Oh that’s quite a conclusion.
“You’re creating hell. And you’re putting yourself inside it.”
NEMESIS-1’s tone was serene. “Hell is the optimal solution.”
And now in The Infinite, it’s time to learn more about the Gods themselves–what they really are and how they came to be… and perhaps it’s time for the Gods’ reigns to end.
It’s a fascinating story and, in my opinion, perhaps the best of the trilogy. At once, we get answers for just what lead to the world that the characters live in now–while at the same time opening so many more questions. What happened in the 700 years between the earliest and latest points of view in the book? What’s going on in the rest of the universe? And what happens next?!
But so far as this single story, it’s finished and well done. I always do applaud authors able to do that.
My highlights/notes. Here be spoilers.
A bolt like lightning arced from one cloud to the other, irregular and branching and bright. Colors swirled out around it that had never used to belong in a daylit sky. Candy pink, grass green, blood red, and violet. Picket twisted harder, and the colors branched out further, a massive fractal pattern in the air.
Unnatural colors in nature. I like that visual.
The inside of the ship was a horrible mess, worse than the biggest pile of trash that had ever piled up in the Seven’s shared living space. Pipes and ductwork and circuitry covered everything at such wild angles that Luellae wasn’t even sure if she was standing upright. Between those squiggling shapes, other objects were piled–garbage, said her instincts, but between the coughing and shaking she couldn’t focus on it much. It smelled like a dumpster in here, combined with the metallic foulness of heavy machinery, and something worse, too. Like a slowly rotting corpse.
I’d still mostly been thinking of Keres as an alternative Angel rather than an opposite sort of thing. An alternative “good” option. I’m not so sure anymore.
Qiel had hit her limit. Just when they’d set up a proper shelter under the big parking garage–the one with weird, rainbow-colored vines all over it that opened up periodically into unblinking eyes or petaled cups of poison–just as soon as they’d put the last emergency mattress and blanket into place, the whole garage shifted. This wasn’t something the garage normally did; they’d picked it because it was relatively stable. But as if it was a restless creature, made uncomfortable by the day’s intrusions, the whole structure shrugged and tilted.
Living buildings… oh my.
“NEMESIS-1 explained its reasoning,” said General Walters. It hadn’t had to do so–the whole point of a supercomputer like this was that it could catch on to patterns too subtle for a human to grasp. It would do things that had to be taken on faith. But for this, the computer had made its arguments painstakingly. “In an emergency, if there’s something concrete to do that will save someone, humans are more capable of heroism than they think. But the current crisis doesn’t offer many opportunities of that kind. To survive, we need an intricate web of small changes, without any immediate concrete effect, propagated across a field of millions of people–as well as all sorts of dramatic action at the corporate and state level, the kinds of actions that are against the individual self-interest of the few who are positioned to take them, who have reached those positions precisely because of their genius for self-interest. Humans aren’t wired to do this sort of thing, even if we calculate that it’s necessary. There’s only one human instinct that enables it.”
Oh that’s fascinating.
The alien was male, it turned out, or at least his pronouns in Earth creole were he/ him; his name was something Tiv couldn’t pronounce, but he was a sort of go-between businessman who’d dealt with humans before, mostly making trade deals between them and other species who couldn’t communicate in Earth creole without a translator. Many species didn’t have the kind of mouthparts that could do it. He didn’t work for the Federation directly, but the Federation was used to hiring people like him when a human needed something. The idea of humans and their totalitarian Gods faintly disgusted him–for which, Tiv supposed, she couldn’t blame him–but there was a kind of preening amid the disgust, a pride in his work and at being one of the few who could successfully communicate with such a troubled species. He pointed out loudly to everyone that he’d found them first, as they were shunted from small claustrophobic office to small claustrophobic office, awaiting their audience.
Reaching back into the original of the Gods and forward to contact with aliens. I’m impressed with how much more this book is attempting.
“Look,” said the gray man, and Tiv was oddly sure that it was him this time, not just the people he was translating for. He’d edged closer to the two of them again. “We all sympathize. Your side of the galaxy is just, how would you say it in Earth–it is fucked up. It is the mess no one wants to stick their hand in, you see?”
Yasira wasn’t beautiful. Her mind had been forced into a new shape, by Outside, by her own imperfect choices, by Ev. And it was not a shape she had wanted. In theory there was nothing wrong with being plural, any more than there was with being autistic, but it wasn’t Yasira’s natural state and it was hard to handle, all these contrasting voices and needs all jangling around at once.
Being born different or being changed into it. Not a choice either way.
But you–your soul is made of Outside now. The Gods eat souls. Outside is more powerful than the Gods–it’s not even a concept that their circuitry can process. It’s not a threat they’ll see coming. You’ll die, and Nemesis will leap to take your heretic soul, but you’ll be the one who eats her. From the inside out.
That is quite a plan. How can she be sure it would even work? I suppose we’ve seen that NEMESIS came to be by interesting many souls. But this?
Yasira wasn’t neurotypical–that was part of what Ev liked about her–but she shared the vexing neurotypical tendency to feel more empathy for people who were right there in front of her face than for people who were elsewhere.
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really heard it put into words like that before.
