From Death, Lead Me To Immortality

Previously

It's midsummer of 1993, and Rajesh Vidyasagar is eighty-and-a-half years old, and it's time.

It happens almost too fast to follow. Although hardly sprightly, and still noticeably decelerating, Rajesh is coherent and inventive up until the tail end of August of that year. He attends a physics conference in California, speaks well, fields fewer questions than usual; at dinner after the lectures, he collapses. In the hospital, it's discovered that he had a heart attack. The conference has another day to go, but Rajesh exits early, flying back to Calcutta against stern medical advice. His wife Sharmila meets him at the airport. Rajesh is just climbing the steps of his home when the second attack incapacitates him.

He spends his final three days at home, with Sharmila at his side, and a lamp, and a mantra to focus on. He doesn't feel the need for the mantra, because his last two decades have left his mind swimming in significant syllables. His mantra is his name, which is aum, which he bound to himself by accident and never changed, and which almost no other mage in the world uses, out of respect.

His children arrive by degrees. Most don't have far to come, still living in or near Calcutta. None of them or Rajesh's more distant descendants have followed him into thaumic physics. Most of them have no conception of magic beyond a weird and ethereal new branch of physics, an obscure undergraduate degree topic. They've never seen it at work in their practical lives, except perhaps in edge cases - advanced supercooled medical scanners, recent-model container ship engines. They certainly never witnessed magic when it started, when it barely existed.

Rajesh remembers feeling as if he'd been dropped into a foggy freefall, reaching in any direction to try to make physical contact with this maniacal and unjustifiable new science. He remembers catching hold of tiny coherent, testable fragments and cobbling them together into crumbly bricks, and then slowly climbing onto the pile, and hoisting others up and gradually pushing them higher. That was how it started.

And none of the family realises it, but magic has significantly altered the shape of this decade's industry away from its baseline. The manufacture of sulphuric acid - one of the most important industrial commodity chemicals - is fifteen percent cheaper. Aluminium, previously shockingly expensive to electrolyse, has a whole new process. Refrigerated transportation is changing, as is electric lighting. Every year there are four new half-viable processes for magic-based power plants, and those are just the ones which make international news. And all of those are just the developments that are mature enough to have become commercial. The cutting edge of research is somewhere else entirely.

And what's next? Now Rajesh is halfway up the metaphor and the clouds are clearing above him. There's more that he doesn't know yet, and there always has been, and that has never scared him, but he's finally hit the point in his life where he can't go and find it out. He knows where his research needs to be directed, but he's physically incapable. Rajesh can feel exhaustion and pain hardening under his skin. He can feel the pathways in his mind starting to slow, a wrinkled biochemical system hitting the end of its operational lifespan.

Sharmila and others bustle around him, steering him through ritual. He will almost certainly never be able to write again. He tries to read others' papers, but the information passes through his brain undigested. A compact disc recording of the thousand names of Vishnu plays, on repeat.

People arrive and people leave. The doctor examines Rajesh and draws conclusions, then the gap finally opens up when he should be left to rest, and then someone lets this gawker through.

Rajesh is in his garden, seated in his wheelchair beneath the cypress tree, amid too-long grass and Sharmila's alien blue orchids. He is staring at nothing, doing nothing. The visitor steps out from the house carefully, slightly too tall to pass through the back door without stooping a little. Then, the steps down into the greenery take him by surprise.

The visitor's beard is dark and extremely short; he looks around sixty but, if Rajesh was able to spare the thought, he'd notice that he moves like a man of twenty, wearing the extra forty years like a suit. He wears a bangle on one wrist, what looks like a Sikh kara, but he doesn't cover his head. He spends a moment admiring the garden, then approaches Rajesh.

"Rajesh," he says, "my name's Vikramaditya Kannan. I met your father."

Rajesh raises an eyebrow, but says nothing.

The man casts around and discovers a garden chair nearby. He carries it over to Rajesh and sits carefully, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees.

