Greetings, my loyal Sethnauts!
I’m sure you’ll all be thrilled and relieved to learn that I have a short story in the new issue of Tin House. The issue also features work by some exciting newcomers like Stephen King and C.K. Williams. Make sure to check it out!
Below I’ve included a quick excerpt from my contribution, Hello Again.
After a long and tumultuous expansion, the universe began to contract. The speed with which it had cast itself out was finally overpowered by the inward gravitational pull of its own suspended matter, and so the stars and planets paused like weary travelers before beginning to drift the long way back toward one another. They drew together in great clumps, colliding with such force that they collapsed into black holes. Thus, all of creation devoured itself and was compressed down to a region of incredible heat and density. This situation was altogether identical to the initial conditions that had preceded the big bang. And since there was nothing to prevent that happy explosion from recurring, the universe inevitably sprang forth once more in a cycle that was without end. If this activity could have been viewed as a whole over an impossible amount of time, it would have looked as if the universe were steadily breathing in and out, in and out, in and out.
What’s more, because the various components of the universe were always cast out in the same order and with the same amount of force, the next universe was always indistinguishable from the previous one. Every galaxy, every mountain range, every molecule was arranged in space and time as it had been in all the other countless iterations of the universe. Even something as seemingly accidental and haphazard as the human race was reproduced perfectly and without variation. People were born into bodies that were composed of the exact same matter they had been composed of hundreds of trillions of years earlier. They were born at the same times to the same mothers and ultimately lived out the same fates.
Though individuals could make choices that were entirely spontaneous and in keeping with their own natures, they encountered all the same circumstances at all the same moments with all their same internal frameworks, meaning their choices—though made freely—were always inevitably the same. Whether it was an unpunished murder or the discovery of penicillin, the people involved would hit their marks perfectly, performing their roles with the unwitting urgency that came from the assumption that one had never in a previous universe lived one’s life before. That is, until the human race’s understanding of the universe expanded to include the indisputable fact that the universe and everything in it was repeating, at which point humanity was thrown into a state of existential crisis.
After all, it did take some of the charm out of free will to know that every decision had already been made and would be made again and again ceaselessly. People’s most inconsequential and private behaviors were suddenly stretching off in both directions of time in a dizzying symmetry, so that even as they were astounded by the apparent vastness of their own existences they also began to feel robbed of themselves, deprived of all personal agency. In a way, the astrologists had been correct; an individual’s fate was no different than the position and movement of the heavenly bodies. Each well-reasoned or spur-ofthe-moment decision was just another projectile flying from the universe’s center, each person’s will caroming off space and time in a pattern that was determined billions of years ago by the manner in which all matter had been expelled.