Journal Entry

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

There is a house...

So my story The House Beyond Your Sky is up at Strange Horizons!

It's very nice to be back at SH. It's been a while.

Go read the story first, 'cause I want to say a few things about it.


"The House Beyond Your Sky" is set in the far future. And I mean the FAR future. It makes Droplet look like an Anne Tyler story (though, come to think of it, "Droplet" is not entirely unlike an Anne Tyler story. She too likes old, married couples). I suspect, though I cannot prove, that "The House Beyond Your Sky" is one of the latest-set stories in the history of science fiction. Maybe the latest.

In a typically long and wonderful editing process, Jed nailed me down on the exact cosmology the story is set in: it's "The Big Rip outdoors and the Big Freeze indoors"; the narrators live in enclosed houses that have managed to maintain sufficient local gravity (e.g. importing it from nearby branes) to avoid the Rip, but the rest of the universe is a sparse gas of leptons and photons. In their houses, the narrators can play the Dysonian eternal intelligence game.

Many wonderful people critiqued this story in the years since I first started it, but I recall particularly Patrick Samphire's objection that the original science in the story was too correct. (Other people may have said this too). The idea that people living in the far future would have our physics, he told me, is absurd. He was right.

Update: hmm, although this suggests that it was Ted Chiang who made that point. Maybe they both did...

The story originally had a much longer preface about the history of the universe. I really liked it, but it was certainly a roadblock to reader comprehension. :-) I was thinking I'd post it, though, if anyone is interested....

Update: Okay, so you're interested. See after the cut below.

Also, check out that illustration! Is that awesome or what? :-)

Here is the prologue from the first draft, in which I wax truly Stapledonian:

We remember the first ages, when space was full and chattering. Bright matter, proud stars, the glowing whirls of luminous fog strewn parsec-wide across a singing sky. There we were born in a billion places.

Some of us were born of chemistry, assembled by blind chance from hungry molecules seeking bonds: on muddy rocks unfrozen by a sun, on moons crunched warm by the tides of mother giants, in gales of Jovian globes. Some of us were born, glacial and crystalline, on cold planets far from any star. Some in the labyrinthine whirls of gravity, where a family of black holes performed its dance of generation, aggregation, evaporation, there woven of the particles spawned endlessly by the father void. Some of us were churned from the mush of quarks within the belly of a neutron star.

Those were the first generations; then we built each other.

We remember well those ages, when we traveled far beyond and deep within -- when we sharpened rocks for cutting, induced mandalas in the photospheres of nearby stars and felt them singing, voyaged across galaxies, learned to love.

There we met. How long, how terribly long it took to even recognize each other as alive. How many ages, then, we brooded in acid suspicion of the other forms, in prejudice, in theory. How many void-scoured wrecks and glittering corpses and warped minds, virus-maddened, spinning down to banal incoherence: fruits of our wars. What grief.

And what joy when, over ages, we learned to know each other, built our intermediary forms, evolved the common protocols of being that serve us even now. The mighty palaces we built -- houses great as galaxies -- exuberantly wise matter spanning megaparsecs, every gram of it teeming with societies of self! And still we traveled, meeting ourselves, ever strange and familiar, amid the vast and bountiful hollows of the sky.

But now the universe is old. That breath of the void, quintessence, which in the days of our youth was but a whisper nudging us apart, has grown into a monstrous gale. There is no more voyaging now: those fellow beings who we did not meet have been driven relentlessly beyond the horizon of light. Each of our houses is alone now, the others drifted beyond the multipartite edges of the world, their last fond farewells long since received, the night grown silent. Beyond our houses' rim, the sky is black.

We grow colder to survive. Our thinking slows, whereby we may in theory spin our pulses of thought at infinite regress. But bandwidth withers; our society grows spare; and we are each, now, formed of finite quantum bits, with finite maximal configuration, doomed to a cycle of repetition like some ancient diode blinking its idiot red song. Death, old enemy of our youth, is born again.

Yet there is another way. The world we see is woven out of strings, and they of branes, and they of monads, and monads out of transpelagic omniplexic theremons, and theremons of ontotropes. And there among the ontotropes, transverse to the space we know, where time runs sideways and causality tiptoes around knots of killing paradox, there is another house.

