Alternative Universe

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Alternative Universe is a piece of fan fiction that diverges from established canon history. This divergence changes the history of the rest of the events in canon. This type of piece may be labeled AU.

An example of an Alternative Universe concept is placing the Ronin Warriors in a universe where they live on a space colony. Another example from the Harry Potter fandom is a story in which Lily and James Pottter had never died.


Historical Definitions

The following definition dates to December 1999 in the Sentinel fandom:

A/U -- Alternate Universe (a story radically different from show canon) [1]

The following definition dates to January 2001 and the site Bad Fanfic! No Biscuit!:

Alternate Universe. Often used in fanfic to describe a story that departs from canon. For instance, a story where Darth Maul doesn't die at the end of "The Phantom Menace", or a "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" story where Kendra is attending college with Buffy, etc.[2]

The following definition dates to May 2001 in the West Wing fandom:

Alternate Universe: a story that knowingly contradicts the show's canon (one that kills off a major character, for example) in such a way that it cannot be compatible with what we've seen on the air. [3]

The following definition dates to the Roswell fandom on June 27, 2001:

AU: stands for Alternate Universe - a fic that takes place in one (e.g. Max never healed Liz, the humans + aliens are reversed, the entire story is set in a fairy tale, Michael was adopted, etc.) [4]

The following term dates to December 2001 in the Harry Potter fandom:

AU: Acronym for "Alternate Universe", usually found in fanfiction. This is fanfic that does not follow the canon storyline in the original series/book/comic/whatever.[5]

The following definition dates to February 2002 in anime fandom:

AU - Alternate Universe. This genre of fan fiction entails that the story is separating itself from the original plot. Fan fictions in this category might use only the characters of the original story but the story is completely different. [6]

The following definition dates to March 2002 in the Gundam Wing fandom:

Alternate Universe: Stories which take place in a slightly different to a completely different universe. Little or none of the original Gundam Wing plot line is used in the story, and the characters roles, etc are sometimes very different.... [7]

The following definition dates to February 2003 in the Lord of the Rings fandom:

A/U: "Alternate Universe." Meaning, the story takes place in an alternative version of the fictional universe. For example, a "What if Boromir didn't die?" fiction would be an A/U. [8]

The following definition dates to May 2003 in the Combat! and Nash Bridges fandoms:

alternate universe:
Imagine a universe slightly different from ours... All fictional settings and the variants thereof are said to take place in alternate universes, as if they're actually real but can't be seen or reached except by the imagination -- or by crossovers. ;) Sometimes this term is shortened to AU or A/U in other fandoms; however, the concept is universal. [I personally don't find anything wrong with alternate universe. Often, it's a way to fix those things the writers did that made the show "jump the shark". In other words, it's a way to fix what went wrong with the show.] [9]

The following term dates to May 2003 in the Dragon Ball Z fandom:

AU - Alternate Universe
A timeline that has never existed in that particular matter. Very common in Dragonball fanfics. Usually, making a sequel for a particular part of a original plot involves twisting your fic and bringing it to an alternate universe.[10]

The following definition dates to August 2003 in the Gundam Wing fandom:

AU: Alternate Universe. The characters are placed in a situation impossible in the series' universe.[11]

The following term dates to August 1, 2003 in the Sentinel fandom:

AU - alternate universe, a fan fiction term used for a story which doesn't fit with The Sentinel storyline as seen on TV (i.e., psychic link) [12]

The following definition dates to September 2003 in the Kingdom Hearts fandom:

Alternate Universe (AU): Characters not where they belong (Ex: Drizzt & Jarlaxle going to Wal-Mart, Inuyasha as a biker) [13]

The following definition dates to October 2003 and was written by Chantal Gouveia:

AU: Alternate universe fiction. A cunning way of utterly ignoring every salient plot fact about a given movie/tv programme except for the most important one, i.e. that it stars Ewan MacGregor. [14]

The following definition dates to January 25, 2004 in the anime and manga fandoms:

