Well, I always find with unemployment that I find it difficult to get inspired to write anything, so you can expect that this blog will go through some lean periods in the coming weeks or months. In addition, everyone in my house has got hooked on 'World of Warcraft', which unlike Second Life seems to work on my machine, so a lot of online time will be taken up with that. However, I have found some time to return to looking at counter-factuals to be thrown up by the longest running 'what if?' drama on television, 'Sliders'. This posting follows on from the one of last month which looked at the worlds of the first series: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.com/2009/05/what-ifs-of-sliders-television-series.html
Having scoured the internet I found more reminders of the different worlds featured in the 'Sliders' series (1995-2000). By the time of the fourth and fifth series a lot of the plot was about different versions of the lead characters interacting and their battle against the evil aliens, the Kromaggs. Thus, there was less emphasis on the alternate worlds and the series became more of a traditional science fiction action series. By the end of the series, only Rembrandt Brown (played by Cleavant Derricks) remained from the original line-up which must make him one of the only black characters to have headed up a science fiction series.
My interest is to explore the different alternate worlds that the sliders slid into throughout the series and discuss how feasible they were and how they might have come about. Most of the time the characters were in locations around San Francisco but were able to travel farther afield with their sliding device (whether they wanted to or not) as the series progressed. My first posting on 4th May 2009 looked at the worlds explored in series one and two. In this posting I will look at the worlds in series three and the highlights of those from the remaining two series when the focus on 'what if?' worlds became a lesser part of the stories.
The World of San Angeles
In this world population growth for whatever reason, possible more successful medicines in an earlier era or different cultural behaviour has led to huge conurbations in the USA. The two major cities of California: Los Angeles and San Francisco have grown into a single city stretching at least 560 Km. Demand for resources is high with petrol at $400 per gallon (£127 per litre at current $:£ conversion whereas currently in the UK it is £0.95 per litre); people eat tasteless GeoMash and horses have generally been eaten to near extinction; there are regular power cuts and no electricity after 16.00 each day.
This kind of world is the sort of thing envisaged by many people in the 1970s when it seemed population was going to keep on growing and exhausting resources. Such conurbations also feature in Cyberpunk novels. There would be many potential causes for such a population rise. If the USA had never had the American Civil War it is argued that there would now be 40 million more Americans. If the world wars had not occurred at least 109 million people would not have been killed and up to 100 million people died as a result of the Spanish flu which followed the First World War. Around 17 million people were killed or starved to death by Stalin and up to 32 million in China in the famine 1958-61.
If these events had not occurred and similar ones in earlier generations had also been avoided this would have led to more people on the planet, so possibly we would now be seeing vast cities and the exhaustion of resources. This outcome does suggest that no-one has taken any steps to reduce consumption or keep down the population and so this episode represents the reverse of the Malthusian Lottery story of series one of 'Sliders'. The large states of our world have tried to rein in population growth, but, as the environmental damage that can be seen in China testifies they are even less successful at reining in the damage from sustained industrialisation. Even now, many people see industrialisation as aiding the rising population and that was certainly the case for the bulk of the 20th century.
I think San Angeles is too large to be credible given the global rate of population increase and the suggestion it is not the only conurbation of that size. However, I do not think it is an impossible one and becomes more feasible the further we move into the future.
Online discussions of this alternate world unfortunately seem to harp on negative stereotypes of Jamaica (as if our version of San Francisco was all that good and free of poverty; I suppose Americans continue to delude themselves), but that distracts us from what is an interesting counter-factual. It is argued that this version of California would have come about, if, rather than going to Jamaica and wiping out the Arawak people, the Spanish had been more concerned with California. Of course, the two are not mutually exclusive.
California did not really have a slave culture because it did not have the kind of agriculture that benefited from large numbers of labourers in the way cotton and sugar plantations did on the eastern side of the Americas. I imagine, however, that orange cultivation and gold mining would have been able to exploit slaves if they had been available. California could easily have become a slave state, and, as I noted in Part 1 of this topic, the state's population actually supported the CSA in the American Civil War more than it did the USA. However, I feel that the most likely occurrence to have increased the black population of California and have brought about the kind of reggae culture we associate with Jamaica, would have been the discovery of gold in California much earlier than 1849, something that could easily have happened.
As well as this earlier discovery of gold, in order to have this scenario, the Chinese labourers who carried out the mining and railway building, would mainly have to be absent from the West coast of the USA. This might be the result of greater prosperity in China or better opportunities for the Chinese in the British Empire (as it was thousands of Chinese went to Malaysia and South Africa) and elsewhere in Europe, instead of the USA. This would have meant the demand for black, rather than Asian, cheap labour in California. In addition, if there had been greater black migration to California following the end of the American Civil War or slavery had been abolished earlier than 1862-5, then we could easily have seen a stronger black, reggae-style culture developing subsequently in California. This 'Sliders' episode suggests that by the 1990s California would have the attributes of that lifestyle such as Rastafarianism and the use of cannabis that we have seen in Jamaica.
In this alternate world, Bob Marley (1945-81) is still alive in the late 1990s. In our world, his Rastafarian faith meant he was reluctant to seek treatment for injury to his toe, sustained in 1977. The injury became cancerous with the illness spreading throughout his body within four years and killing him. In this 'what if?' either Marley never sustained the initial injury (which occurred whilst playing in a football match) or he accepted treatment. Though there is reference to the use of soft drugs by Rastafarians, other elements, such as Marley's vegetarianism are often overlooked. With California being such a wealthy state and in this alternate world, the home of reggae, perhaps such views would be far more widespread. Looking back from the 2000s, many people forget how influential Marley was in the 1970s, performing right across the world and making reggae a global phenomenon in the period, a position from which it has rather waned from now. With the wealth and entertainment dominance of California behind it, reggae might still hold the current position that rap, hip hop and other 'urban' music holds in our world in the 2000s.
In some ways given the gun culture and hard drugs dealing on Jamaica, just as is the case in San Francisco, the city with reggae culture might not be radically different from our version, bar in terms of music. However, I imagine a lot of the very stressed San Franciscans would benefit from a more laid-back Jamaican-style attitude and it is interesting what flavour it would have given to the hippy movement which saw San Francisco as a mecca (to mix religious analogies) in the 1960s.
After this episode, the location of 'Sliders' which had moved Los Angeles for the shooting (from Vancouver), also went there for the settings (from San Francisco).
Ice Age World
This world is not seen but is referred to. It clearly was not as extreme as the ice tornado version of Earth seen in the first series as the sliders have clothing from this version of the world and have eaten a lot of pizza there. Of course, the global temperature goes through various ups and downs even without the artificial stimulation of pollution which is currently encouraging global warming. We know that the climate warmed up during the 1st century CE in the midst of the Roman period leading to rising sea levels and to the formation of the Zuider Zee (now the Ijsselmeer) almost an inland sea, a lot of which has been reclaimed now as land. As noted in my posting about the Black Death, there was a warm period in the early Middle Ages when Vikings were able to settle and farm on Greenland, something it is too cold to do now. Conversely, by the 17th century, the climate was cold enough to allow 'frost fairs' to be held on the River Thames in London with people lighting fires on the ice and the sea around the British coastline freezing.