"I met your father," he says again. "A very long time ago, obviously, shortly before he died. This would have been during the 'dead year' of '72 to '73. After he'd discovered the very first magic spell, the empty spell uum, but before you picked up the thread.

"At the time I was part of a group called the Wheel, and I still am. We've been... very deeply invested in the development of magic, since its earliest beginnings. Unfortunately, we have regulations relating to external contact with active research mages, which means that I'm not here as a representative of the Wheel today. Strictly speaking, I'm not here at all. The rest of them don't know I've come here. I'll probably get away with it, too, because I'm not a significant... ah, 'spoke'. But I am a sentimental one."

Rajesh's attention is beginning to wander, partly because his concentration span is diminishing but mostly because Kannan has failed to say anything important in his first sixty words.

Kannan says, "What I'm saying is that what I'm saying isn't an official message from the Wheel. I'm saying that these are my words and opinions. What I'm saying is... that I believe we owe you an apology."

"For what?"

"It's no secret that you've always had misgivings about magic. You've often spoken about it in your books and lectures. I've been following your progress, and from my perspective you seem to have gone through phases. There was a period in the late Seventies when you were actively hostile to magic, as if the whole field was your adversary, and forcing yourself to understand it was the only way you could hurt it. And then in the Eighties you swung towards mellow acceptance, but then - in my opinion it was exactly the time you stopped working with Ed Hatt - you swung back to the 'old' fiery Doc Vidyasagar..."

"I know who I am," Rajesh says. "I know who I've been."

"But at no point did you ever seem happy to be who you were, or to study what you studied. And honestly, we were never one hundred percent happy about it either. If you mix up a world of people you'll find forests and forests of likely candidates. We weren't going to steer particular people in particular directions, but we'd have preferred someone younger. Someone younger than you, less cynical, wouldn't have had the negative experience you had. Magic... You feel as if the whole universe is playing a practical joke on humanity."

Rajesh shakes his head, partly acknowledging the practical joke and partly in an attempt to sort Kannan's statements into sense. "What are you saying?"

"We owe you an apology because you've spent the last twenty years of your life labouring to uncover a falsehood. For your whole life, you've distrusted magic and worked to discover what it really is. Do you want to know what magic really is? And why you really can trust it?"

"You--" Rajesh begins, and stops. A pair of vivid green parakeets takes off into the sky, briefly catching his attention. Kannan is obviously feeling the direct sunlight, but there isn't enough room for him to join Rajesh in the shade. It won't be a problem for too long. There's angry-looking cloud cover coming in.

"Well, go ahead," Rajesh says, tiredly. "Amaze me. What is magic?"

Kannan smiles and launches into his explanation. He gestures with his hands to illustrate his points. "It works like this. The whole world is soaked in tiny invisible listeners. Large, smart molecules, essentially. You wouldn't find them if you looked for them, they're instructed to elude detection, and most are invisible. When you cast a spell, or when a magical machine is built and started, or when the world's geology moves in the correct way, the listeners take note of what's happening and they deliver the correct response, simulating the field equations of magic. Your field equations! Vidyasagar's Third Incomplete Field Equation, and the others. They subtract heat energy, or add kinetic, or stir the electromagnetic fields just the right amount. Chi particles, for example, simply don't exist; but the whole world behaves as if they do, and that's what matters. In one way, magic's not real. But in another way, it's real."

Rajesh looks over his spectacles at Kannan. "And you say you tried that story on my father?"

"Yes, but... no," Kannan says. "He wasn't receptive."

"And why do you think that was?"

Kannan says nothing.

"Every quantum physicist," Rajesh says, "and every mage, because every mage is a quantum physicist, deals with people like you. I have dealt with people like you for my whole life, since years before magic was discovered. And so did my father, for all of his life. Addled, misinformed fools. Cultists! From people like you, I've heard every 'simple' explanation for magic there is. I've certainly heard that one before.