AU A fanfiction term which stands for Alternate Universe.[15]

The following definition dates to May 2004 in the Harry Potter, Horatio Hornblower and Pirates of the Caribbean fandoms:

precise definitions vary. Basically, an AU is a “what if?” fic, in which the author speculates on what would happen if certain events happened differently than described in the canon. A common example is an AU in which a character who dies in canon is portrayed as still alive (with no explanation)-—the opposite of a Deathfic. As well, some consider stories to be AU in which the author ingeniously invents a way to explain how a character who is assumed dead in canon was really alive and faking it all along—it depends on how you look at it: if you think that because it isn’t implicitly mentioned in the canon that the character is really, really, definitely dead, that it means there’s a chance they aren’t, then you might not consider those stories to be AU. However, if you think that because something wasn’t specifically mentioned in the canon, then it couldn’t have happened, you’ll probably think those stories are AU.[16]

The following definition is from the Star Trek fandom. It dates from August 2004:

AU = "Alternate Universe" - a story setting that is different from canon. [17]

The following term dates to 2005 in the Lord of the Rings fandom:

AU - Alternate Universe. something that does not follow official canon. [18]

The following definition is from cmshaw out of the X-Files, Sentinel, Highlander fandom. It dates from May 2005:

AU, header. Also A/U, alternate universe. Fanfic in which the story universe is radically altered from the canon show universe. Variant: 'uber' (Xena fandom only).[19]

The following definition dates to May 2005 in the slash, Westlife, and Lord of the Rings fandoms:

A/U, Alternate Universe - Fanfic were the story universe is radically changed from that of reality. E.g If in a story the lads weren't in Westlife, or the Westlife line-up was different, this would be an A/U story. [20]

The following definition dates to October 2005 on MediaMiner.Org by fanilia:

Alternate Universe: Taking the characters from the original setting of their world, and placing them into one that works a little differently. Cardcaptor Sakura and Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle along with Bubble Gum Crisis and Bubble Gum Crisis 2040 are examples of alternate universe as while the characters are mostly the same, their worlds are not.[21]

The following definition dates to November 2005 in the A-Team fandom:

AU (Alternate Universe) - Outside the normal episode storylines, out of character - characterisation. [22]

The following definition dates to December 2005 in the Harry Potter fandom:

Alternate Universe also Alternative Universe or AU - A story in which facts deliberately deviate from the way they occur in canon. A fic in which Harry was sorted into Slytherin, or in which the Potters didn't die on Halloween, or where Neville, not Harry, was the "Boy Who Lived" would be defined as an AU.[23]

The following definition dates to December 5, 2005 in the Thunder Cats fandom:

Alternate Universe (AU): Term used to warn readers that a story is going to stray much from the original canon, usually with some kind of major 'what if' scenario as the main plot line. Eg: What if the ThunderCats landed on the original planet they were headed for instead of Third Earth? What if Jaga never died during the journey? What if Lion-O never aged in stasis?[24]

The following definition dates to April 15, 2006 in the Angel fandom:

AU - This means alternate universe. This can be literal Alternate Universes shown in Canon, as in the world shown in Buffy's "Dopplegangland" and "The Wish" and Angel's "Birthday" and the Pylea Trilogy, or it can mean AU in the sense that a writer is taking a canon episode and tweaking it. So basically AU doesn't always mean far from canon, but it can mean way outside of canon too. Confused yet? Just remember that sometimes you have to suspend belief and let your backbone slip, it can lead to fun if you're willing to give it a try. [25]

The following definition is was written by Jane Leavell and updated in June 2006:

AU or A/U: Alternate Universe. Although technically ALL fanfiction is AU, since it isn't canon, the term is reserved for stories that lift parts of the show out and put them in a totally different setting. For instance, if THE HIGHLANDER killed off Richie Ryan and continued for several seasons without him, and you object, you might write an A/U where Richie DIDN'T die and the succeeding seasons never took place. Perhaps you want to create a version of STAR TREK in which there was never a Dr. McCoy and Britney Spears was the ship's doctor--don't expect me to read it--or you want Buffy (the vampire slayer) to be a vampire and Angel (the vampire with a soul) to be a vampire slayer. These are alternate universe stories. Non-AU fanfiction tries to carry on within the limits of the actual show--perhaps showing scenes inbetween the aired events, or creating a story that could be an episode of the show without confusing anyone too much.[26]

