From a post to Baen's Bar Snerker's Only dated September 9, 2006:

Relationships between universes

    OK, Pam asked if I would be willing to discuss the nature and relationship between various universes in the Bahzell novels.

    I'm not really prepared at this point to go into complete, binding detail. I'm pretty sure my basic concepts aren't going to change a great deal as these books go on, but I'm not going to promise that. I think any writer who categorically rules out changes in a literary universe while it's still a work in progress is making a serious mistake, and one his readers probably shouldn't thank him for.

    Having said that…

    All of the universes available to the people (and deities) we meet up with in Orfressa began from the same point of origin. As I'm currently envisioning things, All universes began from the same event, but that event (and whether I think it was a "Big Bang" -- for story purposes -- or not, is going to remain my own little secret, at least for now), like all the other events which followed from it, worked out differently in different universes.

    For the most part, the physical laws in all of the universes accessible to human beings (or the Races of Man) are essentially the same. What the wizards in Orfressa represent is basically a sort of metaphysics-based manipulation of quantum mechanics, in a lot of ways. They have the ability to directly perceive and manipulate the universe around them on an almost subatomic basis, although the conceptual model most of them use to describe it to themselves would be quite different from the way someone from our universe would try to conceptualize the same process, assuming the person from our universe thought it was possible in the first place.

    The basic physical laws, however, are still there, still in place. As some of you have clearly noticed, Orfressa is not a classic "high fantasy" universe, with essentially medieval physical technologies intermixed with magic. There is a lot of that sort of template in Orfressa, but those of you have been keeping your eyes on the dwarves have clearly recognized what would be screamingly anachronistic elements in most "high fantasy," and/or outright impossible in a universe where physics as we know them didn't apply or had been completely displaced by "magic" [pocket watches, pneumatic shock absorbers, and Bessemer converters, just to mention a few]. And for those who favor purely muscle-powered weaponry and combat in their fantasy, Orfressa is likely to become a steadily less comfortable environment, once those nasty, innovative dwarves really hit their stride. (By the way, there's a reason the dwarves rule the one true Norfressan superpower. I have inserted several Really Good Reasons into the basic assumptions of the novels, but the real reason -- assuming anyone wants to know -- is that the author is tired of watching the dwarves always get the dirty end of the stick. For that matter, the "techno-phobia" inherent in a lot of fantasy -- "magic and fuzzy woodland creatures are good; technology poisons and destroys everything it touches" -- doesn't really have a place in Orfressa. If you noticed the description in The War God's Own, I didn't exactly try to sugarcoat the environmental consequences downwind from the dwarven city-state I introduced you to, but I also showed you what the dwarves can do with the technology they've developed so far.) For the purposes of our present discussion, however, what's really important is that what the wizards do is in addition to the "regular" laws of physics, not instead of those "regular" laws, which means that pretty much anything goes if you introduce hardware from outside the universe, or if those infernally inventive dwarves start introducing new processes of their own.

    It also means that what really happened in the case of the Sothoii coursers was that the wizards who were working on improving the warhorses available to the people who remained loyal to the House of Ottovar in Kontovar "forced" changes using their instinctive/intuitive/learned metaphysical tools, which expressed themselves as what was effectively genetic engineering. That's very much what happened to the hradani (and the halflings), as well, and it's what Tomanak and Wencit are trying to explain to Bahzell, using the language of a culture which doesn't really understand the entire theory of genetics, when each of them in turn work on telling him about where the Rage came from and how it's changed his people.

    Now, all of this leaves the question of just exactly who the gods are, where they come from, and how they fit into this matrix of enormous numbers of universes. I decided when I started to work on this universe (in the literary sense) that one of the things I wanted to deal with was the reasons why there should be a struggle between "good" and "evil," besides the internally consistent philosophical positions of adherents of the two sides, in the first place. In other words, I wanted there to be a direct, demonstrable, concrete reason for the decisions people (including deities) make. I also wanted to have direct input from the gods, but not have the gods turn into all-knowing puppet masters, and it was essential -- for story reasons, as well as purely personal philosophical ones -- that the characters have free will and that the choices they made matter. And I had to have an explanation for why the evil gods weren't willing/able to intervene directly to simply crush their mortal opponents once and for all, since, after all, the evil deities wouldn't be particularly constrained by the question of what was good for their own followers, and certainly not by any considerations of fairness.