It is thus, very possible that the sliders ended up on a world which is experiencing a colder period than our world at the moment. Alternatively Earth might be slightly farther away from the Sun or the Sun itself be a little cooler, both of which might have led to an Earth where humans have evolved but it is like the ice ages even now. The fact that the sliders have products of a similar level to our own suggests it was not a world freezing due to a nuclear winter or a meteorite strike, things they presumably would have mentioned.
After visiting the next world, the sliders are seen riding a bobsled. This suggests they have visited another icy version of the world as they would not have travelled outside California which indicates it is far colder (though of course it might be artificial given there is a snow slope with real snow in Milton Keynes even in our world), but, again pretty developed if it is running amateur bobsleigh competitions.
World of The Game
This world clearly was influenced by the movie 'The Running Man' (1987) in which competitors participate in a kind of gladiatorial game. In the 'Sliders' version, the final stage occurs in a walled off Los Angeles. In this alternate world, by 1986 the USA was on the verge of civil war and whilst standard sports were banned under martial law which had been imposed, they were soon replaced by a game to the death which attracts 230 million viewers per week (over two-thirds of the US population) on the 'bread and circuses' principle. There are suggestions that the Vietnam War is still running in 1986 and the USA still involved in it, 13 years later than in our world. This is a common kind of science fiction dystopia, but even if the Cold War was still running and upheaval in the USA increasing, whilst I would accept that the USA might declare martial law and limit public gatherings, as for sports (though increasingly coverage to keep the populous occupied), it is a large conceptual leap, even in Reaganite times, to evisage the revival of gladiatorial battles. Even the worst dictatorships of the last century did not introduce such methods.
Electric Tornado World
This is an interesting science fiction dystopia of the kind that the UK 'Doomwatch' series (1970-2; 1999) might have focused on. In this world in the 1960s a method of developing artificial electric tornadoes was developed as a method of easily demolition. However, military use of the tornadoes led to them spreading uncontrollably across the World wiping out almost the entire population. We only see one small enclave community protected by lodestone and, as with many of these post-Apocalyptic places, ruled over dictatorially. As noted with the spiderwasp story of series one, there is always the potential that some experiment will get out of hand, as with the cane toads in Australia. However, the technology to create tornadoes is way beyond our society even now, which suggests that the world had developed technologically far further than our own. The closest potential in our own world has been a nuclear holocaust which was feasible from the mid- to late 1960s onwards. Again, as new technologies are developed some such innovation getting out of hand becomes increasingly possible.
Van Meer's Slower Time World
This alternate is not really a 'what if?' of history but like the 'Time's Arrow' world of series two, it is more a question about the physics of the universe. In this world the Earth has spun more quickly, so, on the basis of a theory of the fictional Herbert Van Meer who speculated that if the Earth span faster it would develop a time 'lag' the world is in our past. Of course, that 'lag' would be in regard to some absolute sense of time, because time for the witnesses of it, is the 'correct' time. As with the 'Time's Arrow' story it is a useful plot device as it allows the sliders to witness events that occurred in their 1984 happening in 1997 which suggests that, aside from this spinning anomaly the worlds are the same. In fact, it might be the sliders who have encountered an anomaly in time while sliding so arriving at their own world in the past. This also risks the sliders running into the dangers of chronological anomalies that time travellers usually incur.
This is not really an 'alternate' world as they will reach our 1997 some day and to the residents of this world there is nothing different as they do not know their time is running differently to the absolute time as we define our time. This is a little like the wormholes in Michael Crichton's novel, 'Timeline' (1999) enabling time travel by, in fact, sending you to alternate version of Earth.
This seems a variation of the French America seen in series two. It is referred to as 'Cajun World' by the sliders, cajuns being the French-speaking settlers of the modern day state of Louisiana, who fled Canada after the French defeat by the British there in the 18th century and who have a distinctive cuisine and music. In this world Napoleon did not lose Waterloo and, earlier, it appears, had not compelled Spain to give him greater Louisiana to sell to the USA in 1803 but rather either France held on to it or took it from Spain after 1815. This territory would have blocked US expansion beyond the Mississippi and presumably left the French to become dominant over the ailing Spanish empire right up to the Pacific. Thus, as with reggae California, the culture of one region is spread far further across North America. All of these elements are pretty feasible, though being exposed to a different climate, I do not imagine that cajun culture would be precisely the same appearing in California rather than modern day Louisiana. Much of what I would say about this world has been touched on in regard to French America in Part 1 and other postings.
Dream Masters' Earth
In this world a group of people appears to be able to enter people's dreams and scare them to death (something developed in Robert Silverberg's Majipoor novels (initially 1980-3; sequels 1995-2004)), though in fact, while they may have some psychic powers they in fact make great use of psychosomatic drugs. Weapons of this kind are often seen in novels by Michael Moocock, especially the Jerry Cornelius series (1968-77). Given, especially in the 1960s, there was experimentation particularly by the US intelligence services into using chemicals that affected the brain and perceptions, it would be very possible that someone would be able to get hold of such substances (which may exist in our world for real, especially given the USA's continued love of torture, though they currently seem to favour medieval rather than 20th century methods).
'Mad Max' Earth
In Part 1 I discussed reference to a previous world referred to in 'Sliders' in which, at least California, if not farther afield, was desert. To be accurate this world is the kind of one seen in the movies 'Mad Max II' (1981) and especially 'Mad Max III' (1985) [in 'Mad Max (1979) the terrain is pretty lush] though given that both movies are set in Australia which has extensive deserts anyway, there was no need for any alternative history. In those movies it is a world which has suffered a nuclear war, though at the end of 'Mad Max III' the young people are shown back in the ruins of some city which does not look desertified.
Anyway, as in the latter two Mad Max movies, water is very scarce in this world, or, at least in California (and as I noted before that might be a regional rather than global problem, but presumably then the population would have migrated to where there was water). The suggestion is that a meteorite (perhaps landing on India) has boiled away the seas, though if this was the case the air would be very moist and clouds very thick rather than dry, unless, somehow, the meteorite ejected what covers 70% of the world's surface into space. More likely in fact, though it sounds strange, is that what has actually occurred is global cooling, making the poles large and huge glaciers that lock up more water leaving regions elsewhere, especially closer to the Equator like California, short of freely available water.
