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.
A Q&A with Ariadne Blayde, People’s Choice winner
Is there anything you would like readers to know about you, beyond the bio in your story?
I’ve always been passionate about history, the humanities and the arts, but it’s only recently that I have become interested in science. Really, science and art are two sides of the same coin: they are both methods of trying to make sense of the universe and find meaning in it. I’m excited to be stepping into the fascinating world of quantum physics, and wish I could go back to school to learn more.
And here’s a fun fact about me: until I make it big as a writer, I have the very unscientific day job of telling ghost stories! I give ghost tours in the historic French Quarter of New Orleans, where I live.
Where did you get the idea for “Shinichi’s Tricycle”?
I’ve spent the last 9 months researching the Manhattan Project (the United States’ top-secret atomic bomb program) for a novel I’m writing. In January I visited the National Museum of Nuclear History Science and History in Albuquerque. At the museum I learnt about Shinichi, a real boy who died in the bombing of Hiroshima, and saw a picture of his charred tricycle (the real thing is actually on display at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima). Until this point I had spent most of my time thinking and reading about the bomb from the point of view of the scientists who designed it, and the sight of this little boy’s tricycle really helped me understand the suffering the bomb caused in a non-abstract way.
In the course of my research, I’ve also read a lot about quantum physics. One of the most fascinating ideas in quantum physics, sometimes referred to as “Many Worlds,” explains the baffling results of the famous “double slit” experiment (in which a photon behaves as both a particle and a wave, and doesn’t “decide” which until it is measured) with the proposition that every time an act of measurement occurs, reality splits, yielding parallel realities with a different possibility realized in each. This essentially proposes that every time a decision is made, a parallel reality is created—in which case, there could be all kinds of realities in which nuclear weapons were never developed.
The story has an interesting structure, having short scenes and moving forward and backward through time. Was this difficult to plan or write?
I knew I wanted to write a story that presented two realities: one in which the bomb was dropped, and one in which it wasn’t. The backward/forward structure of the story followed easily from that concept.
The only really difficult thing in writing the story was staying within the 1000-word limit. I had a hard time writing succinctly enough to communicate the full idea in such a short space, but it was a fun challenge and I feel that I managed to do it. Without the word limit, I could have gone absolutely wild with this concept. But I am grateful for the 1000-word limit; the economy of language helped me focus the story in an effective way.
What kind of research did you do to inform your writing?
I was absolutely delighted to come across this contest, because it drew on research I’ve already been doing for months. Some favourites from my reading list include: American Prometheus (Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin), The Age of Radiance (Craig Nelson), What is Real? (Adam Becker), The Hidden Reality (Brian Greene), The Order of Time (Carlo Rovelli), An Atomic Love Story (Shirley Streshinsky and Patricia Klaus), and 109 East Palace (Jennet Conant).
How did you feel about winning the People’s Choice Prize?
I’m so thrilled! It really gives me hope, because the story is a sketch of my novel-in-progress and getting this kind of validation so early in the process gives me a huge boost of confidence. I am so glad that my story spoke to so many people, and I hope that this success will help me find a literary agent and/or a publisher for the novel when the time comes.
Can you tell us more about the novel that you are working on?
I keep mentioning it and I’m so happy to finally tell you about it in detail: “Shinichi’s Tricycle” contains the main ideas in my novel-in-progress, titled “First Cry of a Newborn World.” The novel follows J. Robert Oppenheimer and Edward Teller as they develop the atomic bomb in the secret city of Los Alamos, New Mexico; it also follows their two counterparts, versions of them in a parallel reality with different names and lives. In this parallel reality, the bomb was never developed.
In my novel, the characters in the no-nuke reality live in an unending, bloody World War III that they are desperate to escape. And so, like the scientists of our own reality’s Manhattan Project, they are working to use quantum theory to create a device that will end the war; but in their case, they are attempting not to split the atom, but to split reality itself. If the device succeeds, they will abandon their timeline for a more peaceful one: ours. Like “Shinichi’s Tricycle,” the novel will travel backward and forward in time and across realities, exploring all possibilities of how these scenarios unfold.
I hope that this novel will bring together historical fiction and speculative fiction in a way that explores not just scientific questions about quantum physics, parallel realities and the nature of time, but philosophical questions as well. What is the self? Can a soul remain intact across dimensions? Can we ever learn to be content with our circumstances, or will we always yearn for something different? How do we make sense of history? And more fundamentally, how do we make sense of time?
It’s a huge project but a very exciting one. I hope to have a solid first draft completed within a year.
Can you name one or two science-inspired books that you would recommend to others?
I would highly recommend two collections of science fiction short stories: Exhalation by Ted Chiang, and Invisible Planets: Contemporary Chinese Science Fiction in Translation, edited by Ken Liu. Both contain beautiful writing and fascinating scientific concepts. Ted Chiang even has a story about parallel realities.