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Fringe, parallel universes and me… and the other me, and the other me… June 26, 2011

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture, Science, Science Fiction.

A big shout out to Starkadder for directing me to the invaluable i09 overview of the first two seasons of Fringe. And allow me, if you will, an unashamed dip into fannish enthusiasm.

I’ve been watching the series ever since. Avidly. Probably I haven’t enjoyed an SF TV series so much in years – possibly not since Buffy and before that Babylon 5.

And sure, I get the appeal of True Blood, and Battlestar Galactica, but somehow…

I’m not entirely sure why I like it so much. Perhaps it is that it has eschewed much of the hokey stuff that littered the X-Files, perhaps because it has the airy competence and finish which seems to be so typical of much of contemporary US TV, perhaps because on some level it is simply likable in terms of characters and plots. One aspect of it that has surprised me is that I’ve enjoyed the more horror led plots, and I’m usually not a fan of the latter area.

Now, it’s not perfect either. There are a few inconsistencies, and as with anything from J.J. Abrams there’s a sense that when it eventually winds to its conclusion – and yes, it’s been renewed for a fourth season, so it’s looking good – some issues won’t be explained at all. Observers? Zerstörung durch Fortschritte der Technologie? And so on… Expect hanging threads – I mean was it really the wish of a certain character to be validated by one William Bell that drove Season One? Really?

Be that as it may, and spoiler alert approaching for anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the central conceit is one which has very slightly troubled me.

The very concept of parallel universes is one which slips in and out of vogue in contemporary science, though it’s long been a trope of science fiction – blame Murray Leinster if you will for one of the first near modern stories explicitly about same. Or blame earlier writers who managed to think up the idea.

Anyhow last time I checked in some years back it seemed that theory saw it as less rather than more likely. Which was disappointing and when Fringe wheeled around I was like… well, brilliant, but…

But I’d clearly not been keeping up with more recent thinking on the matter, because in New Scientist in recent articles, one from this June and one from last August it would appear that current models allow for parallel universes with little or no problem. In the first piece Justin Mullins notes that

… [researchers] Bousso and Susskind have also linked the idea of a multiverse of causal patches to something known as the “many worlds” interpretation of quantum mechanics, which was developed in the 1950s and 60s but has only become popular in the last 10 years or so.

…and that…

‘when a superposition of states occurs, the cosmos splits into multiple parallel but otherwise identical universes. In one universe we might see [Schrödinger’s] cat survive and in another we might see it die. This results in an infinite number of parallel universes in which every conceivable outcome of every event actually happens.’

Excellent. Quite excellent. I’m probably more pleased than most at this prospect, because I’ve always enjoyed alternate history and parallel universe stories as a specific subset of SF (though there are those who mutter darkly that many of these aren’t actually SF at all). Now mind you I’ve found a certain H. Turtledove’s works a little wordy – though his take on a world where the Nazi’s had won [natch] and a small number of Jews survived inside Third Reich Berlin was pretty fascinating though in the hands of a more subtle author…

Naturally these are theoretical constructs. But they’re ones where the very concept of parallel universes aren’t merely add-ons which are used to illustrate concepts, but may be intrinsic to the very existence of our own universe. Hmmm… all very Fringe.

This leads further. What then might be the possibilities of engaging with such universes? And beyond that what about traveling to them? In an odd way I’m moving towards the position that that might be fundamentally easier than interstellar sublight travel (and don’t get me started on FTL).

Which reminds me of Frederik Pohl’s brilliantly acerbic, and entertainingly political, The Coming of the Quantum Cats which suggested that were it possible to travel between universes that might be far from an unalloyed good. Well hey, I knew that when I read Michael P. Kube-McDowell’s Alternities. And… and… and…


1. Niall - June 26, 2011

Game of Thrones – start watching it!


WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2011

Can’t until it’s out on DVD… 😦


smiffy - June 26, 2011

Hmmm, there are ways …


WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2011

I direct you to the discussion on tech on Friday… 😉


Starkadder - June 26, 2011

Same here. Not sure I want to put any more money in
the Murdoch empire’s pocket, even though Sky Atlantic
does have an excellent selection of programmes.

