Parallel worlds are a regular theme in S/F. The idea is that every decision spits off a new timeline. There are infinite worlds were everything is possible. Many vary only slightly from ours, like if we decide to wear a blue shirt in one world and red in another. In other worlds there would be weird things like Hitler curing cancer.
Like most S/F themes, parallel worlds have some basis in theoretical science. It’s popularity waxes and wanes. Currently I believe it’s on the upswing in the world of science. However, that really doesn’t matter as it’s too good a plot device not to use. My novel, Transdimensional Blues, uses it, along with a lot of my short fiction.
It is said that S/F is the literature of “what if?” With an infinity of worlds to draw upon, we can have a lot of fun. Oh yeah, almost every new S/F writer who uses this device wants to rewrite WWII. That’s not a bad thing, as we got such cool stories as , The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick. Amazon made a pretty decent TV series out of it too.
One of the surprisingly good uses of parallel worlds is in the Adult Swim cartoon series, Morty and Rick. Heads up, this is not a kid friendly cartoon. Rick’s ability to portal to other parallel worlds is central to the series.
Spoiler alert ahead. One of the more disturbing and moving episodes was, Season 1, Episode 6, Love Potion #9. Long story short, Morty convinces Rick to make a love potion so that a girl in school will fall in love with him. Things go horribly wrong and the whole world, except for Morty’s genetic relatives, fall in love with him. The attempt to fix that changes everyone into monsters. The attempt to fix that fix turns everyone into even more horrific monsters.
Rick’s solution, such as it is, is to abandon that world. He portals to a world exactly like their original world, except in this one their versions of Rick and Morty have just died. Rick and Morty bury their doppelgangers in the back yard. Rick calmly goes inside the house, grabs a drink from the refrigerator and plops down on the sofa like nothing happened. Morty is moving through the scene with a 1000 yard stare. Pretty intense for a cartoon.
Parallel worlds theory brings in a lot of interesting philosophical questions. What is the value of our life if there are infinite versions of ourselves? What to go down the rabbit hole? Investigate “quantum immortality.”
Anyway . . . it’s a good tool to have in a writer’s tool box. Have fun, don’t get hurt.
-Raymond M. Coulombe