Behind The Scenes: Boltzmann Brains

(Replacing Worldbuilding Wednesday for this week, here’s a column about how Boltzmann Brains came to be a discrete species in my work.)

See Also: Worldbuilding Wednesday: Boltzmann Brains

In the 1800s, the Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann did all kinds of great work concerning gases and particles that is far beyond me. He also advanced a clever idea: we observe the universe in a highly unlikely volatile state because only that state can produce beings to observe it.

About twenty years ago, some people took it further: if a highly volatile state can produce intelligent observers, why aren’t these minds composed of random particle motion the most common beings in the universe? (I’m absolutely misrepresenting and oversimplifying this part.)


Three years ago, Nostalgebraist began publishing Floornight, a magnificently weird short novel that I have praised in the past. It takes a lot from Evangelion and similar stories to create a world where souls are real, and a facility on the ocean floor studies them at their strongest. Boltzmann Brains are souls of their own, often vanishing nanoseconds after they emerge. Some of them stick around, like LUDWIG, linked to a computer and speaking in effusive purple prose.

From Chapter 8:

LUDWIG’s a BCI — Boltzman-Computer Interface — one of the only ones in existence, and the only one that’s of any practical use and not just an experimental curiosity.  One of the many discoveries Salim and Cept made, back when they were first playing around as pneumatech cowboys, was that hooking up a pneuma to a computer resulted, without any intervention, in a curious kind of artificial intelligence.  Even without any computer code to help it along, your typical human pneuma is capable of recognizing the usefulness of a computer as a device for doing simple and repetitive thought-like tasks very quickly, and quickly the bonded being develops something not-quite-human but basically benign and very good at doing things that would bore most humans to death.

I thought this was a really neat concept and filed it away for later use. Beings of crackling thought and energy, emerging from chaotic deep space. Intently focusing on their fields of interest. Capable of merging with computers and living beings.

Basilisk annoyed

It’s a neat twist on the usual AI quandary, I think. Rather than creating beings who exist only to serve, we find beings who want to serve and deny them anything else. Boltzmann Brains in servitude can indulge their passions on a grand scale while their concepts of ‘dissent’ and ‘freedom’ are chiseled away.

By and large, Boltzmann Brains are written with some autobiographical “not-not-autistic” traits, and it’s very important to me that they still get to be heroic and competent. Obshchak is kind of comic relief, but he’s a personable media figure, a Real Stand-Up Guy, and the perfect Senior Advisory Gay.pt7p12I’m a big fan of letting characters be cool/competent/attractive in their own way, regardless of how silly they seem to the audience. (Nyphs are kinda off-putting, but there’s no denying how much good they do for the galaxy.)

I’m excited to do a lot more things with Boltzmann Brains further on in the story, especially the paradise Zipporah promises and her relationship with Unfettered. (Also, Basilisk finds new and exciting ways to cast a shadow over the story.) It might not be for a year or more, but I’m so hyped.


Contempt Of Court, Summarized

If you’ve been meaning to catch up, or read the comic at all, this is a great spot to jump on!

Excerpted from the whole plot synopsis, here.

For their trespassing, The Boys have been arrested by New Sequa, the successor to the doomed Collective. Anisa Gwako, a stressed-out prosecutor, isn’t thrilled about this. The Boys unwind in their dorm/cell, preparing for the deposition and trial.

The next morning, they meet their lawyer, the Boltzmann celebrity Obshchak Delirium. It goes alright. The Boys are hesitant to give any details on their case, and Anisa fears the worst. The Boys realize they’re in over their heads, and take their chances on going publicand leaning on Obshchak’s charisma.

Once it’s public, the media starts speculating on whether their government is doomed. The Boys get sick of it fast, and wonder if they’re well and truly fucked.

The next day, the trial begins. Cerril doesn’t react very well to questioning, and Ob pulls The Boys aside for a strategy meeting. He wonders just what, exactly, they’re dancing around, and Peter finally lays it out. Ob does his best to defend them anyway, and afterwards The Boys are trying to unwind back in their room.

They discuss some looming issues, and have some fun. The next morning, Anisa calls them in: they have been found guilty, and the sentence is community service.

I had a lot of fun crafting New Sequa as a Utopian-ish place rightly terrified that all their hard work could unravel. They have a free press and a very humane legal system, but going through that system still inevitably sucks, and Cerril represents two threats: they must confront that someone also from the Collective fucked up big, and he’s tied up in some giant murky Tyrant plot.

I felt like Cerril’s kinda come up short for characterization moments, and this chapter, his backstory interlude, and the next chapter should remedy that.


Worldbuilding Wednesday: Sawtooth

(All Worldbuilding Wednesday posts are here, and as always, you can ask questions about this or any other Parhelionverse thing on the Tumblr blog! These posts aren’t necessary to understand the comic, but they might be handy for summarizing context. Patreon backers can read one post into the future.)

Sawtooth big


Yima Family internal use only. Leaks will be detected and summarily punished.

Compiled from the field reports of Yezav Chal, analyst for the Tyi Chaebol, a Yima Family subsidiary


SCALE: ~4000-7000 subordinates

REVENUE STREAMS: Hostage-taking (~30% chance of honoring ransom), bulk scrap, opiates, misc. raiding

PROFILE: ~40 local years old, has been amassing followers and influence for at least thirty. (Found no credible accounts of her rise to power.) Main recruitment tactics are extortion, charisma, peer pressure, most often wielded against wayward youths.

She has a number of serious romantic partners, yet often flirts(?) with recruits and subordinates. The partners do not take part in this, but seem on board with it.

Sawtooth's Clan

She’s two-three feet taller than the average gang member, and lets them know it- leaning over them,  cornering them, vague allusions to eating them, etc. (I kept a distance, but wow, the consumption undercurrent is pervasive.)

On both of my piracy trips, she came along in person- mostly staying in her quarters, but taking an active role in anything that could have blossomed into an actual raid.

I didn’t document as much as I hoped, but I’m fairly sure she has no interstellar ambitions and is largely harmless.


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