    So, since I was already dealing with multiple universes anyway, I came up with the concept which Tomanak explains to Bahzell, the analogy which considers each universe to be the equivalent of a single city in a vast struggle between two competing kingdoms. The fact that at the end of the day, when the "box score" between the two sides is tallied up in the numbers of universes which each controls, the winner will get the whole ball of wax, provides the essential motivation for the conflict between the deities (and their followers) in terms which extend beyond the frame of any single universe. And, since all possible outcomes of any action will be worked out in some universe, somewhere, not even the gods can know which precise outcome will obtain in any particular universe. That's why Tomanak can't tell Bahzell ahead of time what will happen to him. It's also why the Dark Gods can be positive that Bahzell, Wencit, Kaeritha, Vaijon, Brandark, etc., are all people they need to see about eliminating without knowing exactly what any of those individuals are going to do in any particular universe. Both sides see the full spectrum of all the things that all the players on both sides might do.

    Now, life gets even more "interesting" for the deities on the two sides (and so, by extension, for their worshipers) in that the clarity with which future possibilities can be perceived is not absolute. In theory, it is absolute; in practice, it isn't. It needs to be borne in mind that the deities I've got the characters in Orfressa interacting with are enormously powerful, but not omnipotent. For the most part, the Gods of Light are more powerful than the Dark Gods, for reasons which I really have worked out but which lie outside anything which is going to have an immediate impact on the actors in our little drama. (In other words, tum, te, tum, te, tum.) This gives Tomanak, for example (since he's the second most powerful of all the Gods of Light), a significant advantage in the confrontations which occur outside the stage of mortal existence. And that, in turn, means that he's able to do a better job of keeping someone like Sharna in the dark about the exact events which are most likely to occur in any given universe. Basically, there's a constant level of conflict -- what you might think of as the "electronic warfare environment" -- going on between the gods on (for want of a better term) their own plane of existence. This gets particularly significant because there's a sort of focusing "bubble" in every universe. As events proceed along that universe's timeline, possibilities narrow as more and more events which might have impinged upon any particular possible outcome resolve themselves. That is, if Bahzell, let's say, is possibly going to inherit his father's throne (by the way, I've deliberately chosen this one because it's so incredibly unlikely to ever happen), then as siblings between him and the throne die off, the probability (as opposed to the possibility) of his doing so changes. So there's this constantly sliding bubble or bead in which the numbers of possibilities with significant bearing upon the conflict between the gods, or upon the lives of any particular groups of characters, focus down into a much smaller total. That's the point at which the gods usually start intervening in any particular universe. They're not omnipotent, and they're not omniscient (obviously, if they were truly omniscient, they'd already know how the entire struggle was going to come out), so they concentrate their resources in any particular universe on what you might think of as cusp events as they begin to be able to identify them with a reasonable degree of certainty.

    There's obviously still the question of where the gods came from in the first place, and why they don't all agree on the best possible outcome for all the various universes. I actually have a theory for that, too, although I'm not sure I want to delve into that level of cosmological import in the novels. For practical purposes, however, I assume that the various deities we're meeting in Orfressa have analogues in all of the other universes, and that (since they are deities) they're aware of all of their other "selves." This is better from the perspective of the Gods of Light than it is from the perspective of the Dark Gods, because the Gods of Light don't have anywhere near the problem cooperating with one another. The Dark Gods are handicapped as a coherent force by the fact that their motivations are all essentially self-focused. They're not only fighting the gods of Light, they're also fighting one another for position and power within their own hierarchy. And, if it should happen that at the end of time, their "side" wins, they're fighting effectively for a bigger slice of a "pie" which will consist of all the universes there ever were or ever might be. Also, I've assumed that in virtually all universes where "evil" and "good" are contending with one another, the original reason for the warfare between the two sides is that somebody (in the case of Orfressa, a fellow named Phrobus) decided that he wanted that bigger slice of pie and set out to get it. (Please do bear in mind that any writer's fundamental concept of what constitutes good and evil is going to infuse any literary universes he creates. In other words, my own personal view of what constitutes "evil behavior" is going to dictate the motivations and actions of the bad guys within my own storylines.)