The following definition dates to September 2006 in anime fandom:

A/U - alternate universe; the characters are taken out of their series and places in a different setting. I.E. Goku (DragonballZ) lives in present day New York. [27]

The following definition dates to November 2006 in the Harry Potter fandom:

Stands for Alternate Universe. AU fics do not follow canon directives; a common example of AU fic in Potterverse is writing about any given wizard as if he or she were a Muggle. [28]

The following definition dates to December 2006 and is used on GAFF:

AU: Alternate Universe. A well-done AU fic can be a joy to behold, often based on a challenging "what-if" question. Unfortunately AU is more often used as a form of canon rape, or as an excuse for plain lazy writing. [29]

The following definition dates to March 2007 in the Pokemon fandom:

alternate universe - An alternate universe, commonly abbreviated as "AU," that a story takes place within. This term is applied with two distinct meanings. The first is when characters from a creative work are placed in a different universe; for example, there are a plethora of stories placing Pokémon characters in the real world, either minimizing the importance of or ignoring Pokémon completely. An alternate universe can also mean that, while the story takes place in the same universe as the original works, something happens (or has happened) that very deliberately splits from that which is considered canon (see below for definition). [30]

The following defintion dates to March 2007 in anime fandom:

(abbr.)(n.) See Alternative Universe [31]

The following definition dates to November 2007 in anime fandom:

AU (Alternate Universe): Outside the normal universe, but character's personalities stay somewhat the same. Example: Ash as Sailor Moon, or a space pirate, or a medieval prince [32]

The following definition dates to 2008 in the Superman fandom:

Alternate Universe [AU] - This is where an author will choose to stray from the canon of the show and create events which are on their own timeline. Usually this is when an author will deny a character's death or act like an episode never happened or say "what if" episode A had happened differently, or they will act like the show stopped a certain place and keep writing as if there are no new episodes after that. If someone writes a fan fiction where Clark never meets Lois, this is considered alternate universe. Fan fictions that take place after the end of a show are not alternate universe, however, because there is no canon for them to contradict.[33]

The following definition dates to March 2008 in the Sailor Moon fandom:

AU/AR - Alternate Universe/Reality; basically, the characters exist; the original plotline doesn’t. [34]

The following definition was provided in the July/August 2008 edition of the Literary Review of Canada:

AU (alternative universe, where the characters are displaced into an entirely new fantasy setting) [35]

The following definition dates to May 2008 in media fandom:

AU = Alternate Universe -- refers to a story of which there is a (often major) plot, setting, or character deviation away from estalished canon. Sometimes refered to as Alternate Realities or Parallel Realities. See also: 'Fusion' [36]


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  • The Gaslight Hotel - One such example involves gathering the characters as played by a single actor and establishing a world or universe where they interact with the "Real World" or an entirely new world of their own making. The Gaslight Hotel centers upon a 'magical' world called the Crowe's Point as all of the main residents are characters as portrayed by the actor Russell Crowe (but not the actor himself, although he is reference often as "The Creator"). This alternative universe has its own history and fluid borders that are constantly expanding as a new character 'appears' after a new movie is made. Outsiders can interact with them based on a psychic connection and can only be reached by special invitation or specific knowledge of the Point. The characters themselves are not immune to death or injury, and they are expected to act in canonical ways, although one particular character, a science fiction character known as SID 6.7 has been specially 'altered' so as to not perform the role he had in his movie i.e. murder and mayhem. There is also a stipulation that the characters may not leave the Point, or if they do they cannot stay for long, however the magic has been changing to accomodate for that so that the Point may become more self-sufficient.

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