6. Dark Orbit - Dark Matter


We learn very early on that Iris is laden with dark matter, and that it's residents have developed some very unusual abilities - presumably as a result of their close connection. Is there any science behind this mysterious power of Dark Matter? Did this work for you, conceptually?


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    Is there any science behind it? Nah, not really. I mean, you can wave your hands a lot and mutter about Schrödinger's Cat, but I don't think there's any real science there.

    Did the concept work for me? Yes, I could suspend disbelief enough to enjoy the story, and the implications of what wending was all about. But really, it wasn't a book about the science, as it was a book about perceptions and the power of people to alter reality based on what they expected or wanted.

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    True, but the name is Dark Orbit, and Dark Matter is kind of the crux of the planet. I was expecting a bit more thought put into that, I suppose. Or maybe the thought was there and I just missed it. Dark Matter has mass, right? Or at least, we assume Dark Matter exists because the universe exhibits the behaviour of something more massive that it is - i.e. not all the mass is accounted for. Here, the mass is The Ground - dark matter? And that mass can be tapped to fold space - and folds space on its own with some kind of gravitational wave? I suspect there's more weight here than meets they eye on the topic of dark matter. How's that for recursion?

    Also on the topic of Dark Matter, it's surely not a coincidence that the people of Torobe are all blind. Maybe I'm stretching the metaphors to far in noticing that all the people on the Escher are of Indian or African descent?

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    She's using two bits of science. One is general relativity. Dark matter has mass and hence warps space-time; we see its effects in how galaxies move and interact, even if we can't see the matter itself. (Or we think we see dark matter: until we get direct observations, it's still a hypothesis.) The dark matter is the explanation for the gravity anomalies and fold rains in the book. (Though our current best models for dark matter have it not interacting with anything, so you don't get clumps like in the book.)

    The other bit of science is the non-local aspect of quantum theory. She uses it in a "well understood" way with the entangled-particle communicator, and uses the Copenhagen interpretation of it that it's the act of observation that collapses a superposition of wave functions into a single particle with a definite state (that's the Schrödinger's cat idea). But the idea that something as massive as a human could be in a superposition of locations is something we have no evidence for, and there's the whole thorny issue of what counts as an "observer" and why does "observation" have such a profound effect on the universe?

    Relating that back to the book, I think the dark matter doesn't play a major role in the book, beyond giving the sensawunda at the beginning and being the McGuffin to drive the climax. The non-locality is what drives the book, but there's little basis for the in-book events based on what we currently know. But hey, it's science fiction!

    As for the racial part, I didn't notice that at all. That probably says more about me than about the book.

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    As mentioned in another discussion, I thought her use of quantum mechanics was consistent and credible. But the dark matter bit was (IMHO) a bit of a red herring, used simply to get the concept of darkness into the book where it could resonate along lots of other axes, typically relational. A bit like Joe Haldeman waving his hands about how spaceships in Forever War could transit between collapsed stars. Scientifically it didn't work for me - dark matter is so called because it doesn't interact in any obvious way with regular stuff (except on the super-large scale of galaxies and stuff) - but this didn't in the least affect my appreciation of the story.
    Re "the people of Torobe are all blind" - I found this a particularly fascinating exploration within the story - how the people's blindness was not through absence of eyes, but the undeveloped nature of their perception. And the sheer difficulties Moth faced trying to learn how to see, with stuff like nearer / farther, or objects seen from different angles, or in different lights. All great stuff as regards vision, but also applied metaphorically to other kinds of perception - after all, "See", "perceive" and a host of other words are applied both to visual ability and comprehension.
    Yes, I noticed the racial mixtures (which is why I had assumed the author to be Asian Indian) and took it firstly as a way of signalling some basic assumptions of individuals, and also as a counterbalance to books where the whole crew comes from the US of A :smiley:

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    I wondered about the happy coincidence between the lightless cave home of Torobe and the requirement that wending be unobserved. Which came first? Did the Torobes first move into a lightless environment, then discover how to wend, or did they first find the ability to wend and ended up in the cave on Torobe? How much was the lightless environment connected to the widespread ability to wend? Was the wending ability co-opting parts of the visual cortex of the Torobes, in the same way that hearing co-opts bits of the visual cortex in blind people? And were any of the wenders sighted, or did they only ever wend to dark destinations?

    As for Moth's difficulties with seeing, it seems they're similar to congenitally blind people who've had sight restored. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3438651/

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    I assumed Moth's difficulties in seeing were well researched. I found that to be fascinating - we do take so much for granted.

    Thora's rather rapid adoption of wending? That was much less believable for me. With almost the turn of a switch people can learn to move themselves about the universe almost effortlessly? As a bit of science it didn't work for me at all. As a plot device I was fine with it, and (although predictable) I rather liked how it gave Thora a way to just disappear with the secret at the end, by her own choice.

    So what happens in the sequel, do you think? Who will be back? Will Sara receive a cryptic message from Thora saying the universe is in great trouble, then go off on a quest to find her? That's too obvious, probably. What would you suggest?

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    I just found out that Carolyn Gilman has written four books in her "Twenty Planets" series, with Dark Orbit as the most recent
    The series blurb reads "These are stories set in the same universe, though not directly connected to each other" so I guess right now there is no sequel?

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    Hmm, interesting.

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    Agree that dark matter (lowercase) was a bit of a red herring. It seemed very important in the first few chapters and then got dropped in favor of wending and fold rain. Perhaps those concepts are related to (or replace?) dark matter, but it was a connection that the author certainly did not draw.

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    The breakdowns in space-time worked well enough for me to suspend disbelief. Dark matter didn't really come into it. The wending, while not scientifically plausible, was just subtle enough to work within a science fiction framework (much better than for example the teleportation in The Stars, My Destination, which I had trouble with as SF). It was interesting watching the characters of the Escher work out what wending was, have trouble believing in it, and seeing how it's the explanation to some of the mysterious events.

    I like how it's tied in to not being observed- and not observing is easier, if not automatic, for the blind.

    As for the racial mixtures, I think I expect modern futuristic science fiction to be racially diverse and frown a little when it isn't.

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    > @dr_mitch said:
    > ... The wending, while not scientifically plausible, was just subtle enough to work within a science fiction framework (much better than for example the teleportation in The Stars, My Destination, which I had trouble with as SF).

    This just reminded me of the teleportation presumed by AE van Vogt in his Null-A series, where the person concerned had to form a mental image of the target correct to some huge level of accuracy, at which point they automatically transitioned to the new location. I never found that especially persuasive but probably no less so than a Star Trek transporter.
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    The Star Trek transporter is nonsense scientifically (like a lot of Star Trek science- and I'm saying this as someone who likes Star Trek), but it's used relatively consistently and I'm so used to it that it doesn't jangle any sense of disbelief.

    I like the AE van Vogt notion.

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