Written by Paul Melko
In 1957, Hugh Everett proposed the many-worlds interpretation (MWI) of quantum mechanics. MWI states that the universe forks at each quantum event, creating a multiverse: an infinite number of universes superimposed upon each other. Any possible universe can exist in the multiverse. In fact, every possible universe does!
Welcome to the Multiverse. Take a Seat on the Left and the Right.
Science fiction has always been fascinated with parallel universes and alternate histories. The advent of MWI provided a scientific theory that allowed writers to justify any alternate history they wanted. One small quantum decision otherwise and the South won the Civil War. Likewise, parallel universe stories – stories where multiple universes exist and can be communicated with or traveled to – were invigorated by MWI.
A Good Book in Any Universe
My favorite parallel universe books are Philip Jose Farmer’s World of Tiers series. Farmer’s multiverse is composed of a series of pocket universes, created by a race of technologically superior humans called Lords. These universes aren’t parallel universes created by quantum events, but rather manufactured universes.
Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves depicts two universes with vastly different physical properties, our own and an alien one. Each is exploiting the other for cheap energy.
In Michael Kube-McDowell’s Alternities, parallel universes are exploited by a few people in the know. One character uses the universes to enact his sadistic fantasies. Another, the president of an out-matched USA, uses a parallel universe as a bolt hole against his Soviet enemies. Another character dates the doppelganger of a former girlfriend.
A Post Scarcity Multiverse
Exploiting the multiverse seems to be at the heart of many parallel universe stories. The obvious method to riches and fame is arbitrage. Buy low and sell high! Now add an infinite number of markets. My own characters trade in ideas; in the Walls of the Universe, they introduce pinball into a world that never had it.
I Never Metaverse I Didn’t Like
If there is a universe for every decision I make, then there exists universes where I’ve made every wrong possible decision in my life. But those versions of me aren’t really me! (Or so I rationalize.)
My story “Ten Sigmas” is about a massively-parallel human being whose consciousness exists in many universes at the same time. His quantum wave form doesn’t collapse, but instead allows him to share information among himselves, making him nearly omniscient in his local vicinity. A split-second decision for him one day causes all his selves to slowly peel away until it is only a single instance trying to save a girl’s life.
In the second book of my series, The Broken Universe, due out in June, my characters start up a transuniversal company, recruiting their own doppelgangers to manage the firm. At first simple arbitrage is enough for them, but they face the problem of uniqueness. What good is all this capital, if in those millions of universes, billions of people are suffering, every day. My characters decide to do something bigger and wiser with their technology.
Advances in string theory suggest that multiple universes exist outside our own, driven by the multidimensional spaces around which quantum strings vibrate. This too will inform the next generation of parallel universe stories: each multiverse is governed by a different set of physical properties. Together those multiverses form the omniverse. For now this is a place we can only visit through the work of science fiction writers or the equations of quantum physicists.
From the Tor/Forge June newsletter. Sign up to receive our newsletter via email.
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