The atoms of a radioactive substance break apart, emitting particles. It is impossible to predict when the next particle will be emitted as it happens at random. All we can do is give the probability that any particular atom will have decayed by a given time.
A Q&A with Andrew Neil Gray, Runner Up in the Open Category
This is your second time appearing in the Quantum Shorts prizes. What made you come back again?
I really enjoy this contest – the combination of the subject matter and the short form makes for an intriguing challenge. How do you tell an engaging story that incorporates quantum physics in only a few pages? When I saw the contest was open again, it was hard to resist!
How did you develop the idea for this story?
I developed it in two threads: the first was the scientific journey, the second was the emotional journey of the narrator. I wanted to make sure that both of them were intriguing, and also strongly connected. Once I had the idea about quantum crosstalk, I wrote the narrator’s story first. It was very dry and technical in my first draft, so on rewriting, I worked to develop the idea of his emotional wound and how it would connect with the fragments of information from other universes that he collected as he worked to help solve the mystery. I wrote the information snippets last.
What can you tell us about how you wrote it - anything from editing to offices to technology choices?
I write using Scrivener for Mac and the iPad, and I regularly take a ferry to my work in Vancouver, so much of my writing is done at a table on the boat. Every so often there are Orcas or Humpbacks outside the window, which is always a nice distraction.
Quantum computing is frequently in the news. How closely do you follow it? Was there any particular news that triggered this idea?
I regularly read about advances in science in sources such as Ars Technica, Scientific American and Quanta Magazine, and I’ve been fascinated by developments in quantum computing in general (especially since a Vancouver company, D-Wave Systems, is one of the pioneers). I’d describe myself as an enthusiastic amateur. The story wasn’t triggered by any particular news, other than the knowledge that researchers all over the world are currently racing to develop practical quantum computers.
What inspired the information snippets leaking in from other universes?
This came partly from the many-worlds interpretation, which I find fascinating in terms of writing possibilities. The possibility that qbits might exist in multiple universes suggested to me that there would be a fictional path to connecting to other universes through computers and information. I also took great liberties with the idea that you can escape entropy limits in computation by expelling the entropy to an outside environment, which in this case was another universe.
Is there anything you would like to add to your bio, for readers to know about you?
I have a website at www.andrewneilgray.com that has links to my other writing. My most recent publication was a co-written novella called The Ghost Line, published by Tor.com last July.
What other projects do you have on the go, or coming up?
I’ve just finished the first draft of a near-future speculative fiction thriller involving drones and nefarious billionaires, and hope to complete the book this year.
Can you recommend one or two science-inspired books you've read in the past year? What did you like about them?
I really enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140, a science fiction novel with a strong grounding in science that explores what living in a half-drowned New York that still functioned as a modern city would be like. He’s always able to mix science and story in an intriguing way. I also enjoyed Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It reminded me in some ways of Carl Sagan’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, a book that was a strong influence on me in my teens. Both books provide a wide perspective on human origins and why we are the sometimes maddening and intriguing creatures we are.