If you’re reading this, I’m dead.
Also, if you’re reading this, I’m not born yet.
It’s both. And neither. And “in a way.”
Such a relief to be writing in freeform, again. And to stop counting words: copysqueezing of the manuscript saved room for these introductory notes — enough for what little needs to be said.
At first I thought about writing a novel. A life. Timeless, fundamental form. Novels may be popular where you live, and have a reputation — the good ones — for packing a lot of meaning into modest space.
I even started writing. Childhood, love, death.
That didn’t get far. It seemed so silly, back then, to waste this incredible chance on “Y loved X and she died.” Who cares? A novel can build a world but only when the writer and the reader already share a world — not my case. I have a very probabilistic idea of where or when or who you, my reader, are. If at all.
Or perhaps I’m just not very good at writing novels. In a few summers I retraced the history of literary form which, where I live, has long ago loosened and got rid of direct narrative. Many false starts later, material reluctantly assembled into an alphabetized vocabulary — at least a workable approximation for what I meant to write. It gradually condensed and even more gradually structurized, snaffled by cross-links.
And here it is. A hermetic book by a hermit. I have no time nor stamina left to rewrite it anyway.
So what did I mean to write?
This text is a one-way, one-time communication. I first discovered a way to send it, then I had to write the message. That proved much more life-consuming. A “hello world” wouldn’t do: I was going to send it literally into another world. And it could only be done once. A lifetime’s chance.
This is my “hello world,” then.
It’s the best I could do without a clear idea of who I’m addressing. Calculations seem to point to four hundred years into the past as the most probable emergence locus. (I have no one to cross-check the math, though.) So this book may be your world’s future, only not quite: our multiverse loci aren’t causally connected. I am downstream from you (in the arrow-of-time direction) but also sideways. There’s no such thing as worldline-direct past, at least not as something you can send messages into.
Nature deals in tradeoffs. I can’t write all I want; the size of the message is fixed. Then, even without a causal past/future link, a version of the grandfather paradox still applies: the message is not allowed to be too specific. It’s like interworld censorship: no names, no dates, no detailed (reproducible?) descriptions of anything.
I’ve been using a test filter to check if a text is passable. It’s been somewhat counterintuitive — killed plenty of innocent stuff while some major giveaways passed without a hitch (see those large swaths on lazyball physics, for instance). The filter is very simple though, so has a chance of being right. I’ll never know if I botched it.
The biggest hurdle wasn’t the censorship. It was suppressing the sweaty show-off thrill. Ours is no age of final answers any more than yours; sounding preachy is understandably cringeful. The last thing I wanted to do is convert anyone. And yet I so wanted (wouldn’t you?) to talk about stuff that matters — to share what I think “we” understand that “you” may not yet; to sketch my native world at its most essential, controversial, thought-provoking; yes, to proselytize. Sorry if that’s uncalled for, or if there’s an excess air of superiority in places; I may have lost sensitivity to it. There’s no one to proofread it for me.
Some of the topics may sound irrelevant, or superfluous; for one reason or another they were important to me. If something appears missing, it may genuinely not exist around here. And when claims appear to contradict each other, or just sound too weird — well, maybe they do and they are. It’s an image of a living world.
Perhaps what a world really is is its unanswered questions. The rest is buildup.
There are many unattributed quotations in the text; I wanted to include the most laconic and striking ones — those with an emotional impact to make up for whatever background information didn’t pass the contratemporal filter. I worked to pack as many of the terms, metaphors, memes, cliches as I could remember into each entry — a weird thicket in places, but that felt right: here’s the noise of my time (which I lack the ability to echo in a cleaner prose), the background hum I can’t always hear myself.
Anthologists’ standard curtsy: Everything that’s good in this book comes from others; the insufferable is my own.
It’s the best I could write inside a bubble.
See, time is basically an entropy gradient. You can only go against the flow of time if you zero your entropy cost — cancel out your contribution to the universe’s eventual heat death. Here your means your: not just the message to be beamed into the past but you the author, mind and body and all, must cease and desist from disarranging the world around you. You can’t quite stop interacting with it but you need to block your entropy exhaust.
