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Topic: A Fractured Eternity: Part I

From: Mike Glosson
Location: San Diego, CA
Date: 09/15/2008

A Fractured Eternity: Meditations on CITY AT THE END OF TIME: part I.
Warning and Disclaimer: The following may contain spoilers for the New Greg Bear Novel.
A Note on this stochastic analysis: It was original written over a period of several days after my second reading of CITY, the first time I have ever re-read a new novel so close after the first reading. The only experience that comes close was reading Arthur C. Clarkes rewrite of AGAINST THE FALL OF NIGHT as THE CITY AND THE STARS two weeks after reading the first version. Apropos, as both those novels fall into the Dying Earth/End of Time/Stapledonian Vista that CITY AT THE END OF TIME may in-fact crown. I just started reading THE NIGHT LANDS, by William Hope Hodgson a few days ago: this novel which was slowly slipping into an out-of-print state strongly influence Greg Bears vision of what lays around Earths Final City, and in a few of the post publication talks he has stated that parts of CITY are a homage to Hodgsons work.

I will wait a year before a third reading of CITY AT THE END OF TIME, and read more Hodgson, who is still new to me&though his writing career was cut short 90 years ago by WWI: in battle.
A Fractured Eternity:
Meditations on Greg Bears Novel: CITY AT THE END OF TIME

Mike Glosson
September 8, 2008
Present time.


The Genre of the End of Time: The future determines the past, drowning in the past: where does this subgenre go from here, as this may be the capstone. I had originally hoped that CITY AT THE END OF TIME would completely Say it all about this subgenre; instead it has taken that interest in stories about the Dying Earth, about what happens at the end of the Universe, complete with a Stapledonian Meta-Span of Far Future History, and inflamed it to Hyper-Nova or Quasar brightness. Other stories may still be written about events in this distant Epoch, but Greg Bear has, as he often does, set the Bar transfinitely high with this novel. It will be decades before another word-triathlete comes close to approaching grand effort&no&this Great Work!
CITY AT THE END OF TIME fulfills the function of any work of Great Literature, be it Science Fiction or Main Stream: it makes the reader see the world in a whole new light, from looking closer at the day to day and seeing it deeper or the big-picture of the totality of things, brining it all down to a human an intimate level. Not only having the power to stay with the reader as a new and persistent myth, while being entertained and challenged along the way, but to also induce changes in the reader in his or her attitude toward the world and what is or is not important.
Following are some of my thoughts regarding aspects of THE CITY AT THE END OF TIME. They are nowhere near exhaustive; as it is my opinion that this novel could easily become the subject matter of a PhD Thesis, either on its own, or how it relates to the various Subgenres it arises out of. Subjects are presented in a stochastic manner, somewhat analogous to the structure of the novel. At times, after two readings, I often feel like one of the blind men and that pesky elephant&

