Alternative universe (fan fiction)
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An alternative universe (also known as AU, alternative timeline, alternate timeline, alternative reality, or alternate reality) is the occurrence of canonical facts about the setting or characterization of a particular fictional universe being explored in a non-canonical way. These universes are often made unofficially, though elements of fan fiction are sometimes used in official, though usually non-canonical, storylines.
Stories that fall into this definition are usually "what-ifs", where possibilities arising from circumstances that do not occur in the original fictional universe are explored. For example, the premise of an alternative universe story may go something like this: "What would happen if character X was killed before event Y could happen?" Unlike regular fan fiction, which generally remains within the boundaries of the canon set out by the author, alternative universe fiction writers like to explore the possibilities of pivotal changes made to characters' history, motivations, or environment, often combining material from multiple sources for inspiration.
Types of AU fiction
Authors and readers of AU fanfiction enjoy it for many different reasons, but there are several shared story types that exist within many fandoms: alternative timelines, contextual reassignment, "reality" swaps, crossovers, and predictive fiction.
Stories with alternative timelines follow the established canon before veering away at a crucial moment—similar in concept to many entries in Marvel Comics' What If series and DC Comics' Elseworlds series. The Pokémon TV and video game series too has had its fair share of alternative universe fanfictions. One example notable[by whom?] for its popularity is "Blue Tears", a story in which the pokémon trainer Blue gets revenge on his rival Red after Red's actions on the S.S. Anne led to the death of Blue's Raticate.
Some alternative timeline stories are called "fix-it fics" because they rewrite the story so that the consequences of events are undone, although beginning events are the same. An example from the Harry Potter universe is "Extenuating Circumstances" by SarahtheBardess, in which Harry's godfather Sirius Black still dies at the hands of his cousin Bellatrix LeStrange but is returned to life. Others are called "denial-fics" because they ignore certain pivotal events in a given canon. An example of this type, also from the Harry Potter universe, is "You Don't Belong Here" by Hieirulesall. The author notes that they want Sirius Black to live but do not want to resort to bringing him back from the dead.
In the Babylon 5 fanfic "A Dark, Distorted Mirror" by Gareth Williams, the alien ambassador Delenn chooses a different pilot—not Jeffrey Sinclair, a crucial contributor to both the battle and fictional universe as a whole—to bring aboard a Minbari warship during the final battle in the war between the Minbari and Earth. As a result, the Minbari do not find out about an important connection between themselves and humans, do not surrender, and successfully destroy the planet Earth and continue the war. However, despite the dark and desperate struggle that ensues as a result, the eventual outcome offers hope for a better future.
Another example of a subgenre of the alternative timeline story is called a "do-over fic", similar to "fix-it fics" in which consequences of an event are undone, but in do-over fics particularly the entire story is reset to the beginning, and the author creates an alternate timeline that diverges from the original canon of the work. "What is Right: Year One" by Emma Lipardi is a do-over fic surrounding the idea of a Hogwarts student having the ability to "Re-do" their life from the start.
Plot switch stories take the characters from a series and place them in another time, place, or situation. An example is "Welcome to Hogwarts" by AD Miller, a Glee story that transfers Glee characters to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter universe.
A subset of this type called familiar plot switch takes the characters from a series and places them in a setting more familiar to the author. This type of context shift is one of the main sources of "high school fic" in which all the characters are written going to high school. An example of this is the Charmed fanfiction "Charmingly High School" by AlwayWrittinSomethin, in which characters who never met until adulthood attend high school together.
In a reality swap alternative universe (AU)—often in movies or television shows—the actors may find themselves in the fictional universe, the fictional characters may find themselves in the "real" universe, or the story may feature swaps both ways. This type of AU has appeared in mainstream publications as well. In Star Trek short stories written in the early 1970s, the actors from the Desilu set were swapped with the "real life" Starfleet officers via the transporter ("Visit To A Weird Planet"; "Visit To A Weird Planet, Revisited"). These fan fiction stories were eventually published in official Star Trek books.
This concept was used also in an in-canon episode of Supernatural, "The French Mistake" (Season 6, Episode 15). In the episode, two characters named Sam and Dean are transported to an alternative universe where they are actors named Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, respectively, on a television show called Supernatural.
