Part 5: Zatanna

This essay appears in a revised form in my book An Incomprehensible Condition: An Unauthorised Guide To Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers. Paperback, Hardback, Kindle (US), Kindle (UK), other ebook formats

This isn’t going to be about what you expect it to be.

Hands... touching hands... reaching out... touching me... touching you

Magic Theory

"Oh, and by the way, Terry, has anyone ever told you your continued refusal to believe in magic in a world full of superheroes and living gods is probably a sign of severe mental illness?"

Other than Mister Miracle, Zatanna is probably the most explicit statement of the basic themes of Seven Soldiers that Morrison could make, and yet people have been so confused by its form (a parody of another comic) that they really haven’t looked. It’s a great piece of sleight of hand by Morrison. While everyone is laughing at references to beards, the real information is getting slipped in under our noses.

The ‘m’ in M-theory very deliberately doesn’t stand for anything, at all. While the word comes from ‘membrane’ – as in the membrane universes it describes, Edward Witten, its creator, says “M can stand variously for ‘magic’, ‘mystery’, or ‘matrix’, according to one’s taste.” while Michio Kaku favours ‘mother’.

actually, it's not string. The world's held together by two staples in the middle

There’s an area of physics called ‘string theory’. As a matter of fact, this – and M-theory – are misnomers. A theory, in science, has predictive power – people have been able to come up with tests of the theory, and run those tests, and the result has been consistent with the theory. String ‘theory’ should really be called the string hypothesis – as it makes no predictions which are currently testable, let alone actually tested. Unlike quantum theory, or thermodynamics, it’s not made a single prediction which can be confirmed in the observable physical world. In fact, possibly even hypothesis is too strong a word – string philosophy, or string religion, might be better.

But despite this complete lack of testable predictions, physicists have been working on string theory for over forty years. This is because we currently have two separate theories of the universe – General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – which are both, as far as we can see, absolutely accurate, with no exceptions to either ever having been found, but which are incompatible.

And the reason for this is gravity – General Relativity explains gravity perfectly, while Quantum Mechanics doesn’t. But QM *does* though show that all the other fundamental forces – the strong and weak nuclear forces and electromagnetism (which itself unifies such apparently-disparate phenomena as light, radio waves, magnetism and electricity) – are really all different aspects of the same thing. {FOOTNOTE: I am oversimplifying enormously here, but the gist of this is correct. If you want to understand all the details, read The Feynman Lectures On Physics, follow it with The Road To Reality by Roger Penrose (which is a much worse book but covers the decades of scientific progress since the Feynman lectures were released) and then read The Fabric Of Reality by David Deutsch to disabuse yourself of some of the wrong notions in The Road To Reality. At which point you’ll know about as much about this stuff as I do – which is to say you’ll *realise* you know nothing.} And physicists think that any successful ‘theory of everything’ will show that gravity is really the same thing as all the other forces, because it would be neater that way.

This isn’t as stupid a reason as it sounds, if you know about things like Kolmogrove Complexity, Solomonoff Induction and message entropy – and it’s how people like Einstein worked. Einstein didn’t get his theories of relativity by checking experimental results, but by trying to remove various bits of mathematical ugliness and come up with more universal equations.

Remember though what I said in the last essay – saying “everything is connected to everything else” is the same as saying “nothing is connected to anything” as far as information goes. Physicists look for symmetries, but it’s symmetries breaking that’s where the interesting stuff happens. A universe where everything was exactly the same as everything else would be a universe with nothing at all in it.

And so, whether gravity is in some sense ‘the same’ as electricity, as magnetism, as light, as the forces that hold atoms together – and we have every reason to think it is – in important ways *it is still different*. And without those differences – without those unique properties of gravity – apples wouldn’t fall to the ground and black holes wouldn’t exist. It’s in the differences, not the similarities, that the flavour of the world resides.

But nonetheless, we do think those similarities are there, and we want to find them, so we can better understand this universe in which we find ourselves.