"I understand why you want, and need, the universe to be simple, to be 'just so'. But it simply isn't. Stop thinking you know what 'quantum' means. Magic isn't a miraculous healing field, it doesn't bind living creatures to one another. Crack a book open, one that isn't aiming to pander. The answers are complicated. We will find every explanation eventually. As for me, I will uncover the truth on my own terms. The proper way. Or, more likely, I will not. Sharmila!"

At "miraculous healing field" Kannan unconsciously clutches his kara. "You're frightened of the truth," he says. "You're frightened of making a fool of yourself. Again."

Rajesh shakes his head. "You've already made a fool of both of us."

Sharmila appears from inside the house. She is five years younger than Rajesh, only seventy-five, but equally sharp. She gives Kannan a venomous look, then steps aside, showing him the door.

Kannan stands, still holding his kara with his other hand, face wrecked with disappointment and frustration. "I'm trying to help you."

"We will get to the truth, the whole of it," Rajesh tells him. "Count on it."

Kannan presses his lips together, and he blinks for a long moment, lowering his head and internalising Rajesh's words. When he opens his eyes again, his expression shifts, away from deep disappointment and into something relatively peaceful. He nods to Rajesh, bowing very slightly. He leaves, following Sharmila out the way he came in.

*

Rajesh Vidyasagar dies two days later, on 31st August 1993. The cause of death is an acute myocardial infarction, his third heart attack.

 

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Discussion (54)

2014-06-07 09:58:46 by qntm:

Thanks to Custodian and Clockmaker for editorial services on this chapter.

2014-06-07 11:47:15 by Feep:

Well, what did he expect to happen? Rajesh is a scientist. Back your wild claims up with wilder evidence.

2014-06-07 13:18:25 by bdew:

I'm not sure why this chapter is here or what it tries to accomplish. Seems like filler to me.

At least it fixes the "continuity error" and makes Rajesh definitely dead at the end of All Hell :P

2014-06-07 14:04:50 by David Mitchell:

Sam. Write faster. Please. Sleep is over-rated.

2014-06-07 14:25:28 by qntm:

This is as fast as I can write right now, ignoring all other projects.

I could release chapters faster, but you would notice the drop in quality. 200 words per day on average is about as good as it gets for now.

2014-06-07 14:37:19 by Skztr:

Part one of a series on who the glass man isn't?

2014-06-07 15:03:33 by Bauglir:

This strikes me as a shift in focus, not filler. Perhaps it's about the glass man, yeah, but definitely it's going to lead up to tying back into the leadup to All Hell.

We've seen what Ra lied to Laura about - I think we're going to see, here, what the Wheel lied to Natalie about. Or, if they didn't, what clears up the apparent inconsistencies or missing links in the story as we see it so far. We still don't have the whole picture.

2014-06-07 16:18:23 by koboldskeep:

I think that this chapter is meant to help the reader avoid confusion between the Wheel's story and Ra's story.

Maybe it also gives us a better insight into the Wheel group members and how human they are (especially considering the complaints last chapter about why the Wheel group was holding the Idiot Ball).

2014-06-07 16:29:26 by Curiouser:

I feel like we're finally going to get some "real answers". I think this was Sam saying "this part of the wheel story is true". What's the next thing he is going to verify or falsify?
In terms of the story, it feels like this Kannan person just wanted to have said that, to let Vidyasar know the truth, even it he didn't believe it. And he probably ran a simulation of whether or not his statement gets out, because that will get the 'Exa'cutioner on his tail.

2014-06-07 21:31:15 by heb:

If this was filler, what would be the reason for the title?
So I also am convinced that this is not "filler".

P aopur, thfil, : "Aopz pz uva vcly, huk ..."

Also the parallels here with the father's death are nice.

Also, I think I forgot at what times parts of this take place at.
I will have to reread some things.

