Who would have thought I would have already read, only halfway through the year, and by somewhat random selection, four novels employing themes of physics to structure the plot? And that all four of them were pretty clever? (They were The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church, Relativity by Antonia Hayes, Before the Wind by Jim Lynch, and this one.)
Let’s see: imagine me in a locked library. I either pick or do not pick a novel with tropes from quantum mechanics. If you open the library doors to come observe me, what do you see? Me deeply interested in yet another such book? Or me deep in sleep from yet another such book? Or me reading a bodice ripper? (Ha ha! That one is too improbable!) This is my “Reader’s Restatement” of the classic Schrödinger’s Cat Paradox, the real paradox being central to Blake Couch’s story. According to the original thought experiment in physics as devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935, a cat is put in a sealed box with a flask of poison. A mechanism is set up to poison the cat or not, depending upon what is going on at the moment of observation, i.e., when the box is opened. The act of observation collapses the wave function of activity on the quantum level from two outcomes to only one. Further, quantum mechanics suggests that until this observation is made, the cat is simultaneously alive and dead; there is quantum superimposition.
In Crouch’s novel/science fiction thriller, Jason Dessen, a brilliant quantum physicist, has come up with a way to overcome the problem of reality splitting into two paths upon observation. He suggests a rather convoluted, but not inconceivable fix that involves, at the moment of decision, a split into a different universe. Thus, he posits an infinite number of universes, all reflecting different decisions that launched us onto different life trajectories.
Continuing this thought experiment (or real life experiment, as in the novel), what do you think would happen if that were the case? There would be infinite numbers of us, leading infinitely different lives, based on minute options we took or passed up at each and every moment.
In the story, Dessen wins a big science prize for inventing a box that will hold people, rather than cats, and a way to to put people into this superimposed state. Once they enter the box, they embark down a labyrinthine maze of doors leading to endless universes. Pretty soon, we’ve got a bunch of Jason Dessens, but they don’t want separate lives in new places; they all want what only one of the Jasons has, and are willing to kill to switch places with him.
Discussion: We have all thought about the big “what ifs” in our lives and in the lives of others. How many accounts of 9/11 did we read in which a survivor asked in wonder, “What if I hadn’t decided to stop for a bagel that morning?” How about people who switched plane reservations at the last moment and the plane crashed? Or more mundanely, what if we had majored in law instead of in English? Or married our high school sweetheart instead of a guy we met years later? It’s fun to think about, and Crouch shows it can scary, too.
Evaluation: This was a little “out there” for me, but I appreciated the intellectual achievement.
Published by Crown Publishers, 2016