Banks, Look to Windward: "energy grid between universes"

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lloyd

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Dec 29, 2010, 11:19:05 PM12/29/10
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I haven't got the book at hand to cite the page number, but in Iain
Banks's "Look to Windward", the Hub Mind, formerly the mind of a GSV,
was ejected from its destroyed ship during the war, and sent hurtling
far above the galactic plane. It allowed itself to travel
ballistically for a while to avoid detection, only altering its
trajectory to return to the galaxy when it was necessary to "avoid
hitting the energy grid between universes", or some such very similar
phrase. Usually in Banks I realise when something is deliberately
underexplained so it can be explained later, but this doesn't feel
like that. It's just... WTF. Can anyone explain this seeming lapse in
a writer who usually doesn't descend into meaningless stuff? This is
bugging me.

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 30, 2010, 1:26:44 AM12/30/10
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Here, lloyd <lloyd.h...@gmail.com> wrote:
> I haven't got the book at hand to cite the page number, but in Iain
> Banks's "Look to Windward", the Hub Mind, formerly the mind of a GSV,
> was ejected from its destroyed ship during the war, and sent hurtling
> far above the galactic plane. It allowed itself to travel
> ballistically for a while to avoid detection, only altering its
> trajectory to return to the galaxy when it was necessary to "avoid
> hitting the energy grid between universes", or some such very similar
> phrase. Usually in Banks I realise when something is deliberately
> underexplained so it can be explained later, but this doesn't feel
> like that.

It's technobabble, which Banks indulges in as freely as most other SF
writers. (All SF writers who don't park themselves in the no-FTL
corner of the field, anyway.)

The grid is occasionally mentioned as the energy source (or a source,
maybe) of Culture ships and other technology. It's also used as a
weapon -- the term "gridfire" turns up sometimes. I have a dim
recollection that it's a boundary between matter and antimatter
universes, but I could be wrong about that.

It's a magic wand.

--Z

--
"And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves..."
*

Sean Eric Fagan

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Dec 30, 2010, 2:01:00 AM12/30/10
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In article <ifh8n4$edp$1...@reader1.panix.com>,

Andrew Plotkin <erky...@eblong.com> wrote:
>The grid is occasionally mentioned as the energy source (or a source,
>maybe) of Culture ships and other technology. It's also used as a
>weapon -- the term "gridfire" turns up sometimes. I have a dim
>recollection that it's a boundary between matter and antimatter
>universes, but I could be wrong about that.

There are two of them; in Banks' Culture works, there are multiple universes,
like an onion, with an energy grid between them. The Culture -- and, to the
best of our knowledge, everyone with the possible exception of the Sublimed --
can only access one at a time. No reason is given for that, but it's stated
as a goal in EXCESSION, as you'd then possibly have the ability to travel from
one universe to a younger one, and thus potentially live forever.

lloyd

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Dec 30, 2010, 11:04:19 AM12/30/10
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On Dec 30, 1:26 am, Andrew Plotkin <erkyr...@eblong.com> wrote:

> Here, lloyd <lloyd.hough...@gmail.com> wrote:
> > "avoid hitting the energy grid between universes"

> It's technobabble, which Banks indulges in as freely as most other SF


> writers. (All SF writers who don't park themselves in the no-FTL
> corner of the field, anyway.)
>
> The grid is occasionally mentioned as the energy source (or a source,
> maybe) of Culture ships and other technology. It's also used as a
> weapon -- the term "gridfire" turns up sometimes. I have a dim
> recollection that it's a boundary between matter and antimatter
> universes, but I could be wrong about that.
>
> It's a magic wand.

I've been reading the Culture novels out of order, so I've missed
reference to it anywhere else. It's disappointing he uses this magic
wand; I understand the need for some bogus FTL-tech if he wants to
write a particular kind of story, and the Sublimed thing is a bit of a
cop-out, but otherwise I'm pretty pleased with Banks in this respect.
(The Hub Mind being so uber-powerful is another kind of cop-out, which
makes the ending of this novel pretty weak--there was never any real
threat to the Hub orbital after all.)

So the same gizmo that is a source of energy for the Culture is also a
barrier between other "universes"--other universes which in fact can
be reached by ordinary (well, extra-galactic) travel within the
mundane universe? In what sense is it another universe then? Sean Eric
Fagan below says it's from EXCESSION, which I haven't read yet.

Jaimie Vandenbergh

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Dec 30, 2010, 11:12:21 AM12/30/10
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The quote:

"Thrown from the erupting energies of the self-destructing GSV, flung
out of the main body of the galaxy with barely sufficient energy to
maintain its own fabric, it flew above and away from the plane of the
galaxy more like a gigantic piece of shrapnel than any sort of ship,
largely disarmed, mostly blind, entirely dumb and not daring to use
its all-too-rough and barely ready engines for fear of detection
until, at length, it had no choice. Even then it turned them on for
only the minimum amount of time necessary to stop itself colliding
with the energy grid between the universes.

