novel index

Ran Prieur blog

Witches of the Pinspecked Void


plus notes on chains

Arb: a drug category named for cognitive effects similar to Arbitrary space, in which the separate identities of persons, locations, and things become difficult to distinguish. A drug that confounds the identity of the subject is called an egodeath.

Arbitrary space: Where chains come together in a convergence, there is a metaphysical region where location and identity cannot be objectively pinned down, and this lack of definition allows flexibility in making connections. It has been mathematically proven that Arbitrary space exists behind all space, but practical applications remain elusive.

Arbjumper: someone with the skill, almost completely mental, of surviving in Arbitrary space and catching the hull of a passing craft.

Astra: the base unit of the inscrutable mechanics of warptube propulsion. While astral sails are clearly functional, it is not clear on what level they exist.

Batwarp: the fastest known method of Gridspace travel, in which the relativistic time loss of near-lightspeed motion is counteracted by motion backward through time, which physics permits as long as there is no chance of paradox. In practice, the quickest path is not the most direct, but an elaborate course improvised by two pilots, one in space and one in time. See Grindwarp and Timepilot.

Blip: an artificial intelligence.

Blipmax: Artificial intelligence can steer a space or land vehicle with far more agility than any human, but it is limited by law to a moderate maximum speed, so that humans can still learn a fun and meaningful skill.

Chain: a particular spacefaring culture defined by its warptube. Or: the set of planets that mark the nodes/exits of that warptube. Each chain originated in an alternate Earth, which, when discovering warptube technology and Chainspace, projected its own expectations, intentions, and strengths on the planets pinning the nodes of its tube. See Primespace and Warptube.

Chainspace: the total geography of all warptubes and all convergences. When graphically represented, typically as a 3-D nest of lines, it does not reflect locations or distances in Gridspace.

Cog(1): the currency of the Sifrexan chain. Or: a precise number of simple computer calculations, which sets the value of that currency. Or: those potential calculations in a form that can be stored and transported.

Cog(2): short for cognitive or cognitively, a general term for intelligence or mental state.

Cogmodded: mentally altered, typically by drugs.

Consensus: that region of reality on which all observers can supposedly agree. See Truth.

Convergence: Warptubes always touch in sets of three, and always at the peaks of harmonic waves, but not the same ones. So in Pitcairn, the GAP convergence might be on the sevenline between 7-17 and 6-9, while in the Glimmer warptube, it might be on the sixline between 6-2 and 5-1. (See Line.) Convergences can appear, disappear, move, or swap out their members, but these changes are normally uncommon.

Cosmoduodenum: the digestive organ of Scrollkin, which feeds on electromagnetism and other subtle energies, most of which are filtered out by planetary atmospheres. It replaces the intestines, and can draw some nourishment from plant matter but cannot pass anything solid. Also called a "space gut", it is not completely understood by Chainspace biotech, but it has been clumsily duplicated to enable deep space explorers to go without food.

Crypt- or Crypto-: a prefix indicating that conventional matter or energy has been alloyed or otherwise linked with some uncanny element that unsettles Consensus.

Dead Chains: chains that are no longer important enough to have any direct connection to Chainspace. Instead, they can be reached through nodes and convergences in the Exchain warptube. The Exchain warptube has its own sub-exchain warptube for still more obscure dead chains, and so on. No end has been found.

Dreamplay: In the potential worlds that lie between persistent worlds, as in theater, artifacts may suggest functions without ever having served those functions, and without any underlying structure in which those functions make sense.

Drone: any small semi-autonomous flying machine, used for a variety of functions. By law, after numerous disasters with microdrones, drones are prohibited from being smaller than dragonflies. For similar reasons, they are never fully autonomous, and for practical reasons they are never fully centrally controlled. Around the size of a human the nomenclature changes, often to the prefix "auto-" followed by their function.

Elf: common Chainspace term for the people of the Scroll. They don't find the word offensive, but call themselves Scrollkin.

Ether: Like Arbitrary space, Ether is another aspect of reality conterminous with Gridspace. Ether violates relativity in allowing information to move instantaneously, but only if the information moves as a feature of consciousness. The process is so difficult that it requires specially trained ethertechs who typically require psychedelic drugs, and even then communication is limited to pictographs.

Eyeward: in the direction of objective metaphysics, typically used in the context of the long-axis geography of the Scroll. The name recalls a primal heresy, in which God is not in the image of man, but must be a cyclops — or otherwise his two eyes, being in different positions, would create two subtly different worlds. See Faeward.

Fab: fabricator, typically specialized in making one kind of a thing.

Faespur: a path of experience that ends without reconciling to Consensus, but which may contain useful information.

Faestorm: a temporary, systematic, and widespread increase in the inconsistency of experience.

Faeward: in the direction of subjective metaphysics, in which different perspectives need not agree on the details of the world they seem to share.

Flow: a pantheist religion similar to Taoism. Or: the divine entity in that religion.

G, or Grav: gravity. 1G is Earth gravity, or acceleration equal to Earth gravity freefall.