On the subject of TV fantasy, “Camelot” was a big letdown. Possibly the least likeable King Arthur ever, characters who acted like idiots and looking incredibly cheap
(a climatic battle involving only 20 men?) despite having $70 million dollars spent on it.


EamonnCork - June 27, 2011

Actually Sky Atlantic has been a bit disappointing, the two most hyped series, both of which I was sure I’d enjoy, Boardwalk Empire and Treme were pretty terrible and perhaps showed HBO coasting a bit on reputation. Game of Thrones, which I wasn’t too sure about in advance, has proved to be very good, perhaps because it had the strong underpinning of the Martin novels. I’ve just cancelled Sky because I’m moving house and am not sure if I’ll sign up again. Books, music and DVDs would probably fill the dark winter hours in the country just as well.


2. Ramzi Nohra - June 26, 2011

Interesting stuff. I quite liked the way the parallel universe was treated in “the adventures of Luther Arkwright” by Bryan Talbot – essentially it served as a device to allow various historical periods to appear in the same story line. A fair amount of quasi alternative history too. I seem to recall the Irish Royalist Army makes an appearance at one point.


WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2011

That sounds interesting.


Ramzi Nohra - June 26, 2011

“the adventures…” was one of the first British graphic novels, coming out in the late 70s. There was a sequel written a few years ago called “heart of empire” which was also pretty good. Talbot himself was one of the pioneers of the Steampunk genre (something I know little about)


WorldbyStorm - June 26, 2011

Just checked it out on wiki. Wow! Looks brilliant.

I’ve really got back into graphic novels over the past few years after a long hiatus so this is grist to the mill.


3. yourcousin - June 27, 2011

Dude I tried to turn you in to this in the beginning only to be rebuffed by the, “it’s a reworked X-files” line. Shame. Oh well better late than never. Says the guy who has since stopped watching the series.

Also I can’t allow any bad mouthing of H. Turtledove to go unchallenged. Guns of the South was my first introduction to the man. Having read a good bulk of his Alt. History work through the years I love his work. I shamelessly buy his hardcover books. Yes his work is bulky and the multiple characters could be found annoying by some. I found the technique as a way to really give his worlds depth. Seriously I wish I had a third thumb because two thumbs up isn’t enough. That being said I have never been tempted to read his fantasy work and haven’t checked up on him in a number of years. I think I know my next stop online…


Earl Williams - June 27, 2011

I have to disagree on Turtledove. His alternate-USA/CSA novels are a case of a good idea wasted, imo. If the south had won the American civil war, the results wouldn’t have been good for anyone, and it probably would have turned fascist in the 1930s. The thing is, though, that Turtledove writes an alternate-WWII that just parallels our timeline’s experience – instead of Stalingrad you have Pittsburgh, etc.


yourcousin - June 27, 2011

That’s what the American Empire Trilogy is all about. With the repercussions of that composing the Settling Accounts Tetralogy.


4. WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2011

Yeah, it’s funny I watched two episodes when it was on tv and too hastily saw it as an X files rip. You were right I was wrong, though I did remember the episodes and ultimately went back to give it another go. In my defines Season One wasn’t as good as Two, though overall pretty damn good.

Re HT, wordy is quite mild, no? Never read guns of the South but my favourite is Agent of Byzantium.


WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2011

I should add it was the fact you and smiffy rated it so highly that finally made me go back to it as well as remembering the John Noble character.


EamonnCork - June 27, 2011

I’ve tried to get into Fringe but suspect it may be the worst series ever to join up with when you’ve missed the first bit. Spent a lot of time in utter confusion. Though seeing the proven pedigree of its champions here, perhaps it’s one for the boxset. Though maybe I’m losing the taste for telly, the two big critical darlings of this year, The Killing and The Shadow Line struck me as melodramatic and implausible respectively to the extent that they seemed like a waste of time in the end.


WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2011

I’d go with Starkadders i09 ‘essential Fringe episodes’. That’s how I did it. Viewed the arc ones and then branched off once I was sure it was good into the other ones. I’ve still got about six non-mythos episodes to watch…

I know precisely what you mean about TV palling. Got rid of freeview a few years back and been subsisting on online TV players and DVDs. I wouldn’t mind getting Saorview or whatever, but TV is sort of the thief of time, isn’t it?


