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Nine different types of multiverses in fiction

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

It’s a multiverse of multiverses!


Lately, the multiverse has appeared everywhere in science-fiction and fantasy stories. This spike in popularity may be attributed to Marvel movies, which had to develop new ways to engage the audience after the end of MCU’s phase three.


Surely, there’s more to the multiverse than Marvel.



In physics, theoretical physicist Brian Greene categorized nine types of multiverses that are theoretically viable based on their characteristics and mechanism of creation. You heard that right, NINE types of multiverses.


I bet you thought the multiverse was only one, am I right?

Based on Greene’s list, I came up with nine types of multiverses for the fiction genre—not always with impeccable physics to back them up, but fun nonetheless.


This is the science (and fantasy) of fiction.


I might spoil some of those stories for you, so tread lightly.



1. The quilted multiverse


The universe is big, right? Like, really big. And we can only see a fraction of it because light, as we all know, travels with a finite speed.


What if the universe is infinite? Then it is perfectly possible it might contain several copies of our observable universe so distant from each other that we may never contact or interact with them. For all purposes, those are parallel universes. That is, they are existing realities that we cannot observe.


Think of a galaxy far, far away, similar to ours, but different enough. You know where I’m going with this, and I bet you never thought of Star Wars as a multiverse story, am I right?



2. The brane multiverse


This type of multiverse is the one I think people most associate with parallel reality.


Every different reality is framed as a brane, and the multiverse is a collection of these multidimensional sheets of space-time, kinda like a book in which each page is a different brane.


In theory, those branes can interact with each other through gravity and quantum effects, and eventually, they touch. When they collide, a big cosmic event happens, like a big-bang type of explosion, a black hole is created, a portal to another reality opens, and so on.


Great examples of this type of multiverse in fiction are Jet Li’s movie The One and the fun recent release by John Scalzi, The Kaiju Preservation Society.


The One (2001)


3. The cyclic multiverse


As the name suggests, this theory comes from the hypothesis that when a universe dies, another is born. So the multiverse in question is a succession of universes with finite lifetimes, never existing simultaneously, and they only interact through a singularity that divides them apart.


Any time an almighty character extinguishes a universe to create a new one, it resets the cycle.


I’m about to give examples, but be aware of huge SPOILERS.


For the anime fans out there, when Shinji erases his timeline to build a new reality in Neon Genesis Evangelion, he is ending a whole timeline and restarting a new universe.


If you are not that into anime, I’ve got you covered. At the very end of Isaac Asimov’s The Last Question, the AI learns how to reverse entropy and restarts the universe. It is reportedly Asimov’s favorite story he ever wrote.



4. The quantum multiverse


In the subatomic domain, a quantum system is described by superposed states of possible measures. It’s ok if you didn’t understand a single word in the last sentence. Fortunately, Erwin Schrödinger came up with a pretty neat (and famous) analogy to this super technical fact.


You’ve probably heard of Schrödinger’s cat, who’s at the same time dead and alive inside a closed box with a fragile flask of poison. In the usual interpretation of quantum mechanics, you decide the cat’s fate once you open the box. It will be either alive or dead (hopefully alive!). There’s no other option.


But what if the time you open the box, reality splits into two? One where the cat is alive, and another where the cat is dead?


This idea is called the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics. In this interpretation, one or several new universes are created whenever a decision is made. This multiverse is well represented in Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter.


If you are looking for a movie recommendation, in the German experimental film Run Lola Run we follow the Lola in alternate timelines that had split from the original. It has become a cult classic since its release.



5. The holographic multiverse


One of the craziest scientific theories says that we are holograms, an image of reality projected on a lower-dimensional boundary of space. And, if so, a projection on a different border would create a slightly different version of our observable universe. Some would look very similar to ours, and others would distort a few details just enough to make it weird.


I categorize the multiverse from the latest Dr. Stranger movie as this one. In The Multiverse of Madness, Dr. Stranger and the girl who could jump realities always crossed an interdimensional space that could very well be a glimpse of the actual reality, not its projection.




6. The landscape multiverse


String theory proposes the possibility of parallel universes with different fundamental laws of physics and cosmological constants. In this case, the parallel universes would look nothing like ours, and some would not even bear life as we understand it.


“How can someone write about something so strange?” you might ask.


Well, to Isaac Asimov, the answer was a challenge. Robert Silverberg dared Asimov to write a story about a world where an impossible plutonium isotope existed and thus was born The Gods Themselves, my recommendation of a story with a landscape multiverse.



7. The simulated multiverse


This multiverse is intrinsically connected to the simulation theory. If we can simulate our entire universe, it means we are also a simulation. For the case in which each of these simulated worlds describes reality, this chain of simulations inside simulations is the multiverse.


This multiverse is also popular. A few Black Mirror episodes play with it. Two of my favorite underrated sci-fi movies, Source Code and The 13th Floor, also play with this idea. But the one I would most like to discuss is a not-so-obvious option, Phillip K. Dicke’s The Man in The High Castle.


SPOILERS AHEAD!


Instead of a simulation, Dicke’s alternate-history story goes meta. In the end, the characters find out their reality is actually the plot of a book! Their reality was a simulated story created by the mind of a writer who questioned what it would be like if the Axis Alliance won WWII.



8. The ultimate multiverse


The ultimate multiverse is the collection of every universe with all mathematically possible variations of our laws of physics. In fiction, that statement translates to a collection of every artistically imaginable version of our reality, like all the different animation styles in Spiderman: Into the Spiderverse.


Storytellers can get really creative with this one. One of the best recent stories about the ultimate multiverse is the excellent Oscar-winner Everything, Everywhere, All at Once, a fascinating example of a creative plot.


Everything, Everywhere, All at Once (2022)

9. Portal fantasy


And, of course, there are those types of multiverses that are not at all scientific!


This is the only one not based on Greene’s list, replacing the Inflation multiverse, one I could not find a working example to share.


Portal fantasy is as old as fantasy itself. A door opening leading to a magical world can be described as two parallel realities that coexist in a multiverse (or dualverse, if you will).


The classic examples go from The Chronicles of Narnia to Jumanji. Also, Isekai mangas and animes are nice recommendations for portal-fantasy stories. My favorite is InuYasha. :)


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That’s it for today, folks!


Can you remember any other examples of these multiverses in fiction? Did I miss any category? Let me know in the comments!


See you next post,

Ra.


 

Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.

You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.

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