My Top 5 Parallel Universes

Reading the wonderful and wild Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore a few months ago got me thinking about alternate dimensions–specifically, about their use in stories.  The concept appears across a range of speculative fiction, including both sci-fi and fantasy stories, and across a variety of media.  It can be an interesting way to explore the age-old question “What if?” as well as the idea that even the smallest events or decisions can change the course of lives.

So here’s my list of some favorite parallel universes in fiction.  I wanted to tend more towards the idea of multiverses, so I haven’t included any stories where there are only two dimensions, such as Star Trek’s mirror universe, the world of Fauxlivia and Walternate in Fringe, and the Light/Dark worlds of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past.

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The Flash (CW)

After scientist Barry Allen was gifted with super speed during an accident with Central City’s particle accelerator, he became the superhero known as the Flash.  Barry can do some pretty crazy stuff with his speed powers, including traveling through time and opening portals into other dimensions. The breaches between dimensions weren’t originally intentional, more of a side effect of Barry trying to fix something else he’d done unintentionally.  (This kind of stuff happens to Barry a lot.)

The Flash probably comes the closest on my list to a true multiverse idea.  Barry Allen’s world is Earth One, the centerpoint or juncture of the multiverse.  There are theoretically an infinite number of worlds comprising every possible existence (though about 50 are known in the show), each vibrating at a different frequency so they don’t normally interact.

Accordingly, some worlds have “doppelgangers” of our main characters; the Barry Allen of Earth Two, for example, is also a scientist but is not a meta-human and has no powers.  There are also worlds where there is no Barry Allen.

This TV show was originally a spin-off of Arrow, and later crossed over with Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow as well.  Together, the Arrowverse has been able to do some really fun stuff with dimensional travel, including an obligatory visit to a dimension where the Nazis won WWII.

A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab

I wrote in praise of this series a little while back, and one of the things I liked about it is the world building.  The main character, Kell, is a magician who can travel between worlds: there are four total, and each has a version of London (Black, White, Red, and Grey).  In fact, each has a specific tavern in a specific spot in the city, which serves as a kind centerpoint, but that’s about where the similarity between the worlds ends.  Our world is ostensibly that of “Grey” London, the home of Lila Bard, which is ruled by the Prince Regent (later George IV) and has no magic. Black London, however, was basically destroyed by magic, and White London still feels the effects of this, struggling to hold onto what power they can, which manifests in major societal and political upheavals.  

Red London, Kell’s London, does still have magic, and Kell is their ambassador to White and Grey, being one of the ancient line of Antari, who can do blood magic to cross worlds.  Antari are few and far between, and are distinguished by a single black-filled eye (the color black is closely associated with magic in general in this series). They draw magic seals with their blood, speak a phrase in the language of magic, and use a token from the other world to cross over (leaving us to wonder how the first Antari got their tokens, but that’s really not important to the story).  They can also travel between two points in the same world, but when crossing worlds always travel to the same geographic point they left in the last world.

These four worlds are parallel in time, but not civilizations or events.  Because so few people are able to travel between worlds, and transporting objects is forbidden, even the cultural exchange is extremely limited.  There are no doppelgangers here, and while a world may die like Black London, there is no evidence that new ones are ever created.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

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This series, sometimes thought of as the “anti-Narnia,” begins with hints of alternate dimensions in The Golden Compass, but it’s not until the second book, The Subtle Knife, that the idea begins to really be explored. This cosmos is also theoretically a multiverse, which concept the characters refer to as the Barnard-Stokes Theorem.  Just as in ADSoM, the two main characters, Lyra and Will, come from two different universes.

There are several ways of crossing between universes, the most prominent being the titular Subtle Knife. Will becomes the owner of this double-edged blade, one side of which can cut a window between worlds.  However, this power is not without price: the children eventually discover that each piece of inter-dimensional fabric that is cut off becomes a Spectre that menaces adults (kids are safe).  

