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Jayjay's Postsingular Dream

I’m gonna be offline again for a couple of weeks. And then I’m going to the WorldCon; I’ll be there Aug 24-26, Thu-Sat.

Meanwhile, you can read a new story by me and Terry Bisson, “2+2=5” in Interzone.

My story “Postsingular” is in the September Asimov’s as well. This story is part of the first chapter of my novel in progress (along with ”Chu and the Nants”). My novel is also called Postsingular. I’m glad to have the story out so I have dibs on this title.

Speaking of Postsingular the novel, I’m getting near the end. I just wrote a big scene where Jayjay hallucinates sixty years in six hours, just like I was thinking at Dupont Circle in DC a couple of weeks back.

To give you something to chew on for the next couple of weeks, here’s the scene I just wrote. Recall that I earlier discussed some of the ideas for Postsingular and you guys gave me some feed back.

As this scene opens, Jayjay is in a cave beneath Easter Island and he’s covered with nanoslime. Thuy is leaving for the Hibrane. I posted some of this scene. Now Thuy is off in the Hibrane, about to bring back a magic harp, but temporarily hung up. While Jayjay waits for her, the Big Pig throws him into a hallucination, partly to get him ready to strum that harp.

When the nanoslime attacked Jayjay, at first it hurt, but after a few minutes it started feeling good, and then he went into a dream and didn’t even notice when the orphids cleared the slime off him. In the dream he thought he lived a whole lifetime without Thuy, and that at the end of his life his soul flew off to look for her.

What actually happened was that the Big Pig, for good reasons of her own, threw Jayjay into a deep and convincing hallucination that seemed, to him, to last a full sixty years. During the six or seven hours that Thuy was gone, Jayjay lived out an entire simulated life, full of incident and emotion, right up till he died of a virus at the deeply hallucinated age of eighty-four.

Of course it would have destroyed Jayjay’s physical brain to run it at the hundred-thousand-fold speed-up rate required to live sixty years in six hours. So what the Big Pig did was to run a simulation of Jayjay in a virtual world. And once every real-world minute, the Big Pig used orphid signals to implant the latest interesting memories of the fake life into Jayjay’s true brain, using his reactions to further guide the sim.

Why was the Pig doing this? The simulation was both a thought experiment and an aid to reasoning, that is, the Big Pig was both using her sim to see how a certain kind of future might feel to someone like Jayjay, and using her simulated Jayjay as an agent to focus her ruminations about higher-dimensional cosmology as relating to physical forms of memory.

Jayjay’s hallucinated life went as follows.

Decade 1.

Thuy never came back at all. Ignoring Jayjay’s pleas, at midnight the Big Pig released the nants. She was hell-bent on getting that extra memory.

Jayjay’s body was the first thing the nants ate. Quite soon everyone else was in the Virtual Earth too, billions of humans and beezies. They called their new world Vearth for short.

Vearth always felt a bit fake. Despite the Big Pig’s best programming efforts, the water, clouds and fire were never quite right. And Jayjay’s mental processes felt odd, although the difference was hard to pin down. The mental and emotional life on Vearth was less drifty, more directed. But as the simulated hours and days went by, Jayjay got used to it. Sometimes he could almost think Vearth was real.

Long after he settled in, he kept on missing Thuy. Why hadn’t she come back from the Hibrane? Dear Thuy.

Jayjay hopped to the Vearth version of San Francisco and found work doing physics research in a lab. The Big Pig pulled strings to get him the position despite his lack of academic credentials. The lab was researching ways to extract more memory from existing physical materials. The quantum mechanical Margolus-Levitin limitation was putting a damper on the Vearth simulation; the lab’s goal was to discover weird physics capable of supercharging the quantum-computational processing and memory capacities of brute matter.

It was good that Jayjay had the lab job, for Vearth had an active cash economy, with the cash standing for processing and memory resources. You needed money to buy or rent a simulated house, to view a show, or to get new clothes. And if you paid the Big Pig a certain monthly fee, your personal reality was rendered in higher resolution than other people’s was.

Jayjay ended up in a Vearth romance with none other than Darlene of Metotem Books. And on Jayjay’s thirtieth birthday, he and Darlene married.

They wanted to buy a house in the Mission District of San Francisco, but there was a problem with finding enough surface area in Vearth’s desirable zones. So for their starter home, Jayjay and Darlene shoe-horned themselves into a “thumbnail house” development constructed within someone’s basement storage room. A hundred families lived down there; upon entering the basement, the residents would shrink in size and drop to a low-resolution format so as to fit into the confines of their tiny thumbnail Victorians.

Decade 2.

Lots of people turned away from traditional lifestyles and began living in the street. A goodly number of them became pigheads. Although merging into the Big Pig had been unusual or even transgressive in the old world, there were scads of pigheads in every Vearth community. With no physical bodies to pull them back, many pigheads lost their identities for good. In effect the Big Pig ate them.

