Saturday, 12 April 2014


And what made it impossible that the map could ever have been projected by the devices with which she was familiar was one simple fact. Looking at it, she apprehended - saw, and somehow noted - every single star in the galaxy, from the coolest, barely fusing brown dwarf up to the brightest, transient white-hot supergiant. And it was not just that every star in the galaxy was there to be noticed, if her gaze chanced upon it. It went beyond that. It was, simply, that the galaxy was knowable. In one glance. She was assimilating it in its entirety.

She counted the stars.

There were four hundred and sixty-six billion, thre hundred and eleven million, nine hundred and twenty-two thousand, eight hundred and eleven of them.

'It's a trick,' Fazil said. 'A codification. There are more stars in the galaxy than there are cells in the human brain, so for you to know them all would tie up an undesirable fraction of your total connective memory. Which doesn't mean that the sensation of omniscience can't be simulated of course.'

The galaxy was in fact too perfectly detailed to really be described as a map. Not only had every star been accorded due prominence - colours, sizes, luminosities, binary associations, positions and space velocities all represented with absolute fidelity - but there were also star-forming regions, wispish, gently glowing veils of condensing gas, in which were embedded he hottening embers of embryo suns. There were newly formed stars surrounded by discs of protoplanetary material, and - where she cared to apprehend them - planetary systems themselves, ticking round their central suns like microscopic orreries, at a vastly accelerated rate. There were also aged stars which had ejected shells of their own photospheres into space, enriching the tenuous interstellar medium: the basic protoplasmic reservoir from which future generations of stars, worlds and cultures would eventually be created. There were regular or irregular supernova remnants, cooling as they expanded and shed their energy to the interstellar medium. Sometimes at the heart of one of these stellar death-events, she observed a newly forged pulsar, emitting radio bursts which ever-slowing but stately precision, like the clocks in some forgotten imperial palace which had been wound one final time and would now tick until they died, the time between each tick lengthening towards some chill eternity. There were also black holes in the hearts of some of these remnants, and one massive (though now dormant) one at the heart of the galaxy, surrounded by an attendant shoal of doomed stars which would one day spiral into it's event-horizon and fuel an apocalyptic burst of X-rays as they were ripped asunder.

But there was more to this galaxy than astrophysics. As if a new layer of memories had been quietly overlaid over previous ones, Khouri found herself knowing something more. That the galaxy was teeming with life; a million cultures dispersed pseudo-randomly across its great slowly rotating disc.

But this was the past - the deep, deep past.


'Revelation Space' ~ Alastair Reynolds