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Magic is real.

Discovered in the 1970s, magic is now a bona fide field of engineering. There's magic in heavy industry and magic in your home. It's what's next after electricity.

Student mage Laura Ferno has designs on the future: her mother died trying to reach space using magic, and Laura wants to succeed where she failed. But first, she has to work out what went wrong. And who her mother really was.

And whether, indeed, she's dead at all...

506 pages, ebook

First published December 13, 2014

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 146 reviews
Profile Image for Ben.
188 reviews13 followers
August 10, 2014
There have been many stories which say they are about defining what magic is and giving it strict rules. All these stories have nothing on this one.

minor spoilers for chapter 4ish on

This is book by a science nerd, for science nerds. It's got heaps and heaps of techno babble, which rather than sounding completely ridiculous (star trek), it sounds like the author has a deep understanding of the way that magical physics works, and how people would use and think about it. The technobabble builds off of real concepts in ways that make sense, and made a very solid foundation for a hard sci-fi story.

This story also raises the stakes continuously, and in super unique, surprising ways. Or not so surprising. I'm not sure how to describe it. Let me see. Often a story will present a situation where the heroes are in a situation where something Terribly Bad could happen. Like, someone is threatening them point blank with a gun, oh no! How will they escape the terribly bad thing of getting shot? Deus ex machina? Talking cleverly? Creating a distraction to gain advantage? In an Anyone-Can-Die story, perhaps the Terribly Bad thing happens and the person is shot. The End for them. In this story, there are things where I thought "The author wouldn't do *that*", and then he does, and the story bends through some extra dimensions so that it's possible.

So that was pretty cool. It happens multiple times, and often, each time the scale of the story increases.

As this happens, the abstraction often increased, and focused more on managing the intricate plot/setting than on the characters which were introduced during the beginning. I didn't enjoy the story as much, and was pretty much floundering trying to understand what was going on, and there weren't many character moments for me to be grounded by. I pretty much gave up on a clear understanding of what is going on in the story near the end. When the author said in the comments that he was confused as to which layer of abstraction (reality-dream-real-dream-within-dream-reality reality?? a character was in, and it was 4 or 5 layers deep, and whether or not a character was convinced of something depended on whether they were levels 4 or 5, I knew I was doomed.

A lot of times the exposition couldn't keep up with what was going on in the author's mind. I don't think I was skimming, but I often felt like I kept missing things in the complex story. OR it was the writing style or the screen font.

Characterization---not very good. Well, the author does a good job of talking about how physicists think about physics, but not a good job of talking about how people think about much else.

I would like to see what a good editor could do with this.
22 reviews
October 3, 2019
I got immediately turned off by the use of aggressive technobabble. I had seen this book recommended because of its well thought out and understandable magic system I found something that is essentially the opposite. In books like WoT you have Nynaeve going 'hmm it feels like i should weave fire just so' and healing someone. In this book we have Laura creating spells using 'heavyweight theoretical results' of Quantum Mechanics and Vector Calculus. The point being, theres no difference between saying that 'the spell does X because we used fire just so' and saying that 'the spell does X because quantum mechanics'.

Now this wouldn't be a problem in itself but the author seems to devote an enormous amount of time to that technobabble and repeatedly emphasizing how un-magical the magic is as though that somehow gets the reader to be better able to comprehend what is and isn't possible. Its one thing to create a soft magic world with a compelling story/settings/characters, its another to create a soft magic world and to constantly try to convince the reader that its something else.

In addition to that, the characters didn't seem especially compelling, i couldn't tell you a single thing about Laura's boyfriend and Natalie is a PC just because shes the main character's sister.

The writing is average, I found the ongoing plot boring and unclear. Its never quite clear which characters have agency and which don't and the background mysteries don't seem especially interesting. After resolving each problem so far with deus ex machina and then having the supposedly brilliant main character act aggresively petulant and stupid, my suspension of disbelief was broken and I stopped.
Profile Image for Chip.
792 reviews37 followers
April 23, 2020
Holy shit that was mindblowingly creative - reading that was probably like reading early Gibson or Stephenson when they first came out.
Profile Image for Alfredo Amatriain.
72 reviews1 follower
March 22, 2017
This novella has made me realize something about myself as a reader: there is a threshold of awesomeness beyond which I stop caring about a story. Ra starts small and personal, lays out the rules of an intriguing world (magic treated as real-world engineering, how cool is that?) and lets us know the main character, an interesting brilliant but damaged girl. But about halfway the story starts trying too hard to surpass itself in scale and grandioseness, going so over the top that it totally shattered my immersion and quickly became boring. If it had stayed more grounded maybe I'd have liked it more, but it got lost in a melange of cosmic events and godlike characters until I lost interest.

