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The Art

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The Art, or rehgehstoy in D'ni, is a noun applied to the study and practice of writing special books that allow living beings to travel to Ages. The story of the origin of the Art has been lost over time. It is only known that it was discovered on a world which came to be called Garternay, and it was believed to have been a gift to the Ronay (the ancestors of the D'ni) by Yahvo, the Creator or Maker. A related term is the Skill, which is the adjective and verb related to the practice and mastery of writing such books.

What is an Age?

An "Age", or sehv, is a word used by the Ronay and D'ni to describe an alternate reality that they could travel to via a process called linking. In simple terms, if a descriptive book exists for it, it's an Age. However, from what information there is and that has been released, Ages are usually limited in scope. An Age is probably not an entire world; an Age is normally just a small part of a world. To write a successful and stable Age, the author had to describe what could be found there very specifically and in great detail, and it had to have logical consistency across the entire environment. Anna, the grandmother of Atrus, described this as "the Whole", a term that Atrus used as the name for the new home Age he wrote for the D'ni, releeshahn.

I was once asked if the surface of the Earth was part of the Book of Earth, which is the descriptive book for the Age of D'ni, and the answer is most likely no. To write an entire planet, the descriptive book would have to include countless millions of life forms including intelligent beings, detailed descriptions of all of the continents, islands, and bodies of water, distance from the star, and many, many other details. All of those details would also have to be tied together into a cohesive ecology. The Book would be so large that it would be likely to take up an entire room by itself, and would probably take one or two D'ni lifetimes to write. The book did not include a description of the surface of the Earth, which we know because the D'ni had no idea what was above them. It was a desire to finally discover what was on the surface that lead them to dig the tunnel to the surface, which ended with the Great Shaft and the tunnel system that Anna and later John Loftin discovered.

The average Age that explorers have seen so far has rarely exceeded a square mile in size. The Book of Earth, which was considered one of the greatest books in D'ni possession, only described the main cavern, which was about three miles long by a mile wide. We know this is true due to a statement made on the official DRC web site. It read, "A great Writer named Ri´neref led one of those smaller groups. Ri´neref was discouraged by the abuse, as he saw it, of The Art on Garternay, so this was his chance to start a civilization of people who felt as he did. He didn’t write a link to a luxurious planet. He wrote a link to a large cavern deep underground. He called his Age D’ni (New Start)." One of the marks of genius in that book was that it was written to be part of a system of caves and caverns that they were able to locate and expand into later. This means that all of the other caves and caverns that the D'ni moved into later were outside of the original Age.

There is a great deal of debate regarding whether or not it is possible to write a linking book outside of an Age, in a world that contains an Age. There are reasons to believe that this might be the case, since there were D'ni functioning linking books located in the Great Shaft. It's also a possible explanation as to why linking books to Atrus and Catherine's home on the surface, which they called Tomahna, were able to be written without causing a link to a different instance of the Earth.

Ages are not always cut off from the outside world, although they often are. As an example, we know that Eder Gira and Teledahn were both part of a larger area that the D'ni lived in, worked in, or studied. The outside worlds were called Gira II and Teledahn II respectively by the DRC. For example, it's a known fact that the mushroom harvesting operation on Teledahn was spread across the area known as Teledahn II, and was not just located in the original Age that was written as a garden for Guild Master Hinahsh.

An Age that seems to prove the point further is the Museum Pod Age. There are observation pods scattered across what appears to be nearly a quarter of the world. This would only be possible if linking books were able to be written outside of the original Age, since there are many linking books (twenty-five known) and they are spread far and wide in many different ecologies. If that entire area had been written as part of the Age, the descriptive book would have been so large and complex that it's not likely to have been possible to write it in one or even several D'ni lifetimes.

The D'ni Rules and Limitations of Linking:

1. One cannot link to a different place in the same Age:

Quoting RAWA: Let's say you write a Descriptive Book that perfectly describes Jupiter in the Solar System. Would the Book link to our Jupiter? The answer is no. It could link to a planet very much like Jupiter, possibly even a version of Jupiter in a parallel universe/Age/quantum reality. But you cannot link to a different place within the same Age/quantum reality/universe.

2. One cannot link through a book and take it with you:

The rule of thumb is that anything that comes with you when you take a step comes with you when you link, except the Book you’re using to link. If you’re wearing a hat, it comes with you when you take a step, so it also comes with you when you link. If you’re touching a table, it doesn’t come with you when you take a step, so it won’t come with you when you link.

