So Many Universes in My Head

I’ve been wondering, how many universes can I hold in my head at once?

I’m talking about fictional universes, of course. And by universe, I mean a world set apart by its own physics and cosmology. So, realist narratives all occupy the same universe (Sherlock Holmes and Tony Soprano exist in the same universe). But Tolkien’s Middle Earth is a different universe from the Marvel Universe, which is a universe separate from the Whedonverse.

Right now, circulating near the surface waters of my short-term recall are a multitude of universes, elements of which I’ve encountered in the past few days: the Marvel Universe, the Gotham City-Batman Universe (which seems closer to our universe than the Marvel Universe), the Harry Potter Universe, the George Lucas Star Wars Universe, George R.R. Martin’s Ice and Fire Universe, Pooh’s Hundred Acre Wood Universe (thanks to my four-year-old), the Shadow of the Colossus Kyozo Universe, Nintendo’s Mario Universe, Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper Universe, Gaius Baltar and his pantheistic Cylon universe, and Neil Gaiman’s The Wolves in the Walls Universe (again, thanks to my son).

Shouldn’t I get confused? Each universe has its own beastiary, its own laws of physics, its own mythology. How do I keep track of them all?

Maybe because what the universes have in common is actually more fundamental than what separates them. As vast as the gulf is between a Jedi Knight and Heffalump, these two universes — and all of the ones above — share the same moral code.

Just look at this painstakingly detailed illustration:

The Moral Universe and Its Subsets

The characters that populate each of the worlds above, no matter how realistic or how fantastic, all operate within the same moral universe. There is right and there is wrong. There is good and there is evil. The more interesting characters are a blend of right and wrong, but nonetheless right and wrong still anchor the two extremes of what is imaginable.

I wonder, then, what exists outside this framing universe? Can someone help me name some fictional universes which operate in an amoral universe, where there is no sense of right or wrong, no judgment of good or bad deeds? What would such a fictional universe look like? Where the hero is neither a hero nor an anti-hero, but something altogether…new?

2 thoughts on “So Many Universes in My Head”

  1. The game Deus Ex might be a good example. Also The Authority comic characters sort of operate outside of normal structures. In fact, that comic is all about how they exist independent from such structures. Though there is an outside world judging them, it doesn’t really impact. 

    The movie Waking Life is a great example of this as well. Its complete disconnect from our standard world structures makes it a really crazy movie. 

    The same can be said (in part) for most of Dick’s novels. This is illustrated pretty well in the move A Scanner Darkly, also rotoscoped, which shows that in such a world normal reality’s physical structures also have trouble applying. 

    A case could also be made for the main character of Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

  2. I’ve actually never played Deus Ex, to my embarrassment, but I think you’re right about Dick’s novels, at least the later ones. In early novels like Time out of Joint and The Man in the High Castle the moral universe is recognizably our own, but in a novel like Valis, there really is no moral structure.

    For my part, I was thinking that the world of American Psycho could be considered an amoral one.

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