The Alternative Guide to Alternate Realities

The Infinity Bridge by Ross M KitsonToday we are going on a voyage, visiting three very different realities, or as I like to think of them, Blogs.  We are on a progressive blog tour, guided by the incredible Ross M. Kitson, author of the Steampunk fantasy, The Infinity Bridge.  Part I of this tour is today, here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy

Part II will be tomorrow Dec 13, 2012 at – Alison Deluca’s wonderful blog.

Day III will be at Ross’s own blog

I encourage you to check out these blogs and follow this post through all the realities it travels through!


Alternative guide to Alternate Realities 1: Literature


Ross M. Kitson

One of the key aspects of my latest book, The Infinity Bridge, is the existence of parallel universes or alternate realities. As the book is written for the teen market upwards (MG/YA is the latest term, to avoid the patronising ‘kid’s book’ I suppose) I spent a good while musing about whether to include a meaty information dump in the next about the ideas of alternate reality. And here’s an odd thing- the more I thought about it, the more I realised that as an idea in fiction/TV/film it is so thoroughly established that I didn’t need to bother!

I think my first exposure to the idea of alternate reality came in the form of comics (which was pretty much my first form of literature anyhow). I’m going to ramble about those in a separate post—for this one I’m going to focus on alternate reality in books.

The idea that history may have taken a different course, and the ramifications of that, have been a popular theme for centuries. The first works about the topic popped up in Victorian literature (N Hawthorne’s short story ‘P Correspondence’ and C Holford’s ‘Aristopia’) but the real boom in the topic came in the pulp science fiction of the forties and fifties. During this time some awesome writers, including Heinlein, L Sprague De Camp, Poul Anderson, Andre Norton and Larry Niven turned their hand to the topic. In many of these works we have protagonist able to cross between the alternate realities, often armed with knowledge of their own historical variant, via portals or machines. In some tales they are ‘police’ figures (the best example of this being H Beam Piper’s Para-time books, which I read recently and absolutely loved) trying to address some renegade or some disruption, whereas in others the individuals are more passive in their roles, thrown into the new reality and learning of its variance as the reader dose.

The concept of parallel worlds and alternate history progressed from the pulp SF realm and into that of more popular and conventional literature. A recurrent favourite of the genre is the course of World War 2 being changed: Philip K Dick ‘The Man in the High Castle’ describes the Axis powers winning WW2 (and has a character in it who writes a book about the Allies winning!); Robert Harris ‘Fatherland’ is a similar very popular example. I’ve yet to read one where Adolf has a better moustache, however.

In MG-YA books the theme is quite a popular one too. I recently read Time Riders by Alex Scarrow in which three teens are recruited by a futuristic agency to help ‘mend time.’ The first novel explores the idea that time travellers go back in time and assist Hitler by stopping him attempting to invade Russia. The ramifications are that an alternate timeline is created, which alters the present in which the heroes occupy. My 10 year old son took the plot in his stride, and when we talked about it had no issues about the whole concept!

Purists of the SF genre would ponder whether works of alternate histories are fantasy or SF, namely is there any science behind it (I feel like Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert… ‘now here comes the science’).

Semantics would argue ‘alternate histories’ are not the same as ‘parallel universes.’ The idea is that parallel universes co-exist, namely they run along at the same time, whereas only one ‘alternate history’ can exist, i.e. the history has changed and continues along its new course. For me this is pretty pedantic, but since I grew up with the ideas in Star Trek, Dr Who and comics I’m hardly a hard-core sci-fi buff…

There is a school of thought in Quantum physics that gives a degree of theoretical credence to parallel worlds and alternate histories: the Many-Worlds Interpretation, or the ‘relative state formulation.’ It’s the sort of quantum theory advanced since the 1950s and sufficient to make you reach for a large spliff and say ‘Hey, man’ as someone in a brown corduroy jacket begins to explain it. Its basic tenet is familiar though- every event even at a quantum level, can go a number of ways. As a result there are a myriad set of possibilities that extend out from each other in a never ending tree. There was a famous thought experiment to do with a cat, a radioactive isotope and a vial of poison (Schrodinger’s Cat, not to be confused with Schroder’s piano in Charlie Brown). I’ve rambled enough now, so I’ll leave you to seek that one out yourself (or follow Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency where the cat had got bored and simply wandered off).

To me the popularity of the alternate history is that it forces us into questioning our world, querying about how things came to be how they are, and extending that idea from simple practical aspects (what if we flew around in airships not planes) to greater moral and ethical considerations (what if the philosophy of the Nazis were part of our own daily belief structure; what if the Americans lost the War of Independence and remained a colony of Europe, how would it alter their perspective of the world and their Constitution-based beliefs?).

I think that the idea of alternate reality, alternate history and parallel worlds is so ingrained now in our literature that it hardly needs explanation and I think a massive part of that is the progression of the idea from 50s sci-fi into the popular realms of TV and Film.

And in my next post on the topic, I’ll explore that some more….


Part II will be posted tomorrow Dec 13, 2012 at – Alison Deluca’s wonderful blog.

Day III will be at Ross’s own blog and will run on December 14, 2012!


Ross M. Kitson

Author Bio

Ross M Kitson is a published author in the fantasy genre, with an ongoing series (The Prism Series), a number of short stories on Quantum Muse web-zine and several stories in Steampunk and fantasy anthologies.

His debut series for Myrddin is due for release in October 2012, and is a sci-fi series set in modern day York. It is written for ages 12+, although its combination of killer androids, steam-powered airships, kick-ass heroines and action packed chases will appeal to all ages.

Ross works as a doctor in the UK specializing in critical care and anaesthesia. He is happily married with three awesome children, who nagged him incessantly to write something that they could read. His love of speculative fiction and comics began at a young age and shows no signs of fading.

You can Follow Ross on Twitter:   @rossmkitson

You can find him on Facebook

Ross M Kitson’s Books are available at Amazon.comUS and Amazon.comUK.



Filed under Adventure, Battles, Books, Fantasy, Humor, knights, mythology, Steampunk, Uncategorized, writing

4 responses to “The Alternative Guide to Alternate Realities

  1. Ross – Thank you for joing my little group today! I admit that I am not only a fan of yours, I am a fan of both Schroder’s Piano AND Schrodinger’s cat!


  2. Thank you for name-checking TimeRiders. Hope you and your son continue to enjoy the series!