Backstory: Don't Die Before You're Dead, Sally Wu

A Q&A with Andrew Neil Gray, Runner Up in the Open Category
 
What inspired your story?
 
I've been fascinated by the Many Worlds Interpretation for a long time. My family emigrated to Canada from Scotland when I was a child, and I often imagined my shadow self – the me that stayed behind, and what his life might have been like. For the contest, I started thinking about what the world might be like if we could communicate with other universes; how would it affect us, and how would we find practical uses for this.
 
How did you go about writing it?
 
I brainstormed first, just jotting down notes with a sort of free-association, making lists of the ways people might use access to multiple universes. When I started thinking about format – how best could I show this world and some of the characters I had created in such a limited number of words? – the list/message format seemed to be the most effective.
 
Can you tell us about you?
 
I'm in my 40s, and I have been writing since my late teens. I received an MFA in Creative Writing in my 20s and published a book of literary fiction, but took a hiatus from writing when I became busy with my family and career. I returned to writing seriously a few years ago. I've been a science fiction fan since I was a boy, and decided to focus on this going forward. I work in educational programming at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
 
What interested you about the Quantum Shorts contest?
 
Everything! I have long had an interest in the strangeness of the quantum world and I wanted to write more flash fiction, so the timing was perfect. I saw a notification about the story posted to Codex, a SF and Fantasy writer's group I belong to.
 
How do you feel about winning this prize?
 
Delighted! There were lots of fascinating and talented stories in the shortlist (and I enjoyed a lot of the ones that didn't make the shortlist too), and it's an honour to be one of the winners.
 
What other writing projects do you have planned or underway?
 
As well as short fiction, which I continue to write, I'm in the early stages of a novel set in the same universe(s) as this short story. My brainstorming generated a lot of story ideas, far too many to fit into 1000 words! My personal website is at andrewneilgray.com

Quantum Theories: A to Z

X is for ...
X-ray

In 1923 Arthur Compton shone X-rays onto a block of graphite and found that they bounced off with their energy reduced exactly as would be expected if they were composed of particles colliding with electrons in the graphite. This was the first indication of radiation’s particle-like nature.

H is for ...
Hidden Variables

One school of thought says that the strangeness of quantum theory can be put down to a lack of information; if we could find the “hidden variables” the mysteries would all go away.

H is for ...
Hawking Radiation

In 1975, Stephen Hawking showed that the principles of quantum mechanics would mean that a black hole emits a slow stream of particles and would eventually evaporate.

L is for ...
Large Hadron Collider (LHC)

At CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, this machine is smashing apart particles in order to discover their constituent parts and the quantum laws that govern their behaviour.

U is for ...
Universe

To many researchers, the universe behaves like a gigantic quantum computer that is busy processing all the information it contains.

G is for ...
Gravity

Our best theory of gravity no longer belongs to Isaac Newton. It’s Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. There’s just one problem: it is incompatible with quantum theory. The effort to tie the two together provides the greatest challenge to physics in the 21st century.

S is for ...
Schrödinger’s Cat

A hypothetical experiment in which a cat kept in a closed box can be alive and dead at the same time – as long as nobody lifts the lid to take a look.

G is for ...
Gluon

These elementary particles hold together the quarks that lie at the heart of matter.

C is for ...
Cryptography

People have been hiding information in messages for millennia, but the quantum world provides a whole new way to do it.

Y is for ...
Young's Double Slit Experiment

In 1801, Thomas Young proved light was a wave, and overthrew Newton’s idea that light was a “corpuscle”.

N is for ...
Nonlocality

When two quantum particles are entangled, it can also be said they are “nonlocal”: their physical proximity does not affect the way their quantum states are linked.

J is for ...
Josephson Junction

This is a narrow constriction in a ring of superconductor. Current can only move around the ring because of quantum laws; the apparatus provides a neat way to investigate the properties of quantum mechanics and is a technology to build qubits for quantum computers.

O is for ...
Objective reality

Niels Bohr, one of the founding fathers of quantum physics, said there is no such thing as objective reality. All we can talk about, he said, is the results of measurements we make.

T is for ...
Teleportation

Quantum tricks allow a particle to be transported from one location to another without passing through the intervening space – or that’s how it appears. The reality is that the process is more like faxing, where the information held by one particle is written onto a distant particle.

Q is for ...
Qubit

One quantum bit of information is known as a qubit (pronounced Q-bit). The ability of quantum particles to exist in many different states at once means a single quantum object can represent multiple qubits at once, opening up the possibility of extremely fast information processing.

S is for ...
Sensors

Researchers are harnessing the intricacies of quantum mechanics to develop powerful quantum sensors. These sensors could open up a wide range of applications.

A is for ...
Atom

This is the basic building block of matter that creates the world of chemical elements – although it is made up of more fundamental particles.

C is for ...
Clocks

The most precise clocks we have are atomic clocks which are powered by quantum mechanics. Besides keeping time, they can also let your smartphone know where you are.

