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Posts Tagged ‘Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen’

Mooching around the house on the week-long winter break, reading the books I received for Christmas, eating too many cookies, staring out into the rain dripping off the eaves, playing board games and thinking about the strange universe that surrounds us like a secret ocean.

This was the year of weird science, when the source of gravity was looked for in the biggest science experiment of all time and maybe located in the collision of smashed particles, when the speed of light was exceeded, maybe, and the laws of the last century overturned.

This was the year when it was confirmed that plants use quantum physics to turn sunlight into energy, bringing the spooky actions of subatomic particles into the realm of living things where it might explain the hard problem of why we are conscious and what is free will.

This was the year when the multiverse, a science fiction trope for half a century, may have become the mainstream explanation for the accelerating expansion of the universe and the existence of the dark energy that is driving it.

One of the books I’ve been reading over the winter break contains a science fiction story by H. Beam Piper from the early 1950s about the multiverse, parallel worlds that are sometimes like our own and sometimes far different. When I first read the story I was in high school in Virginia and had never heard of the sleepy town of Bellefonte, or the brooding presence of Mt. Nittany, or of Rockview, the prison where the hero of the tale is stationed as a Pennsylvania state trooper. Strange in a personal way to be living in the landscape of Lord Kalvan of Otherwhen and tracing his travels on the alternate world that has the same geography as our own but a far different history.

The difference between this year and the year I first read the story is that what was far-fetched when I was a boy is now accepted, if reluctantly, by Nobel physicists. Strange universes are folded into inaccessible geometries that rub against our own. Next to my elbow, another middle-aged writer sits typing, only the letters are strange and the typewriter is old fashioned, with a ribbon and platen. Or maybe the next universe is dead, a place with a wee bit too much dark energy in which the stars never formed and the table of the elements stopped at two. We may be the only universe out of an almost infinite number of parallel universes that has just the right rules to allow you and me to dream about other worlds and to write about them.

I don’t know if there is any use in knowing things that you can’t do anything about, like universes twisted into tiny vibrating strings, or that our Sun will one day turn red and swollen and swallow the Earth in a gaseous belch. It should make us fall on our knees in awe and terror, and hug every sentient being on the planet in sheer joy at our good luck at being in a world with water and sunlight. Instead, we are like heedless passengers on a crewless ship in the ocean of night, squabbling over who gets the deck chairs as we sail through infinity.

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