Gravbell: a gravity engine, popular for orbital stations, in which gravity is generated in a tight ring producing two symmetrical fields, whose floors curve slightly away from the plane of the ring, like two shallow bowls bottom to bottom, with gravity stronger near the floors and also near the center.

Gridspace: ordinary space, defined not by warptube or Chainspace geography, but by x-y-z coordinates, which may be far from any warptube exit. It is an open question whether all of Chainspace is anchored in the same Gridspace -- that is, whether all places reachable from the network of warptubes are in the same universe.

Grindwarp: a reliable method of Gridspace travel in which time is partially reversed by an artificial intelligence making a very large number of very small corrections to avoid paradox. See Batwarp.

Heart Node: Each chain's 2 planet is exactly in the middle of the harmonic structure, and can access every line except the rarely used oneline. See Line.

Jack: any stimulant drug.

Line: a particular harmonic path through a warptube. The oneline contains no harmonics, only Prime and Zed. The twoline contains those two plus the chain's 2 planet at the center. The threeline is technically the fourth harmonic, including Prime, Zed, and 2, plus 3-1, halfway between Prime and 2, and 3-2, halfway between 2 and Zed. The fourline contains all of those, plus 4-1 through 4-4 at the next halfway points. And so on, up to the sevenline which vibrates at such a short wavelength that it contains all 65 nodes.

Lonely Planet: an alternate Earth that is blocked from transcending to Chainspace, so that it can serve as a prison planet. The underlying mechanics are poorly understood and full of holes. According to the Forlorn Heresy, the Lonely Planet is the only true world, and it is the other worlds that are sloppily defined.

Mag: short for magnetic.

Mod: short for modify or modification.

Nav: short for navigate or navigation.

Null-spectrum: Inspired by the ancient philosophical maxim, "I am, therefore I think," the null-spectrum is a hypothetical level of reality that participates in consciousness without having physical existence. The only aspect proven to ambiguously exist is the Ether, which is thought to be a single frequency of the null-spectrum, tuned to human consciousness.

Permadeath: the death of a person who cannot be restored from a savepod.

Plink: to take a drug through a disposable micro-injector.

Pop: to take a drug orally.

Prime: the original alternate Earth that spawned a particular chain, anchoring one end of the warptube. See Zed.

Primespace: Each Prime planet is the sole reality-creating perspective in its home universe, and chooses the physics of that universe, within certain mysterious constraints. Typically Primespace is emptier and less navigable than Chainspace or Gridspace, and is largely abandoned after the discovery of warptube tech.

Prog: short for prognosticate, prognosticator, or prognostication: seeing the future.

Psych: short for psychedelic, a drug that temporarily hyperconnects the brain.

Savepod: a person's full body and dormant mind, saved against future death. Memories lost at such death may be partly regained after savepod reversion, which proves that memories are stored somewhere other than the individual brain, but this uncanny reservoir has not been found. Bodies awakened while the original is still alive have only rudimentary intelligence, and the practice is illegal largely because it is unclear to what extent these Podzombies count as persons.

Scroll: According to the Aristan chain, the Scroll is a collective insanity, in which people at the unaccountable fringes of all worlds, with a linked set of genetic anomalies, believe themselves to be immigrants from an impossible magical world. According to the Sifrexan chain, the Scroll is a physically real space station, the last remnant of a superior civilization at least a billion years old, whose location in Gridspace might yet be found.

Scrollkin: what the people of the Scroll call themselves. See Elf.

Scrub: a drug that cancels the effect of other drugs. Typically withdrawal symptoms are not canceled but accelerated, so scrubs are illegal for drugs where withdrawal is dangerous.

Sim: short for simulated or artificial.

Simwindow: a screen that appears to be a window, typically between a spacecraft or a station and space. They are safer and cheaper than true windows, and often enhance the view. There is a branch of law around the requirement that simwindows may only distort reality to increase understanding, and also a branch of philosophy. Permitted distortions include: spin, in which the direction of view is changed; flare, in which invisible spectra are made visible; clip, in which only the strongest frequencies are shown, making white stars green; true zoom; and shrinkzoom, in which objects are shown proportionally larger than the space between them.

Stim: a drug, or a drug application technology.

Stimslash: cancellation of a drug effect. See Scrub.

Tempdeath: the death of a person who can be restored from a savepod.

Timepack: also called timescrunch, a technology where time spent in a simulated world seems longer than the time that passes in the world outside.

Timepilot: A talented specialist in operating a counter-clock engine to reverse relativistic time loss in Gridspace travel. The talent can appear anywhere, but it is only common among female Scrollkin. See Batwarp.

Timesync: in batwarp, the difficult process of synchronizing movement through space with movement backward through time.

Transpolaric: a spectrum of uncanny energy, whose two poles are mathematically similar to the eyeward and faeward ends of the Scroll.

Tubeflower: another word for a warptube convergence.

Warptube: the "tube" is really a torus, a donut stretched like the string of a musical instrument and strummed to raise standing waves whose harmonic nodes are exits to gridspace. At those exits are planets that reflect the chain that created/discovered it. See Line.

Zed: the first planet discovered by a new chain, using a primitive warptube vibrating at such a low frequency that it includes only Prime at one end and Zed at the other.