Several worlds are visited in the course of the story.  Will’s world appears to be our world, and Lyra’s is relatively similar (they both even have an Oxford University).  Some are completely different, such as the world of the mulefa, animals that have evolved to use wheels, or the land of the dead.  The story does not present any doppelgangers, either because they don’t exist or because the chances of actually meeting one in the multiverse would be slim.

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The Chronicles of Amber by Roger Zelazny

Nine Princes in Amber has one of my favorite openings of any novel ever: our protagonist wakes in a medical facility (presumably in our world) with no memory of who he is or how he came to be there, only the vague sense that he was injured and is now being kept incapacitated.  He eventually remembers that he is Corwin, Prince of Amber, the one true world; all other worlds are simply shadows of Amber.

The royal family of Amber can manipulate the Shadows, essentially creating whole worlds where they can live like kings, or disappear into obscurity.  They speak of “adding” and “subtracting” things as they travel through various realities on the way to Amber.  With such mathematical language, it make sense that Amber turns out to be only one anchoring pole of reality, that of order; the world of Chaos is its opposite pole, with the Shadows existing between them.  The royals also have a special set of cards, trumps with their own portraits, that allow them to communicate across worlds.

The parallel universes are the backdrop for a grand political struggle among the royal family, taking place over generations.  Corwin in particular has spent a lot of time in the Shadows, but eventually makes his way back to Amber to fight for the crown.  One interesting detail is that different universes can apparently have different laws of physics; some have different color skies, for example.  Also, gunpowder does not ignite in Amber, which results in a lot of sword fighting in the books.

CLAMPverse

CLAMP
Sakura, Syaoran, Mokona, and Kurogane from Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle Omnibus v.4

My favorite authors of Japanese manga are a group of 4 women collectively known as CLAMP.  Over their prolific career they have produced dozens of stories, most of which crossover to form a loose universe.  Nowhere is that so evident than in the two series XXXholic and Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle (which directly crossover, but can be read separately).  In the CLAMPverse, crossing between dimensions requires such great magical power that only few can do such a thing; one of these is Yuuko the Dimensional Witch, who runs a magical store where wishes can be granted for a price.  A group of travelers comes to her asking to be given the power to journey between dimensions, not just once but many times (they all have their own reasons for this quest), and she gives them white Mokona.

What is Mokona exactly?  “Mokona is Mokona!” the creature helpfully cries.  Mokona (a version of character originally created for Magic Knight Rayearth) has the power to take the group between dimensions by kind of sucking them into a giant whirlwind in its mouth.  It’s catchphrase when traveling is “Mokona Modoki mo doki doki!” which loosely means “Mokona is getting excited, too!”

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Mokona: Cutest method of dimensional travel

The number of dimensions in the CLAMPverse is unknown, but it seems to be many, if not infinite.  We see several dozen of the throughout the course of the story. We also meet versions of many, many characters found in CLAMP’s other works, most importantly Cardcaptor Sakura (my all-time favorite manga).  Each version of the character we meet is different, living in under different circumstances, but they each have the same soul and therefore have many things in common, often having similar personalities, characteristics, preferences, and mannerisms.  For example, Tomoyo (first seen as a schoolgirl in CCS), is a princess in one world and the president of a toy company in another, but is always polite and caring.

Honorable Mention: Sliders

I would include this 1990s TV show on my list, except that I haven’t seen enough of it to really count myself a fan.  It follows the adventures of a group of travelers “sliding” between universes to try to get to back to their home dimension.  The show also has a multiverse concept; because some universes are more technologically advanced than others, it also lets the show occasionally explore time travel-type scenarios as well.

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Liebster Award

liebsterblogaward-small1A big thank you to Hannah over at Things Matter for nominating me for a Liebster Award.  This award is meant to help bloggers discover new blogs and give some love to smaller blogs like mine.

I’d like to nominate some of my favorite blogs that I think should have more readers:

I know several of you guys already have Liebsters, so please please please don’t feel obligated to respond to this in any way.  The last thing I want is for this to feel like a chain-letter obligation.  Just know that I love your blogs, and I want others to be able to love them, too.  If you feel like it, you can answer the same questions I’m answering below (which are the same ones Hannah answered).