Fate Shifters: Are they just a function of the Sum-Runners? Are there natural unconnected Fate Shifters, not involved in the sum-runners quest to sample the various time lines that lead to Kalpa? Other than Cats (See below). Current Humanitys shedding unused fates in dreams. In dreams we examine the paths we did not take, catalog them, then push them aside.
What about Fate Surfers? The incredibly lucky, who generally find the optimum wave of probabilities, but do on occasion a) sit on a glassy stretch or b) go thru a wipe out. Ultimate free will or ultimate determinism? Would a Fate Surfer be more like a Chancer? (See below)
Reading these sections, especially the passages where the fate-shifters were thinking or experience possibilities were incredibly spooky: as someone else had also given thought as to what being consciously aware of the transinfinite possibilities of life. But my own thoughts and sensation about modal experience and possibilities a small and impoverished version of what the Fate Shifters experience. While on occasion I have moved thru life contemplating the various outcomes of events as I have experienced them, working toward the most optimum outcome for the events, yet those efforts were nothing like the feeling ahead of world lines consciously experienced by the fate shifters
Are all fate shifters just avatars/agents of the sum-runners? Could other people consciously shift fates? We only experience the fate shifting abilities of the three in the Novel, all of which have Sum-Runners, and all of whom discovered their abilities once the Sum-Runners became their property. Perhaps, a few centuries down the road, modern humanity may on its own become consciously aware of the infinite possibilities of events, and learn to fate shift.
Chancers appear to be natural manipulators to probability, making events fall one way or the other. Fate shifters can actually perceive possibilities, can feel out possible worlds. Time has texture. Time-Fate is almost a character all its own&a character that is dying. Fate shifters, as we are only presented with three active, and history of others that have been caught and stored else-when.
Are Jack and Ginny typical? Both appear aimless, and did not have the ability to fate-shift until the sum-runners came into their possession. It is assumed that their parents could also fate shift, if the past that contains their parents is actually real, or if they were sifted out of the probabilities by the sum-runners themselves they are nearly new born, though appearing to be young adults. No real goals in life or life goals.
Ginny always (almost) makes the wrong choices, shifts to the wrong set of possibilities and major junctures, her constant turning left& though she can feel ahead for lethal possibilities. Jack just appears to be marking time, juggling both objects and fates, round and round and round, but never really getting anywhere.
Daniel/(Sangmer) is much more conscious about what he is doing, and appears to have a goal&to keep ahead and get away from progressively degenerate fates, but each time he jumps his memory of the last major strand start to fade. Originally jumping between different versions of Daniel, he goes way out into Charles Granger&and while in that same line hops into his sisters husbands body while in the same strand. And he has two sum-runners, his and Grangers&and somehow dragged the second with him on his biggest jaunt. Of the three Fate Shifters hes given it the most thought, and understands the physics/philosophy of it all&had toyed with goals of love and fortune, but couldnt live such fates, so just kept trying to jump ahead. Also known as the black shepherd, he has no call number, no book in the Babel. Daniel has the most angst about what he is and what he does.
While the fate shifters are modern times characters, they may be the most alien people in the book, in some ways not really human. Fate shifters can never be too old or mature, as such states of being imply History, roots, connectivity with many other lives and fates, a grid work of history that clogs up possibilities down certain paths that can happen and cannot happen. To be young, but not too young, is to have the freedom of multiple fates, not weighed down by the entanglements of personal and interpersonal history&in the larger web of entanglement of a cultural epoch.
Cities and People at the End of Time: Kalpa, Eidolons, Ancient Breeds, Nataraja, Menders and Shapers. The Quest across the Chaos.
Kalpa is the Sanskrit word for AEON, eon, long period of time. A slight nod to the title of the first novel about THE WAY and Thistledown? In Hinduism a Kalpa is equivalent to 4.32 Billion Years, or a Day (and only the day part of it) of Brahma. See below for the myth of the creator.
Nataraja is the name of the dancing posture of the Hindu God Shiva, the destroyer, and the last city on Earth that tried to take on the Typhon without the protection of Reality Generators. It is where Ishanaxade went to upon her exile from Kalpa. Before its corruption by the Typhon, Nataraja may have been more Diaspar-Lys than Kalpa ever was, with Kalpa being Diaspar-Borges Country: an inward turned city of godlike beings lost in the labyrinths of their own distracting pleasures.
When Nataraja is corrupted by the Typhon it becomes more like DIS, the City inside of Hell. Nataraja and its surrounds, especially the Vale of Dead Gods, resembles a cross between the Tartarus of Greek Mythology with the Titans chained up/frozen as statues, and Dantes Inferno&especially with the lake of ice at the centre. While thousands, if not millions of Ancient Breeds have set off for Nataraja, maybe only 100 ever got actually into the city, and were immediately imprisoned in corruption, while those who never got that far are stuck in an endless loop of trying to get there.
Kalpa: In many ways a lesser Diaspar. Hundreds of miles high, it has turned nearly completely inward, with only one window in the broken tower of the Librarian that looks out, and sees and feels the stark searchlight of the Witness. An Echo of the Tower of Lorraine in Diaspar where Alvin looked out upon the Desert and the Universe? The City has inbound reality generators, and an outer ring of Defenders that hold back the Chaos caused by the incursions and attacks of the Typhon. All but perhaps two of the Eidolon level citizens studiously ignore the Chaos, the Typhon, and the outside world, lost in their endless dreams made real and infinite pleasures, and various levels of being as well, mostly nootic in nature, or similar/different non baryonic forms of substance while primordial matter with its abilities to have multiple and chaotic fates as rare amoeba teeth, often used in ritual exchanges: the main store of it used to incarnate the Menders, Shapers, Ancient Breeds and their Environs.
The Ancient Breeds are not true citizens of Kalpa, not in any-way godlike or super-futuristic; instead they are an attempted recreation of earlier forms of humankind, with the ability to shed fates in their sleep via dreams, and being made of matter they have the potential to have non-optimized fates and are better suited to deal with the Chaos/Typhon head on. The fate of the Universe, and the rebirth of the universe, is caught up in basic human interpersonal drama between the Prince of the City, who represents the majority of the will of the Citizens of Kalpa who want to go about their infinite pleasures and dramas and IGNORE the end of the universe (much like Moorcocks Dancers at the End of Time, but with an Advocate more basically drama-stupid than Lord Canaria) and the Librarian/Polybiblios, who wants to activate completed Babels and restart the Universe, wiping out the Typhon and what little bit is left at the same time.

The Typhon: failed and failing god? In classic Greek Mythology Typhon was the last child of Gaia via Tartarus&before that all generative creation was between her and Uranus. Typhon sought to displace Zeus, but was defeated. Typhon was also the most monstrous monster who ever monstered: over a hundred heads, hideous, big big big. In the CITY Mythos he may be the universes last attempt at a God, but the universe too worn out to produce any more properly, so The Typhon ends up being Against the Universe. Or is it just a Metaphysical cancer of space time, when the Vacuum goes false and sinks to a lower state? Or the Typhon as an Avatar of the Big Rip? With 14 Zeroes&this could be anywhere from 200 Trillion to 900 trillion years from now. With Space/Time itself stretched thin. The Typhon appeared late in the Trillennium.
Was it an intrusion from another universe? A baby universe being born into the old abortively, or like a wasp larva injected into the universe to feed? The Typhon can also move backward in time as well as outward in space. Did it actually come from a later era in the universe? After the Black Hole Era? Or from the Degenerative Era? Being Born at the true end of the universe, the Dark Era, when only lonely electrons and positrons exist, encounter each other maybe once in a trillion year, briefly form an atom of positronium, then annihilate into gamma rays&photons with wave lengths the size of galaxies move across what is left of the universe? Or was the Typhon a response of the Universe to the resurrection that intelligent life conducted after the heat-death known as the end of The Bright?
Its front wave when it encounters the universe warps things instead of totally annihilating things. But beyond the leading front all becomes nothingness.
A broken and failed god. Hostile not just to matter, but to being observed, to other minds. To the Universe. To Time itself.
Beyond Clarkes original concept of the Mad Mind, the pure intelligence hostile to matter, and Benfords re-imaging it first as a Magnetic Mentality driven insane by the manipulations of incarnate intelligence, then again as the Malign. On the Typhon: Reprogramming Virus vs. Lysis-Destructor Virus, The Typhon like a Space/Time Cancer, eating away at the universe in 5+ Dimensions. Killer Flu or AIDS vs. Ebola on a cosmic level, corrupting and rupturing. Final Sin, traveling back from the total end and wiping out the beginning.

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