The other work by the same author I've read, Fine Structure, was written later. Fine Structure makes a much better work of making the reader care about its character and their struggles, despite having a similar grandiose scope, so I'm interested in whatever Hughes writes next.
Profile Image for Jamie Zigelbaum.
21 reviews4 followers
May 27, 2021
Incredible world building but poor storytelling

Really amazing ideas here, great hard sci fi concepts, big picture cosmology stuff and far future. So many ideas, really dazzling, but just so damn choppy. The storytelling is just unpleasant. I’m sad to say since I love the ideas. And the characters all feel so flat. I could have stopped reading many times. It felt almost like a book of micro stories in the same universe thrown together — although there was a plot and progress it was hard to care about.

I guess it’s kinda a big “meh” to me. Which is super weird actually since some of the ideas are really top notch.
Profile Image for Eran.
237 reviews
May 15, 2020
While it starts off like a weak young fantasy story about a school girl learning magic, towards the middle it turns into a great proper mature fantasy story. Then everything goes off the deep end and all of the sudden it's an over the top sci-fi which feels disconnected and again rather weak. But then it continues to develop into ending as good sci-fi and it all ties in together nicely.
And even through the early more fantasy part, I really enjoyed the idea of scientific approach to magic, the cynicism about it being called magic, and the very comp-sci terminology and plot aids such as quines and observations about maintainability of legacy-code.
It's nice that in the end Laura is flawed and powerslave and Natalie sort of becomes the main character.
When it first turned into crazy sci-fi, far out in the future, many earths etc. I was fully expecting it to go back to the main plot as before with everything being part of the simulation (and of course the story acknowledges that options and Natalie and Anil consider it) and thought that if it were to be the actual plot than it's annoying, but again, somehow it manages to continue on that path and take me along for a ride I enjoyed despite myself.

Was recommended to me by Tamir.
Profile Image for Pietro.
107 reviews
February 17, 2019
Fantastic ideas in a not-so-great novel.

World-building alone and some of its secrets brought me in a wonderful and terrible voyage full of technobubbles, computer language style magic system and unsettling illusions but redundant style and excess confusion made it a climb too hard to be objectively excellent.
Profile Image for Tomas Sedovic.
94 reviews10 followers
September 5, 2016
When I complained that Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality had little scientific exploration of magic even though the protagonist was eager and well equipped to do so, a friend recommended this book. I was not disappointed.

It takes place in a world much like ours except that a new branch of physics was discovered in the 1970s. It was called magic because its practice vaguely resembles the old superstitions (staff, spells in a weird language, bracelets, drawings on the floor, etc.). It is however, a serious (if young) scientific field with well-worked-out theory and a widespread use in engineering processes.

The book's a pleasant read and hard to put down. It focuses more on the world than on the characters, though. I didn't really get attached to anyone, but they were quite intriguing and far from stereotypical. The final part was genuinely surprising and well done (which is rare).

Definitely an interesting read, though more to intrigue your imagination than to trigger an emotional response.
Profile Image for Ed.
80 reviews
January 10, 2020
The book's concept is fascinating but held back by jumping around without helping the reader follow, confusing narrative at times, and over-reliance on jargon. It also didn't help that I disliked one of the PoV characters.

Also, I feel like the blurb describing the book is incorrect.
Profile Image for Sam.
11 reviews
March 14, 2022
This super-hard sci-fi novel combines magic realism, mind-body dualism, and in a wild way, and as with qntm's other writing, I'm very much here for it. I flip-flopped on whether to rate this three or four stars because the presentation has a few rough edges. Particularly toward the beginning, chapters feel quite disconnected; even if I didn't know it was written and released episodically, I think I would still have been able to guess as much from the shifts in tone and purpose. While the end of the book got me to stay up past 3 AM to finish it, I equally had no difficulty putting the first half of the book down in between chapters.

That said, the book levels out and becomes much smoother about a third or half of the way through. In particular, the POV shifts become increasingly smooth to the point where I was kind of surprised to remember (thanks to another reader's review) that .

