Terminal Café

The New Nature of the Multiverse

A Quantum Fiction

What if time is like an ever-branching tree with countless possible futures? If each decision we make effects the future then there must be an infinite number of futures. In the river-of-time concept the future is immutable. If, on the way to work in the morning, we decide to take the bus instead of the tube and are killed in a bus accident, then that death was predestined. But if time is ever-branching then there are two futures - one in which we die in the accident and another in which we live on, having taken the tube. It therefore follows consistently, or at least consistently to a science fiction author's mind, that if there are an infinite set of futures - there must then be an infinite set of pasts as well.
- Harry Harrison, quoted in The Entropy Exhibition.

In a very specific sense, Moorcock's fiction is structured by some of the theories that have been suggested in the realm of Quantum Mechanics, and particularly Chaos Theory. This is particularly notable in his later works, especially in the War Amongst the Angels series. Every one of Moorcock's books are set within the Multiverse, whether this is stated explicitly within the particular book or not.

Before progressing to more theoretical examination of the Multiverse, it would be useful to examine the origins of the Multiverse through Moorcock's own words.

Whether or not the great Welsh poet and philosophical novelist John Cowper Powys invented "the Multiverse" some thirty-five years ago isn't particularly important, since Powys's mighty romantic mind had much more elevated discursive and philosophical uses for the concept.

I developed the idea from lowlier origins - from Rigger Haggard and Robert E. Howard - in an effort to bring what I hoped was increased sophistication, subtler metaphor, to science fiction storytelling. I came up with the term itself in a story called The Sundered Worlds published in Science Fiction Adventures in 1962. The idea of a "quasi-infinite" series of interlocking worlds, each a fraction different from the next, where millions of versions of our realities are played out, fascinated me from the age of seventeen, when I had drafted the first version of what was to become The Eternal Champion. This was the story of an "ordinary" individual who finds himself playing out his life's drama in a far wider and more dramatic setting than anyone might reasonably expect or demand. By 1965, when I was writing the Jerry Cornelius stories, I put the notion to more obvious literary and satirical uses, but for me by then the Multiverse had already assumed physical reality.
"Welcome to My Multiverse" Michael Moorcock's Multiverse. Issue 1 (1997)

So what actually is the Multiverse? It should probably be said that it will be necessary to do away with much Newtonian physics (if you haven't already) if we are ever to visualise the Multiverse successfully. In fact, much of the Western conception of reality needs to be modified, if not ditched to house the concept of the Multiverse.

The first port of call is the concept of "an infinite number of realities", beginning with a short science lesson. In 1881, a physicist named Thomas Young, shone a light through a board that had two parallel slits on it, through to a screen. When he let the light through only one slit, he could see a single beam of light. When he shone the light through both, though, he got a fluctuating pattern of waves on the screen. In effect, each beam of light was spreading out in ripples like in a pond, creating an "interference pattern". This proved that light was made up of waves. But there was (and is) a problem - much of the technology we use today (lasers, video cameras) relies on the fact that light is made up of photons (matter particles). So is light made up of particles or waves?

An experiment was devised to shoot a single photon through a similar two-slit board situation, through a random slit. Even when a single photon passes through one of the two slits, we still get a wave pattern. The conclusion? The photon goes through each slit simultaneously. There are many ways of explaining this, but one person, Hugh Everett (and later David Deutsch) put forward the theory of "parallel universes". The photon emerges from a single place and then passes through one slot in one parallel universe and the other in another parallel universe.

Even though this is not the origin of Moorcock's conception of the Multiverse, it is eerily similar - in fact, virtually identical. Characters in Moorcock's books may not have a similar origin like the above mentioned photon, they certainly do interact and effect each other in a kind of wave pattern.

I had no charts of my Multiverse, no overall schemes, no massive histories or complicated genealogies and few maps. It simply existed in my mind. If I visualised it at all, it was a vast, multifaceted diamond, rather like the structure of my more ambitious literary fiction. As I wrote more stories, they somehow came to fit into the Multiverse, as well as the ongoing tale of the Eternal Champion. The Multiverse was thoroughly in my HEAD, clearly visualised, if not described.

Later, when Mandelbrot and Chaos math came along, it was wonderful for me. I said it was like being given a set of Randy MacNally maps for my own brain! Anyone who considers themselves even modestly educated should be familiar with at least Gleick's Chaos, the best popular book on the subject.
- "Welcome to My Multiverse" Michael Moorcock's Multiverse. Issue 1 (1997)

Only some people in Moorcock's fiction are able to perceive realities outside their own, but it still plays a large part in the structure and plot of most of the books.

The Multiverse… is a multitude of alternate universes intersecting sometimes with our own and to which, of course, our own belongs - an infinite number of slightly different versions of reality in which one is likely to come across a slightly different version of oneself. In its more sophisticated use this enables me to deal in non-linear terms with versions of perception, to make, in the few didactic books I've written, certain simplified models of ideal worlds to show, I hope, what these worlds might in certain aspects be like (The Warlord of the Air, etc.) and by what particular injustices they might be maintained. And by using these devices to connect one book with another I hope to look at a number of different aspects of the same theme while firmly linking the most outrageous fables with our experience of this 'real' world we share.
Introduction to The Eternal Champion. London: Millennium, 1995.

To be continued!