Why did you decide to blog in the first place?

I wanted to get back into writing, with the goal of actually writing the stories/novels that have been floating around in my head for years.  Writing about nerdy stuff was an obvious choice, because that’s what I’m mostly thinking/talking about anyway.  My husband picked the blog name.

Name three of your pastimes or hobbies.

Does reading count?  That is how I’d spend all my time if I could.

  1. Tennis (I was varsity in high school)
  2. Flute (I played through college and still play in my church choir)
  3. Crafty things (sewing, cross-stitch, scrapbooking)

If you could interview anyone (dead or alive), who would it be and why?

Maybe Jane Austen.  Or Martin Luther King Jr.  Or my grandfather who died before I was born.

Do you have any pets? If not, what would you consider getting?

I have a cat, Jolee Bindo.  I’ve had hamsters, fish, and cats before.  I love dogs, especially pit bulls, but they have way too much energy for me.  Cats are more my style.

I’ve worked with rats, mice, cats, dogs, rabbits, goats, ponies, river otters, ducks, muntjacs, etc. in my various jobs as well.  Not the same as pets, but still.

What is your favorite movie and why?

Star Wars.  Return of the Jedi is probably my favorite of the original trilogy.

What is your favorite comic book and why? (If you don’t read comics, just name a favorite book).

 If we are counting graphic novels/manga, it’s hands-down Cardcaptor Sakura by the incomparable CLAMP.  The artwork is incredible, and the story is beautiful.  It was my introduction to anime and manga.

Also, I just raved about Saga recently.  And Captain Marvel’s recent issues are pretty good, too.

What is your favorite Youtube channel?

Confession: I don’t watch YouTube.  Like, at all, ever.  It was probably about a year before I saw that Rebecca Black video “Friday.”  But my husband watches it constantly.  He’s watching as I type this.  So thanks to him, I am a big fan of Nerdy Nummies, Dorkly, and The Warp Zone.

If you could cosplay as any character, who would it be and why?

Meiling Li from Cardcaptor Sakura.  I love her fighting costume.MeilingLi

What is your favorite topic to write about?

On this blog?  Books.  In fiction?  Magic (both arcane and divine), futuristic technology, friendships, and True Love.

What’s your favorite fandom?

Star Wars.  I’ll see you all at the Episode VII premiere.

Obsessed with Saga

American invasion
American invasion

As I’ve said before, I’m a little late to the world of American comics.  I’ve been reading manga since I was a teenager but have only recently started to turn to its American counterpart.

And I continue to be amazed at the depth and quality of American graphic novels.  I’m now hooked on Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples–I’m not exaggerating when I say it’s the best comic series I have ever read (for whatever that’s worth).

I picked up the first volume at the library; I was back later that week for volume 2.  And a few days later I gave in and ordered all three volumes (18 chapters thus far) from Amazon.  I have read the series about 3 times now, and each time I keep finding new little things to love.

There’s a reason this series won the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story last year, and 3 Eisners both this year and last year.  It’s part action, part philosophy, and the perfect marriage of engaging writing and stunning artwork.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are my favorite things about Saga:

