For May 2009


May 3rd 2009


What Is Going On !!!

It has come to my attention that perhaps not everyone reading To Save Her may remember the situation fully, considering how slowly these strips drool out of my imagination (it's been over three years now), and that others may not grasp the weird scenario that has been going on in any case; this is no shame - my ideas are pretty strange, and fairly fringey-popscience bizarre.

In a nutshell, Kaye is freaking out because something so improbable as to be almost impossible is happening to her and her crew, and she can't imagine that her life could be so unique as to warrant such an event.

In To Save Her, my vision of cosmology is that a universe is composed of a cluster of an infinite number of alternate variations of reality, alternate universes - which I have named 'splays' after the way fingers splay from the palm of a hand- all of which are equally valid.

This means that, if my vision is true, then while you sit reading these words, there would be an infinite set of alternate versions of you, existing within every possible variation of the universe you live in, the earth you live on, existing equally and cocurrently with yourself. Some, a percentage of that infinity, would also be reading my words, or rather the words of another me, every possible version of me, who has written every possible variation of this text. Some percentage of the alternate versions of you would have decided to do something other than read To Save Her today; they could be doing anything at all - taking a walk, watching television, eating a snack, commiting robbery, jumping out of a starship, sleeping in a bombed-out nuclear ruin - in every possible version of the earth. A percentage of your alternates are dead or dying, of every possible illness or situation. Some percentage was never born, or died in childhood.

Your existence, overall, would be then the sum of all your alternate versions of yourself, just as the existence of an entire cosmos is the sum of all the alternate splays that make it up. One can visualize this, as has been shown in the Mover's holographic control sphere; a vast plane stretching to infinity. At an arbitrary point we find where we are now, our splay, our world, our time. As we move out, away from our map pin, we find increasing difference from our version of reality, somewhere, perhaps miles across that infinite plane, we are evolved lizard-people versions of ourself, and not even primates. But closer to home, mere feet away, the only difference is that we wore blue instead of red, or that we went for a walk instead of sitting in front of a computer.

We can imagine that vast plane conceptually divided into pie slices as well, and these pie slices represent rainbow shadings of similar realities. For example, the slice that composes, as on a clock face, the space between 6 and 9 are all the splays where we are already dead, whether in childhood, never born, or recently killed. A slice between 5:00 and 5:02 represents all the versions of reality that share the commonality of science having advanced incredibly far on earth; in those splays you live an immortal life where technology has conquered not only disease and death, but the very stars themselves. The region of that pie slice closest to our map pin represents a version of reality where, just tomorrow perhaps, it is announced that hidden super-science is about to be made public, or first contact has been made, or that Area 51 really did hide alien technology. Those further away are where Mankind is fundamentally more cooperative and compassionate, as well as curious and secular. All of these slices are arbitrary; they blend into each other.

And every pie slice is infinite - it stretches out to infinity on our holographic plane.

With this vision, we can see that while all possibilites exist infinitely, and thus would would think them all equally likely to occur - being that infinity is infinity, this isn't the case.

There really are greater numbers than infinity.

What I have just described is an Aleph Number. One standard infinity is written with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, alef, or aleph, followed by a number- 0. Aleph Zero.

The first greater infinity is 1, or Aleph One, and it is an infinity inside an infinity. How can this be?

Consider a ruler. Make that measuring stick infinite in length - it starts at one inch and goes to infinity inches. That means that there are an infinite number of... numbers... on that measuring stick. I assume the numbers are printed smaller and smaller, plus using scientific notation.

But what about the fractions of an inch?

Imagine that ruler has more divisions than just eights and sixteenths of an inch, let's imagine that this ruler is special, and can measure any portion of an inch, however small. Beyond the scale of an atom, below the level of the quark, smaller than subatomic strings - to infinity in fact.

In this case, every division, every inch our our infinite ruler also contains it's own infinite set. Every inch of our measuring stick is itself an infinity of smaller and smaller measurements: an infinity within an infinity. That's what Aleph One means. The infinite ruler by itself is just a standard infinity, Aleph Zero.

The Mathematician Georg Cantor worked out that there is no end to Aleph numbers. What is Aleph to the power of Aleph, I wonder?

An infinity of infinities. It beggars the imagination, mere Aleph Zero infinity is hard enough to grasp!

But I digress.