It sounds nonsensical, and in a way it is, but it’s been a burgeoning area of research. Many things that were never, until recently, thought possible are now routine. I just happened to be the first to collect all pieces of the puzzle. Before the first word of this text was written down, I became — and must remain to the end — consequenceless in my multiverse locus, shielded from the outside world. “Entropy bubble” is the technical term.
It wasn’t even much of a sacrifice (so it seemed). I’ve always been a reclusive kind.
The bubble is not altogether material. I remain mobile: I travel around, I hang in the ·treetops (inserting cross-links is nearly automatic by now), walk down roads, peek into windows; I can do pretty much anything — but I remain read-only. I can cause things to happen but only if their exact entropic equivalent would have happened anyway.
Imagine what it is like to read only what others are reading, above their shoulders. I can peek at any public screen on the planet but can’t make a single query. Please keep that in mind as you read my contorted abstracts.
To everyone on this planet I’m effectively dead, for many years, ever since I embarked on this project. It was an unexpected find: take it or squander it. I had to act quickly lest anyone gets an idea of what I’m doing. The choice was, disappear immediately or give up the whole idea; worse, poison it for anyone who might try it, independently, later.
No one knows I’m still alive. No one knows I’m about to die.
Dying is part of the plan, too. When the message text is ready — or I’m too tired to hammer it any longer — I, personally and with all my records and traces, must cease to exist in this multiverse locus. Have to ·Leave, as people like to say.
The implosion of the bubble will trigger sending the message out. Not in any detectable form; for an observer here (except there can’t be any, of course) the book will just disappear, utterly, irretrievably, along with its author’s mind. And that disappearance will somehow release it — force it to transpire elsewhere, in some causally disconnected locus of the multiverse. A bit like ·cosmic leap. If you’re reading this, it worked.
Transpire how? Naturally, entirely naturally. Most likely someone somewhere will sit down and write my book — in your world. Yes, it’s invasive, not to mention melodramatic (ghostwriting!). Sorry about that. The transmission will likely be imperfect; nothing can be lost but content can be scattered — bits missing or bungled in this manuscript might pop up elsewhere in your world (search around). There are easier emergence pathways but they require the infrastructure you probably don’t yet have. (Where I live we have plenty of it, and might be receiving outworld messages in reams; do we? I don’t know, and have no way of checking now. Didn’t think of it in time to look around — was too excited to start writing my own. Someone will have to have this idea and test some texts; ·Library is a prime suspect.)
I personally think our world does hear from someone, from time to time.
One more thing. There are still bytes left so I thought I’d explain. The I in the above should really be we. We a couple, we a ·molecule — we who were breathing, working, thinking together, for a total of five ·lives between us. Together in our entropy bubble from the start: planning, composing, arguing, writing and revising, writing again. ·Chasing seasons, doing a grand farewell tour of the globe, ·intaking our world. Readying to go.
Only, you know, “Y loved X and she died.” To hell with those novels.
Childhood, love, death.
It wasn’t “Leaving.” It was death. Whatever you may read or imagine, there is literal, irreversible, horrendously meaningless death when you’re shielded off and can’t cry for help. Can’t kill can’t steal. Can’t do anything, anything, least of all break out from the bloody bubble. Consequencelessness is torture.
Plus, shielding off entropic radiation is known to inflammate. We were careless, a perfectly destructive little whirlpool; she snapped as
Sorry. I’ll erase. Are you listening? Are you — did you do this for me? For us? So I
don’t quit, so I follow you to the end? You thought I could quit?
We were so close, the “I” wasn’t even a disguise: we just liked the first-person singular to stand for the dual. Can’t tell now who wrote what in this monstrous book. With all the editing I’d be surprised to find more than a few words in a row by the same hand.
Diving into it together was a consolation. A heroic hermitage — an ascension. A finality of love. Each other’s faces to have seen last in our lives.
Alone now. So not used to it. Makes me feel invisible, for the first time, even to myself. Hard to be any less mattering in the world. I barely am.
But I need to finish the job.