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I was sure I stumbled across it here, but I can't find it at all. It's a short story I've read in the past 10 years, I believe.

The viewpoint character is some unimaginably powerful alien who is nonetheless still a juvenile and being instructed. It and its classmates are creating universes (like ours, with multi-billion light-year extents) as a class project.

Somehow the alien we are following has managed to pick a set of initial parameters that instead of rapidly fizzling out, or being just a boring endless series of explosions, manages to hang on to create all kinds of marvelous complex structures (galaxies, clusters) and interesting features (supernovae) and possibly, at least by implication, life.

The other students finish their projects and move on, but much later (in whatever alien time units were used in the story) the alien is still watching its, and it has even attracted the attention of the teacher.

I'm not sure if this is part of the story, but I recall that at the end life has managed to convert itself into a form that can exist even at the ultimate heat extinction of the universe.

At the very end of the story the universe has cooled to the point that the shortest wavelength of light is longer than the width of the universe, somehow replicating conditions comparable to how it started, and it explodes again...

Thinking some more about it, I believe the story may have been published in Asimov's, since I'm recollecting a single-column page. I'm pretty sure the lines were longer than they'd be in a paperback, which is why I'm thinking digest format. The story was broken into sections by advancing time, and each scene began with a numerical expression of the amount of time elapsed, on its own line in bold. (Like "2.835*10^22 s") The time may have been expressed in more than one scale, I'm not certain about that.

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    Definitely not "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag" (Heinlein), "Kindergarten" (Gunn), "Portrait of the Artist as a Young God" (Goldin), "Grant Us This Day" (Kress). I'm pretty sure I haven't read the one you're asking about. I'm guessing it's probably a recent story, i.e., last 50 years or so.
    – user14111
    Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 5:31
  • In Larry Niven's "The Soft Weapon" the insane Puppeteer Nessus drawsa picture of a child god showing the galaxy he created to an older one. My posts # 29 & 3 at: historum.com/threads/descendents-of-noah.188280/page-3 have related content, including a link to this article claiming that Yahweh was originally depicted as a child god: georgeleonard.com/articles/is-yahweh-a-boy.htm: Commented Apr 20, 2021 at 15:43
  • @user14111 "Kindergarten" by James E. Gunn was definitely the first thing that popped into my head as I first read the title of this question. I'm not sure whether I've ever read any other short stories which began with much the same premise.
    – Lorendiac
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 2:41
  • @user14111 I've added a few details about how the story was formatted. I don't recall offhand if Galaxy had a single-column layout or not.
    – DavidW
    Commented May 22, 2021 at 3:59
  • 2
    See also scifi.stackexchange.com/q/258507/28516 for someone else looking for the same story. Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 11:08

1 Answer 1

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The story is "Cycles" by Don Sakers in Analog, January 1985, pp 64-70.

It tells the story of a novice named Kaishyy who insists on creating his open universe without, according to his fellow students, sufficient mass-energy to become cyclic. He persists and waits for heat death, at which point the conditions became isomorphic with the starting conditions.

The first few lines are "At first, there was no space. How could there be?" They are echoed near the end, "In Kaishyy's universe, 10^250 years after creation, there was no space. How could there be?"

The Analog tagline is

"Rules" for creativity tell how to produce results that will, almost certainly, be "acceptable." To do exceptional work, you may have to try something different!

I've been following these threads since I've been looking for the same story - I just happened across an old box of periodicals in my attic that I'd thought was long ago donated and immediately starting poring though them in search of this very story!

A couple of quotes, the first about life persisting:

Life, however, continued. It clung to patterns in photons that were becoming more and more red-shifted as the universe expanded.

After 10125 years, all the positron-electron pairs had collided and annihilated one another in showers of photons. Somewhere in the interim all the neutrinos had decayed-they were so hard to spot Kaishyy had missed their departure. Now there were only photons, endlessly spreading in wavefronts that carried the last furtive thoughts of life.

And the universe recapitulates its initial state:

Kaishyy ignored the comment, pointed to his cosmos. "Look. All particles of energy have been decaying. Their wavelengths are now just about the size of my universe. Watch as I let the process continue for a few googol years."

Stasis release, time continued to flow. And the particles spread out, out—until their theoretical size filled the bloated boundaries of Kaishyy's universe. Now there were, in effect, no more particles—only the potential of mass-energy.

In Kaishyy's universe, 10250 years after creation, there was no space. How could there be? It was crammed with the potential of mass-energy, all undifferentiated. No manifestation so gross as particles remained.

No space, no time, just formlessness seething with what had been energy.

Kaishyy smiled. "Conditions are not identical with the beginning of my experiment."

Hardly had me made the statement, than natural law asserted itself, and Kaishyy's universe blew up.

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