Among the more recent parallel universe novels, I highly recommend Paul Melko's The Walls of the Universe, based on his Hugo-nominated novella of the same name. And when it comes to parallel universes, the Star Trek episode in which Spock has a beard is sheer genius. That episode was written by Jerome Bixby, who also penned one of the most disturbing science fiction stories ever written. (As I noted in my previous post, Bixby was something of a two-hit wonder, although that's better than being a no-hit wonder).
What I like the best are stories in which the differences between the parallel universes are subtle, not striking. The latter are rather cliched by now. Kennedy assassination averted? Check. Hitler wins World War II? Yawn. And now I'm going to tell you how to experience these subtle differences yourself.
If you're an American reader of this blog (and most of you are), then just take a visit to England. I lived there for several years myself, and what really disoriented me were not the huge changes, but the subtle differences. Of course, we drive on different sides of the road, and the English have a queen, while we have... not a queen. But everyone knows these things, and I was prepared for them. But it was the everyday subtle differences that really threw me. Like the fact that our "second floor" is their "first floor". Or the light switches that turn on when you press them down instead of up. The fact that you're always served coffee after your dessert in a restaurant. Sales tax is always included in the quoted price. Hot water heaters shut off at night (so fill up those hot water bottles in advance!) The checkout clerks in the grocery store sit rather than stand. And I could keep going...
And of course, what makes this all the more disconcerting to American eyes is that we speak the same language (more or less). Americans going to Germany or France expect things to be different -- these are foreign countries after all. But because we share a common language and cultural heritage with England (and yes, I do know the difference between England, Britain, and the UK, for any English readers out there!) we Americans tend to forget that England is a foreign country and are even more surprised by every difference we experience.
But what if you can't afford a trip to England? Well, here's a cheaper way to experience a visit to an alternate reality. Rent the never-screened pilot episode of Gilligan's Island. I watched it just a couple of weeks ago, and it was a weird experience. The familiar theme tune was replaced by an odd calypso melody with completely different words. Many of the familiar characters were present, but the Professor was played by a different actor, and Ginger and Mary Ann are totally gone -- replaced by two not-very-bright secretaries named Ginger and Bunny (!) Watching it, I secretly hoped that Gilligan was going to have a beard.
|In a parallel universe, Gilligan has a beard|