Interview: Paul Melko

Tell us a bit about your story.  What’s it about?

“Ten Sigmas” is about a massively-parallel human being whose consciousness exists in many universes at the same time. His quantum wave form doesn’t collapse, but instead allows him to share information among himselves, making him nearly omniscient in his local vicinity. A split second decision for him one day causes all his selves to slowly peal away until it is only a single instance trying to save a girl’s life.

What was the genesis of the story–what was the inspiration for it, or what prompted you to write it?

I have always been fascinated with parallel universe stories. I combined that idea with the idea that a fundamental particle’s exact position can’t be determined, that it exists in a probability function. Though the probably is very low, the particle could exist in some very weird locations.  What if a person existed as a probability function? What if every quantum decision he made split off a new universe, but he remained aware of split self?

Was this story a particularly challenging one to write? If so, how?

Explaining the idea while telling an interesting story was the hardest part of this one.  It’s easy for science fiction writers to become enamored of the what-if and forget character and plot.

Most authors say all their stories are personal.  If that’s true for you, in what way was this story personal to you?

One of the things my protagonist does is steal stories and music from other universes and passes those off as his own.  This speaks in some way to the self-doubt that a writer feels.  Is this story really unique? Or did I just twist a bit of the literature gestalt in some mundane way?  Am I just riding the coattails of every other writer and not really doing anything new or interesting?

What are some of your favorite examples of parallel worlds or portal fantasies (in any media), and what makes them your favorites?

My favorite parallel universe books are those in Philip Jose Farmer’s World of Tier series. Farmer’s multiverse is composed of a series of pocket universes, created by a race of technologically superior humans called Lords. Each Lord lives in his or her own created universe, each with its own rules of physics. The Lords come to find out however that their own home universe was created too. These book are pure science adventure fun, but the idea of engineered pocket universes remained with me since and in some way informs my own Walls of the Universe series.