I do not believe a recent event could have altered the world this much and that it has to go back at least, say, to the time of the dinosaurs, certainly millions of years before humans evolved and then we might not have evolved or certainly with a different physiology, e.g. with water retaining fat humps like camels. There are parallels between this story and the War Zone and the Electric Tornado worlds in showing post-Apocalyptic societies. Anyway, the Pacific off California is missing and there is a high-level of technological development including petrol-driven vehicles. I think someone mistook Mad Max traipsing around the interior of Australia for him being in an environment created by the war (when, in fact, as we know, it would be colder with the nuclear winter). The radioactivity in the water in 'Mad Max III' is possible to find even now in our world, look at a map of Australia and all the areas marked out of bounds due to radiation, courtesy of the British nuclear weapons tests of the past.
Not only had druidism survived the Roman Empire's attempts to eliminate it, but in this world all those elements of fantasy games such as spells and dragons are real. Christianity has not appeared and in California there is worship of Mercury. This suggests that the Roman Empire was influential but tolerated the druids or incorporated their beliefs into the Roman state religion. I suppose in a world where magic is real it would be tougher to ignore, and, reference to an unseen God like the Judaeo-Christian and Muslim ones, would not seem as immediate as someone with, at least, demi-god like powers. Another interesting idea is that all our legends of dragons and spells might stem from people in the past coming from this alternate reality into our own .
In this world, baseball has the global appeal that football (soccer) has in our world and the sliders, as when bobsleighing, are involved in winning an amateur event, in this case Brown is about to win in 'Home Run Derby' when the sliders are snatched away. Given that in the Middle Ages football was condemned and even when it became formalised in the late 19th century, it was very much a working class activity, it is quite possible it would have remained marginalised like for example, bowls or cycling have been and, instead, another spectator sport had come to the fore.
Whilst baseball is seen as archetypically American, of course, other countries have similar sports, such as rounders which is popular in British schools. Given that cricket was originally a two-man game, perhaps it has not evolved and in its place baseball became the sport that spread across the British Empire and, so, with it played throughout the Caribbean, much of Africa, the Indian sub-continent and Australasia, this combined with the popularity in the USA (and in our world, the post-war spread to Japan of the sport by US forces), it is easy to see how it could have become dominant and with that there would be many amateur leagues as well as all the professionals. In the UK we have numerous pub football teams, and but for the weather, these could easily be baseball teams.
World of Fire
This is a world which is covered with flame and volcanic activity. Of course, this was how Earthwas when it was created and probably would not have left this state without the intervention of the Moon to slow down its speed. If the Earth had been closer to the Sun or our sun had been hotter or larger then, again this kind of Earth, devoid of life as we know it, could have come about. The sliders meet a sentient flame on this world which travels with them briefly. I suppose a being that burnt up the atmosphere would be feasible, constantly 'feeding' on its environment, no different to us breathing. Possibly too, electrical charge between atoms could evolve into 'thinking'. This scenario is very much a science fiction one and is interesting.
More California Oil
To some extent this is a repeat of the world seen briefly in the first series, though, here, all along the Pacific coast of the USA are refineries exploiting the oil reserves of the region from the mid-19th century onwards. It is interesting that, even ahead of President George W. Bush (this episode was broadcast in 1996), the USA has made no attempt to reduce pollution or use of oil and the Los Angeles we see is even more polluted than our one, which is quite a challenge to achieve. The exploitation of the oil has started earlier than in the world seen in series one, and so we have characteristics similar to parts of Texas. Of course, where deposits of oil ended up could easily have been very different and it is now clear there is oil off the Californian coast which with some twists of history could be on land.
This is an interesting alternate where after winning independence from Britain, rather than becoming a republic, the United States became a constitutional monarchy with Thomas Jefferson becoming the first king in 1789. The country has become a confederation rather than a kingdom, though you would imagine it would have become the United Kingdom of America (UKA) though maybe the term would have been unpopular given the associations with Britain. The model may have been something like the proposals put forward for a German confederation in 1848 which would have brought together kingdoms. In our world, Jefferson never remarried after his wife's death in 1801 and simply kept freed slave Sally Hemmings, a quarter-black woman and probably half-sister to his wife and with whom, in our world, he had six children, as his mistress. In this world, he married her and this led to the abolition of slavery in the 1820s. In our world he had to free her four surviving children (who were only one eighth black which shows how pervasive the attitude to colour was). Presumably Jefferson's action would have headed off the American Civil War 1861-5 and would have accelerated industrialisation in the UKA.
There is a tension here between the objectives of the founders of the USA and the monarchical trends of the time. Of course, the French monarchy was eliminated in 1792 but it was effectively restored when Napoleon became emperor in 1804 and again when the Bourbons were brough back in 1814 though it only lasted until 1830. In Britain, which was a republic 1649-60, the monarchy was also restored and persists to today. It was felt at the time, when all the leading powers, bar France, were monarchies, that it was necessary to have a king and, so as happened in Britain, perhaps support for a republican experiment may have waned and a king brought in. It certainly would have changed the political scene of America.
Jefferson would have reigned until 1826 giving him 37 years on the throne, more than enough to establish the principle. He would have been followed by King Madison (1801-1877) who would have had an even longer reign of 51 years and his heir, King Thomas would probably ruled into the 20th century. Interestingly in the series, the main dynastic line was wiped out and the current king is a minor, the son of Duke Rembrandt (i.e. Brown's alter-ego) and Duchess Danielle, suggesting that a mixed-race monarchy has continued. This is a fascinating development and would have meant very different race relations in the whole history of the country and probably globally, as it would have been difficult when racialism was developing as a pseudo-science in the mid-19th century and beyond, to argue that blacks were any lesser than whites, when a man of both backgrounds was ruling one of the most powerful states in the world.
It is interesting to wonder whether the UKA would have better or worse relations with Britain than in our world. It certainly appears friendlier with France. Perhaps this would have meant earlier intervention by UKA troops in the First World War and certainly given the ethic background of the American monarch, the response to the Nazi racialist and racist policies is likely to have come sooner and stronger. This is a very interesting 'what if?' from the third series and again challenges the 'manifest destiny' view of Americans, that their state would necessarily have been a republic. Of course, given how developments have turned out in Britain, though there might be more racial equality in the UKA, there would likely to be more apparent class divides, not simply based on wealth.
Blended in with the monarchical America is the fact that a virus has meant women can no longer carry foetuses in the third trimester so they have to be transferred to artificial wombs carried by men. This element of getting men pregnant is another hoary one for science fiction stories. Here the development must have only been comparatively recent, but would have also shaken up gender relations and possibly even male sexual behaviour.
Winged People Earth
On this world, humans have evolved wings and can fly. This suggests that their bone structure is far lighter than in our world too. We know that humans have vestigal elements of the nature of previous creatures in our evolutionary chain, such as the coccyx being part of a tail and tails even emerge on foetuses, so it is is probably not impossible that humans could have evolved wings. It is likely that this would have been provoked by a different environment, perhaps with large predators humans had to escape from or a physical geography in which humans had to move say from island to island in search of food or where land-based food was scarcer so we had to catch fish from the sea. However, in all these cases you would wonder why an amphibious rather than a winged human would not have evolved. To some degree it reflects thoughts about alternate worlds being the source of mythological creatures in our world, for example, demons being creatures from alongside our world rather than from Hell. The same could apply to winged people, assuming they could come into our version of Earth they would form the basis of ideas around angels and perhaps fairies too.
