This blog has recently been turning more and more into a political-ranting blog for me, which is not something I’m particularly pleased by. However, it’s mostly because comics at the moment are stupefyingly dull. Oh, that’s not to say there’s not good stuff out there – I’m still reading five or six new comics a week at least – and I’m looking forward to Batman & Robin, Williams on Detective, and the new Wednesday Comics thing – but nothing excites me and calls me to write about it.
So since I don’t want this to turn into “What Andrew’s Angry About Today”, I thought I’d suggest a project. Those who’ve known me a while will know that I have a tendency to start grand projects which don’t get finished, and there’s no guarantee this will, but I thought I’d give it a go. A few years back, when I was still on LiveJournal, I tried to start a community to create a fictional ‘universe’ which anyone could write stories for. Tilt came up with some great stuff about the Wars of the Roses, Gavin R made some interesting suggestions about the English Civil War, my late friend Pete Fenelon came up with an alternate rock-music history for it and I repurposed a (frankly terrible) superhero story I’d started writing for it, but then it all petered out a bit.
What I thought was it would be fun to resurrect the idea (and if anyone who was involved previously wants to join in again, I’d be very glad to use their old ideas or any new ones) and put together a collaborative collection of short stories set in the same universe. That way any story, from fanfic-with-the-numbers-filed-off to experimental modernist narrative, would be given a deeper context.
If anyone wants to do this, what I’d like to do is for participants to write a few stories on their blogs if they have them, and I’d set up a wiki page for ‘factual’ details about the universe. If it takes off, we could do a book of the best stories through a print-on-demand service like Lulu. I’m hoping for a result something like Temps, the Superman-meets-Yes-Minister short story anthology from the 80s.
Would anyone be interested in taking part? I’m addressing this especially to the people I have linked on my blogroll, but if anyone else wants to get involved, it could be fun. It wouldn’t have to be stories either – could be news articles or blog posts from the alternate universe.
As a basic guide, here’s the original ‘proposal’ I wrote five years ago. This is essentially unchanged, so therefore awful, but I think it could do as a starting poinf. What do you think?
The idea here is to find a way to tell any story anyone could conceivably want to do, using the same shared-world backdrop. I think, as an initial idea, that the further away from ‘Now’ we get, the less like the real world it should get. Likewise the further away from the dwelling-places of the likely readers we get, the less like the real world. Inventing a new African country (a la Wakanda in the Marvel Universe) is a lot more ‘plausible’ to the average reader than inventing a new US State or county in Wales. Which is not to say we can’t do those too, but they should be thought about more carefully.
This is only the REAL basics so far…
The way I see it, we have a series of civilisations that rise and fall, leaving little or no trace.:
Prehistory – Dinosaurs. Do they have a civilisation at all? That could be interesting.
The Stone Age. This happened as many people imagine it from films and TV and so on, people living in caves and hitting each other with clubs etc.
The Age Of Heroes. We have a prehistoric Heroic Fantasy setting here, with elements of both Conan type stories and more Tolkeinesque stuff going on. Dragons, Elves, Wizards, Dwarfs etc all milling around doing their thing. This goes on for several thousand years. I think that each civilisation should go through the five stages from Illuminatus! – Chaos, Order, Confusion, Bureaucracy, Aftermath. This would allow us to do both traditional heroic fantasy and Discworld style satire of the Beauraucracy stage.
Atlantis also sank around this time.
Biblical times/Egypt/Greece/Rome – again, pretty much as people imagine them. Feel free to create as many pharaohs and emperors as you want, or to mess with the timeline as much as you like.
King Arthur – this is to the Age Of Heroes as the Renaissance was to Ancient Greece in our world, and should be played as such. The Arthurian times end around the same time as Robin Hood existed, give or take a few hundred years.
The Middle Ages exist mostly as a setting for Shakespeare’s plays.
The Victorian era onwards should happen more or less as it did in real life. There were more gangsters in the 1930s than in real life and superheroes started appearing then too, but in general life remained pretty much unchanged for most people. By the mid 18th century most of the more odd animals (vampires, trolls, talking gorillas and so on) had retreated to obscure parts of Eastern Europe or Africa, and people had essentially stopped believing in them.
‘Now’ is pretty much like now today, except that the level of technology in some ways is more advanced. Teleportation and time machines might exist, but if so they’re prototypes only, most people haven’t even become aware of their existence, and they don’t make much difference to people’s lives. There’s a colony on the moon, and another on Mars, but again these don’t really enter into most people’s thoughts.
Superheroes exist – there have been ‘mystery men’ since the thirties, and a few powered heroes since the 60s. There are nothing like as many of them as there are in superhero universes, however, and while superteams exist, people wouldn’t expect them to make any real difference to the world.
Roughly 20 years from ‘now’ we have FTL and first contact with alien intelligences. A hundred years or so from then, there is a nuclear war which devastates most of the earth. However, a few billion people by then live off Earth, and so while the Earth becomes uninhabitable for a while, except by a few roaming tribes of mutants and suchlike, it’s eventually repopulated, and becomes one of the centres of the galactic Empire.
The Empire itself goes through two separate phases. In the time of growth, it’s high-concept space swashbuckling, a la Flash Gordon or Buck Rodgers, with jumpsuited heroes battling evil space dictators and saving the girl. Later on, it settles down into a more sedate empire, a la the Federation in Star Trek or the empire in Foundation, except with multiple sentient species (humans, vampires, trolls etc) from Earth as well as aliens.
Eventually, the empire crumbles, humanity is reduced to almost nothing, and the Things under the sea, which have been guiding humanity for millennia through The Conspiracy (which involves every conspiracy idea ever) come out. Their breeding program has produced some very tasty meat…
There will be whole alien civilisations too, as well as beings from other planes (faerie, Heaven, Hell and so on). There is one ‘true god’, but that god has multiple aspects, each of which have multiple identities which can interact, thus allowing elements from any major mythology to share the same stories.
I’ve not included here the ideas from anyone else, as I’m not sure they’d want me to, but this should give people an idea. Anyone want to join in?