Parallel Universes

Doc Rampage has posted an interesting comment on the idea of the concept of a multiverse in Science Fiction writing.

How can there be drama when you know that by hypothesis of the story, every good thing that happens is accompanies by an infinite number of grotesquely evil things that happen? How can you even have moral choices? Sure, the hero can save this damsel, but then he is condemning some other damsel in the possible world where he didn’t save her. Why not let his own world be the one where she is not saved, thereby letting some other him in another world live happily ever after and taking the tragic consequences himself? Wouldn’t that be the noble action?

In a multiverse where everything that is possible is real, nothing real matters.

I wanted to make a couple comments on this idea. First, I disagree that in a multiverse nothing really matters. In fact, all that really matters in any story is what the author chooses to tell us. In John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War the author uses the concept of a multiverse to explain interstellar travel. Someone has invented a device that pushes a starship into another universe. With the concept that there are an infinite number of possibilities, there exists a universe where the the ship will appear in the desired location, and the story continues following that character. There is little chance that through this method the ship, or character, would ever return to their ‘original’ universe since the concept is that only a nearby universe can be jumped to. The more time that goes by, the greater the divergence is between universes, and the less likely it is you will jump back to the one you came from.

While this concept took me a while to get my head around, I think it is a great use of the idea of alternative universes. In fact, when you really think about it, any fiction is already a world of infinite possibilities. An author creates their own universe based on the decisions they make. In the example of the damsel, hero and train, the author creates the world where the damsel is saved or lost – the only thing that ultimately matters is the story that’s put down to the paper.

Lawrence-Watt Evans, whose essay On Infinite Possibilities Doc references in his post, discusses the folly of attempting to write a story that diverges from any particular point in history (past, present or future).

Choosing one particular variant is all very well for fictional purposes, I suppose–but for me, it turns the story into pure fantasy. I have nothing against fantasy, but most alternate histories strike me as a rather drab sort of fantasy. That’s why I haven’t written very many, and why I declined invitations to submit stories to Mike Resnick’s other “Alternate” anthologies.

Using this reasoning, doesn’t all fiction become ‘fantasy’? Isn’t every story based on the concept of taking a character from a starting point and creating a world he or she lives in?

Sounds to me like the difficulty comes when an author attempts to create their own universe, at least one that is predicated on the one we live in. A story that is set in the world we live in, and just focuses on the activities of the characters is fine. Likewise, a story that exists in a world that never is or was connected to ours is also fine, although that is obviously pure fantasy. Otherwise, I don’t see how it matters if there are infinite possibilities, or just the one the author creates. The result is the same – it diverges from ours and becomes a fantasy story.

Jericho – NUTS

Jericho fans are trying to send CBS a message – NUTS!

For those of you not familiar with the show, Jake’s grandfather told him a WWII war story where the Allied General in a hopeless situation was offered surrender by the Germans. Rather than surrender, the General sent back a one word reply – NUTS. Jake then used the same response to the leader of a neighboring town that invades Jericho in the final episode of the season (series).

Looks like Jericho fans want to use the same message on CBS and are sending nuts to the programming execs.

As a side note, I found out about this from a post on Quiet Earth – a blog, apparently based right here in Northern Colorado, largely dedicated to Post Apocalyptic fiction.

The Day After

As part of the Sci Fi channel's Thanksgiving Weekend programming they aired the 1983 Made-for-TV movie The Day After.

For those of you not familiar with this movie, it was a Reagan era nuclear war protest movie showing the worst potential results of a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Russians. As horriffic as a mutual assured destruction scenario would be, this movie is exceedingly bleak due to the utter dispair of the characters in the story. As the movie winds down there is absolutely no hope for any kind of future. American citizens completely revert to a primtive state – a little over the top, but it was the 80's.

In 1983 I was 11 years old, in the sixth grade. I remember distinctly the original broadcast of The Day After – primarily because my parents wouldn't let us watch it. It was a big deal at the school. I don't remember now if the teachers were advocating watching the movie, or just responding to the questions of the students, but it was the talk of the school for several days. Of course, I was the only one of my friends who didn't get to see it, not that I fault my parents for that. It probably wasn't good viewing material for an 11 year old.

The biggest thing that struck me as I watched this classic piece of cold war media was how much our world has changed. From the 1950s to the 1980s the whole world lived under the spectre of a nuclear attack that could have destroyed civilization as we know it. Now, the worst that we could possibly picture is a single madman setting off a single device, probably closer to a dirty bomb than a 25 Megaton ICBM. While terrorist activities are still valid threats, they are literally many degrees of magnitude lower than what we faced a mere two decades ago. In spite of the diminished threat and relatively safe world we currently live in we still allow a constant fear cloud our political and social decisions. Of course, the 9/11 attacks did unequivocally demonstrate that terrorism can and will happen here in the US. Still, it's unfortunate that our society isn't able to mature and face threats rationally.

Memories of the Cold War

Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent turned Kremlin critic died on Thursday night under unusual circumstances in London.

On November 1st Litvenko became sick with an unknown illness that caused his hair to fall out and his throat to swell up. 23 days later he died of heart failure. On his deathbed Litvinenko accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of poisoning him. Now British officials have found the radioactive element polonium-210 in his urine.

If you are like me, and grew up on the cold war themed works of men like Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, John Milius and Robert Ludlum then you will find this incredibly fascinating. The whole idea of poisoning someone with a radioactive isotope is straight out of a spy novel. If these accusations are true (which we will probably never know for sure) it just proves the old adage that truth IS stranger than fiction.