There have been several attempts at Theories Of Everything that do this over the years – Einstein spent the last forty years of his life working on various dead-end attempts, and the physicist Frank Tipler has argued in a rather wonderful paper that Richard Feynman actually *did* discover the theory of everything, back in the 1960s, but hadn’t realised it because his theory unfortunately required an infinite number of terms in the equations.{FOOTNOTE Tipler has *also* argued at times that he’s proved the existence of God, that Barack Obama is evil because he doesn’t believe in aether, and that if we clone Jesus using genetic material from the Turin Shroud we’ll be able to figure out how to get free energy from baryon annihilation. He’s one of the more…original…thinkers in physics. But in this case he makes a reasonable argument.} But none of these have had much success among what for want of a better term we can call the physics ‘community’, in part because they’re not neat. They’re not nice.

String theory is nice. And it ties up gravity and electromagnetism in a neat little bow.

What string theory says is that rather than particles being 0-dimensional points, like conventional physics says, they’re actually the end of one-dimensional lines (‘strings’) that can vibrate in more dimensions than we can see. In the same way that a guitar string vibrating up and down can make different musical notes, a one-dimensional string vibrating in ten dimensions can give the appearance of a zero-dimensional particle moving in a four-dimensional spacetime.

In this model a photon (the particles that carry the electromagnetic force – ‘light particles’) is one of the things you get from a string whose ends are dangling loose, while a graviton (the hypothetical particle that would carry the gravitational force, that has never yet been observed) would be what you’d get from a string whose ends were joined, forming a loop.

The only slight problem with this – a beautiful piece of mathematics – was that people very quickly noticed that there’s more than one way of doing this, and by the early 1990s there were five different string theories. All of them had the same basic idea – that you have 1-d strings vibrating in N dimensions – but their models all had different numbers of dimensions, and made different predictions (without any of them making the kind of prediction *that can be tested*). If string theory was going to survive at all, something else had to come along.

That something was M-theory.

Matrix Theory

We gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do

What M-theory says is that there are actually even more dimensions than that – that our 0-D particles in 4D spacetime that are really 1-D strings in 10D spacetime are *really* 1-D slices of 2-D sheets (membranes, or ‘branes’ for short) in an 11-D spacetime. All of the competing string theories were just selecting different sets of ten dimensions out of the eleven ‘real’ ones (think of the blind people and the elephant). The reason why gravity looks different from the other forces is that the strings that cause the ‘normal’ forces are open-ended, but the ends are stuck to p-dimensional ‘branes (or p-branes for short. This is physicist humour), while gravitons move freely between different ‘branes because their loop structure stops them sticking to anything.

M-theory also gives an explanation, of sorts, for the existence of the universe. It says that multi-dimensional ‘branes are rippled, and that two of them at some point banged together – and our universe is a four-dimensional interference pattern from the ripples on those two p-branes. The ‘lumpiness’ of the universe (the way matter clusters together into galaxies with vast tracts of space in between) comes from some of the ripples cancelling each other out and others reinforcing each other, while the expansion is caused by the two branes moving.

Now, this is pretty much exactly like the way holograms are created {FOOTNOTE: If you don’t know about how holograms are created, Wikipedia has a good explanation} and indeed it is {FOOTNOTE: I think. This is not my area of expertise – I’ve skim-read tons of papers on cosmology and particle physics, but my main scientific interests are rather more esoteric areas to do with the application of pure mathematics. Please don’t blame me for any epistemic failures caused by this essay.} a special case of a rather more general area of string theory, the ‘holographic universe’ principle.

This principle says that rather than being, as we appear, a three-dimensional {FOOTNOTE: Here I’m talking only of spacelike dimensions} universe, we’re actually only a two-dimensional pattern of information – like the panels of a comic book – ‘painted on’ the cosmological horizon (the part of the universe past which it’s impossible even in principle to see anything). But that information encodes a third dimension implicitly – the same way you can get a three-dimensional hologram on a two-dimensional image.

