The image to the left, a picture of the human brain beside a simulated image of the universe, was my inspiration for the actual lonely dark of this novella. I’m taken by fractals. They fascinate me. The idea that we are somehow, on the cellular level, smaller images of the universe at large is an extraordinary and beautiful example of fractals in nature. The patterns in everything, making all of this look rather more designed than science really likes. I am not a fan of creator myths at all, I think they’re very human, a way to see unbelievably huge ideas without going insane. I prefer to think instead that the universe is a symphony written in energy, continually being written in fact and, as such, it finds its way into exquisite and unusual harmonies – patterns of energy as building blocks that just work and so are repeated over and over.
Connected to the notion of the universe as a consciousness (which is by no means new), is that idea of life being the universe getting to know itself. I like that a lot. I think there’s a great deal to think about in that idea, and a great deal to explore, but the imagery above gave rise to an entirely different line of thought for me. As is often the case when presented with a character, because if the universe has the possibility of consciousness then it also has a self, I began to think about what it would be like if the universe really is alive. I’m one of those folk who, given the option, prefer to agree with scientists who posit theories of multiple universes. But what if each universe were entirely separate and yet alive? What if they long for company and yet are so huge and the life around them so small that they’ve never been able to communicate? What if they’re out there, vast and intelligent, and all alone? What would a lonely universe feel like? I don’t think it’d be very sane for starters. Though our ideas of sane or insane would clearly not apply in that case.
This idea of living universes attached itself to notion of humans used as AIs. Cerenauts. In TLD AIs are not replaced because they lose all humanity, but because they display all the vulnerability and fallibility of humanity, with none of the ability to endure. They are vulnerable in ways the humanity in TLD imagines human beings incapable of. Surely a human mind would be stronger, more able to cope, especially if provided company, especially if that company were perfectly suited. Minds linked by deep, empathic compatibility could never fall in the same way the AI, sent alone into space, fell so catastrophically. Could they? AI however are all mind, and what if that were the problem? What if a mind, out there alone with no one to talk to, suddenly sensed other minds within itself? I wanted to explore what might happen in that case, because to my mind it’s like a mountain trying to talk to a molehill; the language that would enable them to understand each other simply doesn’t exist. The one would shout, the other be deafened, and possibly grievously damaged by sound waves.
Of course that’s not all of it. It’s merely the concept behind the story that became TLD.
In that story, the setting is a fractal of sorts, one place reflected in the other. Inspired by films like Troll Hunter and Rare exports, and books like Dark Matter, I was drawn to the desolate cold of parts of Scandinavia, specifically to Sweden, somewhere on the cusp of the humid midsection and the subarctic top. A place where few people live, where there is mile upon mile of forest and desolate spaces filled with snow. This is where Nilsa, Ingmar’s pragmatic and brusque Grandmother would choose to live; far from people, yet surrounded by the ghosts of hunters, the shrill voice of the wind, and the howling of wolves. This is where Ingmar would end up trapped, between the dark earth and the dark sky. Surrounded by the ghosts of hunters who died out there in the long nights and the cold, and who have, for want of anywhere else to go, remained. Their whispers in the woodwork and shadows. Fragments of forgotten life.
TLD intertwines the loneliness of the wilderness with the loneliness of space and dives off from that to explore and weave together the similarities between bodiless consciousness and ghosts. Notions of haunting. I suppose in that sense the greater sum of the parts of this novella are all fractal, reflecting one another into infinity. That is, at least, part of what I was aiming for, and one of the parts I am hoping most fervently was successfully drawn.