This was thought to be an ironclad law of linking, but it turned out to be false in the end. Yeesha was able to write the Age of Relto, and its linking books travel with the person holding the book.

This caused a problem for the Ronay, and later for the D'ni after they split off from the rest of the Ronay. It meant that if they wanted to transport bulk goods across Ages, they could only bring whatever one man could carry at a time. That limited not only amounts, but excluded things that were too large or heavy for a man to carry. The Ronay solved the problem in part by using domesticated animals to move cargo. Since any part of a living being coming into contact with the Linking Panel of a Book works to trigger the link, all they had to do was bring the Book into contact with the animal to send it on its way. This still limited the load to what a beast of burden could carry, although they had access to some very large animals.

D'ni found another solution to the problem which was not as morally acceptable. At some point in their history, they encountered a race of intelligent beings that also knew how to link, but their version of the Art did not share the same limitations as that of the D'ni, and the other race's linking technology was capable of bulk transportation across Ages. The group that discovered the other race also found out that they could be controlled and bound to their service. D'ni at the highest level of their government secretly bound the other race, which they called Bahro, to serving the D'ni Empire as a form of pack mule. The word bahro means "beast people", and was applied to non-human races. The truth was that the Bahro version of the Art was superior to that of the D'ni, which was an affront to their pride. Because of this, the existence of the Bahro was kept secret, and even by the time of the Fall, very few D'ni knew they existed or how bulk goods were transported.

3. One cannot alter a discriptive book after it is activated:

This was a rule made for safety, not because it was impossible. Changing an Age after activation was possible, but carried a very real danger that the change would cause the book to switch to a completely different Age than the one it originally linked to. Any people who were in that Age would be able to use linking books they had with them to leave, but they'd never be able to return to that exact world again.

This was another rule that Yeesha was able to bend with the Relto book. One can add a page to Relto in any Age where one finds it, and it doesn't affect the books functionality. It simply adds a new feature to the Age. This also breaks another, unwritten rule: you can't make changes to an Age by changing a linking book, only by changing the descriptive book. The D'ni never even considered that such a thing would be possible, and so never had a law about it. For them, altering a linking book would have just caused it to stop working. The Relto books carried by explorers are all linking books, yet one can add new features to it, and turn those features on and off at will, and it affects their instance of the Age immediately.

Descriptive Books and Linking Books:

Descriptive Books were the first Books that were written to find and link to an Age. After the initial link, it was customary to write Linking Books in the Age, and from then on were only the linking books were used to link to the Age. The D'ni did not use the Descriptive Book for linking thereafter. No knowledge of what was written in the Descriptive Book was needed to write a Linking Book; one merely needed to be in the Age, in the place the Book would link to.

After that, a Linking Book could be carried to any Age one desired, because they were in no way connected to the Age you were traveling to, only to the Age they were written in. You could write a Linking Book in any given part of D'ni, and then take it to any other Age, and it would always link back to the spot in D'ni where it was written. In fact, D'ni who regularly linked carried a linking book to a safe place when traveling, in case of an emergency. The book would be left behind when they used it, but it was easy enough to replace a lost Linking Book, assuming they couldn't go back for it later.

Descriptive Books can be copied, but the copy would not link to the same Age. It would be an Age that was almost identical to the first, but because of randomness in how the Descriptive Books initially link to their targets, the chance that it would link to the exact same Age as the original Book is so small that it can be ignored.

The D’ni histories didn’t describe exactly how it worked, but if the Descriptive Book was changed, the Linking Book associated with that Book was changed as well. It is also known that if the Descriptive Book is destroyed, the Linking Books cease to function.

Destroying a Descriptive Book or Linking Book does not destroy an Age, any more than burning a bridge to an island destroys the island. It is only the means to access it that is gone. Thus, when a person was sent to a prison Age and the Book was burnt, it merely trapped the person in that Age forever. Death Books were different; a Death Book simply links to a lethal environment where a person cannot survive, and usually one where the person would perish before he had time to use a Linking Book he carried with him to escape. The trick to writing a Death Book was in designing so that the Linking Panel didn't make it immediately obvious that the trip was going to be lethal. We know from the story of Aitrus that a Death Book could be created by altering an existing Descriptive Book to switch it from its original Age.