To explain why, we need to look at the connections between information, entropy, gravity and black holes {FOOTNOTE: For more on all these things, and on Seven Soldiers, and many other subjects that connect to this series of essays, see my book Sci-Ence! Justice Leak!}

The reason for this is something called the Black Hole Information Paradox, discovered by Stephen Hawking (more or less as a trivial lemma based on the more important work of Jakob Bekenstein). Black holes must have entropy, as Bekenstein showed, because otherwise we could violate the Second Law of Thermodynamics (just get a piece of Highest Entropy Matter and throw it into the black hole – the entropy outside the black hole decreases, so the entropy inside the black hole must increase). Unfortunately, they also have something called Hawking Radiation – they let out energy. But that energy is – has to be – random. Which means that information that goes into the black hole has to stay there – it’s been destroyed as far as the outside universe is concerned. Which shouldn’t happen – conservation of information is actually the same thing as the Second Law. {FOOTNOTE: The best guess at the moment is that the energy coming out is not *quite* random, so information can eventually leak out of a black hole, given enough time. Hawking now claims that everything, yes everything, can escape the deadly gravitational pull of a black hole – it just takes a while.}

But the interesting thing is that black holes must have the highest possible information density, because of this – you cannot have something that contains more information in a given space than a black hole. And Bekenstein worked out how much information this is – it’s called the Bekenstein Bound – and discovered it was I<=2piRE/hcln2 {If I do turn this into a book, you can see this formula all nicely typeset}

Here I is the information, and the important thing to note is that it's proportional to R, rather than say to R squared or cubed. In other words, I increases with the derivative of the surface area of the sphere, not of the volume. In other other words, if you have a sphere of any size – even universe size – and it's got maximum information density, you can get all the information that's in it just from its surface, without having to look inside.

Which means from an information point of view, the whole visible universe might as well be inside a black hole – and when the universe expands, that's other stuff falling into the black hole from outside.

And another way of saying that is that the whole three-dimensional spatial universe is just a mathematical artefact, and we're 'really' a two-dimensional pattern of information, spread infinitely thinly on the outside of a three-dimensional bubble. It just feels to us like we're inside.

Note that while the holographic principle – the idea that we are a hologram – depends on string theory, the rest of this doesn't. That *is* the maximum amount of information that can be contained in a sphere, and it *is* the amount that is contained in a black hole. Whether we're holograms or not, we *can* be described – 100% accurately – by just the information on the surface of the smallest possible sphere we could fit in. What's on the inside doesn't count – surfaces matter.

Mystery Theory

phall if you will, but rise you must

But just what *is* information?

As defined by Claude Shannon, information is the same thing as unpredictability – if you’re given a sequence, the information in the next item in the sequence is the inverse of the probability you could have predicted it given the previous items.

For example, if I give you a sequence 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…, telling you the next number is seven gives you very little new information, because you could have predicted it with very high probability from the previous numbers.

If I say “my love is like a red, red”, you can guess that the next word is ‘rose’ – saying ‘rose’ won’t give you any new information. But if it turns out that my love is, in fact, like a red, red baboon’s bottom, then you’ve got some new information.

Now, the interesting thing about this is that information and entropy are the same thing. I’m not going to show you a formal proof of that here, but I can sketch it informally:

You can think of the information content of something as being the length of the shortest message you could write giving a precise description of it. Imagine you have a perfectly cubic crystal, made of just one type of atom, with no impurities, and it’s precisely one centimeter on each side. To describe that, you just say “a 1 cm cubic crystal of atom X”, and that contains *all* the information about it.

Now suppose you drop the crystal on the floor and it shatters into a thousand pieces, all of them irregular. To describe that perfectly, you need to describe the shape of all the different pieces and where they are in relation to each other. You’d need a rather large book to give all that information. A loss of order has become a gain in information (a gain in the information in the object, that is. You’ve lost the information you had about the object).

This is a rather more important thing than you might realise – this is the reason why entropy always increases. Because there is only *one* way for the atoms in that cube to be arranged in a perfect crystalline cube, but a functionally-infinite number of ways for the atoms to be arranged in ways that *aren’t* a perfect crystalline cube. Any deviation at all from an ordered state is far, far more likely to go to a disordered state (a state that takes more information to describe) than to an ordered one. But a disordered state is still more likely to go to another disordered state than back to the ordered one.

Information is the same as entropy, and so processing information produces waste heat – this is why your laptop gets hot.

And increase in entropy is the same thing as time.

This may not seem intuitively obvious, but it’s a fact. In general, the laws of physics are time-invariant – they don’t have an arrow of time built in. Newton’s laws of motion, for example, look exactly the same going forwards and backwards in time – if you took a film of the solar system, with all the planets going round the sun, and ran it backwards, there would be nothing there that looked wrong. There are very good mathematical reasons for thinking that time does not, in any real sense, exist at all.

