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Topic: A Fractured Eternity: Part III

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

Warning and Disclaimer: The following may contain spoilers for the New Greg Bear Novel.

A Fractured Eternity: Meditations on Greg Bears Novel: CITY AT THE END OF TIME
Part III

Kalpa from the view of the Slums: The Bions of the Ancient Breeds. While waiting for CITY to hit Print and reading teasers about it had originally thought that the Ancient Breeds were full citizens and fully aware of their role in the conflict with the Typhon and the preservation of parts of History. Instead they were more like, and less, than the Ur-humans in BEYOND THE FALL OF NIGHT: they were not an extinct human species called back into life, but an inaccurate recreation of what Eidolons thought the original humans might be like, getting some of the details wrong. And they are not born, but are created/put together by a shaper, who individually crafts each and every one of them. The Child/Parent relationship in the Bions is somewhat like that of the Prior-Incarnation memory suppressed Instant Children in the CITY AND THE STARS version of Diaspar. After a million years Sexual Reproduction is just being introduced into the line, but for what reason? Nobody gets sick, and when they wear out the Bleak Warden robot comes and takes them away, painlessly shutting them down first. Their lives are narrow. They only exist to get to Nataraja, and be a gauge and bait for the Typhon/Chaos, as observers with the potential for multiple fates are something it cannot stand at all. For over half a million year of this artificially recreated lives of a basic humanity they have not known what their true reason for being was, and while Cherished by at least one Eidolon still pretty much relegated to the level of concern one might give to a smoke alarm in a modern home. One doesnt tell the smoke detector in the hallway the intricacies of Plotinus tri-level hypostatis, and thus the Ancient Breeds are equally in the dark about what they are for, why they exist at the feet of god-like beings.

Cats: Sminthians: Cats may be the only true naturally occurring Fate Shifters in the Cosmology of CITY. They have short life spans, fate lines that lay within the range of the probable and artificed fate lines of the Fate Shifters. As individuals they do not create great webs of cause and effect in events. As a species they create a buffering affect for humanity AGAINST any totally bad fates, as such a situation which would impinge on the way the like to live in the world, playing and hunting, and their hunting focused on the small things that tend to disrupt the large scale fates of humanity: things that eat the human food supply and things that eat at books, where humans store records of their actual time and their probably/possible time (fictions)

Collectors: Cancers...no&.Chancers&..an interesting Freudian slip on my part, as they are agents several degrees removed of the Typhon, such as this progression: Typhon: Chalk Princess: The Moth: Whitlow: Max Glaucus. The Un-natural predators of Fate Shifters. Chancers appear to be naturally occurring. Good at games of chance. Sought as subcontractors/hunters by the Chalk Princess and her minions. While Fate Shifters can hop from probability to probability often jumping or jaunting across world lines, and seem somewhat aimless in their abilities, Chancers force probabilities down fixed paths, narrowing choices for whatever optimum they seek. There are never any old Fate Shifters, they are always young, Chancers end up being singled out by the Power that Want To Be and having their lives, their fate lines, artificially extended, as if the entire process of forcing luck, which narrows down and eliminates possibilities, makes them a potential aspect of the Chalk Princesss function for the Typhon: Narrowing down fate, erasing other stories, getting the universe down to one track, which the Typhon can then more easily dispose of and do whatever it wants to do

The Shen, the Neckless Worlds, the Sixty Green Suns. An homage to the Green Suns in the Skylark Novels? In a way Polybiblios is a descendant of the Super Scientist Dick Seaton from the Skylark Novels, who travelled back to the cluster of Green Suns from the first Skylark novel to find a higher civilization to teach him how to use higher order forces in regards to a)his endless quest for knowledge about the physical universe and b) in dealing with threats to all civilized life from his personal foe and the Fenachrone, and finally studying with the Forlamin: who like the Shen are willing to teach, but dont want to get directly involved in the conflict. Not sure if this is a conscious homage, but in a personal conversation in 1980 Greg Bear and I discussed some of the aspects of the Skylark Books, specifically the computing power necessary for Dick Seaton to make a map of all the galaxies in the Universe. So at some point it is highly probable that he read the Skylark novels, enough to be conversant on them.