'People's Justice' California
This is rather like the authoritarian justice California featured in series one. It plays on current affairs aspects of the time. In our world, former sportsman, O.J. Simpson was cleared of murdering his wife and a hotel worker in 1995. In this alternate world, this led to demand for faster justice without the intervention of juries. Instead, court cases are televised with the accused judged by public input. This also reflects the trends, especially in the USA, for televised court cases and replicas of courts that proved to be popular viewing in the 1990s. In addition, it taps into the feeling in the USA that more people needed to be imprisoned, often for quite minor offences, leading to today, 1 in 100 US adults being in prison, the highest percentage of any country, democratic or not, in the world. The CCTV coverage of streets shown in this episode is not unfamiliar to people living in the UK in this world.
The personal impact in the story is that the visiting Mallory is charged with a double murder that his version in this world committed. This suggests his development was very different to that of the successful Mallorys we have seen, including the leading slider character.
There are four more worlds which are referred to but only fans have worked up the details of these. See: http://earthprime.com/travelogue/wasco-world.html onwards. The Muppet World in which muppets are sentient creature is just bizarre but does challenge our concepts of what is 'real'. It is a little reminiscent of 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit?' (1988) in which cartoon characters or 'toons' are real and come from a dimension which our world is connected to, possibly suggesting that muppets are creatures from another dimension who have happened to be able to travel to our Earth.
Wasco World is portrayed as a location where after 1897 southern California became a vast agrarian region which also has reserves for rare plant species and so has little urbanisation. In Buttonwillow World, California has developed as the premier region for motor racing following the victorious Dario Resta in 1915 returning to the region and having the town of Buttonwillow develop as a motor-racing centre. There are no speed limits but there are non-polluting fuels. Leemoore World has a California that seems to have developed rather like the Deseret envisaged by the Mormons in the 1850s would have done. Under charismatic Dr. Lavern Lee Moore an authoritarian state encompassing much of our California, developed, that, in the post-American Civil War period, the USA proved unable to rein in. Whilst a republic, Leemoore is heavily militarised and alert to any encroachment by the USA.
In this world, humans have been replaced by androids. This is very much a science fiction approach seen in things like 'The Terminator' (1984) or an extension of 'Westworld' (1973) in which realistic androids have become dominant. Interestingly the androids have the consciousness of humans loaded into them. This also is seen in recent years in the UK science fiction series 'Doctor Who' in which people are turned into cybermen (and -women) by being melded with robotic elements, though with more of their human flesh remaining than in this story. Of course we are nowhere near the technology to produce 'replicants' to use the 'Blade Runner' (1982) terminology. This suggests a world in which technology has advanced far faster than in our world, though, as far as I remember, there is no explanation of how that came about.
Pygmies in California
In this world, pygmies, who, in our world, live in Central Africa, (though we now know there were 'hobbits', pygmy-like people in South-East Asia in the past too), inhabit the west coast of North America which has not been conquered by European settlers. Instead people from Polynesia have settled this region. Perhaps this is a world in which European (and presumably also Chinese and Indian) civilisations have been held back from exploration and conquest, possibly on some cultural grounds as I have discussed in other postings here, or because of an event like a more powerful Black Death. In addition, there was not the migration from Asia into the Americas that provided the Amerindian populations. Perhaps the physical geography of East Asia and North America was different, making such migration far harder. Anyway, the differences have left other people to settle what is our world is California.
This was another example of the writers taking a trend from 1990s USA and extrapolating it. In this case, consumption, already on vast scale in the USA has become the prime way of life with people getting into vast debt in huge shopping malls, and one in particular in Bloomington, Minnesota to reuse land held until 1982 by the football and baseball teams to create the Mall of America over 78 acres (31.5 hectares) with 520 shops and 2000 houses. By the late 1990s this model was replicated across the USA so that San Francisco has a 12-storey mall covering 56 square miles (14,500 hectares) and is in fact a kind of 'mega-city' along the lines of Judge Dredd stories, though with only 12-18,000 people employed in service sector jobs. To some extent, the combination of housing and social services like schools, into malls, is not impossible even now, you only have to look at the centre of the new town of Milton Keynes.
In some Canadian cities, the harsh weather conditions have led to underground malls including facilities for weddings so there is no need to go outside. This approach seems less necessary in somewhere like San Francisco compared even to Minnesota. Perhaps the climate on this world is harsher. Anyway, this world shows consumerism taken to the extreme and the dangers of easy credit that we all know so well from our own world.
In this alternate world, people are effectively indentured labour to the companies to which they owe money. This is an approach that harks back to debtors' prisons of the 18th and early 19th centuries, to 'company shops', and to modern forms of slavery by which people are trafficked from Africa, Asia, South and Central America and Eastern Europe to the Middle East, Western Europe, USA or Japan and are compelled to work for the traffickers to pay off the charge imposed to move them. Often this means women put into prostitution. So, such an approach, in terms of more standard consumption is not so far away to how some elements of our economy work.
Jim Varney as the Dominant Popular Cultural Icon
This one is pretty inaccessible to non-Americans as it sees a world in which the 1987 movie, 'Ernest Goes to Camp', which, as far as I can ascertain, was real, proved to be immensely successful and so dim yokel culture as represented by actor Jim Varney, has become dominant in the USA (and this was before they knew the real USA was going to get George W. Bush as president) meaning that intellectual pursuits are discounted. Again, this extrapolates US cultural trends of the 1990s into becoming dominant. Some could argue that the USA has this culture, but perhaps the Sundance Film Festival and Barack Obama represent bastions against the success of an 'Idiocracy'. To some degree, this counter-factual ignores the fact that in all civilisations different levels of culture operate alongside each other.
I am reminded of a comment in the movie 'Gosford Park' (2001) when a wealthy lady asks the director of the Charlie Chan movies about the plot of his latest, and when he is reluctant to give away the story, she says that of course no-one around the dining table will ever see the movie. It is like my comments recently here about television programmes no longer being watched by university workers. More deeply though, there is a hazard that culture can harm attempts to advance ideas. This world represents the flipside of the intellectual culture seen in a 'Sliders' episode of the first series and is reminiscent of the anti-intellectualism that keeps rearing its head in the UK with its emphasis on celebrities and condemning people as being 'too clever by half' rather than lauding intelligence.
