A way with worlds: 38 - Parallel Earths
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
Parallel Earths are a
classic element of writing, almost as commonly accepted as
aliens, faster-than-light-travel, magic, and cyberspace. Indeed,
my entire Xai project is based on the idea of parallel
worlds - so it's a subject close to my heart and a few other
vital internal organs
Writing parallel Earths
however is more difficult than it seems. It's easy to slap a few
changes on our world or on a particular time period - but this
doesn't mean it produces a consistent, coherent, or believable
setting. Too many parallel Earth stories are based on the
- The Big Critical Event
That Affects Everything - One thing changes all of the
- The Big Technological
Change That Affects Everything - Some singular invention
made the world different from ours.
- The Dominant Culture is
a Different One - Nothing is different except some other
culture is the dominant culture of the world - and
everything else is the same.
- The Big Thing That is
Different One thing differs from our world, yet
there are no other changes except the Big Thing.
You notice a pattern
one thing either changes the world totally, or somehow changes
the world only in a limited way.
Now I'd like to say as a
writer that these "produce a flawed and inconsistent
world" (as some bad episodes of Sliders can show). However,
I think the problem and a way to write good parallel
Earths is best illustrated by an example I call
"Dominoes and the Net"
DOMINOES AND THE NET
Some time ago, there was the so-called Y2K crisis. The world was
going to end because some computers and related technology
couldn't process information about the year 2000. Elevators would
lock up, power stations would go down, banks would be in crisis,
the world would end and only people who'd blown huge wads of cash
on survival gear would live.
Only it didn't happen. The
only world that ended was the world of the people awaiting
Armageddon after spending said wads of cash on said survival
gear. As a computer programmer I faced one Y2K crisis a
website with malfunctioning adds due to an obscure bug in a
programming language that only manifested under certain
Those awaiting the end of
the world made the same mistake that many writers of parallel
Earths make - they assumed the world was like a bunch of
dominoes. If anything went wrong, the world would change forever
- no matter what went wrong where. They assumed that if you
changed something, even a few things, the world would alter
In short, they were waiting
for the Big Critical Event to change everything.
Of course what happened was
some people saw there were problems and fixed them, and when
problems did occur, they didn't spread like wildfire because
computer systems had backup, failsafes, and so forth. The world
adapted and it didn't end.
But the world did adapt and
change in many subtle ways due to the Y2K issue. New software was
development, new policies put in place by companies, etc.
The world is much like a net
- pulling a part here or there may distort it, but pulling
another part cancels out that distortion. Changes may spread
throughout the net but not radically - and in most cases it takes
a darn hard tug to rip the net. It's over a year after Y2K as I
write this, and the great Computer Armageddon never happened.Next Page
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