LARRY NIVEN “All the Myriad Ways.” Short story. First published in Galaxy SF, October 1968. First reprinted in Worlds of Maybe, edited by Robert Silverberg (Thomas Nelson, hardcover, 1970). First collected as the title story in All the Myriad Ways (Ballantine, paperback original, 1971). Nominated for a Hugo, 1969.

   “There were timelines branching and branching, a mega-universe of universes, millions more every minute. Billions? Trillions? Trimble didn’t understand the theory, though God knows he’d tried. The universe split every time someone made a decision. Split, so that every decision ever made could go both ways. Every choice made by every man, woman and child on Earth was reversed in the universe next door. It was enough to confuse any citizen, let alone Detective-Lieutenant Gene Trimble, who had other problems.”

   Thus begins one of SF writer Larry Niven’s better known short stories. One of Niven’s strong points as a writer has always been to take complicated scientific ideas and incorporate them into stories that make the commonplace and easy.

   (If you were to ask me what science is involved in the concept of parallel worlds such as outlined above, I’d have to shrug my shoulders and say, “Quantum physics? Maybe??”)

   No matter. The idea of alternate realities branching off from each other has been around for a long time and not only in SF stories. What makes this one kind of unique is that Niven places it in a world in which an epidemic of suicides is taking place. The latest of these is that of the head of Crosstime Corporation which has found a way to transverse these myriad worlds and bring back inventions in those worlds which haven’t yet come to fruition in his own, making him fabulously wealthy.

      [WARNING: Plot details ahead.]

   Niven postulates that faced with worlds in which every choice made in making a decision of any kind, mankind is beginning to feel that there is no point in making choices of any kind, and that suicide is the only solution.

   It’s an interesting idea, but I’m not so sure about that. Right now, in this world, we don’t have the option of traveling across time, but the likelihood of me, say, jumping off a tall building because I no longer feel as though any decision I make is moot, is awfully slim, to say the least. But as food for thought, “All the Myriad Ways” really has me thinking about it. It’s too bad that I’m not a SF writer to put some of these thoughts into words. But I’m working on it.

Rating: Five stars.