Bishop O’Connell is the author of the American Faerie Tale series, a consultant, writer, blogger, and lover of kilts and beer, as well as a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Born in Naples Italy while his father was stationed in Sardinia, Bishop grew up in San Diego, CA where he fell in love with the ocean and fish tacos.
After wandering the country for work and school (absolutely not because he was in hiding from mind controlling bunnies), he settled Richmond VA, where he writes, collects swords, revels in his immortality as a critically acclaimed “visionary” of the urban fantasy genre, and is regularly chastised for making up things for his bio. He can also be found online at A Quiet Pint (aquietpint.com), where he muses philosophical on life, the universe, and everything, as well as various aspects of writing and the road to getting published.
Blog – https://aquietpint.com/
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is Arthur C. Clarke’s third law, and it regularly inspires me. That might sound strange coming from a fantasy author, but I see the “possible” as the edge of a reader’s suspension of disbelief; and that’s one of my favorite places to live. It wasn’t too long ago that only science fiction authors could reasonably find a safe haven there. With advancements in technology and science—and their dissemination to the public—things that were believed impossible became impossible right now: faster than light travel, energy based weapons, intergalactic communications, etc. Of course said feats had to be wrapped in the cloak of technology and science. Remove said cloak and you’re left with nakedly fantastical, and most assuredly impossible. But it seemed to me that this was all just a matter of semantics. What if elves, dwarves, faeries, and the like were just a different kind of alien? What if magical effects were simply a process we couldn’t explain scientifically…yet. Could there be science-fantasy?
Enter quantum mechanics. This—relatively—recent field of study, and the discoveries being made, turn everything we understand about the universe on its head. Concepts like wave-particle duality, superposition, entanglement, and the uncertainty principle defy logic. As our understanding of the universe expands, the lines blur between not just science fiction and science fact, but also science and fantasy. It was my fascination with quantum mechanics that provided a huge inspiration for my book, The Forgotten. When I learned about the double-slit experiment, the premise of a main character began to take shape. To grossly oversimplify the experiment: if you shoot particles at a screen through two slits, you would expect to see two stripes on the screen, mimicking the slits. But you don’t, not even if you send the particles through one at a time. Instead, you see an interference pattern of many alternating bars. That means that individual particles are actually behaving like waves and interfering with themselves. However, when you place detectors at the slits to see what’s happening, the interference waves go away and you get two straight lines, matching the two slits. The particles cease to exist as waves of probability—existing in all possible locations at the same time—and coalesce into a single location (particle), just by observing them. This was mind blowing on its own, but then I learned that if detectors are set anywhere after the two slits, you get the same results as you would if you’d set them before the slits. This means you can change what the particle behaved as before it passed through the slits by observing them AFTER they passed through the slits. Take a second to let your mind wrap around that concept.
To me, this was an open door to a new kind of magic. I knew very early on that I wanted my main character, Wraith, to be a homeless teenager. After learning about the double-slit experiment, I decided to also make her a mathematical genius, and use that genius to perform her magic. But how? Well, the aforementioned experiment shows that observing can change the outcome. What if it was the observer, rather than just the act of observing, that caused this? That would mean that we’re actually, unconsciously, altering reality. The next logical question was: could someone do so consciously, and to what extent? And if they could, how would this be distinguishable from magic? After all, can’t every magical effect be explained scientifically? Teleportation? There is already teleportation on the quantum level, and on the macro level Einstein-Rosen Bridges (worm holes) are becoming increasingly common in science fiction. Throwing fireballs? Well fire is just an effect that happens when particles reach an energy level that generates sufficient heat to combust a fuel. Moving things with magic (telekinesis)? Electromagnetism is used all over the world to move trains without any physical contact. It’s all theoretically possible, or rather not theoretically impossible. Sure, some of those effects require vast amounts of energy, more than we can dream of generating. But there are unimaginable amounts of energy all around us; the gravitational force of dark matter, and dark energy for example. We just don’t know how to utilize them…yet.
I decided Wraith would see the waves of probability all around us in the form of equations and symbols (the quantum information of reality). With conscious effort, she can alter those equations, thus changing the probability of specific outcomes and, in turn, the very nature of reality itself; the double-slit experiment on superman-steroids. Her math skills would allow her to figure out how the quantum information needed to be changed to bring about a specific result. Voila, a magic system based entirely around math and quantum mechanics. She isn’t teleporting, she’s causing a change in her own quantum state, ceasing to exist in one location and beginning to existing in another. She doesn’t hurls bolts of force, it’s a collection of bosons—the particle that gives everything mass—propelled using electromagnetism. Clearly the possibilities are practically limitless. Never cross a girl who is good at math.
Of course, there’s a downside to this ability. Could someone with this kind of power still have a firm grasp on reality? Could the human mind even manage such a thing? And because I’m a writer and we love to torment our characters, what if she already had little more than a tenuous grasp on reality to begin with? Who we are is defined by our actions, our thoughts, and the impact they have on the world around us. If reality itself was less like a bedrock foundation and more like a giant sand dune—shifting and ever changing—how would she define herself? How would she know who she was? And that’s exactly the question Wraith has to face. Additionally, she isn’t sure how she attained this ability or even how to control it. All the while, street kids—her friends and peers—are vanishing, some turning up dead. And because the homeless are an easily ignored class of people, no one is really taking notice. That means if she doesn’t do something, no one will. But what will the cost be? Assuming she can even do it.
It’s possible these kinds of questions speak my own tenuous grasp on reality, but luckily I’m a writer, which means I’m eccentric, not crazy.