Some of the spatial descriptions are pretty hard to follow. I tend to think my mind's eye is pretty good at taking written orders, and I really struggled to picture some things (like ). I had similar difficulties with There Is No Antimemetics Division, though, so I suspect this might just be an impedance mismatch between the author and me. That's okay, though.

Would recommend. Unlike Fine Structure, which I thought started strongly but kind of toppled under its own weight by the end, the ending of Ra leaves questions, but not the sort that will be answered with more writing. In a good, what-are-the-implications way way. Not in a what-was-qntm-thinking way.
Profile Image for Horizon_Universe.
413 reviews36 followers
March 22, 2023
Dans le monde de Ra, la magie a été « découverte » en 1972, et est devenue une science à part entière, notamment dans le milieu de l’ingénierie et de l’industrie. Laura Ferno, une mage très puissante, marche sur les traces de sa mère, décédée dans un accident mystérieux, et dont le but était d’emmener l’humanité dans l’espace grâce à la magie.

Quelle balade que Ra !
S’il est un peu longuet sur les bords (notamment les passages de « rêves », qui sont un peu toujours les mêmes et cheatés), j’ai adoré le principe du livre – c’est cohérent, bien amené, le lore est hyper intéressant, le world building subtil. Dommage que Laura, et sa jnumelle Natalie, soient absolument imbuvables très rapidement, parce que l’idée du bouquin et l’aventure proposés sont très prenants. Un léger bémol donc, mais qui donne envie de découvrir la biblio de l’auteur !

Profile Image for Emma.
45 reviews4 followers
November 17, 2021
it's so fucking good. it has almost all the same problems as this guy's other books but they're somehow contorted into huge strengths in this one. it has a consistency that works despite flitting between so many scenes and time periods and the characters feel extremely well defined and have incredibly satisfying arcs despite their simple cores. a ton of really creative and fun ideas. wonderful ending. cannot believe this.
Profile Image for Andrea.
624 reviews14 followers
December 26, 2021
Why magic?

If you've ever read a book with magic and wondered where the magic came from and why it works and how it works, you might enjoy the mind-bending adventure of this book.
1 review
March 11, 2023
Absolutely superb example of hard fantasy, where not only is 'magic' presented and investigated from a scientific perspective, but in the end becomes a central focus of the plot and story. Qntm is indeed a fantasy/scifi writer of the 21st century not to be missed.
Profile Image for Daniel Bensen.
Author 18 books60 followers
July 31, 2020
After reading Fine Structure I went on a feverish search for other books by Sam Hughes. And I found out he wrote another book after Fine Structure, and it was even better.

If Fine Structure was about “what if technology were a lot harder?,” Ra is the just-as-horrifying opposite extreme. Some time in the 1970s, a retired Indian mathematician attempts to “optimize” a mantra for use in meditation. And the mantra does something.

Magic is a branch of applied science, rather like electrical engineering or computer science if you could use it to kill people with your mind. Don’t worry, though, getting to the stage of mind-killing requires a PhD.

Sam Hughes has worked everything out. The meaning of the various Words of Power, the accent you have to use when you pronounce them, the look and feel of the written language that represents them and the mystical talismans – ahem! I mean, “the precision industrial equipment” – that wizards can use to manipulate the forces of nature. He’s figured out what wizards do to unwind (bojutsu, because it helps hone their staff-wielding skills), the boring jobs wizards get in industry, the dreams they have for more. Sam Hughes has created something just on the edge of being real, and then he brings it crashing down in a very exciting way.

If you’ve read Sam Hughes before, you know it’s not a question of whether the Earth will be destroyed, it’s a question of how many times.

Nota Bene: I read both the official ending and the alternate one, and I actually like the alternate one better.
53 reviews
September 17, 2021
I read this due to the convergence of two factors: I had to return an unfinished nonfiction that I borrowed from the library because I too busy watching the Olympics and just after that I saw Tom Scott's YouTube video where he read a sentence from this book. Anyways, everything about this story screams that it should have been a short. The entire thing is on a website in 38 chapters but me thinks that it should've been half of that. On the positive side, one might be able to improve their skimming abilities. Moving on, the amount of world building and techno-babble is outrageously extreme that there is absolutely no way that anyone other than the writer is able to visualize all of it and understand how all of the parts fit; hell, I wouldn't even be surprised if the author, himself, reveals that he was pulling a Lost mid-way through. A good writer would have floated only the higher-lever technological/magical concepts and not have bothered with the details at all. What's far more damning about the work is the utter lack of character development and depth for all of its characters. Combine this with incomprehensible tech elements you have conflicts being resolved due to ideas being created apparently out of thin air, and thus rendering the entire work to be mostly forgettable. It's "mostly" because the story's theme on the futility of living in a dream peeks through.

