Alas, Squiders, today we come to the end of our scifi trope series, and we end with alternate universes, which are a personal favorite of mine (which seems to be a trend). WordPress handily keeps track of blog posts I’ve started, and there’s one from, oh, six years ago that is entitled “Alternate Universes” and the entirety of the post is “ARE AWESOME WOO.”
Good job, me.
Related to this (and to be included in this discussion) are parallel universes, which are almost exactly the same thing.
An alternate universe is a universe existing alongside our own, usually with slight changes (or sometimes major changes). These can be accessed in some manner that helps the plot along (or, alternately, the alt universe can stick its nose into our universe, usually with disastrous results).
TV Tropes lists ten specific variations of alternate universes:
- Alternate History (This is, as it sounds, where some major event in the past never happened, or happened differently. Germany winning WWII is a common example of this.)
- Another Dimension (TV Tropes says this is actually the parent trope for Alternate Universes. In this case, this is any world next to our own, whether it’s the Otherworld of the Fey or some of the weirder planes in Dungeons and Dragons. There does not need to be a relationship between our universe/dimension and the other one.)
- Bizarro Universe (Usually everything is opposite, though the name of trope makes me think of the bizarro episode of SeaLab 2021 where all the bizarro versions said “Bizarro” all the time.)
- Dark World (Essentially our world, but everything is terrible. To link in with last week’s time travel, you can get one of these by accidentally messing up something in the past.)
- For Want of a Nail (One small change creates a MAJOR change between universes. Also In Spite of a Nail where the differences are critical but the characters tend to be the same.)
- Mirror Universe (a subset of the Bizarro Universe, but basically where everything is the same except good people are evil and vice versa.)
- The Multiverse (There’s multiple universes to be bounced around across.)
- Elseworld (This is essentially what fanfiction alt universes–AUs–are. Basically you take a familiar character and put them in a wildly different situation.)
- Wonderful Life (How the world would be if you were never born/existed.)
- Alternate Tooniverse (An alternative universe that’s animated.)
(As a side note, TV Tropes is a bit like Wikipedia and you can lose hours in there, so be careful.)
Like most of the scifi tropes we’ve looked at, alternate universes can be used pretty much any way you want. They can be used to explore aspects of humanity, causality, or history. They can be used as backdrops for adventure, romance, and exploration. You can have a new universe every week, or have a number of universes intricately connected.
What are your favorite uses of alternate universes, Squiders? I recently started V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, which deals with alternate universes in a fantasy setting. And, of course, Star Trek makes excellent use of this trope through episodes like Mirror, Mirror and even my very favorite Next Gen episode, Inner Light.