  1. Character design: Artist Fiona Staples has done a marvelous job of populating the Saga universe with a diverse cast of characters:  interesting species, varied races, and different women actually having different body types (what a concept!).  Everything down to the clothing and color choices is so well done.  You can tell so much about individual characters just by the way they look, which is important in a visual medium like comics.  And the art is so beautiful you will just want to put posters of the characters on your walls and stare at them all day.  Not that I’ve done that.  No, really.Saga1
  2. Mix of sci-fi and fantasy: Saga reminds me of Star Wars in the way it blends sci-fi and fantasy concepts in a space opera format.  We have androids, spaceships, and futuristic weapons, but we also have magic.  And sometimes the spaceships are trees.
  3. Adult contentSaga has Game of Thrones levels of swearing and graphic sex and violence.  These are not things I really revel in (I read a lot of YA, remember?), but they do give the story a sense of realness that keeps the wide-eyed fantasy aspects in check.  Ghost of a cute little girl?  Has intestines hanging out.  Slave Girl with Princess Leia-style hair?  Is a 6-yr-old refugee.  Just when you start thinking some aspect borders on gratuitous, Saga slaps you with character development or world building or some deep theme based on that aspect.Saga2
  4. Narration: The main character of Saga is really baby Hazel (perhaps slightly ironic, given #3 above), who provides occasional voice-over narration.  She’s telling her family’s story from the future, so we get some glimpses of things outside of the current storyline.  Some of these hints we may see developed as the story progresses (or not).  The narration is also non-linear, jumping back in time to tell how her parents met, for example, and also switching between characters frequently, and Hazel’s voice-overs really smooth these transitions nicely, often with a wry humor.
  5. Foreign language (untranslated): The denizens of the moon Wreath speak a language called Blue (the text is literally blue).  There are occasionally whole frames/pages where characters speak in Blue, and no translations are provided.  Don’t be intimidated; it’s awesome!  I found that just by looking at the character’s expressions and other context clues, I could pretty much guess what was being said.  That’s how good the art is.  Also, it was clear to me right away that Blue has some basis in Romance languages, so I used my Spanish to translate quite a bit, which I found to be great fun.  It was like those untranslated previews of the next volume you sometimes get in the back of manga; I always love using my rudimentary hiragana knowledge along with the artwork to try to figure out what’s coming up next.  And if you really, really must know every word that is being said in Saga, I’ll tell you: Blue is actually Esperanto.  Go use Google Translate.Saga3
  6. Bonus–Lying Cat: She’s a big blue hairless cat that announces when people are lying by simply saying “Lying.”  And she is my favorite character.  There are just not enough words to describe her awesomeness.

    Lying Cat
    I have started using Lying Cat’s catchphrase all the time.

 

Projects for summer weekends

I’ve been spending a lot of time outside these past few weekends–the weather was better than predicted!  I weeded my garden beds and planted a bunch of annuals and pepper plants.

I finished up a cross-stitch piece that I’ve been working on for my niece since she was born…over a year ago.  Next time, I’ll choose a simpler one.  But it came out really nicely and I’ll be getting it framed soon to hang in her nursery, which has an elephant theme.

Elephant Cross-stitchAlso, my coworker discovered a wonderful iPhone app that adds a CLAMP filter to photos.  CLAMP is the team behind Cardcaptor Sakura, Chobits, XXXholic, and others.  They have lovely artwork, and their backgrounds consist of various flowers, pattern, and cute animals–which you can now add to your photos.  Here’s an example that adds cute Mokonas:

CLAMP filter

CLAMP <3

A couple weeks ago I experienced the nerd’s equivalent of a birthday or Christmas–a box in the mail from Amazon.  A large box.

I hadn’t bought anything for myself in a while, except t-shirts with cats on them, so I took advantage of Amazon’s 4-for-3 book sale, and my husband’s free 2-day shipping through Amazon Prime.

Here’s what was in my box:

  • Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, Dragon Spear (all by Jessica Day George)
  • Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
  • Grimpow y la bruja de la estirpe by Rafael Ábalos
  • Kobato v. 4 and 5
  • Cardcaptor Sakura Omnibus v. 1 and 2
  • Magic Knight Rayearth Omnibus v.1

The last 3 are all manga, written and drawn by the incomparable CLAMP.  They are my favorite manga-ka; I have read most of their works and own several of them.  They have been together since the late 80s and are still churning out hits; most of their works have also been adapted into anime.  The group consists of four women, one writer and three artists who trade off duties depending on the work; that’s why each series has a different aesthetic, but overall their style looks fairly consistent.  I can always tell a CLAMP work when I see it; I even recognized their style in the anime Code Geass before I found out that they did the character design.

In terms of story, they often blend shoujo and shonen, giving them a wide audience of all ages.  Motifs often include magic, fate, reincarnation, multiple dimensions with different versions of characters in each, ambiguously-gendered pretty people, different kinds of love, and soulmates.  They frequently “cross-over” characters or shops from one work to another, especially in their recent Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle.