2014-06-07 21:31:37 by Kazanir:

I'm curious how literally Rajesh meant, "I've certainly heard this one before."

2014-06-07 22:14:36 by Lorxus:

@Kazanir: Probably completely. Tiny listeners which conveniently evade all detection as the source of all magic are a pretty convenient way to avoid having to explain yourself.

2014-06-07 23:53:40 by Silhalnor:

Continuing the thread from the last page: I am not sure there a defense against someone like Exa. I tired considering what Wheel would do during an attack but immediately remembered that in just this past entry the Wheel had found itself facing an attack from an outside force, albeit an information attack, and their solution was not to defend themselves but to self destruct. The same tactic that Laura used. The next closest example may be when they neutron bombed that boy in Rwanda but I wouldn't call that a defensive maneuver. (Unless Abstract Weapon respawned somewhere?)

There are force fields that can be produced with magic. I had nearly forgotten about those. Seemingly if you possessed infinite energy they could be indestructible for an indefinite time. That would stop Exa barring some means of simply smashing through. Maybe a type of invisibility cloak would be immune.
I imagine that teleportation might be a workable defense and, although Wheel doesn't do it, "real" teleportation (it's still a fake imitation but it's not the blunt hack that is the kara network) can be achieved with T-world tricks. I think it is even usable on unwilling targets. At least, Exa was inadvertently and unwillingly shunted into the world.
Another defense may be having some way to cut off supply chains and communication in a given area. Maybe a room where the Kara network cannot communicate or mana cannot be channeled into Exa.

2014-06-07 23:58:32 by Alan:

So the elder Vidyasagar was some sort of immaculate human. He was brought forth to give birth to magic.

It seems quite likely that the loss of his wife and his retirement predated the beginning of time. If so, the whole idea to meditate(as well as what to meditate about) were also planted at his conception.

Since he was made ready to die, it seems likely that the younger Vidyasagar was also a patsy of sorts and he was compelled by The Wheel to test his fathers mantra.

2014-06-08 07:31:53 by Curiouser:

It seemed to me quite obvious that both father and son were part of the "manufactured" people, and were obviously designed to discover and promote "magic".
Seems like at least one wheel member felt that to be less than entirely moral.

2014-06-08 11:23:20 by skztr:

We don't know a lot about the society of pre-"Abstract War" humanity. It may very well be that "manufacturing" humans is the primary means of procreation. With that in mind, repopulating the earth with manufactured humans may seem a lot less odd of an idea to the survivors of the war than it does to us.

2014-06-08 16:16:03 by Alan:

Well, I expect that most of the starter population were generated procedurally, but I meant that the Vidyasagar men had their settings tweaked after the fact.

2014-06-08 19:10:45 by IanO:

@Alan @Curiouser

I think you're missing something: "If you mix up a world of people you'll find forests and forests of likely candidates. We weren't going to steer particular people in particular directions, but we'd have preferred someone younger."

The Wheel Group didn't pick the Vidyasagars and alter them specifically. They either didn't alter them, or they altered a lot of people, any of whom could have discovered magic.

I think this chapter does good to further humanize the Wheel Group. King is an egotistic incompetent leader, Exa is a logical (rather emotionless) killing machine, and Casaccia is a paranoid as per job description.

Even Garret, who was "helping" base line humans, had some sort of agenda with Hatt.

For Kannan, this is purely an emotional thing. It's a simple apology. This is a genuine "good guy" move. It's the opposite of kicking the puppy. So perhaps other people on Wheel are "good" (we are supposed to sympathize with).

I do align myself with Exa, also--less because of an emotional resonance and more because he's a total bad ass. (also The Fernos/Nick are well-thought out and definitely have my sympathy)

2014-06-08 22:07:30 by Blackguard:

I just finished binging this in one sitting (Without the foreknowledge that it was incomplete going in. The feeling at the moment of seeing "to be continued" at this time and in this place makes me wish I'd not found out about it until a year hence.)