This one extrapolates the 'greed is good', 'lunch is for wimps' culture so prevalent in the 1980s, notably in the USA. In fact, finding that colleagues in the USA only get 2 days' leave for the Christmas period, I guess that we are not too far away from it in reality. This world is the 'Wall Street' (1987) movie writ large, with corporate suits the uniform and 100-hour working weeks the norm. Of course many employers in the UK and USA would love this kind of environment. This counter-factual world, does also show the consequences of that kind of setting, with people suffering breakdowns and these 'fractures' working in theme parks, playing out the role of fictional characters they have been hypnotised to portray authentically. Arturo is hypnotised to be Reginald Doyle, this world's equivalent of Sherlock Holmes, though probably looking more like Mycroft Holmes. So, there is a bit of a side-swipe at theme parks employing people to be the 'real' Mickey Mouse or whatever.
As an aside, I remember reading an interview of a British woman who had acted the part of a 18th century worker at a museum of industry in the Midlands, being asked by a US tourist to teach her the English alphabet! You felt the tourist needed to go somewhere more basic for hr education about the UK before embarking on a tour of a historical museum. Again, if 1980s corporate culture had persisted in the way it seemed to be at the time, it is quite simple that we would have had the kind of world portrayed in this episode, and of course, in some UK companies, especially with unemployment rising again, we see such culture persisting/returning.
Ancient Egyptian California
This world envisages the endurance of Ancient Egyptian culture in the face of Persian, Macedonia and later Roman conquests. Not only were such attacks beaten off, the Egyptians became the world's great explorers. In our world traces of cocaine and tobacco have been found in Egyptian tombs anyway, suggesting contact with the Americas. From the voyages of Thor Heyerdal, we know the Egyptians could have sailed to those continents. In this alternate world, this led to Egyptian settlement in North America and the persistence of Ancient Egyptian culture into modern times. Again, not impossible, if you think how much Ancient Greek and Roman cultures influence our contemporary legal and political systems.
Of course, there was probably also influence from the movie 'Stargate' (1994) which saw Egyptian culture as being that of powerful aliens with vast flying pyramids and the ability to jump between worlds through gates, very like the travelling done by the sliders but within the same universe. In this 'Sliders' world, the continuity of a single civilisation has led to a more powerful technology leading to ability to jump between realities and create powerful robots as well as reanimation technologies. Whether Egypt would have maintained the same culture over millenia is to be debated, but there is no reason why it could not have become dominant across Europe and the Americas, even if, by our 1990s, it rule would be by successor states based on that common culture. Religion would be the major thing to be different from our world, with Christianity, Judaism and Islam unlikely to have thrived, and presumably not in the forms we have seen them.
Mutant Worm Town
This is another classic-style science fiction story based scenario. A uranium mine in California in the 1940s collapsed leading to huge earth worm mutants whose excrement provides continuing youth, with people remaining young for decades as result. The worms feast on sacrificed people. We do not know if the phenonmenon is more widespread than a single community. Mining uranium on that scale in the 1940s suggests nuclear technology was more advanced than in our world. No-one from state or federal government has investigated or eliminated the vast mutant worms, suggesting they are widespread or not seen as exceptional in this world. Perhaps a faster advance of atomic/nuclear technology, maybe even in the 19th century, has led to many mutant species. This reminds me of the grim outcomes of Professor Huxtable's nuclear experiments in the 1850s in the novel, 'Queen Victoria's Bomb' (1967) by Ronald W. Clark.
In many of the worlds visited the characters assume that because the part of California they visited is of a particular nature, then the entire world must be like that. However, for much of human history, California has been pretty remote from human development and so this is not always the case. Clearly in a world covered in fire then it is likely to be global, but trends such as mall culture or people's justice might be limited to just that region. The same applies to the forested California that the sliders visited. Of course, California is renowned for its trees and just because they did not encounter any human settlement does not mean the planet is devoid of human life. The fact that the sliders can breathe in that world shows that humans of their kind could live there, though, of course, humans may never have reached the Americas or certainly the West coast.
We know that even with primitive technology stone age and bronze age people were able to migrate across vast distances and, at times, bring about substantial environmental change especially to forested areas, so it does suggest that humans had not arrived in the region of California, or, as in the case of the dinosaur reserve story, have left it alone. The most likely suggestion is either that humans have not evolved or that they are still in Africa and limited areas of the 'Old World'. Again, connection between Asia and the Americas may be harder than it was in our world, meaning that humans have not walked there, though evidence has shown that even bronze age people from Europe were able to sail to the East coast of North America. I imagine the writers, though, were seeking to portray a world without humans and of course that is very feasible if you look at how long it took us to evolve. This world might catch up with our one, given that humans have only been around for 2 million years, it is not much of a lag in the billions of years the planet has been around or even just the 65 million years since the dinosaurs died out not to have seen humans quite yet.
This one clearly does see differences across the whole planet. Earth is in step with two other similarly-sized planets and our Moon. This causes earthquakes across the planet which seem to have prevent human development beyond a very basic level. Underground it appears that a more developed species of humans has developed living among the technology. This is the kind of divided existence that H.G. Wells envisaged on the Earth of the future in 'The Time Machine' (1895; movies 1960 and 2002). The other element comes from author Larry Niven in the Ringworld series of novels (1970, 1980, 1996, 2004), (though not having read them I cannot guarantee I have got this right), in which a race has constructed a planet and then left humans with this planet and with no idea how it works. The suggestion is, then, that the Earth that the sliders land on is a manufactured planet, which explains the unlikely situation of three planets surviving in the same orbit without them crashing together.
The concept of the Earth as having been deliberately constructed by aliens (in this case mice) is also explored in Douglas Adams 'Hitchhikers' Guide to the Galaxy' quintology (1979, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1992). This is a very science-fiction orientated story and envisages either humans developing immensely beyond what we can consider being capable of possibly for millenia or this being carried out by advanced aliens. The fact that the three Earths are clearly causing such instability to each other suggests that either there is a malfunction or the aliens were using our solar system as an experimental ground. Other elements are that plants can taste like anything you wish and water heals people, again emphasising the artificial nature of the Earth on which the sliders arrive.
This is another one with very different cosmology. A pulsar went into orbit with the Sun forming a binary system which destroyed Earth but, even before that, humans had been wiped out by radiation from the pulsar. Again, this emphasises how easy it would have been for human life and, even the Earth, not to even be here and millions of scenarios could have led to their destruction or even non-development.
World of Giants
In this world which appears very much as our own in terms of development and culture, everything is larger and the sliders are the size of insects in our world. The only explanation of this I have seen is that the universe is older and space between atoms is larger. Of course Earth could have been larger in developing and so everything on it could have become greater in size but you run into the problem that, though surface expands squared, capacity expands cubed, so, to stand up, giant spiders would need very fat legs. In addition, a larger planet would have stronger gravity and so would tend to have smaller, more squat creatures evolving. What is more likely is that the sliders transporter has malfunctioned rendering them in a pretty ordinary world on a smaller scale. This episode clearly is influenced by movies such as 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' (1957) and 'Land of the Giants' (1968) television series and, of course, back to Gulliver in Brobdingnag in 'Gulliver's Travels' (1726); which author Jonathan Swift located on the West coast of North America anyway.