What do exist, though, are different states of entropy, different configurations of matter. And each of those configuration spaces (let’s call them ‘universes’ for now) contains information about other configuration states. And that information always seems to describe another, slightly more ordered, configuration space (it couldn’t describe a less ordered one, because that would take more space than there is in the universe, obviously). We call that described configuration space ‘the past’. We call those configuration states that are more disordered than this one, that can be predicted from this one (but not perfectly, otherwise the description would take up more space than there is in the universe) ‘the future’.

This is why we can know the past but not know the future – why, indeed, there are always many possible futures but only one past. Because the number of more disordered states is always greater than the number of more ordered states. {FOOTNOTE: For more on this see Julian Barbour’s excellent book The End Of Time. In fairness, I should point out that Barbour’s timeless, Machian, formulation of physics is just as speculative as string theory. The difference is that while string theory is messy and postulates many extra dimensions we can’t see, Barbour’s formulation is beautiful and does away with one. I should be very surprised to see string theory or M-theory lead to a successful, testable theory except via the sort of simplifying process by which phlogiston led to oxygen or the Lorenz contraction to relativity, but I should be even more surprised if something like Barbour’s formulation doesn’t eventually become the basis of our standard understanding of physics.}

In fact, information is so crucial – information, entropy and time are so tied up – that several physicists have suggested that information, rather than matter or energy, is what the universe is made of. Perhaps most famously, John Wheeler {FOOTNOTE: A contender for greatest American physicist of the twentieth century, possibly only topped by his student Richard Feynman, it would take more space than I have here to explain why Wheeler’s opinion matters. Just trust me – he knew what he was talking about.} wrote:

It from bit. Otherwise put, every ‘it’—every particle, every field of force, even the space-time continuum itself—derives its function, its meaning, its very existence entirely—even if in some contexts indirectly—from the apparatus-elicited answers to yes-or-no questions, binary choices, bits. ‘It from bit’ symbolizes the idea that every item of the physical world has at bottom—a very deep bottom, in most instances—an immaterial source and explanation; that which we call reality arises in the last analysis from the posing of yes–no questions and the registering of equipment-evoked responses; in short, that all things physical are information-theoretic in origin and that this is a participatory universe.

Now, my own opinion is that It’s More Complicated Than That, and that Wheeler was in a sense being confused by the Copenhagen interpretation which he never abandoned (even though he put his name to his grad. student Hugh Everett’s explanation of the more reasonable Many Worlds theory), but in another, deeper sense he was right. E.T. Jaynes showed that we can derive probability theory from pure logic. Time, entropy and many conservation laws in physics can be derived from probability theory. So it’s entirely possible that when we get the final Theory Of Everything, it will be derivable entirely from pure logic and computation on a small amount of initial information.

Mother Theory
Women and skeptics first!

So if all that is right, then what are we? Rather than a three-dimensional universe existing in time, we’re a whole series of still, two-dimensional patterns of information – two dimensional patterns on a three-dimensional surface – and we don’t have any existence in time at all. There’s just a lot of two dimensional patterns, next to each other in some sense, which you can put in order and perceive as a story.

When Morrison wants us to have empathy for comic characters – when he gets us to reach out our hand and touch Zatanna’s, to help her save herself (and is there *any* reader, no matter how sceptical and materialist, who *didn’t* touch Zee’s hand when they got to that part? Who *didn’t* reach out to help her? I hope I never meet someone so lacking in feelings…), he really wants us to save *ourselves*. One of the big, big themes of Seven Soldiers, one that Morrison practically bludgeons us over the head with, is that we should be careful what we create, and be kind to our creations. Be they robots, golems, amorphous beings taking the shape of our perfect lover, or be they our children – or the comic characters we create – we should help them up when they fall. {FOOTNOTE: And if physicist Max Tegmark is to be believed, many of the things we ‘create’ have their own objective existence as separate universes. According to Tegmark’s Ultimate Ensemble Theory, not only is the universe made of information, but it’s specifically a mathematical formula – and every other mathematical formula is just as real. If so, as far as I can see, that means that every equation, every poem, every piece of music, every computer program – in short every *thought* – is a universe to itself, as real as this one.}

Because if we’re made of information, then we’re made of *words*. We can’t avoid eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge – everything we do, everything we are, is information processing. Berkeley was right when he said esse is percipi (and right when he attacked Newton on the basis that nothing is absolute, though as wrong as you can get about the infinitessimals in calculus) – nothing can exist without being perceived. But at the same time the mere act of perception is a destructive one – we increase the order in our brains by destroying the order outside. There is no such thing as a non-destructive act, or a harmless thought.