Thought I'd leave a comment here saying how much I love it and to share my thoughts.

The actions of the remnants of 'real' humanity stagger me in how terrible they are. The sheer weight of what they did overshadows what the other side did. Even in the most favorable scenario for what they did, in which virtual humans had a 100% consensus in what they did and they destroyed the real humans it feels like the nth degree numerical superiority the virtual humans must have had puts them so ethically in the wrong that it poisons everything they have said in this story (for me).

At the other end of the spectrum this could have been done by a single person, not even necessarily one of the virtuals, and the system could have been saving the 'reals' that were killed and generating worlds for them. I can't even conceptualize the scope of wrongdoing in this case. Freezing the process indefinitely of all the virtual humans is indistinguishable from killing them.

That all being said, I don't trust the figure trying to bring back Ra (just because someone ostensibly opposes something that is wrong doesn't mean he is right). For all I know he was the one that started the apocalypse or that damned kid who got turfed from the titan driven mad with rage and wanting to end everything, or legitimately Ra itself, attempting to wipe all humans out so that nothing existed that could potentially give it orders.

Can't wait to read more, hopefully the chapter before last wasn't just a simulation run by Wheel, although given that King left the keys in the record I feel like a virtual entity inside a simulation sending that command would have the same effect as a 'real' entity doing the same, and might even be a lot easier to set up. Once you set up boundary conditions in which it is possible to find out the code Wheel's propensity to run through every possibility means that it is a certainty.

Sorry if my thoughts are a bit scattered, its currently 8am the morning after the night I started reading this, and you did this to me.

2014-06-08 22:16:50 by LNR:

I think this is another chapter where the readers are told unimportant things, while important stuff is hidden from us.

Rajesh spent a lifetime disregarding any reasoning that was not based on evidence. We know this from "From Ignorance, Lead Me To Truth," and Kannan must know this because he knows Rajesh so well. It is totally impossible that Rajesh would accept this wild claim without evidence and Kannan must know that too.

My first thought was that he was going to slap his kara onto Rajesh, like Garrett did to Hatt. That would explain the title literally. But we're told that Kannan was still wearing it, and had his hands on it, at the end of the conversation.

So there are three options:
1 - Despite what we are told, Kannan did sneakily plant a resurrection device on Rajesh.

2 - Kannan needed to be in the room with Rajesh for some other reason, which is completely hidden from us right now.

3 - Kannan is just too dumb to realize that his story would be disbelieved.

I want to think #3 should be impossible. I admit it would fit the pattern of most Wheel members acting like idiots throughout the story, and that makes it likely. But I don't think Sam would intentionally give us a blatantly ignorable filler episode.

2014-06-09 00:58:26 by anonymouse:

"'We will get to the truth, the whole of it,' Rajesh tells him. 'Count on it.'"

I wonder if Kannan brought that message back to the Wheel Group, and if so, what happened to it. Because he certainly seems to believe it once he heard it, and because in the last chapter, King and the rest of wheel seemed to completely fail to comprehend how thoroughly their systems were compromised, and that mere baseline humans could do that. And yet they did: Natalie went and found the "whole truth" pretty much entirely on her own, with only a bit of help from her ex-Wheel mother.

I also wonder if Kannan is yet another representative of the (as yet hypothetical) Wheel faction that wants to tell humans the truth, or at least more of it.

2014-06-09 02:50:39 by Kazanir:

It seems like there was confusion on this point, but I also interpreted Kannan's statements to quite clearly mean that the Vidyasagars were NOT deliberately engineered to discover magic and that it could have been any of a wide variety of people.

2014-06-09 05:35:54 by Alan:

Correct, but Kannan might not know what really went down.

Consider this. Vidyasagar discovered uum, which is probably the simplest spell, yet it is "one hundred and seventy-nine syllables long, comprising equal parts Upanishadic mantra and partial differential equation."

