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This was was a short-book-length or very-long-short-story which I read online a long time ago, possibly self-published by the author.

There were characters trying out new inventions, but each time they discovered a new technology, the laws of physics changed to rule it out. This was due to a fight between some hyperdimensional beings, who turned our pocket universe into a prison, with the outside beings modifying the laws of physics as needed to prevent the prisoner escaping.

I believe the story opened with some characters who worked at an observatory, possibly named Chet/Chell?

This story may involve characters travelling to space, and returning hundreds of years later due to relativistic aging, only to find Earth devastated by a war. Only info-matics still works, with people learning to transfer consciousness to another body, but unable to do basic medicine anymore. This may be another story getting confused in my mind however.

Eventually, the guardian of the prison becomes incarnate in our universe, and fights it out with the prisoner. Chet is angry our universe is suffering due to this fight, and triggers the ultimate weapon, a device that forces the outside prison guardians to collapse the universe entirely.

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  • In roughly which year did you read this? Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 18:52
  • @DanielRoseman We don't close story-id questions as duplicate until one of the answers is accepted.
    – DavidW
    Commented Jul 24, 2022 at 19:52
  • This isn't you book, but it reminds me of the short story 'Luminous' by Greg Egan. As I recall there is a race between the protagonists to prove certain open questions in mathematics. Once a theorem (or its negation) is proved, the universe somehow locks in that result, with surprising consequences...
    – Blitzer
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 13:55
  • 1
    @Blitzer: and Egan wrote a sequel "Dark Integers"
    – Andrew
    Commented Jul 25, 2022 at 17:49

2 Answers 2

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I believe you're describing Fine Structure by qntm. It was self-published online by the author between 2006 and 2010, initially as a series of independent short stories, and then later assembled into a fix-up novel:

Fledgling physicist Ching-Yu Kuang has discovered a Rosetta Stone for all of physics, a treasure trove of advanced scientific breakthroughs beyond all imagination. Exotic energy, teleportation, FTL, parallel universes and near-infinitely more wonders are just within reach; a promise of paradise.

But every attempt to exploit this new science results in sabotage, chaos and destruction. And the laws of science themselves are changing with each experiment, locking out the new discoveries, directly altering the universe to make what should be possible impossible. While Ching watches, humanity's future is being stolen.

Because there's something wrong with his world. There's a fundamental flaw, a defect in its structure...

Ching (the character you're referring to) discovers a mysterious signal while working at a research facility called the Medium Preonic Receiver, which appears to describe various kinds of advanced technology:

"The Eka Script has changed," says Ching. "There was never any doubt about that. Up until recently, the message on channel two said that FTL communications were not available to us, because some inexplicable parameter was out of range. Last night, something else was added to the list of things which are not available. Teleportation. It's been switched off."

As you described, the climax of the novel is a conflict involving Ching, Xio (the guardian), and Oul (the prisoner).

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You may be thinking of Sam Hughes' serial novel Fine structure (2006–2010). Sam explains the parts about the rules of the prison changing:

This prison is structured with the purpose of preventing the use of super-dimensional technologies, so that no escape to higher dimensions is possible. A variety of such super-advanced technologies are initially available in Alef - technologies such as FTL communication, FTL travel, antigravity, force fields and so on. But each time a technology is used for the first time, it works only for a limited period before the "cell", which is semi-intelligent, registers this as an escape attempt and changes the rules of the universe, to block it permanently.

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