Life – and intelligence – is a constant, permanent struggle against entropy, but entropy has loaded the dice against us. We can’t possibly win, but nor can we possibly give up and admit defeat. The best thing – the only thing – we can do is to keep fighting anyway, and offer a hand up to anyone who falls in the struggle, as we ourselves have already fallen.

“We have found a strange footprint on the shores of the unknown. We have devised profound theories, one after another, to account for its origins. At last, we have succeeded in reconstructing the creature that made the footprint. And lo! It is our own.”

Sir Arthur Eddington, Space, Time, and Gravitation, 1920

Comic issues Zatanna #1-4

Artists Ryan Sook (pencils), Mick Gray (inks), Nathan Eyring (colours)

Other credits Jared K Fletcher (letters), Harvey Richards (asst editor), Peter Tomasi (editor)

Connected Morrison works Animal Man deals with many of the same themes slightly more explicitly, as does The Invisibles, but probably the most thematically-similar work, though different in flavour, is The Filth

Look Out For
2D projections of 3D spaces, dice, form and in-form-ation, top hats, “if you can’t keep it down, don’t bring it up”, hands, ‘mortal clay’ and parent problems.

Still to come in Seven Soldiers
Who breaks a butterfly on the wing? How to keep young and beautiful! And a cat in a Morrison story that doesn’t die!

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21 Responses to Part 5: Zatanna

  1. SJ says:

    As much as I’m enjoying these essays, I can’t help feel that they’re padded. There’s lots of overly verbose descriptions of various symbolism or scientific theories to endure before there’s get some actual analysis. For this one, pretty much everything above Mother Theory can be summed up as “We might really be a 3D holographic projection of a 2D reality, just like how we view a comic book.”

    • Andrew Hickey says:

      No it can’t. Specifically I’m showing how the lines about M-theory relate to the bits about Zatanna trying to get out of the comic page and into a higher reality, and how that also relates to the themes of entropy, gravitation and knowledge that show up throughout the whole of Seven Soldiers. The stuff you’re dismissing as padding is the *point*… whether you *like* that stuff or it bores you, *that’s what I’m writing for*.

      • Zig Zag Zig says:


        As someone who for a brief period (for the last two posts to be exact) felt as S.J. felt, I can see his/her point. Very rarely do you take all of those interesting ideas and put them into a direct relation with the text. Often times there are only a couple paragraphs making motions towards analysis of the text itself.

        However, after I remembered that what I want you to write and what you want to write are not the same thing, I stopped fretting.

        This series remains a very readable extrapolation upon and explanation of some of the big ideas that are lurking behind the characters and drama of Seven Soldiers. I continue to be on board for the ride.

        • Andrew Hickey says:

          Glad to hear it.
          One of the things I’m trying to do with this series, which I believe I have been *somewhat* successful with (some people have responded very well to it, others less so) is give people general pointers so they can, if you like, perform their own analysis of the text when reading themselves. I think it would be far more interesting, for example, for someone who has read my piece on Manhattan Guardian to then notice themselves in Zatanna the dialogue about being shaped like clay. That would add to the reading (or re-reading) experience in a way that me just saying “Oh, and see also the scene in Zatanna where Ali Ka-Zoom says…” wouldn’t.

          I’m also very, very wary of taking too reductionist an approach to art – the idea that it can be summed up in a few words. I could say 7 Soldiers is ‘about’ parenthood, or Alan Moore’s influence on comics, or half a dozen other things – but if it was just those things, Morrison and his collaborators wouldn’t have needed thirty-three comics to say what they had to say.

          So I’m trying to point out a substructure of allusions, connections and so on that are definitely *in* Seven Soldiers, but that are not necessarily immediately obvious, rather than point out every time those things turn up and in what context. (I’m actually only pointing out those aspects of the substructure that I have enough to say about and that I think at least some of my readership won’t have picked up on themselves – I’m not going to talk about the influence of Alan Moore on Zatanna because anyone who cares knows about that, and has probably read Marc Singer’s writing, and Jog’s, and so on, where they’ve more than covered that. But at the same time I’m not going to talk much about the Mabinogion because while Morrison is obviously referencing it for some good reason, I don’t know enough about Welsh mythology to know what that reason is).