He had to speak the right words while thinking the correct way, didn't he? "You must believe the words you're saying, and follow through the mantra in your mind without losing your train of thought, or it will not work."

To get that spell to fire, the first person needed discipline, a knowledge of Vedic and Hindu culture, as well as training in physics. They also needed enough free time to experiment.

All that, and he had to get it within a certain precision. "The language is convoluted, ugly to look at and difficult to speak correctly. Like natural languages, it has very good expressive power and numerous inconsistencies/edge cases. Like programming languages, it demands rigid correctness from its speaker. "

If not Vidyasagar, it would have been a highly specific sort of person, and without a push, it still would have been incredibly unlikely that someone would find it by chance.

"We weren't going to steer particular people in particular directions"

Yeah right.

2014-06-09 06:16:17 by MichaelSzegedy:

India is very big and has lots of people in it. Granted, not as much in 1970 as now (554 million people according to Wolfram Alpha), but still tons of people. "Highly specific" people can arise. But I still assign a significant probability to your hypothesis.

2014-06-09 06:59:39 by Alan:

How many piano tuners are there in Chicago? I think we could apply something like the Fermi Problem to this.

500,000 people in India at the time
7000 physicists?
5600 that are Hindu
560 that are retired or have the free time to pursue their own interests.
? with a hobby that mixes somewhat antagonistic domains?

I have no idea how to estimate the last one. Not very many.

It seems to me that The Wheel wouldn't want multiple simultaneous discoveries, since they would have to watch each one and/or cull the ones they don't like. They seemingly don't want to be the world's police.

A problem with culling is that your remaining seed might die, as the Vidyasagar one just about did. What if Rajesh never tried his father's thought experiment?

2014-06-09 07:16:10 by Sean:

I also thought that the discovery of "uum" sounded like something that couldn't readily happen by chance. Maybe it's the case that the narrative astras procedurally generated multiple people who were somewhat likely to independently discover magic, but Wheel didn't interfere after that. In that case it would be technically true that they didn't steer particular people (after setting the Earth in motion in the first place).

2014-06-09 07:52:38 by Sean:

@Alan
I think that your second step is an overestimate (also, I presume you meant that India had a population of 0.5 billion, not 0.5 million). I poked around and there seem to be <2000 quantum physicists in the US today. Despite having more total people, 1970s India probably had fewer theoretical physicists for economic reasons. (Do you have to have training in quantum mechanics specifically? Rajesh implies so.)

But what makes a chance discovery seem unlikely is not just that there are not many people who could do it, but that even the basic "uum" is so long and specific. || I probably miscounted, but my post up until those double bars has close to 179 syllables, which is the same number as "uum". Even if a combination of an Upanishadic mantra and quantum-ish differential equation gets you the right basic set of syllables and mental states, the chance of approximately reproducing a text that size seems remote.

At least it seems that either "uum" is an exception to the rule that you have to bind a True Name, or else that 179 syllables includes the True Name binding. Otherwise, Rajesh could never have reproduced his father's result with the spell alone.

2014-06-09 08:15:01 by Sean:

Oops. "Magic Spells" says that Suravaram's and Rajesh's version of "uum" did indeed include accidentally binding the True Name "aum".

2014-06-09 09:19:27 by skztr:

I have in my head the line "At midnight, January 1st, 1970, uum was released into the mind of Vidyasagar", but I can't seem to find this line in the story.

2014-06-09 16:59:42 by ducken:

' "We will get to the truth, the whole of it," Rajesh tells him. "Count on it."

Kannan presses his lips together, and he blinks for a long moment, lowering his head and internalising Rajesh's words. When he opens his eyes again, his expression shifts, away from deep disappointment and into something relatively peaceful.'

I'm stewing. something happened. something satisfied Kannan. new information was received. did he run sims till he found a satisfactory pattern? he went privately, so he probably didn't have a lot of resources. how powerful is your average spoke without wheel approval? how many wheel members have private plans we know nothing about? this probably means nothing to the story, but... I want to know.

