Coded azure.

Monday 18 December 2006


Pic of the day: Walking stairs that no one else can see? (I made this picture specifically for this entry. You have no idea how hard it was to illustrate, and it is still not quite what I imagined. Sometimes I wish I could draw.)

Imaginary ladders I

It is time for fantasy and sci-fi world building again! Who knows, someone may have time to use these ideas someday. It might even be me, much to my amazement, but I don't promise that. In any case, if I start writing something, I am sure to stop before it is finished. Even though I have now proved myself able to write 50 000 words in a month, at least once in my life. That's something, but not today's topic. Today's topic is imaginary extraterrestrial ladders that take people from one reality to another, from one world to another.

I've had these appear in my barely conceived stories for a decade or two, I think, but only one of these days did I draw the line to the famous "Jacob's Ladder", of biblical fame. The patriarch Jacob is reported to have had a dream out in the wilderness, where he saw angels ascending and descending a ladder to Heaven. He was filled with awe and built an altar, and the place was considered holy for many centuries to come.


There is no such spiritual significance in my stories, but they do refer to people moving from one world to another. The first form of this is the "fractal alternate timeline" which I actually wrote some pretty elaborate stories about back when I wrote in New Norwegian. I also had a number of elaborate daydreams based on this, some of which I may have written down, but I can't say I have them now.

The basic concept behind these stories is that our universe follows one of many possible timelines. This is so close to realism that there is the occasional article in Scientific American, a very serious publication, about this theory: That every time a quantum uncertainty is resolved, both (or all) of its possible resolutions actually happen, just not in the same universe. One understanding of this is that new universes are created all the time, and probably some being merged as well as quantum states coincide. But for the most part, they multiply like crazy. Since a quantum uncertainty could possibly set off a chain reaction of events (see "Schroedinger's Cat"), the different universes might eventually evolve in different directions. For the first millennia they may be identical to the naked eye, but then the effect of some stray electron kicks in and a random mutation happens (or not), or a lightning strikes a millisecond later, and the universe veers off into unfamiliar territory.

This may sound like multiplying entities beyond necessity, and there is certainly no absolute agreement in the scientific community. There is however much rejoicing in the sci-fi community, since this gives a comfortable mantel of authority to the well established genre of "alternate history", some of which is pretty good, but most of it just reruns of the same themes: What if the Nazis won WW2, what if the Confederation remained independent, and what if the Vikings colonized America? I think there may be one more, yes: What if Rome did not fall to the barbarians? That pretty much sums them up. And then there are the truly original ones, but you have to be lucky or diligent to find those. I don't even write them myself.


No, mine is a kind of meta-story. In this imaginary multiverse there are countless alternate timelines, and there is some device that lets you traverse them at set distances. The ladder is one such device. Because of the fractal nature of the multiverse, just moving to the "neighboring" universe would land you in exactly the same world minus some electron going left instead of right somewhere in Sahara. You would probably enter this world at the exact same time your alternate self exited it for another neighboring world, and they would be just as boring as they would be neigh. So there is a set distance that empirically stops you from just replacing yourself.

The thing is, because of the fractal nature of the multiverse, the changes are cumulative. When things diverge, they rarely converge again. (It happens, but to a much smaller degree.) So your first "step" will land you in a world eerily similar to your own, where there is probably another of you with much the same life story except for some details. Friends and relatives are likewise present, though a few of them may be dead or never born. Society is much as you remember it, and you don't stand out in any way. Well, until you try to pay with the one type of banknote that was changed differently from in your world.

The next "step" takes you to a world that is just as similar to its neighbor. But because the changes add up, you will much more frequently feel that something is amiss, that something is no quite right. It may be some weird fashion or slang that occurs over and over, or the shock of discovering that your best friend was never born. And because changes accumulate over time, a small change long ago could have quite an impact today, if for instance a narrow election victory was changed to defeat.

Within a few more steps, the world becomes unfamiliar. You find that your alternate self is already dead, making your presence hard to explain. Or perhaps you are the opposite sex and have a different hair color, or are born a year later. The newspapers write about things that make no sense, and unfamiliar songs play on the radio. You realize that you could take some of these songs and claim them as your own back on your own world, but would you like to draw that kind of attention to yourself when you have a secret that you could easily get killed for?

I was never really interested in the fate of Nazism. That's just one twist, and it was never truly a "for want of a nail" situation anyway. What interests me is how a human reacts to seeing the familiar fade away, to be replaced by the eerily almost-familiar. In a way I guess I have always regarded it as a symbol for changes that really happen to our minds. If we had the ability to jump in time, I think we would get pretty near the same reaction. In a way that is what these characters do, jump in time: Only sideways.

I am not sure why I used a ladder for those imaginary worlds. It is not like there is an obvious axis to the changes, like good and evil, or strong and weak. There is another type of story in which there is such an obvious axis, but more about that another time... perhaps. Things tend to vary chaotically here in Chaosnodeland.

(It may interest you that Jack Chalker wrote at least two series of novels where multiversal travel was possible, albeit rare. The Changewinds series actually does have a vertical axis, in that the most fantastic and magical worlds are "down" and the more prosaic ones "up". The G.O.D. Inc books is more "parallel worlds" complete with various versions of main characters. I enjoyed both of the series, except for some pointless semi-porn here and there. I found this well after I had developed similar concepts in my own unpublished writing, though the books themselves were older. This has long ago stopped surprising me.)

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: Antivirus crash
Two years ago: Turkey and the EU
Three years ago: Visiting father
Four years ago: Huh? Xmas already?
Five years ago: Come all ye fat-ful
Six years ago: Boom's end
Seven years ago: Are we having fun yet?
Eight years ago: Candles

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