Profile Image for Jordan Blanch.
2 reviews
December 24, 2018
Cool as heck

I got halfway through the authors Web serial before I ran out of content and forgot about it years ago.

After an afternoon trying my best to remember what it was called, I found it again to discover that it was finished and published. Didn't even think twice about the purchase, and the last half of Ra is fucking amazing.

Sam you gone done good.
August 28, 2017
Probably the best SF I've ever read. I mean, the novel starts off with the premise that magic was discovered in the 70's and it's a normal scientific field. The protagonist is a mage who has the feeling that there is more to the whole thing. Seems like your run of the mill SF fantasy kind of thing, but as soon as you get lulled into this sense of false security, the author spins it in ways you find hard to imagine.

You get pretty much everything, near omnipotent AIs, people living inside the Sun, the works. Most amazingly, Sam Hughes manages to spin all of it into a coherent story, and even connect it to old time religion and stuff. The only fault one might find is that because the whole thing was written as an on-line series, it seems to lack clear transitions. But the story itself is so wild, I even think that the lack of editing is a plus, rather than a minus.
14 reviews
February 9, 2022
Ra starts from an interesting premise: what if magic existed and was treated as a branch of engineering?

This initial idea is exciting, but from the middle to the end, this point is lost to interplanetary wars and creatures with godlike powers. There is no room for proper development of most characters, and many plot points are left unexplained along the way.

The ideas that Ra relies on would benefit from a little more space to breathe, and a little more concentration on key plot points.
Profile Image for Phani Raj.
27 reviews18 followers
March 8, 2017
The premise is very interesting in the way that I have never came across book which doesn't consider magic as just some mystic force, but as something which can be studied/researched/engineered methodologically as if it's some branch of science/engineering.

The story is amazing and would deserve 5 stars. But there are places when the writing wasn't clear and so only 4 stars.
483 reviews10 followers
August 25, 2017
The beginning of the book is wonderful. Magic exists, and follows fixed rules, and is a hard science.

And then we find out who/what Ra is and things go waaay downhill, very very fast.
1 review
September 28, 2017
Fascinating world.

I like the characters.

Let down a little in the end, he may have written himself into a corner, earlier on.

I stick with the 5 stars though.
Profile Image for Richard Lewis.
9 reviews
June 19, 2022
I enjoyed this book. It had immediate personal relevance, kicking off in my old-university city of Nottingham! In the 90s, a little while before the time I was there studying physics. With its central female protagonist called Laura (weirdly also the name of a girlfriend I had there), its brief summary of her mundanely relatable romance spoke truth to me, too. Anyway...

"Ra" initially presents as a kind of alternate history, where magic exists as a new kind of science. Only recently taught to undergraduates, in either applied or theoretical courses. Described as esoteric and remote, for the majority of the population. Much like quantum physics in the real world. In both cases, they've been quietly revolutionary for civilisation.

Our protagonist makes the exception to this, with ostentatious, hyper-competent implementation of its possibilities. Magic is cast by speaking a kind of programmer pseudo-code, with an ancient Samarian (or some such) flavour. While simultaneously holding complex concepts in mind.

It's no coincidence there's an echo of "The Laundry Files" mathematical demonology, here; qntm has clearly been strongly influenced by several of my favourite sci-fi authors, including Charles Stross, who's tweet put me onto them in the first place.

In this work, qntm feels especially like Stross's protégé. Where qntm's first novel, "There is No Anti-memetics Department", which I also enjoyed, had a more haunted feel, thematically reminiscent of one aspect of Alastair Reynold's "Redemption Ark". Both have very high concept plots, focused on narrative development.

It iterates further in a similar direction to Stross, with a hard sci-fi feel that discretely sets aside a little more physical realism to enable slicker exploration of slightly more extreme concepts. Sometimes assuming (correctly here) that the reader is already familiar with ultra-future-tech concepts. Which are thrown in, at some points, without slowing down for detailed explanation.