Different Second World War
This is quite an interesting one, returning more to alternative human rather than physical history. In 1944/5 the Japanese having been successful at Pearl Harbor and sweeping the Americans from the Pacific invaded California. They were halted only by atomic bombs being dropped on Los Angeles and San Diego. President Roosevelt, still alive, had brought US troops back from Europe and ordered the bombs being dropped. Either he had lived longer or, in the face of Japanese success, atomic weapons had been developed more quickly. A peace treaty was signed with Japan which withdrew from the USA but the Nazis remained in power in Europe until being crushed between British and Soviet forces some years later. The USA remained isolationist but the Cold War with the USSR still developed and, in contrast, to our world, presumably because of the later end to the German-Soviet conflict, is still persisting in the late 1990s with the risk of a Fourth World War using nuclear weapons. Again, Oliver North is president in this world, he seems to have been a convenient person for whenever the writers wanted a more militarised USA.
The burden on the US and Soviet economies from continued Cold War standing in this can only be speculated upon. Of course, Japan has been economically successful despite suffering two atomic bombs on cities and so there is no reason why California might not have bounced back, though possibly Hollywood would have relocated from Los Angeles. I wonder where the UK stands in all this. Has it has come in on the US side in the Cold War or stood aloof? Perhaps there is still friendship between the UK and its ally in the Third World War, the USSR. If so, this may explain how the Soviet economy has not collapsed despite having sustained two massive wars in possibly a decade and their aftermath. Possibly, without German scientists fleeing to the USA, the USSR has made use of Germany to sustain its economy more effectively than it did in our world.
As I have discussed in other postings, a Japanese invasion of the USA is unlikely to have occurred, but it was not impossible. Other elements could have kept the US out of fighting in Europe. It is likely that if Hitler had not explicitly declared war on the USA then its troops would have only fought in the Pacific. Certainly if the USA had been invaded and atomic weapons had been available then there would have been the temptation to use them, but I think the president would have tried to avoid dropping them on US soil and tried them at sea against a Japanese naval base or something, though Japanese control of the Pacific would have limited the options. Presumably, withdrawing US troops from Europe caused a break with the British, who had been important in developing atomic weapons, otherwise you would assume atomic weapons would have been used against the Germans if they had seemed to be winning.
Kromagg Outpost 161
In this world the hostile aliens, the Kromaggs have destroyed many major cities in the USA, there is only a crater in the place of Los Angeles and they have conquered and enslaved the planet. This is in line with science fiction stories of a conquered Earth, one I read a few years ago, but have forgotten the title of and of course the terrible movie, 'Battlefield Earth' (2000). I suppose it is quite possible that any minute we could be invaded by aliens and, of course, we could have been at any time in our history. Discussion around these issues depend on the aliens, but the main thing is that human development, government, etc. would come to an end and be pretty meaningless as we would from now on be an oppressed and enslaved race.
The USA Not in the First World War
In this world, for some reason Woodrow Wilson, president of the USA 1913-21, stuck to the promises he made in our world when re-elected in 1916 and kept the USA neutral. The key element seems to be that in this world the RMS 'Lusitania' which was sunk in May 1915 was not carrying civilians (who it was carrying in this version is not certain) so there was no swing in hostility against Germany. Given it was 23 months between the sinking and the USA entering the war, the sinking seems to have been less of a cause than is often suggested. The Central Powers have still been defeated by the Allies (presumably in 1919 rather than 1918). It has been argued that Woodrow Wilson's embarrassment over his affair in our world led him to seek a distraction so he took the USA to war, one he would not have needed in a world where he stayed faithful to his wife.
At the time of the Second World War, the USA in this world remained isolationist (as it did in our world, it only entered the war in December 1941, almost six months after the USSR had been invaded), but Hitler held back from attacking the USSR and, after conquering western Poland in 1939, did not invade any state in western Europe until after the development of an atomic bomb (presumably in 1944/5). Detonation of the atomic bomb over Paris (an unlikely target given Hitler's love of the city, Brussels may have been a more likely target) scared the British and Soviets away from intervention and presumably western continental Europe and the Balkans came under German control. Of course, what the writers forgot is that the USA anyway did not really intend to come into the war in Europe but just into the Pacific War with Japan which had been raging since 1931. If Hitler had been sensible and not declared war on the USA then it is unlikely any US troops would have arrived in Europe.
Thus, while the focus in this 'what if?' is on Europe it is important not to neglect Asia and the unstated assumption has to be that the Japanese were successful against the USSR in 1940 and the Soviet-Japanese War raged over Siberia rather than the Japanese expanding into the Pacific and so having to attack US forces. With no German invasion of the USSR that country would not have become an ally of Britain and so they would have been happy to stay out of any Siberian conflict especially as it would keep the Japanese forces away from invading British, French and Dutch colonies in South-East Asia and China.
The counter-factual is rather like that of 'Making History' (1995) by Stephen Fry in that the Nazis have made good use of the scientists, including Jews in Germany rather than driving them into exile or killing them. This fact, and no invasion of the USSR, suggests Hitler giving up major tenets of his beliefs for what Germany should be doing and this is very unlikely to have happened. His passion was to have the Jews eliminated and he felt Germany could not survive without conquering eastern Poland and the Baltic states (all held by the USSR by 1940) and Belarus and the Ukraine. To have an outcome like the one envisaged in this episode suggests that Hitler had been removed from power or assassinated and replaced by another Nazi less motivated by anti-Semitism than by seeking glory for Germany by whatever means. This probably means Hermann Goering, Hitler's heir apparent in the early period of the war, is in power. Interestingly, in this episode the USA is shown as having missed out on the benefits of emigre scientists from Europe (who were notably behind the atomic and space programmes of the 1940s-60s) and so is not as economically or technologically advanced; Hollywood would have also missed out on an influx of talent too. Again, this is similar to the USA shown in Fry's book.
To a great extent this episode showed how many Americans misunderstand why their country participated in both the First and Second World Wars and, as a consequence, the divergences are not based on solid assumptions.
No 'United' States
I have discussed this kind of scenario in posts before. In this episode the Articles of Confederation have not been replaced by the US Constitution so the states have remained separate and different countries have developed across North America with expansion of the original Thirteen Colonies westward and intervention by Spain and France to hold and expand their territories. Much of Canada has been absorbed into a New England Confederation after reconciling with Britain, and Pennsylvania speaks a German-Dutch hybrid rather than English.
Rather arrogantly from a US perspective, having no USA has has stunted technological development across the world and so technology is as it was in our early to mid-19th century and, even then, still with muskets rather than rifles. That aspect is ridiculous as, even at the time of the American War of Independence 1776-83, Britain was already embarking on the Industrial Revolution and it was occurring across Europe in different forms, notably in parts of Germany. Such development would have occurred even if North America had never been discovered. Its political structure had absolutely no influence on European industrialisation and, in fact, with less capacity for emigration to an unstable and violent North America, more talent may have stayed in Europe notably in German and Polish lands, that could have benefited industrial development in Europe.