    One of the things which differentiate universes from one another is the particular set of "house rules" the divine combatants in each universe have agreed upon. For example, in some universes, the two sides don't confront one another openly at all. At some point in the far distant past of that universe, one of the dividing event outcomes which separated it from all the others, was that for some reason the deities decided that they wouldn't intervene directly. And the divine powers which line up on either side tend to be the "same" people in all universes, although they may assume very different roles from universe to universe. For example, in our own universe (and bearing in mind the fact that I was raised Episcopalian and became a Methodist) I think of Tomanak as the Orfressan analog of Saint Michael, probably with a little Gabriel thrown in. So, if I may be forgiven for drawing the analogy, Tomanak (in Orfressa) is at least tangentially "in contact with" Saint Michael (in our -- or, at least, my -- universe [G]), and as such might actually "know" someone from our universe who ended up in Orfressa. (Should, of course, that extremely low-probability event ever occur.)

    Obviously, there's a lot more going on than I'm able to discuss in an essay this short, even assuming that I didn't want to make you spend your hard-earned money to get the full story [G]. I will say this, however. There are universes in which the laws of physics which we understand and accept either don't apply at all, or are so lost in the "background noise" of other laws that they essentially aren't noticeable. In particular, in the universes where "evil" has won -- the places demons come from, for example, or the universes from which Krashnark draws his devils (whom you've yet to actually meet) -- the people who came out on top are usually (though not always) folks who worship someone like Carnadosa, and who progressively twist and warp the universe about them in ways which will maximize their (magic-based) personal power. In time, those universes become the equivalent of the Chaos Lands, where the most perverse conceivable constraints end up applying… or not, as the case may be. There are also some universes in which what you might call the "dark powers" of science have triumphed, which would probably be a technophobe's nightmare. (Or, perhaps, his perfect "justification" about where all of his irrational fears convince him that the rest of us are headed?)

    There's also the point which Wencit has alluded to a time or two about a wizard's ability to see the future and to see/travel into the past. For reasons which ought to be fairly clear from what I've already said about the gods' ability to accurately see the future of any given universe, it's also effectively impossible for any wizard (unless he has some sort of sneaky, unfair advantage which only he -- and the author -- know about [tum, te, tum, te, tum]) to accurately predict the future. In order to do that, he'd have to have some means of identifying ahead of time the probability strands which would be realized in the universe in question, and no one (so far as anyone knows) has any such ability.

    Now, a lot of wizards can see the past, which has already happened and -- from the position of an observer in any given universe looking back -- is now fixed. There is, however, a significant difference between seeing the past and traveling into the past. Some wizards, as Wencit has stated, are capable of traveling into the past. As he's also stated, only a lunatic (or someone absolutely desperate) would even consider doing it, for two reasons, really. First, he can't travel back into his own past. As I said in the first sentence of this paragraph, from his perspective in his universe, the past is just that -- past, over with, and locked. He can't go back and change it, because if he did, he'd cease to exist, which would mean that he couldn't come back, which would mean -- well, I'm sure were all sufficiently familiar with that particular little problem. However (and this is where the second reason comes into play), when he does travel into the past, he lands in a universe other than his own (he has to; his past is fixed, as far as he's concerned, remember?), and because he's a new addition to that universe while the events which were "past" in his own universe are still in the process of occurring, they are completely mutable from his new perspective. In other words, he can change what happened in his own universe, but only in someone else's universe. (If that makes any sense.)

    And then, of course, there are the dragons, who spend so much of the time watching the "time storm" that they don't get a whole heck of a lot done in the everyday world. But that's another story, and its one we'll deal with eventually.

    As for all the rest of the questions you might have at this point --

    Tum, te, tum, te, tum. [G]