The Librarian/ Polybiblios. Left to study with the Shen. A Ptah like being in some ways, an artificer. Some legends of Ptah portray him as the maker of the universe, instead of the Birth of the Sun out of the primal waters. Went to study with the Shen and learn their techniques and took the tech with him, also made/found Ishanaxade, recognizing her as one of the original/primal witnesses of the Universe, a reconstructed muse taking human form. He comes up with the Scheme of the Sum-Runners, which contain Babels, though they are partial. Three of the partial Babels would make a complete, four would seal the deal. They had been traveling forward in time summing up history, various histories, as they went along. Their partial Babels may also be replicated in Kalpa and the Broken Tower. So the books/call numbers for the Fate Shifters may actually be inside the sum-runners as well. Fate-shifters have library call numbers, catalog numbers. The Babels are happier versions of Borges Library of Babel, where valid books are constantly found and celebrated. Fit in minicosms the size of a grain of sand. Fit in the red stone of the Sum-Runners? While the number of volumes is vast in a Babel, it is not infinite. Nothing Infinite can be in the Babel, such as pi: anything that is infinite has to be represented by an equation or formula, which are factories of the Infinite.
How many hundreds were sent back? How many called their avatars into existence from either unfulfilled possibilities or their own imposed story of a fate shifter? How many were drained and frozen in the fate mire in Nataraja? A question that came to mind a little bit on my first read, and more on my second, was IS Bidewell an aspect of the Librarian? Some kind of Avatar like his Angelins? But based on a Fate-Book and called into existence. His perpetual use of one of the prime catch phrases of The Librarian Not to be known is highly suggestive of a relationship between the two, even though Bidewell worked, for a time, for the Chalk Princess, who comes to collect him after Terminus.

Incursions by the Chaos/Typhon into Kalpa & the Slow weirding-out and eventual total reality break down of Present Day: Seattle. Are these two Cities tied together via the 3(4) Sum-Runners, or is there a deeper connection: That Seattle is the ancestral seed-city of Kalpa? When the Typhon via Kali/The Chalk Princess Gapes Seattle away from its past, and it comes crashing into the End of Time, the final assault on Kalpa succeeds. Before this event the Reality Generators, especially the ones in the Defenders around Kalpa, have been beginning to fail: Chaos/Typhon generates incursions into Kalpa, specifically aiming at the Ancient Breeds in the Bions. Since the Typhon also travels backwards in time these incursions are what is being felt in Seattle and its world as the appearance of Cryptids and Lazarids, and unlikely books. Bidewell bunkered down in his Green Warehouse full of books both valid and invalid echoes that of The Librarian in the Broken tower with his incomplete Babels. It is only AFTER Seattle is torn loose from time that Kalpas reality generators begin to finally fail, and the CITY falls before the Typhon, with the root of its past now coeval with itself in the present: If Seattle had landed side by side with Kalpa the entire identical particle information exchange seen with the three fate shifters and those trapped in the Fate Mire would occur.

A word or two regarding the prose found in the novel: Eventually I will have to buy a second copy to mark up, as my first Edition First Printing Personalized Signed copy is far too valuable as it is to do the massive underlining of the forest of gem-prose that composes this novel; passages, sentence I want to commit to memory as I have A.E. Housman poems. There are descriptions of the resurrection of the universe by intelligent life after the Heat-Death of The Bright Era that I want to memorize for their beauty of word play alone, poetic in intensity. The authors projection into the head space of the Fate Shifters and descriptions of what it is like to see and shift thru possible outcomes takes the old Science Fiction concept-prop of Alternate/Parallel words and breathes life and intimacy into them, giving time and possibility the raw rub of the real. An entire paper regarding the prose could easily be written, as it goes from these poetic heights to fast paced action/horror prose smoothly and continuously. Unlike a Durrell novel where a reader can become drowned in beautiful prose Bear pulls us back time and time again with more advances in the action. That has been one of his strongest skills as a writer, going back to his first novels: gripping the readers attention and keeping it, with challenging ideas, engaging action and drama, and over the decades a steadily maturing and flowering (but not flowery!) prose that appears to hit its stride, only to be overshadowed by another novel years down the road.
And like any great work of fiction or Science Fiction, the mysteries are revealed one by one, the anticipation of discovery a constant thru-out the book.
Structurally there are ample entry-ways into the novel for readers from various age groups. The 20 Something Fate Shifters and their dreaming counter parts in the Ancient Breeds allow instant identification for readers under thirty, while the philosophical depth of the novel drags in the mature intellect and traps it within the pages, like flies in amber of deep thought, and at the other end positive and active characters of late middle age, to senior, to timeless/immortal give a linking point for readers working into the second half of their first century of life.
This may be Greg Bears Dune, but instead of putting him on the Map, it may secure his importance down the decades, if not centuries. But unlike Dune, there doesnt appear to be the possibility of a sequel?

