Due to my current world building project, I’ve been thinking about the question of multiverses lately. Actually, they seem to crop up in almost every world building project I do, so I guess I’ve been thinking about them for a while.
A little background: My current project started as a cross-dimensional shopping mall and turned into an ultraverse (see below). Thus, the title of this post.
There are, obviously, pros and cons to the multiverse idea in fiction, too many to really hit here. I will put a few brief thoughts though. On the con side, there are potentially lots of worlds to build, but this is not too different from an epic SF/sci-fi novel or series. It is also easy to get overwhelmed by the scope, or potential scope. Likewise, there’s potential for concerns regarding continuity that are probably worse than elsewhere. On the other hand, there is considerable room for variety and exploration. Both can help the writer maintain interest in the setting (especially if the plan is to produce a considerable volume of work). It can also be helpful for multi-author concepts and aid in continuity of such projects.
In my recent thinking, I’ve classified five different types of multiverse in fiction:
1) Alternate Universe/Reality Multiverse (AUM/ARM)—Basically a collection of alternate histories/Earths that may or may not allow travel between them. One important consideration is the effects, or lack thereof, of meeting one’s alternate self. Examples include: Star Trek’s Mirror Universe, Stargate: SG-1 (a couple AUMs), Terry Pratchett and Steven Barnes’ Long Earth, Sliders, and the Marvelverse. This is also, pretty much, the modern scientific view of multiverse, based on quantum physics.
“Unless this is the one where K forgot to leave a tip.” –MiB 3
2) Artificial Multiverse (AM): Basically, a multiverse of pocket dimensions, or mini-dimensions. Often these are man-made (or created by someone). The shadowrealms in Michael Scott’s The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series partially fit this type.
3) Infinite Multiverse (IM): This multiverse contains unlimited (or theoretically unlimited) dimensions. It differs from the AUM/ARM, which can also be infinite, in that each dimension is a different world, not an alternate history. Examples include: Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber series, Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion series (in many interpretations), Robert Asprin’s MYTH series, John De Chancie’s Castle series.
4) Limited Multiverse (LM): The LM is an IM with a set number of dimensions. Like the IM, they are distinct worlds rather than alternate histories. Examples include: the D&D multiverse, Steven Brust’s Dragaera (might be an IM, he’s purposely somewhat unclear here), and, arguably, most real world religions (Heaven, Hell; Nirvana; Valhalla, Hel; Olympus, Hades; the Celestial Court; any other transcendent plane of existence).
5) Ultraverse: I am tentatively defining an Ultraverse as a combination if IM, AUM/ARM, and AM. That is, an Infinite Multiverse in which there are also pocket dimensions and alternate realities. Moreover, every one of the infinite dimensions (distinct worlds) has its own, theoretically, infinite number of alternate realities. (Here’s the “I’ve created a monster!” bit since we have infinity x infinity + Y worlds and mini-worlds.) Examples include: GURPS Infinite Worlds (3rd and 4th edition) setting and, perhaps, the Marvelverse.
Piers Anthony’s Adept series could be either an AUM or an LM, but it’s been a few years since I last read it so the books aren’t entirely clear in my mind.