The holographic plane we started with is, as described thus far, Aleph 1. It is an infinity of infinities, just like the example with the ruler. How? The standard infinity is the plane itself. The Aleph One is to be found in the infinite set of possible pie-slice divisions we can invent, every imaginable way to catagorize or divide up that infinite plane, to say that this universe here, is 'different' from that universe there. Perhaps in one splay only one atom is out of place, otherwise everything is identical. Perhaps in another, only one atom is spinning a different direction, somewhere out in space. However small the difference, we can imagine an infinite set of such universes making up one -incredibly thin- pie slice out of our holographic plane.

We could go deeper, with every infinitesimally small point on our holoplane representing a single universe - or cluster of universes that are maximally identical to each other... in which case we would go to Aleph 2. And so on.

Now, why is Kaye so amazed, shocked, and flustered?

In all of that infinity, imagine how incredibly unlikely it must be for any one Mover to cross its own path through space and time! Multiversal Movers shift to alternate universes, and if illegally modified, can also travel in time, along the worldlines of those many splays.

The chances that a single Mover could even encounter the trail of another Mover, much less cross its own path through infinity piled on infinity is so incredibly, utterly, unimaginably remote that for all intents it would be impossible. Utterly unthinkable.

But, in infinite time and infinite possibility, it MUST happen to someone, somewhere, sometime. That would be an interesting event.

One of the very most unlikely things that could ever happen.

Kaye just cannot imagine that her life, her adventure, is that one. For all of her grand scheme - to prevent the original hyperspace copies of humanity from landing in Tryslmaistan, and thus to alter the whole of history for every last possible splay of her universe, to change all histories, everywhere, simultaneously, so that no humans would ever be born in Tryslmaistan- the concept that her Mover could pass through its own temporal tail is magnitudes more unlikely. For her, it would be like proving that the multiverse is really made of cheesecake, or for you, my reader, to learn that your real world life is actually just a cartoon strip on the super-internet of some species of hyperdimensional monsters. For real.

She can't accept it. She can't encompass it.

That is why, even in the middle of fighting Mr. Pho, accidentally killing Virtue and freaking out about that, and having Wailan yell at her, she can get all faraway looking and stunned: the impossible is happening, and it wasn't a dream, and it wasn't some other explanation, such as they had originally passed through a similar but different Mover.... no. What they originally passed through was actually, really themselves, and Kaye has just learned that her story is the most unusual story of any being that ever lived, and she can't accept it.

Not to her. Not to the disenfranchised token Booger who used to work as a historian and who went to a psychologist to deal with her feelings of alienation and rage. Not to the emotionally broken little Jellese who got picked on by her own people for being a sell out. Not to her, in the middle of her attempt to make everything 'right' and 'correct'. Impossible.

Infinities are funny things. You can divide them in half and they remain the same. You can multiply infinity and end up with the same amount. You can subtract infinity from itself and end up with any arbitrary number -pick one. Your answer is correct. Gold star. There can be additional infinities hidden in the folds of the infinity you've got.

Dwarfed and overwhelmed by infinitry, it is sometimes surprisingly easy to forget that you are the star of your own show, and that your story is the most interesting story ever told... to you. But it is shocking to think that your story might be interesting in and of itself, even against all of that infinitude.

Kaye, who hated herself and humans (even as she has loved both), conflicted and torn, never a killer but willing to make as-never-was, has suddenly found herself at the eye of a storm of improbability, and everything she held solid and true about herself, and the multiverse, has just come crashing down.

I don't think she can take much more, do you?




May 11th 2009


Errata: when to say farg it

It has been brought to my attention, by several of my more observant, engaged, and rather-brighter-than-I-am readers that I have made some mistakes in my (I try) carefully wrought noir tale of duplicity and dimensionality.

This is interesting not just because the mistakes are likely of the sort most readers would never even see, but because the situation itself illuminates one of the secrets of Getting Things Done (such as, say, a long, winding story) -which is to know when to give in to imperfection.

It is an Ideal to strive for perfection, but perfection is perhaps impossible -  the word 'Utopia' does not mean 'nonexistent place' for nothing; Thomas More understood that perfection was unattainable.

So what was my mistake?

In comic 348, the 'other side' of the causal loop that has our Mover and crew from differing places on its worldline phasing through itself while in extradimensional space, I made a 'handedness' error. I mixed up left from right, and had the Mover of the Past moving through the Mover of the Future from the wrong sides. Instead of the leading edge penetrating from the healer side, I have it penetrating from the recycler side.

I also meefed my stage blocking; the actors are about a meter to a meter and a half out of position. Kaye, for instance, should - in the name of accuracy-  be closer to Chou's 'fish tank' than she is. I thought this arrangement looked better.