The destruction of an Age could sever the link, making both the Descriptive and Linking Books die. However, the type of destruction had to be complete. Riven broke up and the entire world was destroyed, so the Riven Book died. Another Age called Sedona had its star go nova, but the planet was not destroyed, so the Sedona Book remains active even though the world is now uninhabitable. Garternay's sun died and went cold suddenly, but did not explode in a nova, so presumably the Garternay linking books would still work if we could find one.

Time travel in a given Age was not considered to be impossible in the “it cannot happen” sense, but was so extremely unlikely that it was considered impossible in the “it does not happen” sense. It was for the same reason that it was considered impossible to write two Descriptive Books to the same Age, even if you wrote the exact same words in both Books. The problem was a side effect of the Great Tree of Possibilities. No matter how detailed your description, there were innumerable Ages out there that could match it, and there was an uncontrollable, unpredictable chaotic element that decided which Age the Book would link to. To add trying to link to a specific time in a specific Age into the equation made it as close to impossible as it could be and not have no chance at all.

In summary:

  1. The Descriptive Book creates the link. You can link to an Age via its Descriptive Book. Even an “identical” copy of a Descriptive Book is almost certain to link to a different age than the original.
  2. Customarily, after the first time an Age is linked to, At least one Linking Book is written in that Age, and is used for linking to that Age in the future. The Descriptive Book is not used for linking thereafter.
  3. The Linking Book will take you to the Age and place in which it was written. No phrases are needed in the Linking Book from any Descriptive Book in order for the Linking Book to work.
  4. If a Descriptive Book was altered or destroyed, it affected any Linking Books to that Age.
  5. Living organic tissue is required to come into contact with the Linking Panel of either a Descriptive Book or a Linking Book to activate it, although that tissue can be covered by a layer of dead organic material, such as a pair of leather gloves or fur.

What Does a Descriptive Book Look For When Activating?

Writing an Age was always a challenge, and there was always an element of uncertainty about the result, which is why the Maintainers were very cautious when linking to a new Age. The uncertainty meant that even if the same writer wrote the exact same thing in two different Descriptive Books, the chances of the Descriptive Books linking to the same Age were so extremely remote that it was considered impossible. In the infinity of the Great Tree of Possibilities, there were countless worlds to match any description that could be written. That introduced an element of chaos to how the Book selected which of those many worlds it linked to, an element that neither the Ronay or D’ni were ever able to compensate for. There were documented theories that this chaotic element was due to the fact that no two Descriptive Books were exactly alike physically, even if the words written in them were, and that these differences also influenced the initial Link. Experiments were attempted to produce identical blank Books and identical printing, but they were never successful, so the theory could not be tested.

There were some in modern times who theorized that a writer's intent also played a role in how the Book chose its link, but the D’ni histories were clear that part of the Skill of the Art was learning how to write exactly what you wanted in very specific words. The Books could not read your intent, they could only search for as near a match to the written description as they could find. Even then, not every Book was successful in finding a match and activating.

Creation versus Connection:

The D’ni histories indicate that the early Ronay and, later, the D’ni never thought that they were creating the Ages they linked to. They understood that the Ages already existed, and that they were merely creating links to these Ages. Anna, Atrus and Katran understood this as well, although Atrus learned it by observation in an incident involving Gehn's 37th Age. When Gehn removed a number of phrases in the Age 37 Descriptive Book, it forced the Book to choose another Age which still fit the description. The new link was to a parallel world that was very similar to the one where Atrus had befriended the natives, but he'd never actually been to that world and none of the natives there had met him before.

Gehn, on the other hand, believed that the Art created worlds from nothing, based on a lecture he heard and misinterpreted as a young boy being schooled in the D'ni Guild of Books. Because of that, he believed it was his right to rule the Ages he wrote, and he used the power of his books to intimidate the natives of those worlds. He even beleived that the korfah v'jah ceremony elevated a writer to godhood. At various times in D'ni history, individuals or small groups would also come to believe that they were creating worlds when they wrote a Book, but this was an aberration, and those people were generally punished if caught. The Ronay descendents on Terahnee, however, were a different story. When Garternay was destroyed, most of the people who kept the society on the straight and narrow path split off from the rest and went to other Ages to form what they thought would be ideal cultures. The majority of the Ronay, who went to Terahnee, eventually drifted into the belief that they were a superior race and had every right to abuse their Ages and enslave the native people they found.