The relative weaknesses of Stross's writing are also further exemplified. With qntm fielding barely adequate characterisations and dialogue that is occasionally strained slightly beyond their writing competence. At points of rapid narrative inflection, particularly. But, with near-aphantasia, I'm no fan of lengthy descriptions, and so can forgive these weaknesses.

The action scenes helped maintain my attention, too. One felt especially anime and fun, as the scope of the world expands and power use escalates rapidly. But I was a little disappointed that no scenes after that quite matched it, for me.

The pacing did feel bogged down in the mid-section, where I struggled a little. It felt like there may have been some bloat that a good editor could have cut away. It's a long book, twice the size of their first work. Perhaps that's why there was an increasing repetition of bits and pieces (a pet peeve of mine), to remind the reader what had happened earlier?

Maybe it should have been cut into two books. Certainly, the narrative takes a big twist in perspective, half way through, pretty much hopping sci-fi genres. Possibly making it hard to market, without enormous spoilers.

Our initial protagonist's twin sister, Natalie, takes a much more central role later on. The reserved, cautious scientist, to Laura's wizz-bang practitioning. There's a definite contrasting of the scientist verses engineer/inventor approach to problem solving. Which I also appreciated, have studied systems engineering, after physics, so noticed the more gung-ho, try it and see, attitude.

I couldn't help but feel the sisters represented different aspects of the author's own cognition and personality. Specifically, Laura fits more with ADHD (impatient, impulsive, dynamic, emotional) vs the Natalie's more typical ASD (socially distant, masking, abstract core values, over-planning, etc). Both high functioning, high IQ, of course. Perhaps this is me projecting, but I think the shoe may fit us both.

Overall, I definitely recommend this book. And I'm now moving onto qntm's next work, "Fine Structure Constant".
Profile Image for Joel De Gan.
24 reviews
July 1, 2020
So, I read this book as it was on a list of Rational Fiction that I found and it was rated very highly. Which on one hand I get, but on the other hand there were issues I would not expect to find in an edited book, let alone a book in the rational fiction space. I am going to go through sections in the order of good, problem, bad, wtf?!?!.

Let's start with the good, the beginning of the book is intriguing and gets you interested in the magic system and how magic is a Science (capital S) since 1972 when it was discovered in India. Since, it has been studied and is being used around the world and in industries. There is some interesting dynamics during a small college portion and then another in a work setting that were interesting in their own right and at either point the story could have started, or been their own story. This book thinks huge, you will find that it has layers that keep expanding and expanding.

The problems: The characters have some depth issues and they also display some amazing plot armor through memories and the use of an alternate dimension. The characters choices are not rational, the magic system is generally but, the characters often do things which are clearly either plot devices or based on data they should know is bad considering how smart they are supposed to be. The modern magic system was interesting even though we don't really get a sense of 'learning' it with the character (i.e. an example of this would be in the book 'Sufficiently advanced magic'), the early/primitive magic is seemingly more like "Magic" and is not explained other than talking about some 'listeners', which was a let down.

The bad: this book has severe pacing issues, you can be reading and there will be a break and suddenly you are in a different character, at a different time and it's not entirely clear always why. There are some characters we meet whose roles are never realized in the story and the point of having them in the story is actually confusing. For instance, there is an interesting story about a CEO of a company in his car and it looked like he was going to have a role but he ended up just being a McGuffin set piece that had a bracelet that didn't even work later. Complete throw-away character that could have had an interesting role.

Early in the book we are shown there are artifacts from a possible earlier time of magic, this ends up being entirely contradicted later in the book.


I'm giving this three stars because it is an interesting tale and like the book in general terms, and I can forgive a LOT in a book if the story is consistent and makes sense. So, that said, I need to hold short of recommending this because of the above issues.
Profile Image for JP.
897 reviews4 followers
February 10, 2021

The first magic spell is spoken by a 90-year-old retired Indian physicist named Suravaram Vidyasagar on 1st June 1972. It is one hundred and seventy-nine syllables long, comprising equal parts Upanishadic mantra and partial differential equation.

The effect of Vidyasagar's spell is nothing at all. He has discovered what will later be called "uum", the empty spell, which expends no mana and fails to rearrange the universe in any externally detectable way, but which then - crucially - returns to the dispatching mind and tells it so.

