Greg Egan’s Clockwork Rocket supposes an alternate cosmology where the physical properties of the universe work differently than our own. This isn’t the first time Egan has played with these ideas. His first three novels touched on the ideas of non-traditional physical theories. Quarantine supposed that humanity’s proclivity to observe reality as made up of particles was dangerous to the larger universe that was perfectly happy with their waveforms uncollapsed. Permutation city (and it’s been ages since I read this) played with the implications of creating a virtual reality starting with a simplified physics. Distress tackled the Theory of Everything and suggested that the ancient belief that humanity is at the center of the universe wasn’t that far off the mark.
I started along this train of thought in a VERY different direction this morning. I read The God of Dark Laughter by Michael Chabon. This is a story that suggests “real” clowns are an ancient offshoot of humanity that are targets of an equally ancient emo-cult and the universe was tossed into existence over the shoulder of an uncaring creator. I encountered this story as part of The Weird and weird it is. The connection here is that religious origin stories, true or fictional, play with a similar speculative fiction tool set that Egan is using for his alternative cosmologies. What if, instead of the belief structures that humanity has developed over the years, there were others.
I like finding unexpected connections across wildly different genres like this, and I’m wondering what else comes to mind when you think of Alternative Cosmologies? Do you think about the lore that explains the races of Tolkien’s Middle Earth and other secondary world fantasies or does your mind wander to the outrageous physics of the version of our reality where our favorite super heroes dwell? Is the magic system in your favorite epic fantasy robust enough to explain the universe its characters live in? Possibly I’ve wandered into too broad of a definition.
What are your favorite alternative cosmologies? Let’s try and stick to something that at least partially explains the foundations of the universe the story is told in. Think of this as sort of the opposite of the question answered by Apocalypse fiction or entropy-punk stories that extrapolate from existing myths or physical theories to the ultimate end of the universe. Instead we’re looking for stories that see what happens if we change some fundamental assumptions and then filter the results through our existing expectations of “how stuff works.”