In my quest to entertain readers, I have several different “alternate reality” scenarios in addition to The Jagged Earth on the planning books. Just to tease… there’s a place where werewolves roam and one with an invasion from outer space. That doesn’t include a few classic fantasy and cyberpunk worlds on the boards! Regardless, all of them generally function within a familiar overall framework very similar to the universe we live in. Magic may work there and not here, but gravity and inertia generally still apply. When deciding what is possible within a particular Story World, I have to take time to explore the possibilities.
Alternatives and Adjustments
To borrow a quote from Orchids Ablaze…
Alternate universes? Sure. Parallel universes? Fine. Multiverses? Why not?. For that matter; bent, broken, folded, spindled, and mutilated universes. Ever been to back-country Nepal? Might as well be another universe.
Almost by definition speculative fiction tends to play fast and loose with history and physics, but it still has to resonate with readers. The question I’m constantly asking myself is how much should I use the “alternate reality” construct before it becomes a simple escape route? It reminds me of the Star Trek problem I read in a book a long time ago. The transporter was created as a way to cut down on travel time that didn’t help move the show along. The concept, though, meant that the transporter could provide the answer to a great many problems. So the writers had to devise reasons where the transporter couldn’t work so the stories could play out with the characters in the prime role, not the tech. That’s what I’m always trying to check myself on, but from a slightly different perspective in addition to the original one. I don’t want fall into the trap of using “alternate reality” to explain every situation and permutation of my Story World settings.
So, how much can I use without breaking the genre and spoiling the story for the reader?
I suspect it’s going to be like a great many things I’ve discovered along this road to writing and publishing. The answer is “damfino”. For the moment I keep that question high on the list as I write. At some point readers will let me know what works for them and what doesn’t. The challenge, as if I needed another one, is to find it out before alienating them!