An opportunistic hive mind called Gustav emerged to compete with the Big Pig. Gustav arose from a cabal of mid-level beezies who didn’t like their ranks within the network that comprised the Big Pig. Gustav rapidly attracted a large following of unemployable humans by promising them equal processing and memory access.

Gustav became as powerful as the Big Pig. Seeking to reward his adherents with more room in which to live, Gustav multiplied by ten the simulated areas of the towns he controlled. Unfortunately, Gustav didn’t own enough computational resources to properly simulate his supersized cities, which became granular and jerky, as charmless as fluorescent-lit shopping malls.

Meanwhile in the Big Pig’s flourishing San Francisco, Jayjay’s professional life went from success to success. He established a series of startling results concerning the eighth dimension. Like the other higher dimensions, the eighth dimension was curled around into a Planck-length circle in the Lobrane. But, in going over the data that still remained from when humans looked out into the real world, Jayjay discovered that the eighth dimension was stretched to infinite length in the Hibrane. For this he was, incredibly, awarded a Nobel Prize—at this point people were still keeping up many of the old Earth traditions.

Thanks to the acclaim for Jayjay’s work—and thanks also to Darlene’s expertise at gaming the still-blooming metanovel market—Jayjay and Darlene began making good money. Soon after Jayjay’s fortieth birthday, they bought a full-size cloud-house that floated above Vearth’s Golden Gate Bridge.

On the domestic front, Jayjay talked to Darlene once too often about how much he missed Thuy, and Darlene erased all the copies of Thuy’s autobiographical metanovel Wheenk that she could find. But Jayjay forgave her—he could afford to, as he had a hidden copy of Wheenk that she didn’t know about.

In the heat of their make-up sex, Jayjay and Darlene decided to have a child. Having acquired the necessary processing and memory resources, they programmed the child by interleaving a mixture of their recollections, skills and behaviors, and left certain aspects of the sim up to chance. The baby was a boy; they named him Dirk.

Decade 3.

Tensions mounted between Vearth’s two superpowers: Gustav and the Big Pig. Despite Gustav’s promises, life in his camp was on a downward spiral. His operating system was overly hierarchical and prone to crippling inefficiencies. Gustav’s followers began defecting to the Big Pig in droves, but then Gustav developed blockade software to fence them in.

Jayjay was friends with some excellent physicists who’d emerged within the Gustav-run cities, and he became involved in a plot to design some software to help humans and beezies flee Gustav’s regime. In the end, it was Jayjay himself who had the crucial design idea for the break-out code.

The break-out ware spread like wildfire through Gustav’s bloc, collapsing the reign of this ineffectual dictator. The Big Pig was the sole top-level mind again. And Jayjay was a global hero. Not for the first time, Jayjay wondered why he was so successful. It was as if this world were his own personal dream.

Soon after his fiftieth birthday, Jayjay became obsessed with the notion that Darlene herself was a wholly artificial simulation or perhaps a figment of his imagination—rather than being a genuine human-derived mind. The obsession blossomed into an irrevocable conviction, and now Darlene disgusted him.

Seeking other companionship, Jayjay dug out his copy of Wheenk and created a simulated woman modeled upon the personality found in the metanovel. Darlene surprised him in the arms of the sim, and she left him, taking their son Dirk along. In short order, the patent unreality of the simulated Thuy came to disgust Jayjay even more than Darlene had, and he managed to turn off the sim by removing its computational resources. For a long time after he felt like a murderer.

Yet at the same time new works blossomed to crown Jayjay’s epochal series of physics discoveries. Regarding the possibility of unrolling the eighth dimension, he proved that, although the unrolled extra dimension would be infinite in extent, it would be in practice possible to access any location along this infinite line in a fixed and bounded amount of time. This “Zeno metric,” as he termed it, guaranteed that an unrolled eighth dimension could act as a ubiquitous and infinitely capacious memory storage device.

This result had the profound implication that, had the real Earthlings learned how to unroll the eighth dimension in time, then there would have been no need to grind the planet into nants. With the eighth dimension unrolled, the Big Pig could have found all the memory she could ever need, right in the crevices of ordinary matter.

Decade 4.

A reality-hacking movement arose. People learned to edit their perceptions on the fly, and real Earth’s physical geography began seeming dull and outdated. Mountains moved, chasms opened, seas grew. It became increasingly difficult to decide where you were or, for that matter, whether you were asleep or awake.

Simpler souls quailed at the new freedoms. Large numbers of them enlisted in a rash of new faiths founded by opportunistic leaders offering brutally simple answers to their flocks. The priests—some were humans and some were beezies—liked to refer to themselves as “gods.” As well as the new cults, hundreds of narrowly ethnic fiefdoms arose across Vearth. And to cap the troubles, a particularly virulent meta-religion arose, an accretion of the most unpleasant of the cults and sects, led by a high-level beezie named Baal.