Notes on Chains

(There are many more than these sixteen, but the main text has been simplified and probably distorted to keep the number manageable.)

Aqua/Aquans. On their home Earth, runaway warming melted the icecaps, and ocean anoxia exterminated almost all life. Humans survived on ships that used solar energy to extract oxygen and nutrients from seawater. These evolved into magnificent floating cities, and when they gained warptube tech, all the planets they found were at least 75% covered by water.

Aristo/Aristans. The most eyeward of all chains, it is believed to have originated when an iteration of the Lonely Planet broke quarantine into Chainspace, because the belief systems are so similar.

Brumvolz/Brumvolzins. A bureaucratic state rarely achieves planetary unity and warptube tech, but Brumvolz Prime found an elegant balance between a densely cracked authoritarian edifice, and a somewhat ethical criminal underworld.

Caxiletas/Caxiletans. Their name is a mashup of the names of two nations, one of frontier pastoralists and one of casual urbanites, that merged to culturally dominate their primeworld.

Ch-Kung/Ch-Kung. All viable economies are based either on zero growth or polynomial growth. The Ch-Kung were so stubborn in trying to sustain exponential growth, that they stumbled on a system of depreciating currency that has all the vigor of an exploding economy, while remaining stable over the long term. Because Ch-Kung brakteats lose value so quickly, they flow fast through the Chainspace economy, like an ocean on which other currencies are islands.

Chthon/Chthon. In the consciousness of jungle people, distances are short, so Chthon is a rare chain whose Primespace is more compact than chain Gridspace. Their sun is only a million miles away, their moon is so close that treetowers sway in its gravity, and they have continued to colonize their home galaxy even after the discovery of the warptube. With its navigable physics and lawless culture, Chthon primespace is a popular hideout for outlaws.

Devonis/Devonians. Careless biotech is the most common way that alternate Earths fail to transcend: by changing humans into something not quite human that goes happily extinct. The Devonians avoided this trap through a culture that worships the old, that always values tried and tested forms over new ones. They scavenge Primes and dead chains looking for the most ancient genes, and they dream of a time machine that avoids paradox by dredging information from the past without sending any information back.

Glimmer/Glimmer. When surface wars blackened its skies, Glimmer Prime turned inward, first into physical caves, and later into caves of the mind, where they became one of the few chains to discover warptube tech before space travel. Because of their skill in cavemaking, the planets they find are indifferent to surface gravity, typically large and rocky, and as they delve upward and downward from 1G depth, they develop bodies suited to higher and lower gravity. Because they find space more alien than other chains, their spacesuits are built to a higher standard.

Ladbroke/Ladbroke. Something like the British Empire exists in many alternate Earths, but in one, instead of declining, it was reinvigorated by militant reformers who insisted, all through the industrial age, not on the destruction of machinery, nor on equal distribution of its benefits, but on the absolute autonomy of its use. Eventually, through a million linked home fabricators, many inventions came early, especially in macroscopic mechanics and music technology.

Lodi/Lodians. Once a massive exporter of agricultural products, its fertile planets are now depleted of topsoil, and only a few obscure convergence links keep it out of the dead chains. There are well-tested technologies to restore topsoil, but Lodians resist them through cultural and economic inertia.

Minos/Minoans. Names and geography are often the same across alternate Earths. In one, the ancient Minoan civilization escaped destruction and grew into a global trade network so well organized that they discovered Chainspace much earlier than most Primes, at a level of technology that had not even developed internal combustion.

Na-il/Na-il. Something about warptube technology puts it beyond the reach of warlike peoples. The Na-il are a rare chain that did not originate on an alternate Earth. Instead, they were a minor deadchain tribe until one of their number ascended to aesthetics level five, and led them in violent conquest of the entire Burbosan chain, who are generally believed to have had it coming. By the treaty of Menkalinan, the Na-il retain the right to enforce their aesthetic standards on all surfaces visible from space, including large planetary features.

Pitcairn/Pitcairns. In deep prehistory, a rogue gas giant passed through the Pitcairn Prime solar system, sweeping away most of the planets and leaving massive debris belts. With no expectation of finding planets around other stars, the Pitcairns learned to make planets from scratch, and were rewarded for that skill by finding systems rich in minerals.

Quercus/Quercans. The favorite child of the Space Mother, Quercus Prime progressed peacefully to a global ecotopia and then moved smoothly into Chainspace. Other peoples often wish that the cheerful and inoffensive Quercans will suffer some epic tragedy to make them more interesting.

Sifrex/Sifrexans. When Sifrex Prime invented the telescope in prehistory, their universe withdrew to such distances that space travel was never seriously considered. They finally discovered warptube tech through computers and math, and entered Chainspace already superior to other chains in processing information. Their method of manufacturing "cogs" -- storable potential calculations -- is not a secret, but so difficult that no one else attempts it.

Thanas/Thanans. Like the Na-il, the Thanans emerged from the dead chains on the wings of a new religion. But where the Na-il rose through conquest, the Thanans rose through reanimation, fattening their decrepit planets on aggressive scavenging, and nudging back into Chainspace on the value of their innovations in savepod tech.

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