Creating Parallel Worlds & Universes in Hard & Soft Sci-Fi

HAL CLEMENT: The only problem about moderating is that I've had this notion for years that you weren't supposed to do much of the talking, and I like to talk. I may not adhere to this, but we'll do the best we can.
The parallel world notion - I think everyone here has the basic idea - it's an earth separated from earth because it's moving around a different time branch or it's been pumped through some weird little dimensional interface. It's earth except for some minor changes; it has saved the author from the problem of building a planet. The planet is already built, and he or she can just take the minor changes.
Perhaps I shouldn't be saying this - I may be taking something out of everyone else's mouth - I guess the first thing we better do is check with each party here and see who has done any alternate earths(?).

RICHARD PINI: Well, actually, the answer to that question is yes. I'm going to fall back, as I do on every panel I ever do at any convention anywhere, on what Wendy and I do with "Elfquest".The world of "Elfquest" is already a sort of parallel to earth, but it's a symbolic as opposed to dimensional parallel.
We're doing some things with the storyline now that involve just what you mentioned, going back or forward into time and perhaps changing something and thus spinning off what may or may not be a parallel world, which may or may not converge with the original timeline at some point, which may or may not be in the future. We've got this really tapped(?) out....

ALLAN WOLD: ....almost every story is about an alternate parallel world. (inaudible) in The Eye of the Stone, my character moves through(?) one layer of reality to another several times (inaudible) arch-enemy. The hypothesis being that the world we perceive is only one aspect of it. In a very realistic sense, there is the physical world, there is the mental world, there is the emotional world, and they are different layers of reality that we experience every day and they're all run together(?).
And I just take this further, saying that there are more layers, that there is more distinction between them, and that moving from one to another is a more traumatic event.
I don't believe in the literal sense of there being alternate worlds, except in the psychological sense (inaudible) but it's great fun to play with because sometimes I do get lost in one of those other layers....I deal with different layers of reality a lot - that's the source to me of ideas, and places to put my characters and problems to give them to solve. I like that.

DON SAKERS: I have written a few things that played around with the alternate worlds concept in a very small way....Fortunately....I'm sitting next to the man who can speak with great authority on alternate universes, so let me turn it over to Roger Zelazny.

ROGER ZELAZNY: I make a distinction between several different writings of parallel worlds stories. It varies with one in the Everett Weaver sense of positing that every decision goes both ways, and a branch occurs. And taking a world which is based on one such divergence point so that you know in the story what happened (inaudible) the Spanish Armada had successfully taken England.
There's a nice book out by a group of historians, edited by James Merrill(?), called For Want of a Horse. It's 22 essays by historians which are sort of "what if?". Thre's one that has an essay on the fact that(?) Fidel Castro had tried out for the Major Leagues - he wanted to pitch for the Giants - and he wasn't quite good enough, he didn't make it. So he's(?) positing a world where Castro becomes a Major League pitcher instead of leading a revolution(?)...
The other one, where we don't make that distinction, I think, where you don't go back and say, "This is the turning point," you just set up another earth, which would be as fantasy-oriented as you like, and say, "Well, it's a parallel world story" (inaudible). To answer your question, I've written both kinds.
I think one of the more fruitful things in any area is to go back and reconsider the basics if you want to try to do something different. So in my(?) Amber books, what I do is think for a long time about the notion of parallel worlds, and (inaudible) you're positing an infinity of worlds, where anything can happen in one of them, then one of these worlds, since you have an infinity of choices, would be a world where people have the ability to traverse the worlds. Which is what set me to thinking about the notion for the Amber series.
I think the first parallel worlds story was Murray Leinster's (?) (inaudible) Time....I've wondered for some time about stories where (inaudible). Where the story is just a straight novel at the time it's printed. You recall the ending: (?) the guy goes off to kill Hitler, and you know he's going to do it. And of course he doesn't. There's a book, which is okay in the time it's written, but based on something that takes it outside the realm of the general, turn it into a sort of parallel worlds story after the fact(?).
So, I've made three observations about these sorts of parallel worlds stories.

HAL CLEMENT: There's clearly a tremendous number of possible attacks you can make along this line. I'm trying to remember whether it was Dema(?) or Zola or one of those other 19th-century French types who did a multiple-worlds story, branching into(?) three, and then came back again together. I can't remember the title - I didn't read in French....
But it came back together: the end of all three branches, the same guy died by getting shot through the head with the same pistol. This is certainly contrary to the common notion that once these things have branched off they continue to branch and you have infinity after infinity after infinity of worlds. I don't know whether that would be a hard thing to plot or not. It would suggest to anyone the idea for a story right off the bat. You like the idea(?) and bind yourself to that end.

RICHARD PINI: A little closer to the present time, Wylie(?) did that very thing in "Disappearance." It's a story of a pivotal event where the world splits into two, one of which all the women have disappeared - it's all males - and the other is the mirror where all the males have disappeared from the world of(?) women. And you follow both threads through several years of events and in another climactic event the worlds come back together. Wylie wrote very moralistic tales, but it was very effective.

DON SAKERS: One of the things I think you have to consider when you're doing this sort of alternate or parallel worlds is what your basic theory of time is. Are there multiple time tracks or is there just a single track that keeps moving like a river changing its bed?
Melissa Scott has postulated that time is rather like the Mississippi River, with bridges going over it where you can be on the same road and cross the same river several times. That time tracks tend to come together at climactic moments and then spread out again. It's something I'd like to pursue (inaudible) the notion not of an alternate future but of an alternate past. How could we have arrived at this present moment by a different method?

ALLAN WOLD: I like the idea (inaudible) regardless of the choices which you take. It seems sort of like a time travel story to me. Because I would envision my character starting off and making a decision, (inaudible) and by some method which I have not yet invented, it would be postulated in the first chapter he realizes the decision was a mistake, so he slips back in time to that decision point and makes a different choice.
And he goes through an entirely different sequence of events, only to discover that he later comes to that same decision again, realizing he's made a mistake (inaudible) comes back to that decision point and tries it again and he gets trapped(?).
I have a funny feeling that this story has been done (several people name possibilities)....But I kind of like that idea, because there are also certain philosophical and moral overtones that make it more than just a time travel's the same world, just seen in different facets.
The scientist parts of me, even as I'm talking, is imagining a construct of the universe that is crystalline, and we're just riding on one facet. It's all one crystal, and which facet you're on is what you experience. But you're all going to come to the same end of that crystal no matter which facet you ride(?).

HAL CLEMENT: Anyone, I suppose, can classify these things. Two quite different classes strike me immediately. One is what we've been talking about, largely your alternate history sort of thing, like Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall, where somebody pops back to the 6th century, I believe, somewhere about the time when the Belisarious (inaudible) the Greek Empire invaded Rome, trying to bring Rome back together - during the time when the Goths were running the place.
And the hero, one Martin Padway, was doing his best to try to prevent this from happening, because what he saw in the future was the Dark Ages coming, or what he in his scientific prejudice considered the Dark Ages. And he decided the best way to take care of this was to invent printing, and, well, I'm not going to tell the whole story.
The other is this multi-dimensional sort of thing, like Murray Leinster's Incredible Invasion, and an infinity, practically, of other stories, in which you simply have two worlds occupying essentially the same space but separated by what in the 1930s was usually called a "vibration wall," or a "difference in fundamental vibration rates," or whatever other gobbledygook happened to suit the editor at the time.
And you could pop from one back to the other. It was one of the standard ways of inventing a new scenario. After all, earth had been fairly thoroughly explored, even in the 1930s, and authors were running out of places for their (inaudible).