And to this house a pilgrim, leaving us forever, may go. And meet Matthais, our priest, whom we built long ago, in our exuberant middle age, when there were stars.

Posted by benrosen at September 5, 2006 11:05 PM | Up to blog

I was thinking I'd post it, though, if anyone is interested....

You. Will. Post. It.
Please :) I haven't had a chance to read the story yet (am at work), but when I get home, you bet I'll be right there!

Posted by: Peter Hollo at September 6, 2006 12:50 AM

It's turtles all the way down, is it not?

Love to read the pre-history.


Posted by: Matt Hulan at September 6, 2006 09:37 AM

Really enjoyed this one, Ben. And yeah, I'd love to see the preface.

Posted by: Jason Erik Lundberg at September 6, 2006 09:45 AM

I keep meaning to ask if, while you lived in Switzerland, you ever happend to drop in on Jurgen Schmidhuber. Go spend some time looking at his web site and then, I don't know, send me your phone number and tell me when to call you. His Speed Prior is a thing of beauty.

Posted by: Dan Percival at September 6, 2006 08:32 PM

I liked the music of the piece. Cat Valente once asked in her blog, "where is the poetry in science fiction?" (as opposed to fantasy). It is here, in your story.

Posted by: ethereal-lad at September 6, 2006 08:40 PM

Good stuff, Ben.

Posted by: Dave Schwartz at September 7, 2006 11:17 AM

Is there now enough interest for you to post it? M

Posted by: Marshall at September 7, 2006 01:05 PM

Ah, yes, I should do my duty: Ben, would you oh-so-please post the lost intro to that story?

Posted by: Dan Percival at September 7, 2006 01:13 PM

Dan, the Jurgen Schmidhuber is pretty awesome, though mostly over my head. I love the hubris of the Goedel machine!

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at September 8, 2006 12:25 AM

I kind of like this as an epilogue.

Also I'm in a vitriolic mood at the moment, and I have one word for all of you. In the spirit of making the blogosphere safe for the children, I will not type it, except to say that it begins with an F, and it is worth (I beleive) 13 points in Scrabble.

Posted by: Matt Hulan at September 8, 2006 12:55 AM

One word... for all of us? In what sense? Expressing wonderment? Censure? Aggression? Is it a curse? An instruction? A phatic utterance?

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at September 8, 2006 12:58 AM

Wonderment, not so much. Phatic... not in the sense of the word I would think of. For the rest, absolutely. I was in need of catharsis last night, and your blog was the last, tired stop on a quest therefore. You have been of service, and I thank you.

For those academically interested, my catharsis began here, in the comments to the post Looking-Glass World, then went here, in a post that I imagine will be obvious. Then, I came here, to your blog, and rested.

If need be, you may edit or remove entirely my post with my blessing.

Posted by: Matt Hulan at September 8, 2006 09:26 AM

I see. Now that I have the context, it all makes perfect sense.

I thought maybe it was a literal instruction, along the lines of "be fruitful and multiply"...

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at September 8, 2006 09:35 AM

Well, as an activity, it comes highly recommended.

Posted by: Matt Hulan at September 8, 2006 09:41 AM

Can't remember if I made that particular objection to that particular story, but it's something I've ranted about, oh, thousands of times over the years, so you never know...

Posted by: Patrick Samphire at September 9, 2006 04:30 PM

Lovely story, Ben.

Posted by: Greg van Eekhout at September 10, 2006 11:47 PM

I loved loved love your story. I am eager to read the pre-history.

Posted by: Haddayr at September 15, 2006 04:09 PM

Oh. I wish they'd printed the prologue. Although I pretty much got the time your story was set in, it would have been much clearer for me from the get-go. Either way, love love love.

Posted by: Haddayr at September 15, 2006 04:11 PM

Hi there, interesting post
Yeah there are The mighty palaces we built, houses great as galaxies, the palaces.
i visited them,
there are very much needed in that age.
Thanks for sharing

Posted by: michael at November 5, 2010 07:56 AM

MichaelL, what a clever spambot you are! That almost made sense, so I will leave your comment and only remove the link.

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at November 5, 2010 09:07 AM
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