Edmund Jorgensen is the author of the book, Speculation, which I absolutely loved, so I was looking forward with great anticipation to see what he came up with in his latest offering, a book of stories primarily about alternate universes or other dimensions, and our participation or involvement in them.
First off, let me say that I am not the best person to be talking about a story collection. I usually don’t care for the story form; it is too short for my taste, and so many of them seem truncated and oddly paced. But that is just me. My husband reads primarily short stories — that form is the perfect length for him. So having said that, this is what I think about Other Copenhagens.
For me — and keep in mind this is just ME and my Never So Humble Opinion — I thought three of the five stories in the collection, though interesting and with some offbeat premises, could have benefited from a longer form — a book length for each, although even a novella would have improved things. I found too much ‘telling and not enough showing’, as the how-to-write-fiction manuals ramble on about. The tales seemed to be uncompleted (non-completed? incompleted? oh, you know what I mean) ideas, drafts for a longer work. It felt like the author had this index card file of great book ideas and either didn’t know where to go with the storylines, or lost interest in them for a book length work, so hacked these plotlines into suitable lengths for the short story form, put them together in one volume and called it done.
In the first story, The Art of Losing, a woman seems to have a doppleganger, but by the time I could wrap my mind around what was going on, boom! — the story ended. Hey! I was just getting into the whole idea.
The second story, And Not Your Yellow Hair, had possibilities, but was just too short to develop those possibilities, and so the ending felt like: “and then, and then and then, and finally”. Everything in that story happened way too fast, and every character was some kind of trope or metaphor as supporting structure for the main character.
Future Perfect brings back some of the characters from the first story, and it was OK but too short, too abrupt.
Now the third story, Slices of Pi, was delightful, and felt just the right length. Much longer and the whole phraseology of it would have become too tedious to bear. Kind of like a Saturday Night Live skit that goes on way past the point where you are still chuckling.
And the final, and title story of the collection, Other Copenhagens, was also just about right. Well, no, perhaps a longer version or a novella length might have improved the pacing just a smidge. It takes its title from a chunk of quantum mechanics:
Werner Heisenberg, [a German theoretical physicist working in the early part of the 20th century, put forth a theory of] quantum uncertainty about whether the electron’s spin is up or down; he says it is not an uncertainty in the nature of the universe, but in the measurement of the universe. Observations at quantum scale are just so difficult that they can only be described as probabilities. This is the so-called Copenhagen Interpretation, named for the city in which Heisenberg proposed it.
So if you are guessing that uncertainty has a part to play in this final story, you would be right. At least in this world. Perhaps in another world, you would be totally wrong. And just how many other worlds are there? Perhaps an infinite number of them. Perhaps not. Perhaps only one other world. Perhaps when you make a choice, it splits the universe, and one set of consequences of your choice play out in this world — you die, say,– and a totally different set of consequences play out in the split off universe. So suppose in that other world where you don’t die as a result of your choice, you chose again, and again the universe splits and again you die in one of the universes. And on and on and on. You keep making a choice and you keep dying. Quantum suicide.
This is a thought experiment developed independently by Hans Moravec in 1987 and then Bruno Marchal in 1988. It all has to do with attempts to distinguish between the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics and the Everett many-worlds interpretation by means of a variation of the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment, from the cat’s point of view. See? Cats. Kittehs. I knew you would like it.
In that all of the stories have something to do with quantum mechanics/physics and lots of woo-woo quantum speculation, I loved them. I am such a sucker for quantum fiction. You remember when I talked about quantum fiction, right? HERE. Just to refresh your fading memory. Or maybe actually you remember it quite well in another universe. It is only in this universe that you are scratching your head, muttering, “What the heck is she rabbiting on about?”
One last observation: although I was disappointed in the collection because I didn’t feel the work lived up to the author’s promising potential evidenced in Speculation, he still gets full marks for pushing the boundaries of what the average reader might be willing to deal with. Stories are easy. Ideas are hard. And these stories are all about Ideas. Difficult to grasp ideas.
In order to be absolutely fair, I asked my husband — the Short Story Guy — to give it a read. He loved it. So there. Don’t pay any attention to me.