Ra is a wonderful and bizarre sort of story. On one level (about the first half of the book), you have a world where in the 1970s, magic was discovered in a world not unlike our own. And not just any magic, but essentially a magical programming language, with an all too familiar (from my own point of view) structure and syntax. It's the hardest of hard magic systems and leads to entire fields of magical theory and engineering. Which, for some reason, is directly tied into NASA and the space program. A fascinating bit of worldbuilding all its own.

And then things really go off the rails. Because it turns out there is . And we're all actually . When it all starts falling apart / coming together, things start getting really really weird. It ends up working out, but man was it a change of the sort of book I thought I was reading. Personally, I think it would have made a better sequel/totally different story in the same universe, but so it goes.

One side note: Ra was originally published as a web serial: Ra. From time to time, it shows. There are a few jumps and pacing oddities that feel more at home in a chunkier (more serialized) structure. It can be jarring. I wonder if it would have if I hadn't known.

Overall, give the first few chapters a try. If you love those, you'll probably love the story as I did. If the technobabble turns you off--that will most certainly not be getting any better. Read something else. :)
Profile Image for Rain.
48 reviews2 followers
October 8, 2019
I re-read this book after discovering it's on google Play Books, actually published! I first read it around the time it was being first published on qntm.org.

Uh, what to say about it? I forgot how it ended. Now I remember...

You might be thinking that this book will be about Laura's journey to discover her mother's secrets, and to resurrect/rescue her. This journey certainly happens. It just doesn't happen where you expect it to.

It was written as a serial, and that shows in the pacing and structure, which is inconsistent to say the least. There are so many sudden, sharp turns that take the plot on a wild ride through space and time, I feel I should be taking another star off for that (but I don't want to, I liked the story itself too much)... on the other hand, the characters remain consistent from start to finish. They don't really change but that's OK: this is not a story of character-development, and the characters don't change much (except to grow into themselves). Natalie is awesome and I wish there was more Natalie-like-people in other books, and most of the others are good too. Exa was just cool, in an enjoyable way. Nick was satisfying to read about, especially his reaction to Laura in the latter part of the book. Laura is... ugh, such a protagonist. This is Laura, in her own words:

"So you believed the lie because you wanted to," (...) "You wanted to believe you were special."

"I..." - Laura watches her language, then thinks again - "fucking am."

The world and the marriage of magic and physics/engineering is awesome too!


if I had it as a physical book I would have thrown it across the room
(...and then picked back up and gently apologised...)

Damn it for fitting so well within the plot and for being the best it could be. And damn that other, first ending (which can still be found on the author's website) for being 'better' and yet so ill-fitting at the same time (but it settles some things and you should read it alongside the new one).
Profile Image for Deepak Srinivas.
48 reviews1 follower
October 18, 2021
"...Earth is a machine: very large, continuously operating, working on a time scale too long to observe, towards a highly uncertain end; and to remind yourself that all the organic life that has ever existed amounts to a greasy film that has survived on the exterior thanks to furious improvisation rather than any specific disposition."

A fun, delectable piece of fiction that never ceases to thrill despite it's cold, scientific disposition - characterisation wasn't a problem for me like most people, I really did enjoy how it broke common character tropes and employed the in such a believable manner. I don't remember the pace ever stagnating for it's entire 500 page length - the story is an endless barrage of scheming and scuffling and twists and turns that is almost anime-esque in it's sinuosity - foes constantly one-upping each other in battle in awesome yet entirely logical ways that make you go 'damn' and burn through entire chapters in minutes, a style of storytelling that Sam Hughes has evidently carried into There is no Antimemetics Division.

I feel like Sam Hughes ended up constructing a mythology and a story on such a massive scale that using the two-dimensional dialogue-description narrative structure ended up being suffocatingly inadequate to provide the exposition that it required. The story goes off the rails (hehe) in the second half in a way that really requires you to suspend your disbelief despite having adequate foreshadowing for it, simply because of how batshit bonkers the twist is. There was also the issue of conspicuous serialization which is a very big pet peeve for me. I can also see how all the exposition would be impossible to parse without an understanding of the college-level physics but what I had most trouble understanding was the dialogue - Sam Hughes really has to start dumbing this stuff down for us, reading some of it genuinely felt like playing 5D chess.
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