The changes made to Riven when Atrus and Katran fought to trap Gehn there were possible because of a collaboration between Anna and Katran. Anna’s main role was to keep the Book free of contradictions so that the link didn't break. Katran’s role was to make the changes they wanted. Katran's intuitive and rule-breaking style of writing was so bizarre that when he first examined one, Atrus claimed that her books couldn’t possibly work even though they obviously did. The giant daggers and the lava-filled fissures which mysteriously appeared around the islands were made possible by her odd style. Even then, the Star Fissure was not intentional or anticipated. Katran and Anna had intended for the lava fissures to appear as part of their plan to rescue Atrus while still leaving Gehn trapped in his Fifth Age, but the star fissure was a surprise to everyone, and none of them understood it.

Making changes and additions to a Book once you’ve linked there was extremely dangerous, and great care had be taken. If you try to make changes whose probability waveforms have already collapsed due to conscious observation, or blatantly contradict something written elsewhere in the Book, the best you can hope for is that the book will create a link to a different, but similar Age. At worst, it will create a link to something totally bizarre, possibly unviable, probably unstable; or the book will cease to function completely.

From what we know of D’ni history, it was standard for D’ni writers to complete and finalize their works before ever linking to them. Once the Age was written, the maintainers would inspect the book’s description, travel there, and then approve the book. No changes to the book were allowed after it had been stamped by the maintainers. Gehn, however, was teaching himself to write by trial and error, and he tried to use shortcuts by copying entire phrases from existing Descriptive Books. This was the main reason that the Ages his Books link to were so unstable. It took him two hundred and thirty-three attempts before he wrote a stable Age because of his impatience and flawed approach.

While learning the Art, Atrus also altered Books after linking to them at various times, but he was more careful when doing so. He was especially careful with the changes that he made in the Riven Descriptive Book while trying to stabilize it, because one mistake could have caused the loss of his wife forever.

Stoneship was one of Atrus’ earliest Ages, written about a year after Gehn was trapped on Riven. He wasn’t very skilled a writer at the time, and was still experimenting; he used the early Ages to teach himself how to write, and to learn what worked and what didn’t work. The failure of his attempt to add a sailing vessel to Stoneship showed Atrus why the D’ni rules did not permit the writing of manmade objects into an Age.

Quantum Mechanics and the Art:

This is a quote from an interview with Richard Watson about how the Art worked:

First, if you haven’t been exposed to the weirdness of quantum mechanics, what I’m about to say may be difficult to believe. Take heart. Even though quantum mechanics is one of the most successful theories in history and is responsible for things we use every day like the laser in your CD player or the microprocessor in your computer, no one really understands exactly how it works. One of the “fathers” of quantum mechanics, Niels Bohr, is often quoted as having said “Anyone who is not shocked by quantum theory has not understood it.”

One of the interpretations of quantum theory is that until a state of matter is observed, it exists in many states simultaneously; it exists as a “probability wave” that contains all of the possible states of that matter. Therefore, as was proposed in Schrödinger’s famous cat analogy, bizarre things happen on the quantum level that would allow things like Schrödinger’s cat to be both alive and dead at the same time, until one of the states is observed, thus locking it in the single state that was observed. When this observation occurs, all the other probabilities cease to exist, as the “wave” collapses.

Trying to summarize 100 years of quantum theory in a paragraph or two can’t really do it justice. There are dozens of great books written to help explain the implications of quantum theory to the lay person. My favorites include: “In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat” by John Gribbon, “Quantum Theory” by Nick Herbert, “Parallel Universes” by Fred Alan Wolf, “Schrödinger’s Kittens” by John Gribbon, and “The Dancing of the Wu Li Masters” by Gary Zukav.

What the D’ni seemed to have concluded, though, is that those probability waves don’t cease to exist altogether, instead each possibility continues to exist in an alternate quantum reality (read “parallel universe”), until a state is observed in that quantum reality, and the possibilities not observed in that quantum reality continue to exist in still another quantum reality, and so on ad infinitum. This means that every possible combination of quantum events since the creation of the universe exists in a quantum reality somewhere. The D’ni called this “The Great Tree of Possibilities”.

The Art of Writing allows observation of and travel to those quantum realities.

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