This story was an interesting excuse to have a kind of Amish/'Pavane' (1968) world. The concept of a fragmented North America is always challenging to Americans who still tend to the belief in the 'manifest destiny' of the USA as we know it here. Of course, such scenarios of a variety of North American states were very feasible, especially in the 18th and 19th centuries, at least to the 1860s. It is a shame a desire for the technological aspect muddies this 'what if?' about the political nature of the USA and its federal basis.
Cuban Missile Crisis Led to War
This world is a post-nuclear war version of Earth following on from the Third World War which broke out in October 1962 over Soviet nuclear missiles being stationed on Cuba. We do not know if the Americans tried an invasion and, as a result of retaliation using tactical nuclear weapons based on the island (they were there in our world but not used against US-backed invaders), stepped up to threatening full-scale nuclear war. However, anyway, the war came about and all that has been left of humans in the USA are isolated pockets in an irradiated landscape. Presumably, 25 years on, the nuclear winter has abated but leaving a planet very hostile to human life.
This version of Earth resembles Venus, but it is not clear whether it was created that way or evolved due to human action causing the Greenhouse Effect. Anyway, the intense clouds, heavy pressure and heat on the planet means it is uninhabitable as Venus is and either humans (and all other creatures) never evolved or they died out.
Dinosaurs Never Died Out
In this world humans do exist but dinosaurs do too. Humans are around the bronze age in terms of technology. The fact that they have evolved at all suggests that the dinosaurs may have had some set back, say 65 million years ago when most were wiped out on our world, allowing the mammals to develop as far as humans. Of course, dinosaurs themselves were evolving and over the period 286 million to 65 million years ago they had changed a great deal and would have kept on evolving. Increasingly people feel that many dinosaurs did not 'die out' but evolved into birds. The meteorite strike that killed most dinosaur species, was especially hazardous as it came in at an angle and gouged out a chunk of what is now the Yucatan Peninsula throwing up debris which was particularly poisonous. A meteorite hitting elsewhere on Earth or at a different angle might have done less harm allowing dinosaurs to live on, with, perhaps, mammals getting a break in some regions, perhaps North America. The assumption also has to be that dinosaurs were not wiped out by the ice ages either. Again, perhaps they were restricted to particular regions by the cold weather allowing mammals to evolve in other regions where dinosaurs had been previously dominant.
DC Current Dominant
Now, this is an interesting 'what if?' about fads in technology. I have often asked why air guns which had been around since the 16th century, were never adopted in place of muskets in the 19th century. Unlike muskets they made no noise or smoke and had magazines permitting multiple rounds to be fired before reloading. Their non-adoption all came down to how they were perceived as sinister weapons just used by assassins rather than something for an honourable soldier to use.
In our world, Alternating Current (AC) which allows electricity to be sent over long distances, popularised by Nikola Tesla, won over Direct Current (DC) favoured by US inventor, Thomas Edison. Edison spread negative propaganda about AC helped by the ineffectiveness of trying to electrocute William Kemmler in 1889 using AC, a process which took 18 hours. This happened in our world but had fewer impacts than in this alternate world where Edison also put in a far lower bid, than in our world, to light the 1892 World's Fair and won the contract.
In this world, Tesla and his financier, George Westinghouse were bankrupted and the DC system was adopted. This means that small power stations are needed right across cities and there is no hydro-electric or nuclear power as stations would be too far away from consumers. We often assume the best technology will win out, but that is often not the case. One website, reviewing this world, refers to the Betamax video system which provided an incredibly better picture than VHS recordings of the 1980s and was dominant within television companies for their own use but lost out in the consumer race. The ability of those fronting a poorer technology to make headway may lead to serious consequences in the long run.
Roman Catholic Church Surpreme in the Western World
This one is very like the novel 'Pavane' (1968) in which the Spanish Armada defeated the English and so brought England back to Catholicism. The assumption is without the 'Protestant work ethic' and a decline in the Catholic church's ability to limit developments in technology (though they only banned the crossbow and questioned Gallileo's theories of the solar system) we would see a Renaissance culture persisting for centuries more. This tends to neglect Leonardo da Vinci was working in the heart of such culture.
In this episode North America has been settled but not beyond the scale of the 17th century and San Francisco has only 7000 people rather than as in our world, 744,000 in the city and 7.53 million in its metropolitan area. This kind of world could easily have come about, especially if the industrial revolution in England and parts of Germany had been stifled. Of course, the influence of the church would have not stopped other cultures developing technology and we might have found Islamic, Indian or Chinese states advancing technologically and conquering Europe. However, the restrictions on changes in those societies seem to have persisted too in this world, which is repressive but pretty unpolluted.
Planet of Lipron Zombies
This is very like the zombie movies such as 'Day of the Dead' (1985), '28 Days Later' (2002), 'I am Legend' (2007) and even 'Shaun of the Dead' (2004). Interestingly the anti-fatness pill Lipron has malfunctioned causing people to become zombies seeking to eat other humans to replace the fat drained from their bodies through taking the pill. This is very much a science fiction set-up, though it does warn us about the hazards of using untested medication in our world, especially as there is such a global desire among people to be thin. More likely is that we become immune to antibiotics or there is some major side effect from taking a popular drug, you only have to look at thalidomide, prescribed 1957-61 causing horrific mutations in babies, to see the kind of things that can happen. I doubt they will lead to zombies, but there are many other nasty outcomes that can be caused by medications.
In this one volcanic gases cause thick fogs that have hallucinogenic properties. Only a few people have been able to adapt to cope with the atmosphere are heavily inter-bred so leading to a low level of intelligence and mutations. To some extent our world has not suffered greatly from volcanic activity, though the Krakatoa and St. Helens eruptions have shown what kind of impact this can have on the atmosphere. In such a context, it is likely some humans would be able to survive but as with all select groups they would need a wider gene pool to avoid the kind of issues shown in this alternate world. In theory, the activity must have happened before modern breathing apparatus was available or perhaps the non-immune population has moved from California to cooler climates, leaving behind those ignorant but immune people able to cope in California.
World of Parasites
In this alternate humans have not evolved, but any who turn up via sliding prove suitable hosts for the slimy flying goo parasites, which suggests that these parasites normally use other large warm-blooded creatures as hosts. Their pupae kill the host when they emerge. Of course, the existence of parasites is self-limiting as if they become too numerous their hosts die out and so they die back too. However, it is not surprising that we see a world where humans did not evolve. There was no set reason that they would. Also, as with many of the episodes we have to remember we are only seeing a small geographical area of the world and humans might be elsewhere. Imagine if you came from an alternate world and happened to emerge in our Amazon basin or the Sahara or Antarctica, you might think the world was devoid of intelligent life, but would be wrong. So, it might just be that western North America plagued with these parasites has been left alone, but also that more widely there is not the technology to eliminate them. Perhaps as with the cane toads or the spider-wasps, they are a genetic experiment gone wrong leaving the sliders to emerge in a quarantined area.