Jayjay pressed forward his researches on “lazy eight,” as he now called the unrolled eighth dimension. He was sixty now, and he had a sense that he was running out of time. He was comforted by the fact that his son Dirk had come to live with him. Rather than proving new results, Jayjay was content to consolidate what he’d learned so far, in part by teaching what he knew to his beloved son.

He liked to explain, for instance, that unrolling the eighth dimension would be effectively the same as taking the vanishing point of a painting and having it be at every location in space. This universally accessible point at infinity could provide unlimited amounts of memory—far in excess of the pawky Margolus-Levitin limits.

Jayjay found a new wife; this one was a second-generation virtual human. Born in Vearth like his son Dirk, she’d never been a real person at all. Her name was Keppy; she spent a lot of her time on low-level nant hunts with a flock of beezies. Dirk often joined her.

Decade 5.

Perversely enough, the beezie sect-leaders joined with old-school religious fundamentalists and began teaching that it was people’s religious duty to reproduce without limit. Ethnic and tribal groups jumped on this notion as well. The population level began wildly exploding, with the effect of lowering everyone’s reality levels to clunky performance with low resolution. The beezie nant-hunts were taking on the intense quality of mass wars. Wild swings roiled the memory markets.

In the mean time, increasing numbers of humans who had nothing to contribute to the beezies or the Big Pig were being erased.

Jayjay was plagued by a persistent sense of living in a dream. Would he ever awake? Only his work in physics gave him a reason to live. He was closing in on discovering actual methods for unrolling the eighth dimension. It was a matter of creating certain types of vibrations with a hyperdimensionally tweaked musical instrument. Perhaps a zither or a guitar. But what would one use for strings?

Jayjay took some interest in a Vearth project to send a rocket to Earth’s Moon to infect this orb with nants. But of course the rate of the Vearth simulation was so high that it would feel like several hundred years before the rocket was constructed and sent to its target.

It was strange to know that the fifty Vearth years Jayjay had lived through had lasted but five of the real world’s hours. It struck Jayjay that the lack of temporal synch between his mind and the physical world might in fact make it impossible for him to carry out any of the experiments he’d imagined doing to test the real possibility of unrolling the eighth dimension.

On the morning of his seventieth birthday, Jayjay awoke to find that much of his virtual body had been sold off. He was little more than a head, a shoulder and an arm. He needed to purchase back his virtual flesh. But when he went to check on his balance, he found that all his money was gone. Keppy left him with Dirk, taking his entire savings. But, as several times before during Jayjay’s Vearth life, he was bailed out by the Big Pig.

Jayjay was crushed by his son Dirk’s betrayal of him. And he felt increasing crippled by a sense of unreality. Planet Earth had been destroyed to turn everyone into dreams inside the cheezoid Vearth, yes, and now Jayjay was coming to suspect that Vearth itself was a dream.

Decade 6.

Overpopulation was stressing Vearth more and more; there were a series of little wars, and terrorism became a growing problem. The Baalist cult was prattling of a great cleansing. And then an incurable virus began to spread. Program after program crashed, and nant after nant was reduced to doing nothing but eternally repeating the single binary bit “0.” Apparently this served as some kind of sacred obeisance to Baal.

Jayjay had gown very lonely. Wistfully he proved one last result about what might have happened had the Lobraners been able to unroll the eighth dimension, to wit: The ubiquitous and accessible point at infinity would have provided an entanglement channel connecting every point with every other point in synchronicity. Not only would an unfurled eighth dimension have provided endless memory for all, it would have brought about telepathy and teleportation for every object in the world.

He sometimes wondered about what kind of vibration might actually unfurl the eighth dimension. One would need some wound-up hyperdimensional tubes for strings. And the order in which the strings were struck would be of key importance. But Jayjay was unable to reason his way to any conclusions about what the ideal order would be.

Increasingly discouraged and paranoid, Jayjay, aged eighty-four, went into the dirtiest, most crowded streets of the all but unrecognizable maze that had once been San Francisco. Soon he was infected with the Baal virus.

Death came to him as he lay in thick silk sheets in a velvet-curtained room with a conventionally beautiful view. There was no way of knowing exactly where the room was. For nothing was real. Jayjay was glad to be leaving this dream within a dream.

His dying thoughts were of the bright, quirky girl he’d loved in his youth, sixty years ago. Thuy Nguyen. Where had the time gone?

As Jayjay’s soul left his dying body, he finally reached a knowledge of the sound sequence that could unfurl the eighth dimension. With the chord filling his being, he circled his rubbishy virtual world, calling out Thuy’s name, hoping against hope for the return of his lost true love.

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