What would you do if you discovered the multiverse and the means to travel from one universe to another? Why, you’d invite lots of your alter egos to a convention. This mind-bogglingly simple and yet very original premise starts a story that’s very personal, entertaining, and left me contemplating my current existence for a very long time.
Sarah Pinsker has a ton of other Sarah Pinskers join her together in a convention, in a hotel that is managed by none other than a Sarah Pinsker. The narrator is an insurance investigator, but the other Sarahs range from physicists (including the one who discovered the dimensional travel and a few that came close to the discovery), to DJs and musicians. They meet, get very confused how similar they are, and then one of them is killed. The narrator, being the closest thing to a detective, is tasked to find the murderer.
The narrative is not too important here, though. The story focuses on points of divergence between the various Sarahs. How they ended up in different places. Who they live with, where, and how happy they are. I don’t know anything about the author, but I got the strong feeling that this story was a biographical introspective: an examination of all the choices she made in her life, real, and maybe in some cases fictional. A few major external events also played a role, but they only served as a vehicle for the narrative.
The story is also endearing. Various Sarahs try to guess each others’ details, life and occupation. They also often act the same, down to their communication, which frustrates the investigator Sarah. Ultimately, however, the story doesn’t resolve. When the big reveal comes, the detective ends the narrative before the sentence against the murderer is pronounced. The narrator concludes that in a multiverse, other such conventions are surely taking place, and murderers get exposed, let go, or never found, as additional points of divergence. I’m getting the feeling that this may be the pattern with the author: she presented a similar non-conclusion in her Hugo-nominated novelette Wind Will Rove.
What I took from the story, however, is the very idea of my endless identities, each set on his own path from their points of divergence. This kept me awake for quite a few evenings, as I was reevaluating my life and thinking of where other decisions may have taken me. The story has also taught me that I’m more happy with my life than I deserve to be, given my conscious decisions. I haven’t read any of the other Hugo-nominated novellas this year, so I can’t judge whether this one deserves the prize. But I’m truly grateful I got to read this one.
The full story can be read here.