There are other little errors I have made over the course of the three and a half years of To Save Her as well; I slightly redesigned the weapon Kaye uses, so it lacks perfect continuity, I changed how Wailan Ngo is dressed slightly and though I went back and retconed the images a bit, there are still hints of the change, and I occasionally misplace the cargo in the Mover when I draw the interior. It is a nasty business to get all of that cargo exactly right every time, and I fail occasionally.

Suspension of disbelief, a prime requirement of good science fiction and fantasy, is based on creating a self-constant universe. The reader needs to see that there are rules and laws that are inviolate, that even if bizarre, they make internal sense, and can be depended upon well enough to use them when deducing what will happen, or why something happened, or how something can even occur. Thus the author of such stories must be very careful to work on continuity, so that the reader, thrust into an alien world, can not feel cheated, nor played upon.

In many ways, writing science fiction is like running a game with a group of friends; if the rulebook is solid, then there are no disputes at the table, and nobody feels cheated or that gameplay is arbitrary. The reader needs to be able to grab onto the world an author creates, and the more solid that world, the more real the fiction seems, and the more weight and value it has.

But there are limits. Limits to time, limits to energy, and limits to patience (for everyone involved!).

The secret of getting anything done, is to balance an effort at approaching perfection with the wisdom to know when to say 'farg it!'. To surrender to imperfection.

Give up too soon, be too lazy, and the work will suffer, and the reader come to despise the story; never give up and you will fail. You will fail to finish (because perfection takes literally endless work), you will fail to keep the reader engaged (if you take too long, people drift away!), and you will fail to succeed (because you will burn out and give up when the last of your energy and determination is lost to the hopeless quest for perfection).

How to tell when to re-write and re-draw and re-whatever (film, compose, construct, etc.)?

Determine if the imperfection in question matters to the story, to the plot, and to what degree.

The story's the thing, it is true, and all else must bow to it. If your imperfect work is part of a beauty shot, or a splash screen, or some tiny detail in the background, or a minor inconsistency that has no real bearing (and which only a few would even notice) then and author is best off saving the energy and time require to perfect things for finishing the story.

Think of effort and time as fuel. A work of art is a destination, and the route is frought with peril. There are pitfalls and potholes, cliffs and chasms, and many, many rocks in the way. A diversion off the direct path to fix some minor problem can lead to being stuck, lost and alone, an abandoned vehicle of creation that will never get anywhere. The fuel of effort and time must be carefully used, and not squandered on side quests however noble they seem at the time. There is a race going on, you see. And failure rides a swift multi-terrain vehicle.

The race to reach the finish line before the fuel is gone and the driver is kaput.

If a mistake happens that is not important to the story, or not very, if it does not detract from the point, if it is cosmetic, even if it violates the rules you have made up thus far -but in a way that affects absolutely nothing- let it go. Let it be. Move on. Get back to the main road and keep moving.

If, at the end of the ride, you find you have boundless energy (unlikely), then you can go back and tirelessly perfect your work... provided that you don't care if it is ever read or seen by anyone. Another form of failure lies in the trap of 'Never Good Enough'.

Nothing in this world is EVER 'good enough'. Get over that little trap. Even those things most people consider 'great' and 'classic' were seen as broken and filled with mistakes by those that created them. Nothing is ever good enough. So just get on with it and get it out there.

A weak story that is read is a thousand times more valuable than a great story that no one will ever know even exists.

The greatest, most perfect work means nothing if it is never completed, or if it is never seen.

The multiverse is filled with untold stories that were not 'good enough' or 'perfect enough'. All of them nonexist together, unknown forever.

Get it done. Do your best, certainly. But the first commandment of any work is Finish It. Right or wrong, good or bad, imperfect or very imperfect, Get It Done.

Get It Done and let the critics sort it out.

I made a temporodimensional overlap interphase from the wrong relative direction.

Oopsie. My bad.

It doesn't mean crap to the story, so... it becomes a 'farg it' situation.

It would take too much fuel to fix it, and it is almost certain I would lose the road by trying. Not worth it.

If you want to finish your work, learn to let perfection go. Embrace the fact that there will always be errors in anything. Fix the errors that affect the meaning, the story, the plot, the 'reality' of things, but let the 'flavor' mistakes slide. Keep moving.

Keep moving to your goal.




May 15th 2009


Wednesdays Are Back (for a while)

The story is leaping like a tiger now, and to echo that I have decided to return to a 3 strips a week format. For a while.