This type of alternative universe places two fictional universes in a situation where they interact, similar to reality swaps (which mix a fictional universe with the real world). Such stories sometimes involve comparisons or conflict between the combat prowess of the two universes, often involving the various strengths and weaknesses of the technology/magic of each world. An example is "A Thin Veneer" by AlbertG, in which Star Trek characters meet Babylon 5 characters, setting off a galaxy-wide war. This genre of fanfiction is distinct from plot switch in the fact that it usually involves characters from at least two separate series interacting with one another.
Sometimes these stories involve the substitution of characters from one universe for those of another, as in "Return of the Aurors" by Anne Walsh. That fan fiction recasts Return of the Jedi with Harry Potter characters, like 'Ron Solo' (Ron Weasley as Han Solo) and 'N-3LO' (Neville Longbottom as C-3PO). The story is played out in a Harry Potter-themed universe, visiting, for example, Dursley the Hutt's home on the desert planet of Quidditchine.
A third example of crossover fiction would be when a team-up of heroes from multiple universes must defeat a team-up of villains from those same stories, as in the Phineas and Ferb television special Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel. In this TV episode, several villains from the Marvel Universe team up with the show's usual villain, and a group of Marvel superheroes must team up with the show's protagonists to stop their plan to take over the world.
Alternative universes can arise inadvertently in fanfiction when the source material is released in a serial form (such as a multi-season television series or a book trilogy) so that fan works are written before further canonical information arrives. For instance, much Harry Potter fan fiction written in the nearly three years between the publication of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was written as "continuation" fan fiction, but became AU as soon as the new canonical material appeared. An example is Arabella and Zsenya's "After the End", made AU by Order of the Phoenix the day after the story's completion. In "After the End", Harry's fifth year ended with his mentor Albus Dumbledore's death, which did not happen in Order of the Phoenix, but, coincidentally, did happen in the following novel.
In alternative universe stories, characters' known motivations may vary considerably from their decisions in the canonical universe. The author of an alternative universe story thus can use the same characters, but send them down different paths to achieve a completely different plot.
On occasions, a fanfiction writer creates a character which does not exist in the actual story that inspired it. Gertrude 'Danger' Granger in Anne Walsh's Harry Potter AU series, the "Dangerverse," is an example of this, who is invented to serve as the wife of Remus Lupin, one of Harry's friends and teachers. Changing canon can also mean taking a romantic relationship that was hinted but didn't actually happen, and expanding on it.
In original fiction
Alternative universes are also used in original fiction works themselves as an integral part of the storyline. The webcomic Sluggy Freelance had an alternative universe storyline which, while not integral, was revisited for another storyline.Many examples given above, in particular the What If and Elseworld universes, have elements of AU fiction built into their canon.
In the many Gundam anime series, there are often six major timelines that are independent of one another, and some fan circles (especially in North America) refer to the timelines created after the original Universal Century as "alternative universes". However, this does not truly fit the standard definition of AU, as the timelines share neither characters nor locations (aside from the solar system itself). Some universes, especially when presented in two different formats (such as an anime television show and concurrent manga comic series), have two timelines which are similar but not identical, usually as a result of the difficulty of portraying certain scenes in both formats. Theoretically, both timelines are canon, but the differences sometimes escalate to the point where the two formats become essentially different stories.
The Star Wars: Infinities comic book series explores alternative universe fiction in a "what-if" style, diverging from the story of the original Star Wars trilogy movies at crucial moments, with a major impact on the evolving story. Exploring these questions from a different angle, the Stargate franchise has included episodes in which characters interact with alternative versions of themselves. In a similar fashion, several Star Trek episodes feature a "Mirror Universe" containing a very different history of events.
In the Lego Bionicle storyline, there are many alternative universes created whenever a character makes a decision or an event happens. For example, a universe was created when the character Toa Tuyet betrayed the city of Metru Nui and was defeated; in the alternative universe, Tuyet is aided by her comrade, Toa Nidhiki, and takes over Metru Nui. These alternative dimensions can be visited using a special mask called the Kanohi Olmak (Mask of Dimensional Gates). The anime, manga, and video game series Higurashi no Naku Koro ni (as well as its spin-offs) focuses on AU arcs and alternative settings to reveal the secrets of the village named Hinamizawa. Likewise, book series Heroes in Real Harsh World and Trendy Baba Series by Mohit Trendster explore multiple story angles of different Indian comic book superheroes with experimental backdrops and contrasting elements. Big Finish Doctor Who has alternative universe stories called "Unbound", which explore alternative Doctors.