2014-06-09 21:34:53 by Curiouser:

Sam, so many questions about Wheel that are probably not going to be answered within the scope of the story. How about making a prequel "Wheel: The Early Years".

2014-06-09 23:35:02 by wfn:

ducken: i'd venture a guess that maybe Kannan simply liked the idea of people working on understanding magic having the kinds of qualities or the kind of end-goal-bound motivation needed to actually understand how magic / the universe / etc. works.

One of the founding premises for the Wheel group seems to be an assumption that it is worthwhile to maintain a rich set of lies, and to have the (procedurally generated) humanity *not* understand how things actually work. This very premise casts an ethical dilemma. Among other things, Kannan's character may serve a purpose in showing that the opinions/feelings within the Wheel group re: this premise are not completely homogeneous, etc.

2014-06-10 03:16:24 by MichaelSzegedy:

@anonymouse: You're underrating the "bit" of help she got from her mother. The help was of such magnitude that once she wrote it down, the person she showed it to was assassinated, and an assassination was attempted on her as well.

2014-06-10 04:26:12 by ducken:

@wfn: I would agree with your assessment if this chapter wasn't posted so close to the end. Sam loves to obfuscate, lead on, and otherwise titillate us with world building and detail, but I don't think he's the sort of author to put this kind of writing so close to the end of the story merely to humanize wheel. it would fit more as a "deleted scene" if that was the case. just imo.

2014-06-10 16:51:53 by MichaelSzegedy:

@ducken: It's a good point, but Sam has been historically known to make writing mistakes. I wouldn't put it past him.

2014-06-11 06:53:35 by Skztr:

I expect this one is being read into more than perhaps it should.

At the end of this man's life, Kannan is saying "the truth you have dedicated your life to finding does not exist. I know this because I am part of the lie which conceals the real truth. Sorry about that. "

He does this not because he thinks it will do any good, but just because he feels it needs to be said.

He is satisfied at the end, not because of some revelation, but because he knows he can't go any further with the point. He's done what he came to do: apologise. That is enough.


In looking for some hidden trick, I think we're losing sight of what is right in front of us: who is Kannan? Why are we being introduced to him, or his way of thinking?

I suspect we are about to learn more about the schism between survivors.

2014-06-11 11:47:56 by Vladimir:

One of the chords in this chapter was really similar to Failure Mode, my favorite chapter of Fine Structure.

"If the rules upon which the universe operates can change, then they, too, must change according to higher rules. Somewhere up there is a rule set to which you are beholden and humanity, I promise, will find a way to exploit those. There will come a time when everything is possible for us." - Ashmore

"The answers are complicated. We will find every explanation eventually. As for me, I will uncover the truth on my own terms. The proper way. Or, more likely, I will not." - Rajesh

2014-06-11 17:40:51 by MichaelSzegedy:

@Vladimir: The two stories have vaguely similar premises: "What if there was a god that let you do stuff, but it wasn't benevolent?" (in the loose senses of all of the words in that sentence)

2014-06-12 01:46:13 by JJJS:

@Vladimir One of Sam's comments earlier talked about how he likes to write stories where humanity has to earn its utopia.

2014-06-14 00:00:00 by Thragka:

Sam, just want to say I've been a fan since early in Fine Structure, and this is a truly beautiful piece. Looking forward to seeing the resolution.

2014-06-14 03:56:58 by Samsara:

I've just caught up now, and I'd like to say that this is one of the most amazing works I've read so far. By myself, I've also tried to work through creating a system of functional magic from the point of view of physics and so on - though sometimes settling into "posit X and extrapolate result Y" a bit selectively for actual completeness. Ra blows all of those considerations out of the water, and into a relative set of "idle musings" in comparison.
Additionally, the ridiculously amazing postmodern narrative's really just - really just amazing. I don't know how I can really describe this using any other words.
Probably, well, because this has consumed all my mental processes...

