The Author Comments: Omega

The Engines of God was originally intended to be a stand-alone novel. But the reaction from readers over several years was consistent: What were the omega clouds?

I must confess I had no idea. Nor did I think it was important, or even wise, to reveal a source. They were far more interesting as simply an enigmatic presence in a universe that grows more complex, more subtle, and more mysterious, with every revelation. To explain what they were was to reduce them to the mundane, rather like an asteroid or a dwarf star, and thereby deprive them of their exotic nature. It was to bring them out of the shadows into the full glare of sunlight. But once that happened, regardless of the nature of the explanation, whether they were a runaway urban renewal project, as one character wonders, or an ancient doomsday weapon still running loose, or the malevolent product of a super-intelligence hidden somewhere in the galactic center, they would be perceived by the reader as mere killing machines.

There is a substantial supply of efficient killing machines already. Some — Fred Saberhagen's berserkers come to mind — are brilliantly done. But I wanted something different for the omega clouds. Moreover, they operate in a universe largely devoid of sentient beings. Consequently, it made no sense that the clouds came in vast waves. Clearly they were not aimed at the (very) occasional civilization they might encounter.

The universe in which Hutch and her friends live is vast, dark, nearly empty. And majestic. Probably very much like the real one. The difficulty was to satisfy readers without sacrificing any of these qualities.

Deepsix and Chindi were written while I thought it over, and finally came up with an answer. (In fact, the resolution used in Omega was supplied by Walter Cuirle, a physicist and occasional SF writer, at Philcon in 2001.) Whether it works as intended, somebody else will have to decide. But Hutch provides a reasonable solution. To pursue it farther, to hunt down the source, to research the nuts and bolts of the clouds, would very quickly take the luster off the rose. Some things are best left to the reader's very able imagination.

By the way, I appreciate all those who hung around for nine years waiting for an answer.

— Jack McDevitt


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