Open-Source Universes

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Why

One of the big problems with doing fan art of any kind (drawing, writing, video) is that someone else controls the copyright, so there's only so much you can do with what you create in that fictiverse (fictional universe).

I first noticed this problem with regard to Star Trek fandom – which over the last decade or more has produced a quite amazing amount of video of equal or higher quality than the original show... but the video rights are controlled by giant studios, which have already prevented at least one feature-length film from being produced. It seems likely that if the fans had been free to produce and sell original works set in that universe, we would now be flooded with a lot of pretty high-quality video, art, and writing (as well as a larger amount of lower-quality work, but that price seems more than fair).

Dystopianism

Another problem with Trek is that a lot of the legally-authorized published works have been going in an increasingly dystopian direction, which to my mind rather negates the central point of the Star Trek franchise.

I've become leery of the "dystopian future" trope in popular fiction, especially where it seems to be supplanting hope for any real improvement. We're increasingly living in a dystopian future, however benign it may seem in some ways; those of us who choose to stay informed are all too aware of the risks we're running by continuing on this path, and the people whose lives are being harmed and destroyed by what is already happening. We despair of ever coming to a better place again. While many of us have ideas about how we can help improve things, we lack a shared vision of what a positive future might look like, given where we are at present.

Conclusion

All of this leads naturally to the idea of creating some fictiverses with the potential richness of Star Trek (or Lord of the Rings or Dune or whatever your favorite example is), with a goal of illustrating optimistic paths forward out of dark places, and for everyone to create in and build on however they wish.

Management

We want to allow cohesiveness and quality-control without enabling despotic restrictions on whatever franchises may develop.

As a tentative solution to this dilemma, I'm thinking that each project should have something like a Git repository that maintains the franchise's "Bible", probably in the form of a wiki edited by trusted creators. Works will need to follow the Bible's guidelines in order to be accepted into the franchise's canon – though anyone who wants to take the franchise in a significantly different direction is welcome to "fork" the repository and start their own franchise from that base.

Ideally we'd like software that supports both wiki-style editing and forking, and is also relatively easy for non-technical users to edit.

Fictiverse Ideas

I hereby offer the following characters and settings for further expansion by others. I'll develop my concepts of them as time and inspiration permit.

The Beatriffics

...is set in an alternate 20th-century in which:

  • The Beatles were female
  • ...and also somehow inexplicably immune to a lot of the gender-discrimination that would have taken place had this been the reality
  • ...and their lives actually involved the sorts of adventures depicted in their fictional works (mainly Yellow Submarine and Help!).
    • "Tangerine Starship"

...except the names and details are all original. I don't want to plagiarize or even really parody any particulars of their real lives or the films (no more than, say, The Monkees did); the point is more to talk about things like friendship and how we deal with stress while remaining whole, creative people, in a setting where amazing things can happen. (That said, the text as written does reference some details of the Beatles' early lives; I'm still working out where to draw the boundaries.)

I'd like it to have a lot of happy endings, even if the story-arcs go through some very difficult and dark places.

I've written a little bit here.

Scriptworld

...is really a sort of metaverse in which there is some method which permits one or more characters from some approximation of "our world" to travel into fictional settings that either have been created just for this fictiverse or are in the public domain.

The inspiration comes from both the Inkworld series in which a small group of characters from the modern era are transported into a fantasy setting that is itself based on in-universe fiction, and Robert A. Heinlein's multiverse in which characters from Edgar Rice Burroughs's Barsoom novels interact with original characters who have also travelled to the setting of L. Frank Baum's Oz books. Heinlein's use of the idea was somewhat limited, as his focus was more on the idea that every timeline was a fiction written in some other universe. (In one scene, there is apparent Authorial intervention in which a problematic character is literally erased and never mentioned again.)

I always found the Inkworld series especially frustrating, because I wanted the protagonist to be more inquisitive about the nature of the "fantasy" world in which she suddenly finds herself. Does any of the science she's learned from our world still operate there, or are the rules completely different? If some are the same, which ones? Where is the disconnect, what is the pattern? Can she use her 21st-century scientific knowledge to overcome power-abusers within that universe and make it more just?

A recurring theme (to give more substance to the name "Scriptworld") would be that our protagonist feels like she's being cued to follow a predetermined story-line, doesn't like the way the story seems to be going, and decides to "go off-script" and do something sensible and/or original.

The Inkworld series pretty much only ever visited one in-story fictiverse; I'd like to see our protagonist visit more than one. She could be like a kind of inter-universe Doctor Who, bringing compassion and modern science to bear on socio-technological problems wherever she goes. This both moves us further away from anything that might be idea-stealing and also opens up the art possibilities tremendously, as she could visit any era or setting – past, present, future, parallel, or completely fantastical.

Obviously this could include pre-medieval fantasy settings, including existing fictiverses that are in the public domain.