Friday, May 8, 2015

Banks fanletter: Liquidity

The following is a fanletter I wrote to Iain Banks, author of the “Culture” science-fiction series. Alas, I never heard back from him; so I show these to you.

Dear Iain Banks:

I write you about your “Culture” series. I have a modest proposal for how the Culture, acting in character, can retire from the Galaxy without leaving the Galaxy. It is Liquidity; a third way between materiality and Sublimation.
          In the Culture’s metauniverse, civilizations sometimes Sublime; that is, disappear from the material universe, with only mimimal interaction from then on. The word ‘sublimation’ is from chemistry, meaning a phase change from solid to gaseous without passing through liquid. Evidently Sublimation is akin to the gaseous state, and materiality to the solid state.
          In a solid, the molecules connect to each other in a dense rigid orderly lattice; in a gas the molecules are disconnected, mutually distant, moving at high speed and at random. There’s something un-Culture-like about either state; they’re not into either rigidity or disconnection. The Culture, ever romantic, loves chaos, but also loves to stay in touch. This suggests the liquid state, which is dense as a solid and as chaotic as a gas.
          I propose that some form of Liquidity is the Culture’s natural fate. By Liquidity I mean that the Culture’s people, drones, ships, rocks and orbitals continually vanish, only to reappear elsewhere, but always different from before. Imagine Brigadoon but on a galaxy-spanning scale. Now you see them, now you don’t.
Obviously one of the benefits of the Liquid state is invulnerability to material threats. (A supernova explosion? Jump ten lightyears away!) Another benefit of the Liquid state is that you get to keep in touch. Rather than becoming transcendent ghosts and gods, the Culture becomes... let’s say nature spirits. Rogue personalities encoded into the fabric of space. Immanent Players. Mischievious but benevolent (or at worse neutral if you behave yourself) Gentry flitting around the galaxy, playing, teaching math and physics, making art and music, preaching ideals, and spilling state secrets.
And like any other Liquid, they tend to seek out low places. If you’re down on your luck, they might show up.
And characteristic of the Culture, they have it all ways at once; they’re partly Liquid, partly still Solid (a few ships and orbitals never Melted); and once Liquid, many (but not all!) then went on to Sublimate. (And others Condensed back from Sublimated to Liquid, and thence to Solid; just to prove it’s possible.)
In short the Culture attains a Triple-Point; solid, liquid, gaseous coexisting. Choose for yourself; that’s the Culture way.

Sincerely, Nathaniel S. K. Hellerstein

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