          • Holly says:

            if it was just those things, Morrison and his collaborators wouldn’t have needed thirty-three comics to say what they had to say.

            Indeed one of the things I’ve gotten out of this is that what you say here seems to fit in with what you said about the essential unpredictability of information. If a comic metaphorically gives you the sequence “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…” there is some worth in saying “7” but there is also something to be said for talking about negative numbers!

            And I feel much more satisfied figuring this out for myself than I would’ve if it’d been spoon-fed to me.

  2. Jonathan Burns says:

    It’s a nice irony then, that Zatanna’s signature of the exceptional is speaking backwards. Second Law of Thermodynamics, take that!

    I’m adrift in physics at this level, and I have the Feynman and the Penrose next to (Misner, Thorne and) Wheeler’s Gravitation on my bookshelf. Inexpert thoughts:

    I’ve been trying to read into quantum information theory, and one tutorial paper I downloaded states that in quantum theory, entropy is non-additive. In classical physics, the entropy of a whole is the sum of the entropies of its parts; in quantum physics the entropy of the whole may be less than that. As you would expect considering entanglement: one quantum coin yields a measurement of either H(eads) of T(ails), just like a classical coin; yet a pair of classical coins can yield HH, HT, TH or TT, but a pair of entangled quantum coins can yield only HT or TH, if that’s what the conservation laws require.

    But you’ll never get any benefit of reduced entropy just by tossing one quantum coin. The non-addititivity is only available to a later observer who can see how both coin tosses came out. That is an observer of a more extensive context which contains the first two.

    I don’t understand the holographic principle, yet. If it only applies to matter contained in an event horizon, well maybe we’re not contained in any event horizon and it doesn’t apply to us. On the other hand if the hologram can be any surface that contains us, then the principle would seem to say you can measure more information about us if you just choose to observe a surface further out.

    Whatever, the climax to Zatanna’s story is a race for expanded contexts where the answers may be available. Zatanna wins because she has the greater readiness to accept that she doesn’t have all the answers.

    • Andrew Hickey says:


      (I’m still trying to learn quantum information theory myself, because it seems to me like it’s the closest thing to What’s Really Going On ™ that we can

      However, the Cosmic Horizon acts as an effective event horizon, in that because of inflation we can never, even in theory, communicate with anything outside it – everything outside it is outside our universe as far as causality goes.

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  5. pillock says:

    Yes, but magic.

    Is Zee so stressed because every magician is a black hole? They make the world outside themselves more orderly, at the cost of what’s inside their heads getting more chaotic. Too Much Information, yeah.

    (You don’t remember me telling you that I was Patient Zero for the “TMI” craze? I regret it now, but you have to understand that at the time, girls laughed when I said it…)

    As always, I wish that this “Zatanna” bit had been exactly two thousand words longer. But real good job anyway, Andrew. Murray gell-Mann is pissed at you, I can almost guarantee…do you know the joke about him? He was irritated by the success of Feynman’s “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman?”, and proposed writing his own scientific autobiography. And a waggish friend asked him what he would call it, him of the (deserved) big ego, would he call it…

    “Oh My Gosh, Murray, You’re Right Again!”

    And that was the end of that.

    Poor little fella.

    Also you forgot the recent “Planck-length-is-bigger-than-it-ought-to-be” thing of last year. And I think you missed the counterstroke to Zee reaching out, which was the Unknown Men looking back down: “did you ever see one of them do THAT before?” If you wanted to write another one of these called “Zatanna, You’re Something Else”, I for one would not complain.

    But then it isn’t like I’m gonna complain anyway.

    Terrifically good stuff, Andrew, although come on, you do not need to prove to anyone anymore that you think Tipler is crazy. How about saying for once that you think Kuhn is not crazy? Because he’s not, you know.

    THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR: Roger Penrose in tricky mode, Warren Ellis’ failure to philosophically conclude in Planetary, Greg Egan, Charlie Stross. By the way I believe in black holes as rare sources of irreversibility in the universe, I believe what happens at their borders is akin to wave-function collapse. Yes it doesn’t make sense. But something in me says that it’s elegant.