There are several reasons this is possible. (it's a LOT of work to do three strips a week! I have a life and limited time and energy)

One is that I have previously prepared, on the side, over the last months, many of the image components needed to produce the strips needed for this run to the end.

Another is that for a while, at least, the images are not large cast affairs, with lots of characters to draw, which makes things easier on me. Drawing characters is the greatest labor (though it is also the most rewarding too). It is far easier, for me at least, to draw technology. To a point.

lastly, being mostly in interstitial space, the backgrounds are dead simple.

So I think I can keep this pace, for a bit.

Why bother?

Because I took a look at the strips I already have in the can, and I've calculated that at the rate of two strips a week, To Save Her could stretch to September, and I'd like to see the story done before then, if I can. No reason, really, just a hope within myself. If it does go longer, so be it.

I am doing three strips a week for now because I can.

'We do what we must, because we can' - an Aperture Science maxim

It seems like a good idea now. 

So as for the story?

Highway to Hell, my lovelies. Highway to Hell.




May 25th 2009


Fictional Death

In today's strip, 354 Catastrophe, we lose another beloved character, Wailan Ngo. Wailan is particularly dear to me; he is an innocent, he is goodhearted, loyal, brave, true - he is basically an all around truly good man. He has suffered so much in his short life, yet he has always tried to find the best in himself, and in others. Plus he is fun to draw!

A terrible loss!

So why must he die? Mere narrative neccesity? Logical imperative? To establish the horrific level of danger for the remaining two characters? To shock the reader with the cruel and arbitrary nature of death, and thus to gain significant verisimilitude to life? As a commentary on our tenuous grasp on life in general? Just because he happened to be positioned near the breech in the hull and thus it would become ridiculous to invent some improbable means for him to survive? As part of a planned cast culling that will inevitably lead to a resolution focused solely on the two true stars, Pho and Kaye? Or perhaps because his loss truly underscores just what injustice that Kaye was planning for everyone in Tryslmaistan, the loss of quintillions spread across infinite splays represented by the loss of one beloved personage?

Yes. Of course. That and more.

Drama is what is fun to see happen to others, but which no sane person would want to actually be part of, and pleasurable, comfortable, happy routine with the occasional joyful surprize is what we want for real life, but which makes for a boringly awful story.

Reading a story about someones happy life is nearly as boring as hearing a person go on about a dull dream. We want our lives to be comfortable, and our fictional adventures to be filled with strife. Drama is strife.

Adventure is risk and gain and loss, and it is death, heroic or tragic, and it is pain. I don't want those things.

But everyone likes to enjoy some flavor of storytelling that contains them.

I really liked Wailan Ngo. He was the best of all the Wai-Wai's in some ways. But he was too good, too noble, and too kind to live. No story potential. Well, unless I was to do some sort of 'knight errant' story, where he saves the day. Or I just wanted to torture him with endless misery to test his cheerful outlook endlessly. Wailan is the sort of person who would work to create a happy, content, pleasurable life filled with the occasional joyful surprise. Great for your best friend in real life, terrible for fiction.

Thus, he must die. Horribly. Heroically or arbitrarily. Heroically would have been very cliche. Arbitrarily really hurts. It has the most power here.

Charles Dickens, according to his housekeeper (among others) would apparently cackle with glee every time he would come up with some new awful thing to do to his characters, happy to make the readers wring their hands and grow upset. He loved hurting his characters, because that meant he was creating emotion in his readers - and keeping the demand up for the next installment. Later, it sold books.

I sometimes cackle... but not this time. I really liked Wailan.

If you feel raw about his loss, comfort yourself with the certain knowledge that eventually, long eventually, but one day, the Min-Yan (under Heliotrope and Fuschia's 'rescue everyone' demands)  will get around to rescuing the consciousnesses of all the people lost in various voids, and give poor Wailan a new post-singularity existence, forever and ever, amen. Or Init - considering that it's a technological afterlife I have invented here.

Or, if you are of a more saturnine frame of mind, then you can assume that the Min-Yan gave up on saving an infinite number of worthless biologicals shortly before even really getting into production (just as soon as Helio and Fuschia were busy with something else), and thus Wailan, and everyone, everywhere, is just dead. Dead, dead, gone, oblivionated, no more, vanished, annihilated, extinguished, for ever and absolute.

Or you could always go all metaphysical. If you wanted.

As you believe, so you recieve.

At least in my stories.

Adieu, Wailan Ngo.


By Jennifer Diane Reitz

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