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"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.


Joe is a librarian, guide, and writer living off the grid in Haines, Alaska--but he still has an electric bass guitar. His award-winning essays and articles have appeared on The Dirtbag Diaries, Taproot, Intrepid Times, in a recent essay collection, and elsewhere. Find his work here: https://jaultmanmoore.wordpress.com/publications-2/ and on Instagram @joeaultmoore.

In this, the best of all possible universes, we have the Heisenberg certainty principle.
In the Heisenberg certainty principle, one predicts exactly how the measurement of the position of a particle will change its velocity and how the measurement of the velocity of a particle will change its position.
The question always changes the answer. But if you know how a question will change the questioned, you can predict all possible answers. If you can predict all possible answers, you can build a computer that asks all possible questions. We'll finally be able to understand the structure and history of the universe back to the Big Bang, the physics of expansion, the precipitation of matter, the genesis of consciousness. In a deterministic universe, particle physics is everything from the birth of stars to falling in love.
And that is why we are dedicated to the building of the God Machine.
The God Machine has been the work of two generations already, and we are almost ready to switch it on. When we do, the God Machine will measure precisely the position and velocity of every particle in the universe and, according to the Heisenberg certainty principle, will also predict how its own act of measurement will change the particle. The model generated by the God Machine will be a unified theory of everything that has ever happened, is happening and will ever happen in the universe.
The day arrives, the most important day in the history of science--perhaps the most important in the history of the human race. Leaders from countries all over the world arrive, planeloads of journalists and TV crews. Speeches are made, ribbons cut, champagne popped, awards given. It seems every famous person in the world wants their name attached to the God Machine.
Finally, a hush falls. Camera crews hover silently around the team of physicists and computer scientists as they run the last of a series of checks on the God Machine and on the power plant, the size of a small city. The lead physicist hovers his finger over the button. "When I push this button," he says to a camera, "the human race finally passes from adolescence into adulthood." His finger moves down.
A series of clicks and a deep bass hum, like whale-song from within the earth. No one is sure it is working until the lead physicist suddenly laughs and throws his hat into the air. The data is coming in. The team hugs and weeps and they are carried bodily through the ecstatic crowd like kings or rockstars.
The God Machine calculates and collates for a year. The scientists and everyone involved win every award that can get pinned on them, get book deals, documentaries, and TV appearances. The quote about the human race passing into adulthood is published over and over.
And in another celebration of epic fanfare, the team brings out the models of the universe.
The scientists are haggard, bone-thin. They look like they haven't slept or shaved. The camera crews crowd around and the scientists cringe. In a ragged voice, the lead physicist speaks, "The God Machine works perfectly. The model shows that the universe is shrinking."
Stunned confusion. A famous astronomer in the audience stands up, "The Machine is broken--dozens have independently measured the redshift of distant galaxies and proven beyond any doubt that the universe is expanding--it's one of the most well-established results in modern cosmology!"
"Yes," the lead physicist says hoarsely.
"So the universe is expanding?"
"It was," replies the physicist.
"What the hell does that mean?" asks the astronomer
"The question always changes the answer."
"And what the hell does that mean?"
"By measuring everything, we changed everything. Perhaps the critical density of the universe changed, stalled the kinetic energy--there's an interesting theory that the quantum measurement changed the vacuum energy constant--"
"What are you telling us?"
"The universe we modeled is fundamentally different than before we switched on the Machine. The universe is contracting."
"So we're headed for the Big Crunch now?"
"But that won't happen for, like, billions of years, right?" a cameraman blurts out.
"The universe won't recollapse to a singularity for fourteen billion years, but," the lead physicist's face twitches. "But, ah, the contraction velocity will change the spectra of incoming energy. Constant expansion kept the heat and light from the Big Bang stretched to the low end of the spectrum--redshift. Now it's reversed, squeezed to the high-energy spectrum--blueshifted. In a decade or so we'll notice that the night isn't quite so dark; cities won't be able to tell against the light pollution. But the contraction will accelerate and the brightness will drastically increase."
"How drastically?"
"About two hundred thousand suns."
Convulsion of gasps through the conference room. "How long? How long?"
"Ah, still calculating, modeling--"
"How long?"
"Blueshift, eh, coefficient--"
"How long?"
Another scientist in the back bursts out, "A hundred years from now, the oceans will be boiling!"
The God Machine is humming again. We have no choice now but to keep asking, trying to change the answer.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, November 29th, 2022

Author Comments

I came up with the premise of "Blueshift" while doing an Intro to Cosmology through Great Courses. I love how cosmology blows your perceptions inside out; it feels like for a moment you're touching the ragged edge of the strangeness of everything. One idea that stuck in my mind was the observer effect--that measuring something changes it. It suggests that there's some "hidden" reality that changes every time we look at it, and also that if we could somehow take a big enough measurement, we could change the nature of reality. The world of this story is extra hubristic (they have the Heisenberg certainty principle, after all) but it does sometimes feel like we're living in an era of "God Machines."

The "blueshift apocalypse" at the end is based on real estimates of what the brightness of the cosmic microwave background would be if the universe were not expanding. (It's accelerating--we're headed for the Big Freeze, not the Big Crunch.) The idea that the universe could be cooked by the heat and light from the initial birth of the universe is the stuff of nightmares--and short stories.

- Joe Aultman-Moore
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