If the Idirans had had more time, they would have searched for any
surviving fragments of the GSV, and probably they would have found the
castaway."

Banks doesn't subscribe to the occasional (and entirely wrong) usage
of "universe" to mean "galaxy", which would give this passage some
sense (while raising questions, as you say).

The "energy grid between universes" is more fully described in the
earlier _Excession_ as between actual universes, in the usual sense.
So the line above makes no sense at all. I suppose we just have to put
up with that.

Cheers - Jaimie
--
"I'll never forget my first wife - drove me to drink. I'm
eternally grateful." - W. C. Fields

Mike Ash

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Dec 30, 2010, 12:10:28 PM12/30/10
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In article <5hbph6dpv6qitnn4k...@4ax.com>,
Jaimie Vandenbergh <jai...@sometimes.sessile.org> wrote:

> The quote:
>
> "Thrown from the erupting energies of the self-destructing GSV, flung
> out of the main body of the galaxy with barely sufficient energy to
> maintain its own fabric, it flew above and away from the plane of the
> galaxy more like a gigantic piece of shrapnel than any sort of ship,
> largely disarmed, mostly blind, entirely dumb and not daring to use
> its all-too-rough and barely ready engines for fear of detection
> until, at length, it had no choice. Even then it turned them on for
> only the minimum amount of time necessary to stop itself colliding
> with the energy grid between the universes.
>
> If the Idirans had had more time, they would have searched for any
> surviving fragments of the GSV, and probably they would have found the
> castaway."
>
> Banks doesn't subscribe to the occasional (and entirely wrong) usage
> of "universe" to mean "galaxy", which would give this passage some
> sense (while raising questions, as you say).
>
> The "energy grid between universes" is more fully described in the
> earlier _Excession_ as between actual universes, in the usual sense.
> So the line above makes no sense at all. I suppose we just have to put
> up with that.

Consider that, in order to make any meaningful distance away from the
plane of the galaxy in the time available, the Mind would have to be
traveling through hyperspace. So it may not be a physical thing out
there beyond the galaxy, but rather some consequence of being in
hyperspace too long. (Or whatever Banks calls hyperspace, I forget if
that's the word he uses.)

--
Mike Ash
Radio Free Earth
Broadcasting from our climate-controlled studios deep inside the Moon

Sean Eric Fagan

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Dec 30, 2010, 1:39:00 PM12/30/10
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In article <5hbph6dpv6qitnn4k...@4ax.com>,
Jaimie Vandenbergh <jai...@sometimes.sessile.org> wrote:
>The "energy grid between universes" is more fully described in the
>earlier _Excession_ as between actual universes, in the usual sense.
>So the line above makes no sense at all. I suppose we just have to put
>up with that.

Minds exist, at least partially, in hyperspace. While travelling there, it
was trying to avoid the layer of energy which would have destroyed it.

How does it not make sense?

Sean Eric Fagan

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Dec 30, 2010, 1:36:58 PM12/30/10
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In article <a9f28f2d-c7bd-40e2...@l17g2000yqe.googlegroups.com>,

lloyd <lloyd.h...@gmail.com> wrote:
>So the same gizmo that is a source of energy for the Culture is also a
>barrier between other "universes"--other universes which in fact can
>be reached by ordinary (well, extra-galactic) travel within the
>mundane universe?

No. They're different universes. Self-contained, created by their own Big
Bang, eventually dying out (I forget whether he's got it fading out or
collapsing). Probably different physical laws as well.

http://www.vavatch.co.uk/books/banks/cultnote.htm mentions it, discussing the
physical construction of his setting.

lloyd

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Dec 30, 2010, 3:13:23 PM12/30/10
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On Dec 30, 1:36 pm, s...@kithrup.com (Sean Eric Fagan) wrote:

> http://www.vavatch.co.uk/books/banks/cultnote.htm mentions it, discussing the
> physical construction of his setting.

Thanks Sean, that was interesting. I read the whole thing; the
relevant portion is near the end and I'll excerpt it here (it was
apparently originally written to be posted on this newsgroup many
years ago):

====================
We accept that the three dimensions of space we live in are curved,
that space-time describes a hypersphere, just as the two dimensions of
length and width on the surface of a totally smooth planet curve in a
third dimension to produce a three-dimensional sphere. In the Culture
stories, the idea is that - when you imagine the hypersphere which is
our expanding universe - rather than thinking of a growing hollow
sphere (like a inflating beach-ball, for example), think of an onion.

