20 May 2016

Significant Digits, Analysis and Thanks

 




Significant Digits, Analysis and Thanks


I really enjoyed Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.  HPMOR excelled in its characterization, its intricate plot, its careful phrasing and riddles, and in its use of dramatic tension and catharsis.  I loved the way it took aspects of the original Harry Potter and extrapolated them out into a world and timeline, using reasonably pessimistic expectations to establish a small set of premises and then draw the logical conclusion.

Some of the scenes I found particularly affecting were the following:
  • Chapter six, where Harry talks about a childhood trauma when he felt unsafe, and we can feel that the author has shown us something very real and raw to him;
  • Chapter sixteen, when Harry has his first Battle Magic class and virtually the whole of the story is set in motion in a compact and subtle way;
  • Chapter forty-five, when the first Patronus 2.0 is cast and we read Harry’s mental cri de cœur; and
  • Chapter eighty-one, the courtroom scene in which we learn everything we ever need to know about the awesome majesty of Minerva McGonagall.
When I set out to write Significant Digits, I tried to honor everything I enjoyed and admired about HPMOR.  The result is bound to be unsatisfactory for some people, because not everyone was fascinated by those same elements.  Further, I was very specifically not trying to mimic the original story.  To imitate another author’s voice and recreate their patterns over an entire work would be very difficult and not very fun, and I had no taste for the attempt.

I wanted to write a story about a changing world -- the whole world -- as all the ambitions of the characters played out and met their difficulties.  I wanted to write a story about the realization of the rationalism and humanism to which Harry aspired.  I wanted to write a story about extravagance: extravagant planning with layered redundancies, extravagant characters whose passion led them to discard the literal and logical conclusions of their own beliefs in favor of still-greater pursuits, and extravagant events befitting the process of optimizing the world.

I wanted Significant Digits to answer some of the questions that had lingered with me.  These were big questions, and even in three hundred thousand words, I couldn’t completely answer all of them -- but I did answer some.  What was it like in the larger world of Harry Potter, outside the confines of the school?  How would magic and magical races have shaped history and the hidden events behind them (ignoring the well-meaning but utterly insane history of canon)?  How could the continued existence of this world be explained, given the elements we knew to be present?

Lastly, of course, I sought to tell a story with interesting characters and events that follow a rationally-unfolding plot, both at simple levels and in intricate mental leaps.  There were many twists that everyone solved, some that only a few grasped, and a few that no one at all predicted.  This has been an amazingly intelligent and creative group, and it was a considerable challenge to find the right balance.  Congratulations are due to those individuals who guessed some of the biggest twists and puzzles, most particularly Reddit user /u/psinig, who identified the Second of the Three.

In some respects, I have succeeded.  In others, I have failed.  I was certainly overly ambitious, and should have given myself twice as long and twice as many words.  These limitations cramped plot development, curtailed events, and required me to rely on implications in some regards.  But I do believe that I accomplished much of what I wanted to create, and that I have done one more thing besides: left room for others.  There are other stories to be told.  I’ll write some of them, but others have begun their own: Orders of Magnitude is a prequel that’s already begun.

There’s a whole big world to play in.

There’s a lot I would change now, even though I’m pretty happy with the story.  It’s my first work of this length, and my first work of serial fiction, and naturally there are all kinds of changes I would make in hindsight.  I became a better writer over the course of this past year, and a more critical thinker.  I should probably have cut back on some of the secondary storylines, in retrospect, since I didn’t have time or room to do them justice.

There is one chapter, though, that I would not change and that I am utterly happy with -- a chapter in which I did every little thing I wanted to do, and yet somehow arrived at something that was even more than the sum of all those parts.  Chapter Fourteen, Azkaban, is everything for which I have aimed, and will continue to aim in my fiction.  I can recommend that chapter to you, at the least, with a full and proud and happy heart.

As for the rest, that’s for you to decide.

Gratitude is due to many people.

Writing the story would have been quite literally impossible if it weren’t for the extraordinary efforts of 4t0m, go_on_without_me, pa55word, and a final editor who wishes to go unnamed.  Their tireless willingness to sweat the small stuff despite unreasonably short deadlines, challenge poor phrasing or poor ideas, and cheer on our joint successes was extraordinary.  This was their story and their accomplishment, too.  Thank you all.

Readers and commenters have provided an enormous amount of support and constructive criticism, both of which have helped me improve as the story continued.  I have been writing for a long time, but this is the first thing that’s ever gotten this kind of response, and a large part of that was that the community of HPMOR fans is so creative and clever and kind.  Amazing individuals improved my website, fixed up the subreddit, donated a laptop when I complained about a green tint on my screen (!), and put together PDF and EPUB versions of the text.  Thank you all.

