Strolling Among The Universes

     Forgive me, Gentle Reader. I’ve been so wrapped up in my novel-in-progress that thoughts about fiction and its attendant trials are nearly all I’ve had lately. But perhaps this will provide you with some amusement.

     Writers write. Few of us are as diligent about it as we should be – I’ve had long stretches where I couldn’t bear even to think about the projects I’d started or had promised to start – but still, that’s what we do. Unfortunately, one of the concomitant obligations of the writer is to read. We have to know what’s going on “out there” in Fictionland. We don’t want to repeat one another…well, except for those of us who do want to…and we don’t want to become unaware of the trends. The trends are signposts: for those who hope to make a few bucks writing what’s currently “hot,” and for those of us who’d cut our own throats before ever merging our output with the mass. As the late, great Lawrence Peter Berra has said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Choose according to your preferences.

     I read a great deal. It’s a lifelong habit. But it interacts in curious ways with what I write.

     A little earlier I was working on my current project, writing away at speed, when it hit me that I’d been including in the action characters that…aren’t mine. They were from another SF writer’s “universe,” one that I enjoyed quite recently. It was correctable, of course…but then I noticed that I’d invoked technology from yet another SF writer’s “universe,” stuff that simply doesn’t belong in Onteora County, New York USA in the Year of Our Lord 2031. That made me sit back.

     Strolling among other writers’ universes is all very well in fancy, but one must curb one’s tendency to appropriate their works.

     Today virtually any writer in the speculative genres will have his own “universe,” constructed according to rules and events particular to his stories:

  • Asimov had the Galactic Empire and the Foundations.
  • Heinlein had his “Future History” series.
  • Tolkien had Middle Earth.
  • C. S. Lewis had Narnia.
  • Clayton Barnett has his “Machine Civilization.”
  • Ripley Harper has the “Dark Dragon” universe.
  • Mackey Chandler has the “April” / “Family Law” universe.
  • Lilith Saintcrow has the “Jill Kismet” and “Dante Valentine” universes.
  • Our own Margaret Ball has the “Din Eidyn” universe, and the “Harmony / Esilia” universe, and the “Applied Topology” universe.
  • Diana Pharaoh Francis has the “Crosspointe” universe, and the “Horngate Witches” universe, and Diamond City, and a couple of others.
  • Simon R. Green has the “Nightside,” and the “Secret History” universe, and the “Deathstalker” universe, and several others.
  • P.S. Power has about a dozen such environments.
  • Michael Anderle… no, let’s not go there. Life is too short.

     The best of those fictional settings are irresistibly absorbing. The reader starts to live in them, to think and feel along with their Marquee characters. That’s dangerous if he’s also a writer trying to stay faithful to his own “universe.”

     But a writer must read. He has no choice. Without the stimulus provided by other writers’ imaginations and speculations, he would eventually “run dry.” At least, it’s happened to me on occasion.

     Thank God we aren’t able to do what some other writers’ characters can do: i.e., to “tune” among the universes they’ve imagined and step from one to the next according to their current needs or tastes. Far worse if we could travel among the universes of many writers, some of which are utterly incompatible with the operation of a sane human mind. It might be entertaining for a while, but the dissonance it would induce would probably land them in the loony bin – and then what would the rest of us do for leisure reading?

     That’s enough of that for the moment. Time to get back to William Alan Webb’s “Last Brigade” and its fevered efforts to rebuild America. I wonder what he reads?

1 comment

  1. “Far worse if we could travel among the universes of many writers, some of which are utterly incompatible with the operation of a sane human mind.”

    That’s Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast right there. (Or The Pursuit of the Pankara, his earlier title. That version’s worth reading.) He definitely cribbed from some other well-known universes, including Oz, Wonderland, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Mars, and Doc Smith’s Galactic Patrol universe.  (More so in Pankara than in the rewrite, where he wound up cribbing extensively from himself.)

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