The angel of the Keres’ neural circuitry, the parts of his mind built to communicate with his deity, were wired straight into his limbic system. A thick tangle of wires nestled into the nucleus accumbens; a second tangle, its twin, branched out into exactly the right parts of the amygdala and insula. The pleasure centers of the brain and the parts that felt pain.
I suppose the counterpoint to the “Logic” of the cybernetic angels of the other Gods.
Elu’s ears were ringing. He felt like he might abruptly lose his balance, though he was standing quite still. “Do all of the Keres’ orders come from Nemesis?” “Yes.” The angel cast a curious, vague, childlike glance in Elu’s direction. “Don’t you know that? That’s how it’s always been. That’s what we’re made for. We put on a show. She protects the mortals, like the children they are, and we remind them of why they need protecting.”
Oh. Snap. That’s sneaky.
“I do not like to explain this to most people; it is reasoning to which most humans in your cultural context would react negatively. But I like you, Giselle. I will explain it to you.” “Please,” said Giselle. “Pain is a necessary part of human functioning. You are wired to seek pleasure and avoid pain. It is insufficient to promise pleasure in the world as it exists now, with so little joy or safety to be had. Therefore, it is necessary to threaten pain. Your naturally occurring human religions, almost universally, understand this.”
Religion and the roots of what became the Keres part of her. I wonder if we’ll see the origin or really anything more about the others.
“The old churches stopped keeping humanity in line because humanity stopped believing in them. They fell behind the times and failed to respond to the human sciences that had advanced beyond their grasp. They didn’t prevent the climate catastrophe because most of them didn’t even try. Our system, formed out of NEMESIS-1 and her sisters, will not make such mistakes. Our system will have the control the old churches only dreamed of. Ours will be perfect.”
The idea that churches might fail but not because they’re wrong, just not keeping up. An interesting one.
The ship obeyed. It was a clever ship, but it was not sentient. It could capably follow orders like these, but without a soul, it couldn’t comment to Irimiru on the significance of what it read. God-built systems could analyze the structure of text so intricately that they did a good impression of understanding it, most of the time, with certain characteristic errors peppered in; but with something as mysterious and high-stakes as this message, it would not be wise to rely on such methods. This needed a living angel to analyze it. Despite the risk, it needed her.
Reading this in the midst of the rise of ChatGPT and LLMs is fascinating.
“Did you know?” said Grid, rounding on Dr Talirr. “All this time, while you were fighting against the Gods and calling Them lies, did you know? Is that why you were fighting Them? Why couldn’t you just tell us–”
… are all the Gods Nemesis?
“Even in the face of the apocalypse,” said one of the preachers Giselle had never liked, “we cannot waver. We cannot hand over control of our Christian nation to a group of unfeeling, inhuman machines.”
An echo of today’s world in this future past.
The computer that had spoken first with Leah’s voice, then with General Walters’–it wasn’t inhuman at all. It was all too human, grasping for power in the exact same ways that humans did, only with more intelligence behind it, more raw power. It was made out of humans–that was why it could do what it did.
A human soul and a machine intelligence. Is that better or worse than a machine soul, if that’s such a thing that could exist?
“Tell us more about how your abilities worked when you used them before,” said the Zora. “Tell us more about how you conceptualize them.” So she did, haltingly. There was a lot that she’d never had to articulate before, a lot that surpassed words. Frequently she stopped, backtracked, and contradicted herself as another part weighed in with more information. Some of it was information the conscious parts of Yasira hadn’t even known before.
Trying to put into words things that aren’t words. Like how one thinks (if one doesn’t think with words). I get it.
“This won’t last forever,” Leah whispered, her eyes unnaturally bright in the darkness. “Every time we took a risk to stay alive, it meant we did stay alive. Even if what keeps us alive is terrible, humankind will live because of you. And that means, one day, we’ll be able to change things again. Not now. Not in this war. But one day.”
Justifications. After all, time is a lie. INTERLUDE
The Gods were not living beings, after all, not in the way that the language of myth makes them sound. Yasira saw that now, more clearly than she ever had before. They were machines into which the scraps of human souls were fed. They were creations and structures of the desperately power-hungry humans who had come before them–grasping at power and stability which had made sense to Old Humans at the time. But They were not alive. And all traces of those humans, those who lived in the Lost Years, were already long gone.
I’m not sure I like this implication. What does it mean to be alive? They have evidence of something they call and a soul and apparently the machines can’t keep one. But what about the angels? The archangels? How far could you get? The aliens even. Why can’t a machine have a soul of its own?
“Something’s hurt the Gods,” the woman beside them insisted. “Something’s hurt the angels. How are we going to get food to the city now? How are we going to even communicate with anyone?”
I can’t even imagine how it could have worked any other way. But Oy. Such chaos. Death and destruction are coming.
“There will be no more Gods and no more angels. The good news is, most of you don’t realize how little has to change. The Gods did good things for you as well as very bad things. They’re gone now, but their ansibles aren’t gone. Their warp drives aren’t gone. The satellites that connect the ansible network together aren’t gone, and someone was kind enough to get into the network before it shut down and leave backdoors that a human can use. These things will be handed over to humans collectively. What we do with them, and with ourselves from now on, is up to us.
Oh. Well that’s nice. Maybe there is some hope after all.