The totality of existing things, including the Earth, our solar system, our galaxy, and everything else throughout space. No one is completely sure how large the universe is. Some people believe that it is infinite. Some believe it has a beginning and an end. Currently, there are many, many things that we don't know about the nature of the universe. What shape is it? What color is it? Are there other forms of intelligent life out there, or are we lousy humans it? How was it created, and how will it end? Was it created by God or the Big Bang? How old is it? Was the birth of Pauly Shore just random bad luck or proof that the universe actively hates us? We may never know all the answers...

Buckminster Fuller always called the universe "Universe". Interestingly, the universe always called Buckminster Fuller "Bucky". No one know why.

A term common in sci-fi, fantasy and other fiction fandoms, a "universe" is the world, environment, and history where a number of stories takes place in the same continuity.

For instance, a comic book publisher may have a number of their titles occupying the same universe, meaning they share the same past and events occurring in one title can affect the characters in others. A popular novelist may establish a universe for several of their books, or give permission for other writers to publish stories taking place in that same universe. A series of TV shows may be set before, after, or in parallel to each other, even to the point of characters from one show making major appearances in another.

The key idea of a "universe" is that it's unified -- the timeline and history are established and the characters are consistent. No matter how many writers contribute how many stories, they can all be reconciled with each other. The result is a much greater degree of immersion for the reader or viewer and an established link with fans of the exisiting stories. The writer's job isn't necessarily easier for using an existing universe, however -- more often than not, fans turn out to have a better knowledge of the universe's history than the writer and complain loudly when inconsistencies are introduced.

Similarly, an alternate universe describes a fictional universe which shares the same history, the same characters, or both with another established universe, but diverges from it at some fixed point. From then on, the two universes are no longer consistent with each other. Most unauthorized fan fiction exists in alternate universes.

See also: parallel universe, multiverse, Expanded Universe: More Worlds of Robert Heinlein, Known Space Universe

Currently, the most popular theory about the universe is that it is bounded, but in more than three dimensions. What this means is that the universe is unbounded to us (ie, you can never reach the edge) but it is not infinite.

To put it another way, the Earth is bounded in 3 dimensions, but unbounded in 2. So if you only ever travel left and right, forwards and backwards you'll never reach the edge. But if you travel in the third dimension, up and down, you can get off the planet.

Likewise, the universe is unbounded in 3 dimensions, but bounded in (probably) 4 dimensions. If all you do is travel up and down, left and right, forwards and backwards, you'll never reach the end of it. But (here's where my understanding gets a little shaky) if you travel in the fourth dimension, time, you can reach the edge of the universe. Or that's what I was taught. This all falls under Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

Science Fiction novella by Robert Heinlein (and no part of his Future History). * * * * 1/2; simply one of the best stories ever written.

Man's aspirations to reach the stars had its fruition in a generation ship, a ship large enough to provide for all the needs of its passengers, a ship in which people would pass their entire lives travelling from Earth to another star, a ship that formed their entire Universe.

The trouble was, the travelers forgot they were travelling. We enter the story long into the history of the voyage; the outer shells are uninhabited because of a long-ago revolt. Physics and metaphysics have become inseparable: Without the visual laboratory of the sky, science becomes a matter of faith. Priests interpret the ship's engineering diagrams for the faithful. The story's young protagonist challenges the priests and is exiled from society. To vindicate himself, he begins a quest for the mythical Control Room.

First appearing in Astounding Stories in 1941, "Universe" is a signpost in the history of Science Fiction: In an era when most authors had their spacemen travel the forty billion or so miles between inhabited star systems in half an hour, Robert Heinlein was coming to grips with the immense distances between the stars, the impossibility of faster-than-light travel, and suggests a possible way to overcome those obstacles. Even though it didn't work.

Do not dismiss "Universe" as simply another nuts-and-bolts hard science fiction story (although it's probably one of the first ones). It is more about the way The Law of Unintended Consequences sends the best-laid plans awry, and how silly it is to make several generations of one's descendants follow a predetermined path.

Heinlein followed "Universe" with a novella named "Common Sense"; these have been collected into an omnibus volume titled Orphans of the Sky.

"Universe" has left its echoes1 throughout the future development of Science Fiction. Your quest, now, is to find the story and read it.


1Well, pretty much everything that followed it, but more directly things like Ringworld, Red Dwarf, Flux, 40,000 in Gehenna, Rendezvous With Rama. More to come as I think of them.

U"ni*verse (?), n. [L. universum, from universus universal; unus one + vertere, versum, to turn, that is, turned into one, combined into one whole; cf. F. univers. See One, and Verse.]

All created things viewed as constituting one system or whole; the whole body of things, or of phenomena; the το παν of the Greeks, the mundus of the Latins; the world; creation.

How may I Adore thee, Author of this universe And all this good to man! Milton.

 

© Webster 1913.

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