M is for ...
Many Worlds Theory

Some researchers think the best way to explain the strange characteristics of the quantum world is to allow that each quantum event creates a new universe.

C is for ...
Computing

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now.

T is for ...
Time

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. This doesn’t seem to follow the laws of physics which work the same going forward or backward in time. Some physicists argue that there is a more fundamental quantum source for the arrow of time.

T is for ...
Tunnelling

This happens when quantum objects “borrow” energy in order to bypass an obstacle such as a gap in an electrical circuit. It is possible thanks to the uncertainty principle, and enables quantum particles to do things other particles can’t.

D is for ...
Decoherence

Unless it is carefully isolated, a quantum system will “leak” information into its surroundings. This can destroy delicate states such as superposition and entanglement.

P is for ...
Planck's Constant

This is one of the universal constants of nature, and relates the energy of a single quantum of radiation to its frequency. It is central to quantum theory and appears in many important formulae, including the Schrödinger Equation.

U is for ...
Uncertainty Principle

One of the most famous ideas in science, this declares that it is impossible to know all the physical attributes of a quantum particle or system simultaneously.

E is for ...
Entanglement

When two quantum objects interact, the information they contain becomes shared. This can result in a kind of link between them, where an action performed on one will affect the outcome of an action performed on the other. This “entanglement” applies even if the two particles are half a universe apart.

F is for ...
Free Will

Ideas at the heart of quantum theory, to do with randomness and the character of the molecules that make up the physical matter of our brains, lead some researchers to suggest humans can’t have free will.

K is for ...
Kaon

These are particles that carry a quantum property called strangeness. Some fundamental particles have the property known as charm!

Q is for ...
Quantum biology

A new and growing field that explores whether many biological processes depend on uniquely quantum processes to work. Under particular scrutiny at the moment are photosynthesis, smell and the navigation of migratory birds.

R is for ...
Reality

Since the predictions of quantum theory have been right in every experiment ever done, many researchers think it is the best guide we have to the nature of reality. Unfortunately, that still leaves room for plenty of ideas about what reality really is!

W is for ...
Wave-particle duality

It is possible to describe an atom, an electron, or a photon as either a wave or a particle. In reality, they are both: a wave and a particle.

M is for ...
Maths

Quantum physics is the study of nature at the very small. Mathematics is one language used to formalise or describe quantum phenomena.

P is for ...
Probability

Quantum mechanics is a probabilistic theory: it does not give definite answers, but only the probability that an experiment will come up with a particular answer. This was the source of Einstein’s objection that God “does not play dice” with the universe.

A is for ...
Act of observation

Some people believe this changes everything in the quantum world, even bringing things into existence.

A is for ...
Alice and Bob

In quantum experiments, these are the names traditionally given to the people transmitting and receiving information. In quantum cryptography, an eavesdropper called Eve tries to intercept the information.

L is for ...
Light

We used to believe light was a wave, then we discovered it had the properties of a particle that we call a photon. Now we know it, like all elementary quantum objects, is both a wave and a particle!

B is for ...
Bell's Theorem

In 1964, John Bell came up with a way of testing whether quantum theory was a true reflection of reality. In 1982, the results came in – and the world has never been the same since!

I is for ...
Interferometer

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer: the device’s output is a pattern that can only be explained by the photon passing simultaneously through two widely-separated slits.

K is for ...
Key

Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) is a way to create secure cryptographic keys, allowing for more secure communication.

S is for ...
Schrödinger Equation

This is the central equation of quantum theory, and describes how any quantum system will behave, and how its observable qualities are likely to manifest in an experiment.

Z is for ...
Zero-point energy

Even at absolute zero, the lowest temperature possible, nothing has zero energy. In these conditions, particles and fields are in their lowest energy state, with an energy proportional to Planck’s constant.

M is for ...
Multiverse

Our most successful theories of cosmology suggest that our universe is one of many universes that bubble off from one another. It’s not clear whether it will ever be possible to detect these other universes.

R is for ...
Randomness

Unpredictability lies at the heart of quantum mechanics. It bothered Einstein, but it also bothers the Dalai Lama.

W is for ...
Wavefunction

The mathematics of quantum theory associates each quantum object with a wavefunction that appears in the Schrödinger equation and gives the probability of finding it in any given state.

V is for ...
Virtual particles

Quantum theory’s uncertainty principle says that since not even empty space can have zero energy, the universe is fizzing with particle-antiparticle pairs that pop in and out of existence. These “virtual” particles are the source of Hawking radiation.

S is for ...
Superposition

Quantum objects can exist in two or more states at once: an electron in superposition, for example, can simultaneously move clockwise and anticlockwise around a ring-shaped conductor.

B is for ...
Bose-Einstein Condensate (BEC)

At extremely low temperatures, quantum rules mean that atoms can come together and behave as if they are one giant super-atom.

I is for ...
Information

Many researchers working in quantum theory believe that information is the most fundamental building block of reality.

D is for ...
Dice

Albert Einstein decided quantum theory couldn’t be right because its reliance on probability means everything is a result of chance. “God doesn’t play dice with the world,” he said.

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