LeftAtTheCross - June 27, 2011

“I wouldn’t mind getting Saorview or whatever, but TV is sort of the thief of time, isn’t it?”

Well it is, but to be honest by the time myself and herself sit down to watch TV of an evening we’re usually too tired to do much else, so as stolen time goes, it’s the dregs that capitalist exploitation of the brain-worker has decided is of no value to it, or anything else. Of course the manual-workers are probably asleep by then with physical exhaustion [that’s an attempted sop to YC’s recent comment on another thread :-)]

Saorview boxes available at the moment in Power City for €80. But as the very knowledgeable sales assistant in Currys of Navan informed me at the weekend, we have 18 months before analog TV transmissions are switched off, and the boxes will be much cheaper by then. So no hurry.


WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2011

DVDs, DVDs! But yep, probably we’ll surrender to Saorview. Good advice re boxes.


yourcousin - June 27, 2011

Yes wordy is an understatement which is why I take him in doses every few years. But it’s that very point of the multiple characters spanning so many different angles that rounds out the worlds he creates to give them substance and depth that draws readers in (or at least me). Because almost anyone can make up a story for a few hundred pages, but crafting an engaging narrative that spans almost a hundred years in which the decisions made in one are to be reckoned with in the next always just left me in awe.

“Guns…” was a single novel throwaway story which I read when I was in middle school. Not his best, but good IIRC. Or at least it put me on track to read his WWII stuff. Couldn’t get into the Atlantis stuff and have truthfully never read the Byzantium book. The Southern Victory series (unofficial name comprising eleven books altogether) is my favorite with the World War/Colonization series in second. I must confess that Turtledove is my guilty pleasure reading wise.

Wow, that was such a ready admission that now I feel bad for having to call bullshit so quickly.


WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2011


I kind of liked the Atlantis stuff, but I’ve been reading individual stories in Analog, so perhaps that made it easier to digest. I love the premise of an Atlantis that is the eastern seaboard of the US detached in prehistory from the continent. Great stuff.

Colonization is interesting, the Southern Victory one likewise. But… I never bought into Lincoln as a socialist.


yourcousin - June 28, 2011

I think one has to appreciate that Lincoln is widely quoted by Republican unionists. Indeed their caucus (surely now defunct) has some Lincoln quotes that I myself always liked,

“Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.”

“To secure to each labourer the whole product of his labour, or as nearly as possible is the most worthy object of a good government”

“All that loves labor serves the nation. All that harms labor is treason to America.”

I have just read that this last quote is now not attributed to Lincoln is false, but I have seen it attributed to him enough that it still serves in my mind as as an indicator of his thoughts on the subject.

That being said I also think people often forget or overlook the traditional populist movement here. They associate radiclism with Eastern or Southern European immigrants, not church going mid west farmers or miners etc. who in many spheres of their lives could be quite conservative (the swedes come to mind in this one as do some Italian anarchist communities) .

And while the main socialist character is the female Senator, the steel worker turned socialist/construction worker who signed up for two wars is to me far more representative of the “American socialism” that someone like Liincoln might represent. Also it would be safe to say that Lincoln’s socialism as portrayed in the novel would really be in line with the social democratic tradition of socialism rather than the foaming at the mouth socialism as displayed by some socialists here (cough, cough).

So that’s a very long way of saying that I could see the Lincoln as socialist angle.


WorldbyStorm - June 28, 2011

Yeah, I guess as a social democrat that makes sense.


5. Starkadder - June 27, 2011

Why hasn’t someone written a novel about a parallel-universe
Ireland? Could be interesting to imagine a world where,say, Michael
Collins survived to become Taoiseach.

One of the most memorable scenes from “Fringe” for me was
where the parallel Fringe team picked up one of “our” dollar bills
and wondered “Who the hell is Andrew Jackson?”


smiffy - June 27, 2011

When it comes to writing parallel-universe fiction about Ireland, I think the Irish Times Saturday magazine fulfills that role quite adequately at the moment.



WorldbyStorm - June 27, 2011

I think I read an online story set in a slightly parallel Ireland a while back. That was a great moment Starkadder.

Or the Sunday Indo…

Mind you I’m waiting for the film of moon of Ice as I know you are too smiffy. 😉


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