Or is there? Many events happen off camera in CITY: Ellen and Bidewell being collected by the Chalk Princess&we see them come together, but we cut away before they are whisked away to the fate mires or other prison states in Nataraja. The disposition of the four sum-runners: again we cut away at the penultimate moment and do not see jack actually put the final third and/or forth Sum Runner in the mount, asking Ginny to make the decision. Was just the proximity of the four Sum-Runners at the CRUX all that was needed to keep the universe from completely collapsing? Did Jack follow Ginnys unheard advice? Since the universe DOES NOT collapse to complete nothing, is the Typhon truly dead at the paws of the Cats/Sminthians, or can it come back? Is the death of The Typhon remembered? Sangmer/Daniels quest regarding Ishanaxade and Mnemosyne: does he actually give her the glass fragment of the Muse? How many times how many great loops have Sangmer/Daniel and Ishanaxade/Mnemosyne done this? And that one fragment of Mnemosyne that Daniel had carried from the middle room of the three rooms: it appears in the bookstore in Ginnys Conjured up Thule, then disappears&and why was there an interim subcreation of the fictive island of Thule for the Fate Shifters, while Brahma awakes?
There also is a feel that there could be enough historical/prequel material for a book regarding Fate Shifters and Collectors set in the modern era and preceding centuries, something of a hidden and secret history of the world. The Story of Bidewells discovery of the nature of fate, of persistence and forgetfulness, of his rebellion against the Chalk Princess and his resolve to fulfill the plan of the Librarian, deserves a novel of its own, a great and gripping story of temptation, damnation, resoluteness, redemption and rebirth.

Items not addressed here: The Menders and Shapers of Kalpa and their long vigil and caretaking of the Ancient Breeds. The Witches of East Lake recruited by Bidewell and their life books. The number 1298, and perhaps many more items. Someday&

Notes toward the 25th Anniversary Collectors Edition: Time Scales and Magnitudes at the back of the book, like those found in the back of Stapledons Last and First Men and Star Maker A possible glossary of terms: or is it a glossary of the terms of the possible? More Maps: Early 21st Century Seattle; the upper towers of Kalpa; the various realms in the Chaos in the original positions. A Diagram of the layout of a Babel.

And who or what was/is/will be The Witness? When first encountered in the Prelude, the great head with the eye that turns round and round, its dreadful light sweeping the lands around Kalpa and the Window of the Broken tower. Instead of thinking of Saurons Flaming eye and search light beam from Peter Jacksons Film of Lord of the Rings it flashed me back to a nightmarish vision I had in December of 1981, having fallen asleep on the living room couch sick one evening&finding myself in a state of expectant non-existence on a chaotic plane: at the center of which was a tower with a search light&the only things that were real were where the search light touched for a time&in that brief time I had a chance to either fight chaotic beings or make head way toward the tower, or both. Inside the tower reality was perpetual, outside it was temporary&but in those unlighted times of non existence there was still existence&and it always seemed an eternity before the beam came around again. Is the Witness Sangmer? A muse? The head of Mnemosyne? How the Typhon Experiences the Universe of Observers?

Re: A Fractured Eternity: Part III

From: Greg Bear
Date: 09/25/2008

Thanks for your excellent in-depth ruminations, Michael. Looks like you "got" the book at near the 100% level! On rare occasions, writers encounter their "perfect" readers, and you may well be one of mine. (And I am indeed a fan of Smith and his Skylark novels. First read "Skylark of Space" when I was twelve years old!)

Re: A Fractured Eternity: Part III

From: Mike Glosson
Location: San Diego, CA
Date: 09/25/2008

Hi Greg!

Glad you liked it! It also helps that you were writing about a "Shared Core Myth". In Essense, you were writing CITY for anyone else who is haunted by the last human habitat on Earth, and dreams of Stapledonian histories of Billions of Billions of Years.

And it's still bouncing around in my head. Two days ago I finally finished reading THE NIGHT LAND, which I will now bring back with me on my third read of CITY next year. Not an easy book, and about the same length as CITY...those last fifty pages were worth all the work.

Four hours later I wrote 2200 more words about Fate Shifters...

"See you" around the Concourses of Diaspar and the Babels of Kalpa.


Re: A Fractured Eternity: Part III

From: Ken
Date: 07/20/2014

I recently reread C/ET and, despite taking it slower this time, and reading this blog, am still not sure on some items. Kindly excuse my ignorance.

The Chalk Princess had both Jack and Ginny in her grasp, but let them both go. How come? I missed the part about Bidewell working for the CP, BTW. And then, poor, dumb, waspy Penelope is snatched for some unknown transgression.

So the breeds were bait for the Typhon, sent out despite the City Princes knowing that Nataraja had already fallen. Why was Tiadba spared when the other marchers weren't? (nightmares of giant centipedes with flaming mandibles!)

It seemed that the Typhon was just some blind force, infinite, and then just before it got shredded, it became sentient and (extremely) finite.

I missed where Daniel acquired the 4th sum-runner.

Loved the Witness, but not sure at all what it represented, or whether it was sentient (suggested that it was.)

That ought to do for Pass 1.

Re: A Fractured Eternity: Part III

From: Greg Bear
Date: 08/10/2014

Excellent questions, Ken! Let me know how you fare in pass 2 (and thanks for your courage and persistence!)

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