2014-06-16 18:36:12 by MichaelSzegedy:

I just realized that Sam's initial plan for Natalie discovering the origin of magic, by purging a room of listeners and then trying to cast, wouldn't work anyway: she'd still be full of listeners she'd ingested through her breathing, drinking, and eating. She'd have to remain in that room, drinking and eating purified food and drink only, until she was rid of the sensors. Not only does that sound hard, it sounds like improbably complex behavior.

2014-06-16 23:20:58 by skztr:

There are various reasons why it wouldn't work, not the least of which being that "scanning a room so thoroughly..." wouldn't actually be possible using any conventional means, so either magic would be involved (in which case it would lie- it doesn't report the listeners anyway), or it would need to involve a very small "room"- for example, building nanoscale magic runes.

You might be able to prove that changes to nanoscale runes don't cause "updates" to mana flow while being observed (eg: by an electron microscope), but the same changes *do* cause "updates" when not observed. It would then be guessed that the reason isn't due to the runes themselves being observed, but due to something else which would otherwise observe the runes, hiding to prevent being detected.

Even on these scales the result would be problematic, as everyone would say "Why don't the listeners simply observe the runes *indirectly*"? (alluded to by the "would need have purified foods", etc comment- which I think makes the huge assumption that listeners are ingested, can be expelled from the body naturally, and would not replicate themselves). I think the answer here would be simply "magic is not actually perfect", and indirect observation is either "not What I Mean", too dangerous to implement, or simply impossible to implement on those scales.

All speculation, since the story didn't go that way, but that's my idea for how it *could* have worked.

2014-06-17 01:49:37 by allosaur:

I wonder what made Kannan a "sentimental" spoke of the wheel.

2014-06-29 04:18:26 by Terry:

Hmmm..Exa's girlfriend. Exa, having grown sentimental and watched one too many sci fi movies of our time, has left some Macguffin in their apartment that will change the playing field.

Anyways, did we ever find out why Martin Garrett did what he did (reveal secrets to Hatt, go off the grid, etc.)? Was he possessed? Very possible I haven't read closely enough or just forgot about this plot point.

2014-06-29 05:32:22 by Kazanir:

Sam suggested in comments that he was possessed, same as most of the other bad actors seem to have been. The question is, "by whom"? Also, if he was in fact possessed by "ra" then it means this entity was operational in the 80s, well before Rachel Ferno's death. Curious.

2014-06-29 06:29:59 by K:

Kazanir: Wait, where has he suggested that?

2014-06-29 17:46:16 by Kazanir:

Here: http://qntm.org/hate#komment53382551c3282

2014-06-30 06:18:17 by bdew:

Random thought: What happened to the Ra core that was on Triton?

2014-06-30 11:02:02 by Jay:

@bdew: presumably neutralized by someone like Scin. Ra nodes didn't seem to have any defenses against being taken over by other Ra nodes during Abstract War, anyway...

2014-07-02 18:34:33 by allosaur:

I wonder if the glass man deliberately needed Rachel to be resurrected from the archives. Rachel would have purged her own mind of the key making her an incomplete resource. But if the key was still in the archives (care of King), then the glass man deliberately needed an archive-reconstructed Rachel instead of the original Rachel.

Maybe.

2014-07-03 10:32:10 by fhtagn:

*sigh* no new chapter yet

captcha i got:

"i is the square root of minus one."
No, you meant to say "I'm the square root of minus one.".

2014-09-05 03:46:33 by Alexey Feldgendler:

I'm surprised that King made such a half-hearted attempt. He could have shown it to Rajesh, like it was shown to Natalie.

2016-12-23 00:49:15 by Sat:

> Magic isn't a miraculous healing field, it doesn't bind living creatures to one another

So it's not the Force :P