Intel's Ronler Acres Plant

Silicon Forest

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Outside by Ada Hoffman

Space Monsters
We have a brilliant, mildly autistic young woman who is in charge of a new power-generating reactor project. We have a state religion whose hierarchy is staffed with cyberneticly enhanced humans known as angels.  We have a galaxy spanning civilization supported by highly advanced technology like faster-than-light-speed spaceships, 'portals' that allow people to teleport instantaneously across vast distances (but only to other already established portals, hence the need for space ships) and ansibles that allow instantaneous communication anywhere within their reach, which might only be hundreds of light years.

The angels provide the advanced technology. Ordinary humans (mortals) can make use of it, but are not allowed to build their own. That would be heresy, and the angels have their own contingent devoted to rooting out and destroying any and all forms of heresy. Humans are not allowed to have 'real' computers. The computer our heroine is using at least partly depends on vacuum tubes. But she carries a pocket calculator with her, so there is some kind of line between what is allowed and what is not. I think the gating factor is that humans are not allowed any computers that would be powerful enough to run an ansible or a portal as those evidently take an enormous amount of processing power.

The classic wheel-shaped space station concept of the 1950s. (NASA)
So our girl has designed this reactor and all the equations check out. The reactor is going to be the power source for a human built space station. The space station is a conventional spinning wheel design. It's a big project with a staff of engineers and scientists, and they have all checked over the design of this new reactor as well. However, this reactor is a new design, possibly even using new principles, and something about it doesn't feel right to our girl. When they power it up, things get interesting.

There is one theory of reality that's been kicking around for a while that says everything is a construct of our minds. Everything in our lives, our world, our reality, is there only because we collectively agree on what we imagine. For instance, back in the stone age, the universe was only a few million miles in diameter. Stars were just dots of light. When people started messing about with telescopes and started measuring things they found they needed a bigger universe to explain what they saw, so they imagined it and the universe reacted by expanding to accommodate their imaginings.

"Digital Rain" from The Matrix - ANIMAL LOGIC/WARNER BROS
We sometimes get distorted views of reality, sometimes it's due to drugs or alcohol, or maybe it's just a dream our subconscious has cooked up, or maybe we're looking in a fun house mirror. But what would you think if something impossible happened when you were wide awake, sober and your vision was working properly? For instance, a rock the size of a house appears in your front yard, or the street starts rippling, or a hole appears in front of you that apparently leads to outer space? You might look for plausible explanations like earthquakes or volcanoes and think that you just missed normal sounds and vibrations that accompany such events. I have no plausible explanation for a hole that leads to outer space, especially if it goes through a bunch of buildings. You will probably write it off as your brain playing tricks on you. But if these things keep happening, you might be a little perturbed. Some people might go crazy. Some people might start to think we are living in The Matrix.

Or maybe the very fabric of reality has somehow collapsed, and The Outside has wandered in.

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