Generous patrons on Patreon provided a real reason to keep going when things were hard.  While I frequently remind people to consider their priorities before donating to a writer, it’s also true that money is the unit of caring.  Patronage provided a message of support and very real assistance that could not be explained away as courtesy or indifferent politeness.  Thank you all.

Eliezer Yudkowksy wrote something genuinely new and good, and inspired legions.  And I certainly wouldn’t have begun the story at all if it hadn’t been for his gentle encouragement and reception when I first posted a snapshot of my ideas.  Thank you.

Nothing would have been possible, or worthwhile, if it hadn’t been for my wife Lizzie.  She walked with me in the woods while I talked about ideas.  She proofread all the early chapters.  She took the cover picture.  I know that there is some ineluctable grace in this world, because I know her.  Thank you.

My next story will be the The Consolation of Conquest.  It will begin in about a month, and updates will come at a more reasonable fortnightly basis.  Please subscribe to my mailing list or RSS feed or subreddit to receive updates.

Thank you.


 

11 comments:

  1. You've constructed the best free fiction I've ever read on several dimensions (and I've read a startling amount of it), and it'd be top-shelf modern fantasy by professional standards.

    You gave your plot serious scope. You rounded out your characters better than many authors bother with for non-protagonists, and you built meaningful relationships among (and characters for) many that only appear briefly. Your vision of this shared world is hugely thought-out and realistic, and your diction and construction is *clearly* professional quality.

    While I intend to continue reading and funding anything else you write, I would prefer to also be able to buy it in hardback when it's done. I know you probably need to write a few less derivative works before you'll feel comfortable with it (and maybe "professional fiction author" isn't a goal of yours at all), but the industry needs more people like you in it.

    (If you need or want any more editors/betas, I'd be happy to help. I'm best at polishing awkward phrasings, but you don't have much problem with that.)

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  2. Everything you say you aimed for was wonderfully, excellently achieved. This story deserves all the praising it already got, and still much more.

    If I were to say something against it (and you've perhaps already been told this), it is that the only thing I felt sorry wasn't there compared to HPMOR was the humor. I understand that it is not what you were aiming for, so it's not a case of failing; it's just that among the defining quality of the original HPMOR I'd have included its humor in addition to the qualities you say you liked.

    But I say it again, this is a minor complaint. You wrote an amazing work of fiction that should have won a couple of prestigious awards already if the world was fair.

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  3. My only regret was that the last few chapters were not updated in the EPUB for a while, so I could not curl up on the couch and read them on my Kindle. But I refuse to succumb to the Fundamental Attribution Error, and will assume Mr. Schubert was dealing with circumstances, as we all do every day of our lives.

    So thank you both, and all else involved.

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  4. Let me just say one word.

    Wow.

    Never mind, actually. One word can't encompass the feeling I had when I finished this book. I'd like to say several words, if you'll bear with me.

    Neville's retribution.

    Astounding intelligence from the author who did the thinking of seven super-intelligences.

    Bonus chapters.

    Keeping the readers satisfied.

    And much much more. So I add to this book the only things I feel worthy to add to it. I add my thoughts, like so, and I tell others about it.

    Well done.

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  5. Thanks so much for writing this - it has been a perfect continuation of the HP:MOR story. Exciting and heartbreaking and thrilling and inspiring.

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  6. I would agree, ch14 was definitely a great chapter. I actually shed tears when Hermione finally cast her Patronus. Well done indeed.

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  7. AMAZING fanfanfiction.

    Gamp's law was inconsistent with original HPMOR as in the original the fact that transfiguration is temporary is Elizier's explanation of how Gamp's law works. you however used Gamps law as an example of the ridiculousness of magic.

    anyway, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS AMAZING PIECE OF BEAUTY!!!
    5 stars.

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  8. This was an excellent story from start to finish. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  9. This story was awesome and awe inspiring! The last few chapters were especially brilliant! I started reading this story when it was first being posted, but lost track of the updates half way through. I just came back and read from the beginning, binging it whenever I had a spare hour. The plots and foreshadowing are master work, especially the riddles whose answers come from HPMOR or the original Harry Potter books.

    Thank you so much for the exhilarating read!

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  10. for my part, I am glad that rational beings can have enough love for the absurd that the Weasley Twins spend most of the story flying around with semi-automatic weapons as if that's a perfectly normal thing or something. :) (in what possible Rational!world does Harry or the Weasleys let each other out of each other's sight?!)

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  11. Hey man, realy nice story!
    "Last battle" was a little bit odd
    howewer
    It is rather not "fanfiction" on original HP or even HPMOR, you have different styleand different magical laws from those both, but a solid book what is also with HPMOR lot better then most of "originals" today, including a LOt of better than Rowling.

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