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.
The results are in! Our judges have picked the best of the best entries to the Quantum Shorts competition, and we've got prizes for six fantastic stories.
First, our open international category. The shortlist was a "very impressive selection of stories" said Mark Alpert, author of three novels and a contributing editor at Scientific American. We asked our illustrious judges to rank their favourites from the ten we'd shortlisted, and every single one made someone's top three. That said, there was huge diversity of opinion: some of the judges didn't have any of the eventual winners in their top three. Nonetheless, a few stood out, and the combined choices of all the judges gave us a clear winner and runner up.
Open International winners
First prize goes to "The Knight of Infinity" by Brian Crawford – in which a wealthy, grieving widower plans a grand experiment. It is an energetic and ultimately touching tale that buzzes with ideas about the multiverse and the disparate realities this interpretation of quantum theory creates.
"I like the way this one looked at daredevils, uncertainty and parallel universes," said judge Tania Hershman, curator of ShortStops.info and author of two collections of short stories. Jason Erik Lundberg, author of several books of the fantastic and founding editor of LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction, picked this story as a favourite too. It "presents a very empathetic portrait of its protagonist" he says, "his insistence on creating the conditions for a perfect thought experiment feels authentic and well-realized".
Pawel Frelik, President of the Science Fiction Research Association in 2013-14, compared the tale to classic sf writing. "The measured, factual, and yet evocative narration strongly reminds me of Ray Bradbury and his Mars stories," he says. "The changes of perspective towards the end are handled very skilfully, too, and do not break the tension for even half a sentence."
The wisdom of the crowds aligned with the judges on this pick. Hundreds of votes were cast in our public poll on the shortlist, for which we asked readers to pick their single most favourite story. With 46% of the vote, "The Knight of Infinity" claims the People's Choice award too.
As part of the prize, this story has been posted on the Scientific American blog.
The judges selected the story "Dice", by Betony Adams, as runner-up. The story is a play on Einstein's famous notion about a deity playing dice with the universe, and it drew praise from the judges for its beautiful writing. Jason Erik Lundberg called it "wonderfully written, with vivid descriptions", while Patrick Nielsen Hayden, manager of the SF and fantasy line at Tor Books, said "I liked the way it shifts levels and fakes the reader out".
"Dice" was also the favourite of Mariette di Christina, who oversees Scientific American. She said "Most of all, I enjoyed a story that went about its business with subtlety and elegance and displayed a strong narrative arc."
Congratulations to authors Brian Crawford and Betony Adams!
We'd also like to give a nod to "The Leaning Light" by Andrew J. Manera, which came a close third in the judges' estimation, and to "Superpose" by Yuen Xiang Hao, which was second in the People's Choice vote. You should go read these stories too. Then, hey, why not read all the shortlisted stories, and as many more as you have time for. There are many gems in this site's collection of quantum-inspired fiction that we couldn't recognise with awards.
But we do still have a few prizes to announce. A second panel of illustrious judges deliberated over the shortlists in our two student categories, selecting a winner and runner up in each category.
Student Category winners
First Prize in the Student International category goes to "Postmortem" by Antonia Jade, a student in high school in the United States. It's a tale of two young girls at home alone when their grandmother comes to visit. The twist is, their grandmother had died the week before. The story takes inspiration from the famous Schrodinger's cat paradox in quantum physics. "This story is both playful and disturbing... There's a lot of restraint here, which pays off in wonderful touches of intellectual and emotional nuance" says judge Jen Crawford, Coordinator of the Creative Writing Programme at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.
Runner Up is "There Was a Sun" by Rebecca Baron, also a US high school student. In this piece of flash fiction, a physicist struggles with the implications of her successful experiment. Does it mean that humans have no soul? CQT physicist Vlatko Vedral praised this story for its strong links to quantum physics and a storyline that "kept me guessing". Judge Pang Kian Tiong, from the Singapore Science Centre, notes that it uses the idea of quantum teleportation with understanding.
In the Student Singapore category, "Tree in a Forest" by Claire Cheong U-Er takes First Prize. Written from the perspective of a man who can peer through ‘quantum tunnels' to other worlds and times, it is "a meditation of eternal life beyond one's mortality, with a melancholic undertow, revealing an ennui and desperate need to treasure fleeting moments," says judge Paul Tan of Singapore's National Arts Council. "I'm impressed by the author's ability to create a genuine and touching emotional development for the protagonist within this short space; it's very powerful," says Jen Crawford.
Runner up is "Into Chaos." by Aaron Rosario Jeyaraj, in which a scientist is devastated by his attempt to know everything. It plays on the idea of quantum superposition and many worlds, notes Vlatko Vedral, "explaining what it would mean to have the God's eye view of all quantum worlds". Jen Crawford calls the story "eloquent and dramatic".
Congratulations to all our student winners!