    I love this series. 7S includes two of the greatest comics moments I’ve ever witnessed, one of them when Zatanna reaches out, and the other one You Know Damn Well What It Is. Honestly we do not talk enough about it, which is why I appreciate this series so much.

    And Jonathan: yes, that’s weird isn’t it?


  6. Mike Taylor says:

    Two separate comments from me, since they are on very different subjects (but both related to this post). First, this:

    “The mere act of perception is a destructive one – we increase the order in our brains by destroying the order outside. There is no such thing as a non-destructive act, or a harmless thought.”

    That can’t be right. When I perceive and remember something, I increase the information, hence entropy, in my brain. And since we knew that total entropy increases, there is nothing to say that entropy outside my brain has to decrease correspondingly — or indeed that anything at all has to happen outside my brain.

    • Sorry, that was a question of me confusing my terms – entropy in the thermodynamic and information-theoretic senses are closely linked but have opposite signs, and I juggled the terms too much.

      Increase in information your brain has processed is an increase in order in your brain, hence a *decrease* in its (thermodynamic) entropy, which has to be paid for elsewhere (in the energy you use up processing the information).

      • Mike Taylor says:

        “Increase in information your brain has processed is an increase in order in your brain.”

        How can that be? If I add information to a blank sheet of paper, by writing on it, then that DEcreases the order of the sheet.

        • Actually, you don’t. In information-theoretic/probabilistic definitions of entropy, the entropy or disorder of a state is proportional to the log of the number of possible configurations of atoms that could have given rise to that state. The number of configurations of atoms that could have led to writing in English appearing on a sheet of paper is far, far smaller than the number of configurations that would have led to the sheet remaining blank.

  7. Mike Taylor says:

    Second comment, as promised. I bought the first (of the two) Seven Soldiers hardbacks, largely on the strength of the analysis in J!SL!, and finished reading it last night.

    I think I understood about one sixth of what’s going on.

    Either I have got a lot more stupid over the last few years, or SS is much less self-contained than Watchmen, which I fully understood first time through (which is not to say that I caught all the allusions and implications! Of course not!). I think that SS inadvertently smuggles in a lot more assumptions about DC continuity that Morrison, or you, are aware of of.

    Still, I don’t regret buying it (in fact I just ordered the second half). It’s just that it’s going to be a long while before I really get it. For someone not already soaked in the environment, it’s tough reading.

    So, anyway: I had been hoping that your sequence of SS posts was more of an explanation/commentary, rather than the sequence of extended tangential riffs that have caught your imagination. (That’s not a complaint, just an observation.) So I wondered whether you could recommend anything I might read that is more along the lines I’d been expecting?


    • No problem. Part of the reason I’ve been doing it this way is that 7S has been *SO* well-covered by other people in that manner. I’m at work now, so I don’t have my bookmarks etc handy, but google for the following and you should get what you need:
      “31 days of seven soldiers comic book resources”
      “Seven Soldiers Annotations Barbelith”
      “Seven Soldiers Jog”
      “Seven Soldiers Marc Singer”

      Between those you should find everything you need and more.

      • Mike Taylor says:

        Many thanks. Would it be reasonable to recommend one of those four to start with?

        • The Barbelith annotations are most thorough, the CBR posts the easiest to read, and the other two are more in-depth criticism. I’d go for either Barbelith or CBR.

          However, one other thing – Seven Soldiers actually seems to me *MORE* self-contained than Watchmen – the difference is that Morrison actively wants to make you work – he’s trying to do something a bit like Finnegans Wake or something. (Put it this way, in order to pick up one plot point *at all* you have to complete a crossword in the last chapter). Only getting about 1/6 of it on your first reading of the first half is to be expected.

          I’ll be putting in some more ‘straight annotations’ in the finished book – not many, just brief guides to a few things and a list of weblinks, kind of thing – as appendices, but most of that part of my readership who are primarily comics fans have already read (and written) tons of analysis on these comics when they came out, so I’m trying a more in-depth thematic thing. I’ll email you a draft copy of the book when it’s done if you think that’ll help.

        • Just had a quick scan of the Barbelith page, and definitely think you should start there.

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