Backstory: Fine Print

A Q&A with C. R. Long, First Prize winner

Read the story first: Fine Print


Is there anything you would like readers to know about you, beyond the bio in your story?

I work currently as a nurse at the veterans’ hospital in California. I’ve written probably about seven books that are for sale right now and my next book, a young adult novel, is coming out in several months. I also have a science-fiction novel called After Earth which just came out on 1 June 2020.


How did you develop the idea for “Fine Print”?

This short story came from a longer story that I had written a couple of years ago. I’ve been holding on to it. I have considered making it into a full length novel but I never really got that opportunity because I’ve been working on other projects. When I stumbled on your contest, I thought that story would be perfect for Quantum Shorts. So I basically took that longer story, watered it down, took all the unnecessary stuff out and that’s how I came up with “Fine Print”.


What kind of research did you do?

I really like the idea of multiverses, possibilities and quantum entanglement. I even got really into string theory. I find it so interesting that there is so much we do know about quantum physics but there is a ton that we don’t know. It can open a door to so many different topics that I think a lot of people don’t touch on in science-fiction. To me, it is extremely entertaining that there are so many different choices out there that could possibly be happening.


In “Fine Print” people can buy a new reality. If you could move to another universe, would you? What would you look for?

I don’t know if I would want to take over another universe. I mean, maybe if I went somewhere where I was taller or where I had more hair on my head or something like that. I think that everybody maybe wants something slightly different in their lives and that is where the draw is.

With different universes you could go and be a completely different person. There are so many different possibilities—which one do you pick? Is it better than what you have? I’d like to maybe see another universe, but I don’t know if I’d want to change my life because I have a pretty good life.


You included a little twist at the end of your story that many people did not see coming. What can you say about the ending? (Spoiler alert!)

I thought that the ending brought the whole thing together. It was almost as if the last conversation between the two scientists was more important than what was going on with the client and her going to a different universe to find her son. All of a sudden, the scientist found a universe where there is a better version of him. I think that was the key to the whole story. Even though he was the scientist, he wrote the fine print and he was the one sending people over, he still wanted what those other people wanted as well—a different life.


What is your writing process like?

I begin with an idea I like for a story and I figure out how I can get to this end point. When I write my short stories, like “Fine Print”, or my novels, I almost feel like I write my ending first. I try to figure out what sort of ending I like, what I want to deliver, and how I will build it up for somebody. So that when the ending comes, readers get an ‘aha’ moment. Then I work backwards from there.


How did you feel about the news of your prize?

It was very exciting. I can honestly say just being on the shortlist to me felt like a great accomplishment. I was already super happy with that. I felt that maybe I had a chance, but reading the other stories, I thought some of them were really good. So when I got the news, it was definitely one of the highlights of my year so far. I was really happy so I really appreciate it.


What appealed to you about the Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition?

The science-fiction part of it. I’ve always been into science since high school. I was looking up some information, believe it or not, on qubits and I stumbled onto your website and was like “this is fantastic”. It was out of the blue but it was great. I was able to read all the other stories, your Quantum A to Z—those articles were really informative, and it got me thinking.


Can you name some science-inspired books you've read in the past year that you would recommend to others? What did you like about them?

I do a lot of reading and anything sci-fi is good for me. I really like Andy Weir’s The Martian. Everything that the characters are doing is all scientifically-based fact. It’s not just fiction but believable fiction that this is science at work. I just finished 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson, who is one of my favourite authors. The book is great and Robinson does a really great job incorporating science into his work.

I also like Dune by Frank Herbert, it is one of my favourite books and I just reread that. Anything by Philip K Dick is great. And Ted Chiang’s “Story of Your Life”, which the movie Arrival is based on, is just great. The way he explains things is just so good.


Tell us more about your book.

My book After Earth came out on 1 June. It is a dystopian futuristic story where part of the moon crashes into the Earth and causes a great shift. The main character is a girl called Sky, who is put into a situation with so many problems. You follow her journey in learning to deal with all these problems. It’s been really exciting to write and a lot of work. We’ll see how it does.

Quantum Theories: A to Z

R is for ...

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!

I is for ...

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

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”.

C is for ...

The rules of the quantum world mean that we can process information much faster than is possible using the computers we use now. This column from Quanta Magazine ​delves into the fundamental physics behind quantum computing.

W is for ...

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.

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.

Q is for ...

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.

A is for ...
Act of observation

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

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.

D is for ...

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

D is for ...

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.

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.

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.

C is for ...

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

E is for ...

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.

L is for ...

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!

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.

A is for ...

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

T is for ...

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.

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.

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.

K is for ...

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

N is for ...

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.

Q is for ...
Quantum States

Quantum states, which represent the state of affairs of a quantum system, change by a different set of rules than classical states.

S is for ...

The feature of a quantum system whereby it exists in several separate quantum states at the same time.

M is for ...

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

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.

R is for ...

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

K is for ...

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

S is for ...

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

U is for ...

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

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.

T is for ...

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.

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.

P is for ...

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.

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.

E is for ...

As the world makes more advances in quantum science and technologies, it is time to think about how it will impact lives and how society should respond. This mini-documentary by the Quantum Daily is a good starting point to think about these ethical issues. 

X is for ...

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.

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.

I is for ...

Some of the strangest characteristics of quantum theory can be demonstrated by firing a photon into an interferometer

T is for ...

The arrow of time is “irreversible”—time goes forward. On microscopic quantum scales, this seems less certain. A recent experiment shows that the forward pointing of the arrow of time remains a fundamental rule for quantum measurements.

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.

G is for ...

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.

G is for ...

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

C is for ...

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

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.

M is for ...

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.

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