A Semi-Autobiographical SF/F Mystery Novella
July 3, 2017 7:33 PM   Subscribe

"And Then There Were (N - One)" by Sarah Pinsker (Uncanny, March/April 2017): "... Four months later, I flew to Nova Scotia, took a bus to a seaside town too small for a dot on a map, boarded a ferry to Secord Island, and stepped through the waiting portal into an alternate-reality resort hotel lobby swarming with ..." Q&A with the author.

Related: Pinsker's Nebula sitting on a shelf with Letters to Tiptree (previously) and How to Live on Other Planets: A Handbook for Aspiring Aliens (an anthology edited by MeFi's own joannemerriam). See also: Octavia Butler's lost parables.
posted by Wobbuffet (22 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite
What a fun story. The Q&A is also really interesting in the way that it goes into the development of the story.
posted by fever-trees at 10:30 PM on July 3

One person lived in a world where dogs had been rendered extinct by a virus.

This hit me surprisingly hard, for some reason. I don't even have a dog.
posted by Literaryhero at 1:37 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]

Sarah's own website has links to many of her stories, as well as podcasts, news, info about her music, and other amazing stuff.
posted by newdaddy at 3:06 AM on July 4

This hit me surprisingly hard, for some reason.

I'm pretty sure it's a Connie Willis reference: The Last of the Winnebagos is set in a world where that happened, and some (all?) of her time travel novels (most notably, To Say Nothing of the Dog) are set in a world where cats similarly went extinct.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 5:59 AM on July 4 [4 favorites]

This is hands down both the best many-worlds story and the best author insertion story I have ever read. If there is any justice in this timeline Ms. Pinsker will soon have a pair of Nebula awards.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:58 AM on July 4

As an adoptee, this reminds me of aspects of the ongoing experience of meeting my biological family over the past five years. Growing up one wonders who those people might be, and what one would be like raised in the social context of that particular alternate reality, and of course one imagines many divergent scenatios.
posted by mwhybark at 9:06 AM on July 4 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed this. I fantasize fairly often about what alternate-reality versions of myself might be doing, based on various decision points in my life. I like to think that most of them have more money.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:12 AM on July 4

This is a great story. Look forward to checking out the author and the Q&A
posted by The River Ivel at 1:15 PM on July 4

I had typed out a humongous, point-by-point rant about a very minor quibble, but here's the gist: Writers, if for some arbitrary reason you must set your story on a Canadian island of mystery, go with the other coast. They actually have those there.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:15 PM on July 4 [1 favorite]

if for some arbitrary reason you must set your story on a Canadian island of mystery, go with the other coast.

There is no shortage of islands north of Seattle, and the author's history in Seattle and the annihilation of Seattle via the non-portable known threat of an earthquake/tsunami in some timelines were central elements in the story.
posted by Bringer Tom at 1:22 PM on July 4

Brilliant. As one of those people who frequently finds herself diving down the multiverse rabbithole, I found this to be very compelling. Good solid writing, interesting premise...they kind of thing that attracted me to speculative fiction in the first place. Thanks for posting.
posted by Nancy_LockIsLit_Palmer at 2:06 PM on July 4

the annihilation of Seattle

Four thousand fatalities, if I recall, unless there are greater losses in other timelines. So it's that timeline's 9/11, if I may. I don't think we know how big that Seattle was, that never recovered, but... perhaps annihilation is overinterpreting, both within and without the story?

That said, the quibble of holding SarahCon on a fictional Canadian island in the general locale of the last province of Canada to come aboard... We welcome the next SarahCon, hopefully to be held in the San Juans.
posted by mwhybark at 9:41 PM on July 4

So if there are infinite universes, that means there are infinite quantologists who discovered how to open these doors, right? And also infinite universes where they didn't. So this Sarah got exactly one invitation to the party, but if there were infinite Sarahs inviting infinite Sarahs, shouldn't she have gotten an infinite number of invitations?
posted by Literaryhero at 10:54 PM on July 4

> "... shouldn't she have gotten an infinite number of invitations?"

That's actually covered in the story.

I seem to be in the minority in that, while I found the premise super-interesting and was riveted at the beginning, I found the mystery-story aspects of it so clunky in the writing that I eventually lost interest and just started skimming.
posted by kyrademon at 2:38 AM on July 5

That's actually covered in the story.

I don't want to be a hassle, but I just reread it and I'm not seeing it. Am I missing something?
posted by Literaryhero at 4:58 AM on July 5

The way I saw it was - there's an infinite number of Sarah R0D0s out there, and each one sends out about 500-1000 invitations (guessing from the fact that over 200 Sarahs attend). But there are way more than a thousand non-R0D0s for every R0D0, so the chance of any individual Sarah getting even one invitation is really low.
posted by moonmilk at 8:53 AM on July 5

> "I don't want to be a hassle, but I just reread it and I'm not seeing it. Am I missing something?"

It was more by implication than directly:

"This conference exists in infinite variations: some where I invited a different group of Sarahs, some where you chose a different dessert, where you sat next to someone else at dinner, some where my friend Sarah is still with us."

So it acknowledges that there are infinite conferences. But couple that with the logical conclusions stemming from the R/D number designations and the makeup of the Sarahs present, and you get moonmilk's observation.

Think of it this way:

Prime numbers all simultaneously decide to have threesomes! Each prime number invites the two numbers on either side of it.

There are infinite prime numbers, and double that number of invites are given out, so certainly an infinite number of invitations is issued. Nonetheless, it's exceedingly rare for a nonprime number to get more than one invite, and no nonprime number at all gets more than two invites.
posted by kyrademon at 9:23 AM on July 5

Leaving aside the convoluted question of whether the infinity of conferences is even of the same order as the infinity of Sarahs, there's another consideration. If each decision Sarah makes is a divergence point, then for every invitation R0D0 Sarah sent, there's a divergence of R0D0 Sarah who did not send that invitation. So does that mean that for each recipient of a conference invitation from R0D0 Sarah, for instance our narrator-investigator-Sarah, there might be a divergence for THAT Sarah, one who did not get an invitation?
posted by solotoro at 11:32 AM on July 5

Oog, that suggests a complication. In the months after Sarah gets an invitation, she's gonna diverge into billions or infinite variations, all of which have an invitation. There will also be many or infinite variations of the inviter and the conference hotel by then, but how do we get it all sorted out? Probably better not to think too hard about it!
posted by moonmilk at 12:36 PM on July 5 [1 favorite]

"What did you call a three-dimensional rectangle, anyway?"

This cracked me up.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 3:49 PM on July 5

> I had typed out a humongous, point-by-point rant about a very minor quibble, but here's the gist: Writers, if for some arbitrary reason you must set your story on a Canadian island of mystery, go with the other coast. They actually have those there.

Oh. You're from that timeline.

I'm so sorry.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:58 PM on July 5

The west coast isn't exactly lacking in islands. If you mean more people usually live on them because it's an area with a stronger economy, that really does seem an odd quibble for a future SF story.
posted by tavella at 11:50 AM on July 6

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