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.



  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.)

  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.

  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.

  4. Let me just say one word.


    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.

  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.

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

  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.

    5 stars.

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

  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!

  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?!)

  11. Hey man, realy nice story!
    "Last battle" was a little bit odd
    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.

  12. I have far too many thoughts and emotions to recount here, but suffice it to say that I will carry this story with me, perhaps for the rest of my life. You tore me to shreds, before systematically healing the most painful wounds in the epilogue. Harry speaks of kintsugi as a metaphor for the world -- I find it representative of the epic story you have created as well.

  13. This is majestic story, it's as good as HPMOR, even better in its own way.
    Soon after reading it, I thought that with this I associate one song (Starset - CARNIVORE), especially the part where Harry was under the control of Meldn
    Thank you for your excellent work :3
    (Sorry if there are mistakes, I'm bad at writing in English)

  14. I'm a Harry Potter fan, but on an intellectual level find it frustrating (mainly because I'm an adult with an unreasonable expectations around logic and things making sense).

    I had never read or even entertained reading fan fiction, but somehow in my mind HPMOR wasn't really the same. I can't even remember how I came across it or what made me start reading it, but once I started I could not stop. It extended and explained the Potterverse in a way that very much satisfied my need for logic and rationality in a fictional world that is neither logic not rational - and gelled the two together in such a clever and fulfilling way.

    Then when I found out about Significant Digits, a fan fiction of fan fiction, I once again doubted that I could read something that *surely* couldn't capture the intent of HPMOR and expand it further. I was very wrong, and have just finished Significant Digits, which becomes one of the two best books I have read in several years - both of which were downloaded somewhat accidentally off the internet.

    Well done on your amazing effort, and I look forward your next endeavor.

  15. I am not a wordsmith but I cannot in good conscience finish this story without saying thank you. I came in skeptical a fan fiction of a fan fiction could be provide a satisfactory continuation and resolution of another story I read that I didn't believe could be better than the original. My life is a little better for having read your story. I am excited to see you have another something written for me to read once I've had time for SD to digest.

  16. Just finished rereading Significant Digits. It was even better than that first time a few years ago.

    I wonder what became of your next writing project...

  17. I came late to this continuation, but am unspeakably grateful to find that it not only exists, but does HPMOR justice. You've taken characters that touched my heart and carried them another step further on their journey through eternity. Thank you.

  18. Thank you, loved it start to finish. Surprised that Voldie didn't persuade Harry to let him out, as E.Y. alleges to have persuaded people to do when simulating an "AI in a box" at Less Wrong. Riveting portrayal of Bellatrix Black. Happy about the Goblin turnaround.

  19. I feel like I've commented here in my first readthrough... but lately did a second re-read of HPMOR and this, and it's still amazing.

    Though, I still have qualms with the way that everyone in this world seems to know 13 different langauges, and that 1% of readers will actually be able to understand everything that's written (if you want to include non-english phrases, at least translate them in subtext somewhere). It also kinda felt like every character was basically the author; they all were obsessed with linguistics, knew dozens of languages and phrases from cultures around the world, and even the American Magical Embassy was named in some foreign language that I, as an American, don't even recognize.

    Despite this weirdness, though, the story was great, generally made sense and had few plot holes, and it was all well-written and decently well paced.

    I also really like the end idea of putting the mirror in orbit, reflecting the entire Earth. Seems like it'd be trivial for Harry (or even anyone who knew the command word) to make the mirror a portal to an alternate universe where there is no longer any Death; at the very least, it'd be an alternate world (and maybe a few stars in one direction, whatever's reflected in the mirror)
    Of course, this solution sort of destroys the storyline since this is something Harry could've done immediately after launching his first rocket. So I suppose there would be some good reasons this wouldn't work

    1. I didn't mind the untranslated language parts when short, since I have been, and still am, often surrounded by people speaking a language I don't understand, context still reveals a lot.
      But I was sad to see that some of the longer parts were wholly written in English after about the first third/half.
      What initially annoyed me was the amount of new terms, and I searched then up immediately leading to some serious spoilers; in the non-spoiler cases, the terms were explained shortly.
      About everyone being interested in linguistics, I think that wasd just Hermione and Reg Hig, and knowing multiple languages is important as a diplomat.

