|On Friday afternoon, coming home from school, Marian saw a woman leaning on the garden gate, smoking a cigarette and tapping her foot to the beat of the tiny earphones she wore. It was a fast song, by the look of it; or maybe she was just impatient. The woman looked familiar — far too reminiscent of Marian's mother, triggering a painful wrench in the gut of the kind Marian thought she'd outgrown. Her mother had died four years ago, just after Marian's eleventh birthday. For months afterward, Marian had been pummelled by echoes everywhere: she would see a purple-tinged hairstyle across the street, or hear the ringtone of her mother's old cellphone, and for a heart-stopping moment she'd think Mum was alive, and then have to remember all over again that she was gone, gone, gone.|
This story uses one of the classic tropes of science fiction — parallel worlds. As a child I read a lot of books by Andre Norton: she was my "gateway drug" into the SF genre. Her novel The Crossroads of Time introduced me to the idea that there existed different versions of the Earth, where history had taken different paths; and with a suitable technological gizmo, you could travel between all these alternate worlds.
Since then, I've always been fascinated by the concept, not least because of the enormous scope that arises from a simple basic premise. Anything can happen! As long as it could have happened, then somewhere it did happen. The possibilities are endless, and an author is free to focus upon any of them.
Given such a wide choice, it's perhaps natural that authors have often been drawn to gaudy, big-picture scenarios: Earths with radically different histories, based on different outcomes from major events such as World War II, the American Civil War, etc. My own story "The Scaffold" is of this type.
However, I think that small changes can be just as interesting as large changes. If there are many parallel worlds, then some of them will be very similar to our own, having only recently diverged. And it seems plausible to me that if the technology for travelling to parallel worlds is ever invented, then these similar worlds will be much easier to reach than the radically different ones (e.g. Earths where the dinosaurs survived), because they're "nearer". After all, in the realm of space travel, it is much easier to land on the Moon than it is to reach distant stars and galaxies.
The key aspect of these nearby parallel worlds is that they contain different versions of ourselves. In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, I would never have been born, so there is no "alternate" version of myself. However, in a world which diverged twenty years ago, there is a version of me who shares the same childhood, but who made different decisions in adulthood.
What if you could travel to worlds inhabited by your alternate selves? What if you could see how their lives had turned out? What if you'd made a decision that you later regretted — but another version of you had done things differently? That question was the starting point for this story.
A story can be based on an abstract premise, but it needs concrete details. The narrative required a specific decision and its consequences. I chose to write about a woman who'd had an abortion, and had subsequently become infertile. In one world, she was childless; in a parallel world, where the abortion didn't happen, she was a mother.
I created this situation because I wanted to write about a difficult decision, full of dramatic potential. The story is a character study; it's not a polemic about the issue of abortion itself. Readers shouldn't assume that they can infer anything about my own opinions from the content of the story.