Ten finalists in Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition offer a lot to think about

Public vote opens to award a People’s Choice prize among stories that use quantum inspiration to create many worlds and explore human emotions

From just over 400 stories, 10 have emerged as finalists in the international Quantum Shorts flash fiction competition.

Quantum Shorts opened in October 2021 with a call for writers to think deeply about the many possibilities of quantum mechanics.  Writers responded by submitting just over 400 stories with intriguing worlds, plots and characters.  Each writer used not more than 1,000 words.  As an added challenge, they had to also include the constraint phrase “it’s a lot to think about” in their quantum-inspired stories.

The shortlisting judges, including EQUS Associate Investigator Dr Ben McAllister, judged the stories on the basis of their storytelling, creative use of the constraint phrase and connections to quantum physics.

Ben said the shortlisting process was challenging but very enjoyable, because of the quality of the entries.  “It was great to see so many different, creative interpretations of quantum effects.  Although I must say I’m also glad Schrödinger’s cat continues to inspire.  You could almost say it lives to die another day...”

The shortlisted stories took inspiration from various themes in quantum physics, including quantum computing, the many-worlds interpretation and the observer effect, to spin tales about demons, coronaviruses, cats and terrifying quantum games.  Some characters grapple with emotions such as loneliness and desperation, while others face life-changing decisions.

For their efforts, authors of the shortlisted stories have won a USD100 shortlist award and a one-year digital subscription to Scientific American.  They could win even more prizes as the judging panel decide the First Prize and Runner Up.  There is also an online public vote to decide the People’s Choice Prize, which is open until 21 March 2022.  Read the stories, hear from the authors and vote for your favourite at shorts.quantumlah.org.

EQUS is a scientific partner of Quantum Shorts, which is organised by the Centre for Quantum Technologies in Singapore and supported by media partners Scientific American and Nature.  Other scientific partners of the competition include the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies, the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter (IQIM)QuTech and the UK National Quantum Technologies Programme.

The ten shortlisted stories are, in alphabetical order:

  • A Tale of Two Viruses: written by Connie Chen, in an eerily familiar world, Evan’s search for a coronavirus vaccine has unintended consequences
  • A World Apart: Colm O’Shea explores the thought processes of a quantum processor
  • Better, Faster, Stronger, Lonelier: the classical–quantum debate is reframed by Álvaro Buendía in chat messages between a classical computer and a quantum computer
  • Demons Hunt in Darkness: S.G. Phillips tells a fantastical story about a demon-haunted world and a girl’s quest for a new way to live
  • Helping Hands: Cora Valderas’s story is a spooky warning to always be careful when handling quantum machinery
  • Lost and Found: Ana mysteriously finds children’s socks on her bed after moving into her new home in this story by Giancarla Aritao
  • Possible Cats: Michael Haiden confronts the issues that arrive with a dangerous and expensive new technology
  • Powers of Observation: with a speculative eye on the future, Charmaine Smith creates a powerful job that carries a cost
  • Quantum et Circenses: in this tale by Sabrina Patsch, participants in a race about strategy, courage and luck also have to contend with quantum effects
  • Quantum Luck: through the adventures of Captain Brinks, Brian Wells tells a story about quantum tunnelling, with a twist

Thanks to all writers who shared their stories and congratulations to the finalists!

Major funding support

Australian Research Council

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Engineered Quantum Systems (EQUS) acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present.