The infinitely cool Jobu Tupaki, hair braided in a dark ouroboros, pearls dripping from her eyes, clad in a shimmeringly ruffled and anachronistic white gown like some cosmic popess, the sum total of all the multiverse’s versions of herself—angry, gleeful, vicious, suicidal, sad, everything, everywhere, all at once—beckons us toward the dark hole in space and time, sucking all of existence into its nihilistic, multitudinous embrace: A bagel. An everything bagel.
We’re living in a multiverse moment. Or our corner of the multiverse is having a multiverse moment. This Sunday, the multiverse epic Everything Everywhere All at Once is up for eleven Oscars including Best Picture, and its team of writer/directors the Daniels (Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert) are up for best director and best original screenplay. And EEAAO is just one of a host of recent movies and TV shows whose plots depend on the existence of a multiverse. We have the Marvel Comics–affiliated Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Spider-Man: No Way Home, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the first seasons of Loki and What If . . . ?, and, just last month, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Later this year it is expected that we’ll get Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, the second seasons of Loki and What If . . . ?, and The Flash, DC’s foray into the multiverse. In genre fiction, we’ve had award-winning books like N. K. Jemisin’s Great Cities duology, Micaiah Johnson’s debut The Space Between Worlds, as well as Blue Neustifter’s viral Twitter short story “Unknown Number,” in which a trans woman gets a text from a pre-transition multiversion of herself—the first social-media thread to be nominated for a Hugo Award.
As sci-fi writer Ted Chiang has written, the rise of the multiverse represents a seismic change in narrative fiction. “For much of human history, stories reinforced the idea of fate,” Chiang argues. “They told us that events unfolded the way they did because of destiny or the will of God.” But the multiverse is not about destiny. Instead of showing how things must be, it imagines a place where all options are possible and equal, none better or more probable than the other, none more destined or fated.