When it comes to the parallel universes we visit in speculative fiction, some of my personal favorites are the ones where Rome never fell, the one where Spock has a goatee, and Universe R. I don’t know if anyone’s written about Parallel Universe R, or named it before, but I imagine a lot of you have thought about it. It’s that other place where great artistic works were never lost. It’s the land where overlooked, forgotten, or underappreciated poets, playwrights, authors, and artists were encouraged and celebrated and lived on to craft more work. I don’t mean the Egoverse where you’re the top of the charts or have written a chain of bestsellers — this one is for the artists you wish had gotten a better deal. Universe R can’t be completely logical, of course. For instance, if the Library of Alexandria had survived, then we’d probably be further along with a lot of developments and some of the later artists might not ever have been born. When I think about Universe R I don’t worry about it making that kind of sense.
I dropped by my counterpart’s home in Universe R to look around his shelves: The work of Aeschylus, Sophlocles, and Euripides came to us complete in Universe R, rather than just a few plays from each, and the works of Menander and Sappho reached us whole, rather than just a few tantalizing fragments. Jumping ahead a bit, Chaucer finished The Canterbury Tales, though he had to live to 90 to pull it off, and it takes up a huge chunk of a shelf. There’s no confusion over Shakespeare folios and I see one fine copy of his Cardenio and other tantalizing things lost to history. On the music rack, Bach’s work was better preserved so that some of his music wasn’t lost because it was sold as fish wrappers. Mozart lived to a ripe old age, cranking out more and more astonishing and varied works.
On my fiction shelf in Parallel Universe R I can find all the great historical swashbuckling novels Harold Lamb wrote when he almost gave up fiction in the 1930s, just as his prose was at its peak. Near it is a complete run of all of Robert E. Howard’s fiction. He went back to writing fantasy a few times after the 1930s, but he turned also to westerns and teamed up with Hollywood producers to create some western film masterpieces. His DVDs are over there on the other shelf, next to the run of the original Star Trek. Here in Universe R the dogs of Star Trek’s second season never got made and the show didn’t get thrown to the wolves in the third season — thanks to the diligent work of the story editors and producers, the final three years of the show built upon the promise of early episodes. When a sequel series finally came out, Captain Sulu was also a resounding success. (Sure, I dare to discuss Bach and Sophocles and Robert E. Howard and Star Trek and Shakespeare in the same entry.) In Universe R The Beatles realized that they were greater together than the sum of their individual parts, and regrouped every few years to make amazing music, even while experimenting with their side projects.
I could go on, but this post is long enough already. I’ll save one more entry for later: The 27th of this month is the birthday of one of my favorite musicians, the guy who prompted this post because in April I always think about how things should have turned out for him. He was a Beatles contemporary who soared to acclaim in Universe R. I’ll post about him closer to his birthday.
So what works are on your shelf in Universe R?