I guess everybody has their favorite topics. For one, it may be dragons or juvenile wizards, for others it’s intergalactic smugglers and energy swords. For me, one of the most fascinating ideas is the existence of Parallel Universes. That is, the idea that there may be other worlds existing alongside our own.
I guess since everybody who stumbles across this, one way or the other, is probably rather well-versed in this now commonplace topic of fantasy and science-fiction stories, I don’t need to elaborate further. What makes the topic so fascinating, however, is that a Multiverse is not any longer something you’ll only find in fairy tales. There are many scientific theories and hypotheses that tackle the matter. Scientific, if you let me use the word for something currently untestable, because many very smart and very reasonable physicists are taking the matter serious.
So why do parallel universes hold such a great appeal to me?
First and foremost, it gives me a great cosmology to work with. I don’t have to fumble for any weird constructs like a divine creator; I’m using the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics to explain why the universe (or rather, the Multiverse) exists, and why things happen the way they happen, even if this is not necessarily how the “real” Multiverse works.
Secondly, it lets me get around the familiarity problem. No matter where on Earth I set a story, someone else will live there and know a lot more about it than I could find out through research or even visits. For example, in one story I have in mind, the protagonists would have to go on a bike trip through New England in the present time, that is 2008, or whatever the year. I am not sure anybody does that… especially local teenagers. No problem, I my version of New England, it’s all the rage.
Is it a cop-out? In a way. I’m throwing the audience (the players, the readers – who ever it may turn out to be) a huge hint about what’s going on (that is, that this is not “our” Earth) by having the foreign exchange student fly into Boston’s Logan Airport on the Pan Am 747 Clipper Princess of Mars. And I firmly believe that departing from “our” reality is fine as long as you can provide good explanations, and your reasons are consistent.
Finally, parallel worlds let me play with history or setting as I please. Need a world where the Nazis reign supreme in 2017? No problem, it’s a parallel world. Need a standard fantasy setting with dragons and wizards? Sure, another parallel universe where the laws of physics are just a little different. Need to have demons invade London or aliens showing up in North America? Why, they must be coming from a parallel world.
It is true that I don’t really need a cosmology to support stand-alone settings. But it also doesn’t hurt.
For example, my fantasy world Enderra was attacked by vicious demons in about 1992 (our year), which plunged Enderra into chaos and anarchy, and it took a thousand years for the people of Enderra to recover. This easily let me make many desired changes to the setting. Later, when I worked on Thraeton, I wondered how the natives may have learned magic. It was a simple matter to have wizards from Enderra travel to Thraeton during the Demon War. They didn’t stay – there was no demon presence on Thraeton – but they left behind knowledge of rudimentary magic.
Thus two of my settings became connected, and part of something bigger, and in my opinion they are both richer for it.
BBC: Parallel Universes – A good introduction to the matter