Michael Moorcock popularized the idea of ‘alternate universes’, which was initially put forward by philosopher William James in his adventure novel ‘Sundered Worlds’. Writers, nowadays, use this concept (usually when they run out of ideas) to explore other storylines. Their aim seems to be to get the audience to watch different characters in unfamiliar scenarios and bring out catastrophic or hilarious changes.
With the advent of Loki, which explores the concept of multiple universes, it was amusing to see who else employed this category of fiction (or is it?). Here is a compilation of the most gripping fictitious multiverses that are undoubtedly worth exploring:
Stranger Things introduces us to the ‘Upside Down’; an alternate world where, most, if not all, flora and fauna present in the dimension are linked in a hive mind-controlled by the Mind Flayer. This essentially forms an enormous superorganism. Scientific experiments in the town of Hawkins wreak havoc when a channel connecting the town to the Upside Down is opened. Horrid ‘Demagorgons’ stray into our world and threaten to destroy the entire planet. All that stands in their way is a group of teenagers with Eleven–the psychic wonder-kid. The story entails the tumultuous strife for survival by the said characters. It is truly an edge-of-the-seat thriller.
A sci-fi film that went under the radar, Parallel follows a group of app developers as they come across a mirror that serves as a portal to alternate dimensions. This newfound discovery brings the power to obtain all that they desire from the alternate world, but it doesn’t stop there. The exceptional execution of this tested formula presents parallel universes like never before. The various possibilities and paradoxes that such a concept brings to the table, makes for great sci-fi.
Dark, another Netflix smash hit, introduces itself with what appears to be a sci-fiction-time-travel lore. The show soon acquires many more layers as the story builds up and, obviously, alternate universes pop up as well. It all starts when two children vanish in a small German town and search attempts turn futile. The myriad characters soon discover that there is so much more boiling just under the town’s surface–quite literally!
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first of a fantasy book series. The detailed fantasy novel is about reality hopping between four worlds with London at its centres. Each of these spheres has its own unique history and idiosyncrasies. Not all people can switch between these worlds and the story follows the protagonist, Kell, a smuggler across worlds. The author, with her simultaneous world-building across four dimensions, does justice to the notion of parallel universes.
Community is a show that loves meta-humour. It pokes fun at the concept of branching worlds thanks to chaos. The roll of a die results in six other parallel worlds coming into existence. With various call-backs and colliding characters, the show does a fantastic job of making you laugh to tears. “The Remedial Chaos Theory” episode, regarded as the finest in the show, sets events that follow until its finale is in motion.
Star Trek, Rick and Morty, Doctor Who, Issekai and countless other mediums have explored, and in some cases even exploited, multiple universes. More than a hypothetical possibility in the real world, it has become a standard troupe where content creators go to find alternative paths for their stories.