  20. I've seen some complaints about the fast seeming ending. So I just want to say--it seemed perfectly reasonable to me that Merlin walked away and left Harry in library after Harry's speech. Voldermort-as-box gives us a great explanation for this many chapters before when he is talking to Meldh/Lord Foul. He says something about how no one who had lived that long/wanted to live that long would take many risks. The sense I get from Merlin is that he values his own existence more than he values his stated goal of saving the world. Taking on Harry once he knew Harry was not Meldh would have been a huge risk that he had not calculated for.

  21. "Chapter Fourteen, Azkaban, is everything for which I have aimed, and will continue to aim in my fiction."

    Chapter 14 was beautiful. I loved it. Loved it.

    For years, I've been collecting sayings and mottos that *move* me in a word file. Where I smile gently, and my eyes are wet. It's my literary bible of sorts, of moments embedded in narratives to serve as touchstones.

    HPMOR - Chapter 45
    o And someday when the descendants of humanity have spread from star to star, they won't tell the children about the history of Ancient Earth until they're old enough to bear it; and when they learn they'll weep to hear that such a thing as Death had ever once existed!

    HPMOR - Chapter 122
    And there are also people who don't even try to do what they can, and yes, those people are doing something wrong.

    Chapter 14
    o Minutes were passing. Minute after minute. One more minute, every minute, that she wasn’t fixing this.
    o Once you just committed, you didn’t have to worry.
    o She would go and try and be damned.
    o Granville… his name is Granville
    o She would never wait again. Never allow suffering when she could stop it.
    o Not one more minute!
    o You are Death and you can fly, but we are Life and we can teleport!
    o Because even if it seems impossible now ... I can do anything if I study hard enough!
    o We can save everyone.
    o She brought her own special gift. She brought hope.

    The vision of Chapter 45 is moving to me. Of a future for humanity that is better. Of working toward that vision. HPMOR is See Life, and Know that it is Good, and Make it Better.

    But Chapter 14 just brings a better Yes to Life. It's Yes to Life 2.0. You can't say Yes to Life and *live* it while you're still saying No to Yourself. No to your imperfections. To your ignorance. A No built from uncertainty, doubt, guilt, and shame. A No that looks at any imperfection or possibility of failure with contempt.

    Hermione is Harry 2.0. In extremis, Harry busts out his inner titanium perfection, finds the *solution*, and acts on it.

    Hermione uses a word Harry doesn't use enough of. We. We are Life and we can teleport. We can save everyone.

    Hermione is like *us*. Like *us*, she doesn't have inner titanium perfection to draw on. She has her own, special gift. She has hope.

  22. I just reread this story, and it was amazing like before. I remembered some plot twists, but I forgot a lot, and it was nice to be surprised all over again. I do still have some questions, like why Harry decided to revive Lucious at the end and not any previous time, but maybe I'll see some of that in HPMOR reddit discussions.

  23. This was my second time reading through, so I knew going in that it would start fairly slow and then get better and better. Such a different feel from hpmor, a more mature style, which I think works really well to keep you reminded that this is 7 years later.

    Loved the ending of Harry, talking about the Fermi paradox and great filter, as he gets on a spaceship headed for a black hole...

    I had no idea what I wanted for an ending to this story, but that was just perfection.

    The one (small!) problem I had with the final battle is that every defender realistically should have had a mokeskin pouch with an AK and a few thousand rounds of ammo in it, courtesy of the Weasley and Neville adventures, and I'm sure Harry would have created and then made permanent a high powered ir laser on every corner of the castle, which would be able to cut down everyone. Even regular grenades instead of having to transfigure the blast bombs when they started using them.

    Not saying the fight should have gone differently, it just would make more sense if they had all those ready, and then Merlin or Nell cast something that made them all malfunction, and that's why the battle was so hard and bloody.

    Not really criticizing, I was just expecting a technological weapon to turn the tides at some point. Though I guess, launching the mirror into orbit is really technical, so just not the way I was expecting I guess!

  24. Thanks for keeping me up at night ;)

  25. Wow... just wow... it was amazing. Thank you for this wonderful story. I can't imagine how much hard work went into it.
    I felt the same way after reading HPMoR, or maybe I feel even better now. This is indeed your world now, you have developed it and its characters in a masterful and unique way. Reading and savoring the intricacies of the plot, the gentle flow of the development of the story, complex and realistic logic of... everything, Signifiacnt Digits has been a true intellectual delicacy. This a very rare gem and am I glad to have found that.

    Thank you.

    1. PS: sorry for the grammatical errors, didn't proofread :)