Kobato is their most recent completed work.  It has 6 total volumes; I have bought/read 5 so far, and the last one was just published in English this month.  It is the story of a girl, Kobato, who has a wish, and to fulfill that wish she must fill up a jar with hearts she has healed.  She is guided by a crazy stuffed dog, Ioryogi (think Kero-chan with anger management issues).  Kobato is slow to start (the plot doesn’t really kick in until about volume 3), but the art is beautiful and the characters are great.

Recommended for people who like:

  • focus on character and world development over plot
  • fantasy shoujo manga with beautiful artwork
  • other Clamp works, esp. Wish or Chobits

Cardcaptor Sakura is my favorite manga/anime ever.  It was originally published starting in 1996; Dark Horse Comics has recently acquired the English rights and is publishing all 12 volumes in 4-volume omnibus form.  The story: Sakura Kinomoto discovers a strange book in her basement and accidentally released all the Clow Cards; as the Cardcaptor, she must return them all to the book before a disaster befalls the world.  She is aided by her best friend, her rival for the cards, her older brother, her first crush, and the cards’ magical guardian who looks like a stuffed animal.  It’s a nice mix of relationships and action, with an overall “kawaii” feel.  Sakura’s myriad costumes are what inspired me to start drawing in 8th grade.

I already have the 12 volumes of CCS that Tokyopop released in the 2000s, but I really wanted the omnibus versions, too!  They are a little harder to read because they are so thick, but the quality is nice, and they have included the color artwork from the originals.  The translations are good (but no translation notes), and the SFX are left in Japanese with translations.

Recommended for:

  • fans of magical girl manga, or of fantasy shoujo in general
  • CLAMP virgins (it’s a great one to start with)
  • mature 10-yr-olds and above (there is more “objectionable” content than in the anime: student-teacher relationships and gay relationships)

Dark Horse is also doing the same thing with Magic Knight Rayearth, the series that preceded CCS. I had never read/seen it, so I bought the first omnibus (they’re only about $12).  I am familiar with some of the characters from Tsubasa (Mokona, Caldina, etc.).  The first omnibus, which contains the whole first story arc, exceeded my expectations.  The story is faced-paced, with lots of action: a real page-turner.  It’s kind of a shoujo-magical girl, mixed with shonen-mecha idea, with some sword and sorcery in there as well.  Great characters and beautiful art, with much thicker, darker lines than CCS.  I will definitely be buying the 2nd volume!

The omnibus edition itself is nice; it has all the full-color character bios and art.  But it is pretty thick, and the cover dimensions are even smaller than the CCS omnibus, so it is a little hard to read.  The translations are colloquial English, a little slang-y in places (again no translation notes).  I can’t figure out why Ferio says “y’all” all the time.  Does he speak very casually?  I don’t think he has an accent.  Caldina, on the other hand, is supposed to have an Osaka accent, but that is not apparent at all from the translation.

Recommended for:

  • role playing gamers (you will get a kick out of the talk about leveling and bosses)
  • fans of action (shonen) anime with female protagonists
  • mature 10-yr-olds and above (some bloody violence)

I did also buy some actual books 🙂  I love the Dragon Slippers series (appropriate for age 10+ as well) and decided I really need to own them. I bought Princess Academy (a Newbery Honor winner) so I could re-read it in anticipation of the forthcoming sequel Palace of Stone (out in August).

Grimpow y la bruja de la estirpe is the sequel to Grimpow: The Invisible Road (El Camino Invisible), which was a bestseller in YA fantasy back in 2008.  The series is written by Spanish lawyer Rafael Ábalos.  You can get an English version of the first book, but I have both in Spanish.  I prefer to read things in the original language if at all possible (I also prefer subs over dubs for anime).  The books are a little overrated, and a little long, but are a fun read.  I would recommend them if you like puzzles and historical mysteries (à la The Da Vinci Code) and can tolerate a slow-moving plot.  I really enjoy the challenge of reading them in Spanish; it helps keep my language skills sharp in a fun, easy way.