Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Love and relativity

This month’s Futures story in Nature Physics sees the welcome return of Stewart C Baker with his story Love and relativity. Last time, he taught us about the dangers of using a quantum disambiguator, and this time he again faces the perils of the multiverse. You can keep up to date with his activities on his website or by following him on Twitter. Here, Stewart kindly explains the origins of his latest tale — as usual it pays to read the story first.

Writing Love and relativity

The inspiration for Love and relativity came from a few different sources.

The most immediate inspiration was a prompt-based writing contest run every year by Codex Online Writers Group.  All the participants get four prompts to choose from and have to write a complete piece of flash fiction from scratch in about 48 hours.  It’s about as hectic as it sounds, but it’s a lot of fun — and if you’re as good at procrastinating as I am, that tight deadline helps a lot with focus and follow-through.

The prompts I used for this story were: “Someone made a bad decision and someone else is paying the price” and “Pick one object that’s different from other similar objects. Why?”.  I definitely don’t think experimental space travel is ‘a bad decision’ — I’m a space nerd, and have been trying to convince my pre-schoolers to be astronauts for ages now already — but it can certainly be dangerous.  I was caught by the idea of something going wrong in space, and what that would mean for those left behind here on Earth.  Thinking of space travel also brought to mind the Fermi paradox, which tied in neatly with the second prompt: why do we appear to be alone in the observable Universe?

And from the Fermi paradox, it’s a pretty straight jump over to experimental faster-than-light travel, quantum computing and accidentally hopping between universes!

Okay, maybe not so much.  But all the same, I’ve long been fascinated by the idea of parallel universes.  There’s Neal Stephenson’s Anathem, The Long Earth series by Stephen Baxter and the much-lamented  Terry Pratchett (whose Discworld series is probably where I first encountered the idea of a multiverse, if it wasn’t the 1990s American TV show Sliders), and movies such as Looper and Primer, which explore the ‘alternate future timelines’ aspect of time travel in a similar way.

Most directly, though, I got the idea for this aspect of the story from Tara Tallan’s Galaxion, a web-comic that ought to appeal to anyone with an interest in classic sci-fi.  The premise of Galaxion should be immediately familiar to anyone who’s just read Love and relativity: an experimental ship drive has been created that allows users to jump into a parallel universe.  When a crew of somewhat eccentric planetary scientists get their ship ‘borrowed’ by a psuedo-military outfit and ‘upgraded’ to use the experimental engine, you can imagine that life on board gets a little out of hand.  The comic’s got adventure and good humour in spades, as well as the occasional dash of drama and interdimensional aliens, not to mention some wonderful hats.  It’s been running for years in one form or another, and is currently updating every Tuesday.

To circle back around to ‘space nerd’, at the time I was writing the story, ISRO was in the news for putting its Mangalyaan satellite into orbit around Mars — and for the heavily shared photo of several female ISRO employees celebrating the mission’s success.  In what is stereotypically considered a very male field, it’s fantastic to see some of the many female engineers, scientists and other workers getting recognition.  Every time I see the photo, I feel happy and inspired, and the setting and cast of this story is my small tribute to everything it represents.

I would also like to thank fellow writers Naru Sundar, S.B. Divya, Keyan Bowes and Rati Mehrotra for fixing my character names and answering my questions about marriage ceremonies, and everyone on Codex who left anonymous comments on a slightly shorter first draft.

As for the … unusual format of the story?  Well, I’m an academic librarian by trade.  I love a good annotated bibliography.

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