove a great deal of the immediacy anyway.

Bottom line: I think it detracts far more than it adds, and mentally I'm subconsciously converting it to past tense <em>anyway</em> because that's what I'm familiar with and what I like, which means the only thing left is the annoyance that it's taking up neural processing power that I'd prefer were focused on the story itself.

The one section I'd leave present tense is Unbelievable Scenes, where it actually works, because it's also first-person (which, as far as I recall, none of the rest is). However, there are some things in there that could use some polish as well... if the "adversary" is supposed to be Oul, then the statement "But it has no mind" seems inconsistent with Zykov/Oul's obvious planning. (It's also inconsistent with other statements about intelligence becoming a more powerful force as you move up in dimensionality.)

2012-04-14 21:13:38 by Ptorquemada:

I see that you addressed Oul gaining intelligence when merging with Zykov in the FAQ. Unfortunately, for me that's too much like a lazy kind of cheating: "Oops, didn't think of that, here's a handwavy explanation for it."

One of the most significant problems is that the Egg itself is a pretty clever notion: "I need a recently-dead body nearby. I'll construct a puzzle that will intrigue someone enough to create a recently-dead body (and, specifically, a PERSON, not an animal, which presumably would have worked as well or possibly even better from the standpoint of a savage hyperdimensional killing machine) in close proximity." And that was BEFORE merging with Zykov.

It's possible to get around this if it's assumed that Oul did have a mind (although perhaps an extremely rudimentary one by 86-or-whatever-dimensional standards) to start with and that Xio (the presumed narrator of Unbelievable Scenes) was mistaken when he said it had no mind at all. In which case it would be nice to see him actually admit that at some point.