An expanding onion, certainly, but an onion, nevertheless. Within our
universe, our hypersphere, there are whole layers of younger, smaller
hyperspheres. And we are not the very outer-most skin of that
expanding onion, either; there are older, larger universes beyond
ours, too. Between each universe there is something called the Energy
Grid (I said this was all fake); I have no idea what this is, but it's
what the Culture starships run on. And of course, if you could get
through the Energy Grid, to a younger universe, and then repeat the
process... now we really are talking about immortality. (This is why
there are two types of hyperspace mentioned in the stories; infraspace
within our hypersphere, and ultraspace without.)

Now comes the difficult bit; switch to seven dimensions and even our
four dimensional universe can be described as a circle. So forget
about the onion; think of a doughnut. A doughnut with only a very tiny
hole in the middle. That hole is the Cosmic Centre, the singularity,
the great initiating fireball, the place the universes come from; and
it didn't exist just in the instant our universe came into being; it
exists all the time, and it's exploding all the time, like some Cosmic
car engine, producing universes like exhaust smoke.

As each universe comes into being, detonating and spreading and
expanding, it - or rather the single circle we are using to describe
it - goes gradually up the inner slope of our doughnut, like a
widening ripple from a stone flung in a pond. It goes over the top of
the doughnut, reaches its furthest extent on the outside edge of the
doughnut, and then starts the long, contracting, collapsing journey
back in towards the Cosmic Centre again, to be reborn...

Or at least it does if it's on that doughnut; the doughnut is itself
hollow, filled with smaller ones where the universes don't live so
long. And there are larger ones outside it, where the universes live
longer, and maybe there are universes that aren't on doughnuts at all,
and never fall back in, and just dissipate out into... some form of
meta-space? Where fragments of them are captured eventually by the
attraction of another doughnut, and fall in towards its Cosmic Centre
with the debris of lots of other dissipated universes, to be reborn as
something quite different again? Who knows. (I know it's all nonsense,
but you've got to admit it's impressive nonsense. And like I said at
the start, none of it exists anyway, does it?)
=========================

Funny, I imagined the "expanding onion" concept as a means of time-
travel almost 30 years ago when I was about 12, and tried to explain
it to my English teacher when I turned in a SF story. I had a vision
of special ships meant to burrow through the infintesimally thin
layers of the onion, out of our usual 3 dimensions, but once you left
your own universe you could never return (the layers were too thin for
you to have any chance of finding the one you set out from). And so if
you travelled back in time and buggered up the timeline, you'd be
buggering up some other universe-layer's timeline, not creating any
paradoxes in your own, which would continue merrily expanding from
wherever you left off.

Anyway I like Banks's attitude here towards the made-upness (and
implausibility) of some of the devices that he strictly needs from a
story-telling view. I still think the throw-away mention of an energy
grid between universes, in the same sentence that talks of a ship
travelling through normal space away from the Milky Way galaxy, in a
book that doesn't reference the other universes at all, could have
been done better. Mike Ash's explanation in this thread is good.

What to read next? I've been away from science fiction since I was a
kid; I've read most of Banks, all of Egan and all of Chiang this past
year. Tried some Greg Bear and found it poor.

Andrew Plotkin

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Dec 30, 2010, 5:03:31 PM12/30/10
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Here, lloyd <lloyd.h...@gmail.com> wrote:
>
> Anyway I like Banks's attitude here towards the made-upness (and
> implausibility) of some of the devices that he strictly needs from a
> story-telling view. I still think the throw-away mention of an energy
> grid between universes, in the same sentence that talks of a ship
> travelling through normal space away from the Milky Way galaxy, in a
> book that doesn't reference the other universes at all, could have
> been done better.

I can see your point.

> What to read next? I've been away from science fiction since I was a
> kid; I've read most of Banks, all of Egan and all of Chiang this past
> year. Tried some Greg Bear and found it poor.

Bear varies quite a bit. But I haven't read any of his recent stuff.

Possibilities: Alistair Reynolds, Charles Stross (when he's doing SF),
Scott Westerfeld (ditto), Robert Charles Wilson.

Mike Ash

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Dec 30, 2010, 5:42:54 PM12/30/10
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In article
<8f113678-4b34-4f63...@p38g2000vbn.googlegroups.com>,
lloyd <lloyd.h...@gmail.com> wrote:

> What to read next? I've been away from science fiction since I was a
> kid; I've read most of Banks, all of Egan and all of Chiang this past
> year. Tried some Greg Bear and found it poor.

My personal recommendations for more recent good SF:

Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep and A Deepness in the Sky

Charles Stross, Singularity Sky

John Scalzi, Old Man's War and sequels

Also if you haven't checked out Banks's non-M (which is to say, non-SF)
works, I'd highly recommend The Bridge if you liked his stuff overall.
It's very SFy and extremely good. His other non-M stuff is probably good
too, but I'm mostly unfamiliar with it.

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