Compulsory Donor California
In this world people aged 18-25 and living in California (and, it is suggested, further afield) are registered and their body parts compulsorily donated to anyone older who needs them that matches their body profile. I imagine this story was prompted by discussion around compelling people to be donors and have to opt out and, since then, countries like Belgium have been moving in that direction, though of course, donation in our world is only planned to take place when the donor dies.
I have read stories in which prisoners are donors as part of their punishment and get mechanical replacement parts. I would imagine including the whole population between certain ages would have led to uproar especially from the privileged not wanting their own children dismembered. Ironically, the medical technology in this world is more advanced than in our own, with, for example, cryogenic storage having been developed. Yet, clearly efforts to achieve such technology has not been put into preventative health care or mechanical organs or gene therapy. This suggests that controlling the 18-25s is as much about repressing them as a real need for their organs.
World of Vampires
This one assumes that vampires were real, in the way an earlier episode saw sorcery and dragons as real. It again has the suggestion that monsters on our world might have come from a parallel world and entered our mythologies. There are odd differences. Vlad the Impaler died 20 years earlier than in our world and Bram Stoker's 'Dracula' (1897) was never a success and apparently never caused an outcry against vampires, yet there is anti-vampire legislation which was introduced in 1897 in the USA.
Presumably fictional stories of vampires attracted no interest in a world dealing with real ones. Perhaps they only have the appeal that 'true crime' books do in our world and there are not great many of them about dealers in hard drugs, for example. Perhaps, with the growth of cities in the late 19th century and of police forces, the issue of vampires came to the fore, hence requiring legislation. The fact that, 100 years after the laws were passed, vampires still exist in the USA suggests that either they found refuge elsewhere in the world or that they remain powerful enough to stop the authorities destroying all of them in their coffins or with the kind of anti-vampire weaponry we have seen in other series like 'Ultraviolet' and the 'Underworld' movies.
Tobacco is Illegal
The treating of tobacco like a hard drug could still happen and certainly could have happened in the past, notably in the USA in the 1920s. Alcohol was prohibited 1920-33 and heroin which had been seen as a 'safe' medical drug was banned permanently in 1924 along with other opiates. They persisted in some other countries in the following years and opiates appeared in cough medicines up to the Second World War; morphine continued to be used subsequently. Clearly, tobacco could have been banned in the 1920s in the USA and never permitted again. I know that the tobacco lobby was always very strong in the USA which was a major tobacco producer, especially in the post-First World War era, but brewers and distillers had been a strong lobbying force in the US too before 13 years of alcohol prohibition. If proof of the damage that tobacco does to health had come to light earlier than in our world, it is quite feasible that it would have been banned and the rest of the world would have steadily followed as it did with heroin, et al.
Another interesting thing about this world is physical and political, in that rather than being part of the USA, southern California, Arizona and New Mexico are part of a country called Zamora, presumably one that broke off from the Spanish empire or from Mexico. All of these areas were the southern part of the Spanish colonial province of New California, area lost from Mexico to the USA in 1848. The line could have been drawn differently and then Zamora later broken away from Mexico as Texas had and provinces south of Texas tried to. One reason why the USA might not have been interested in Zamora is that in this world it is jungle like the Yucatan Peninsula of southern Mexico rather than the dusty environment of our world, so pretty impenetrable. It has become an illegal tobacco growing region, though given the best tobacco is supposed to come from Virginia, it is not the best climate for tobacco growing.
The involvement of the US Tobacco Enforcement Agency (TEA) mirrors the Drugs Enforcement Agency of our world in intervening in other countries to stop the illicit flow. Interestingly, if there is a TEA it suggests that in this world other hard drugs have been stemmed already. This suggests that culturally there has longer been support against less virulent narcotics and in the USA prohibition on alcohol might also still be in place, though we do not hear about that.
Certainly a country like Zamora (this is the name of a town in Spain and in Ecuador in an area that resembles the Zamora shown in this episode) could have appeared and a better watered southern California, New Mexico, Arizona would also have been possible leading to jungle rather than desert conditions. This is an interesting combined 'what if?' used to reference US anti-narcotics activities of the 1990s.
This is a really fascinating alternative that I think would be interesting for others to follow up. In our world the Roma people of Europe faced discriminatory legislation in the late 15th century of the kind which Jews suffered. Roma were expelled from various parts of Europe. In this alternate they emigrated in large numbers to begin a new life in North America. They worked with the Aztecs, bringing them European technology which allowed the Aztecs to repel the Spanish invaders. In return, the Roma were given California by the Aztecs. This suggests that in the absence of Spanish invasion the Aztec empire expanded North into the regions of the Yaqui, Papago, Hopi, Mojave and Washo or at least over what is nowadays northern Mexico so allowing the Roma to emigrate beyond that area into present day California.
Roma nomadic culture actually is more in line with that of the plains tribes and, with horses, the Roma could have become the dominant plains tribe. The suggestion is that from their base in California they expanded East. This is interesting as they would have been technologically more advanced than the tribes they encountered, but culturally more similar to them than either the urbanised Aztecs or Europeans. In line with other nomadic peoples, the Romani area of North America might not have been a 'country' as we think of it, but a different nation.
The suggestion is that with the repulsion of the Spanish, other European colonisation would have been delayed and that when it returned it would have faced tribes better equipped to deal with invasion through contact with the Roma. This may have also applied to gaining immunity to European diseases. Of course, Romani culture would be far more prominent in this world than in our own.
The attempts to eliminate the Roma by the Nazis during the Second World War led to the killing of 220,000 out of 1 million Roma living in Europe in 1939. In contrast to the Jews, granted a homeland in 1948 in Israel, the Roma in our world have continued to face substantial discrimination across Europe, especially in Eastern Europe. In this 'what if?' the Roma may have ended up simply like the Amerindian tribes, put on reservations by European settlers, but in 'Sliders' they have managed to retain their own state alongside that of Amerindians. Such a very different North America, based on quite a feasible counter-factual, would be fascinating. One could envisage troops from the Romani Republic volunteering to fight in 1939 against Nazi Germany would be fascinating. Roma started as troops from North India in the 10th century CE and presumably would have made very good commandos, light infantry and mounted units.
The Island of Dr. Vargas
This one clearly references the novel, 'The Island of Doctor Moreau' (1896; movies 1977 and 1996) by H.G. Wells, clearly a big influence of the 'Sliders' writers. Wells was well ahead of his time imagining genetic engineering which created half-animal/half-human hybrids. Concerns about this have continued in real life, notably the Warnock Commission 1982-4 which investigated artificial manipulation of life and its 1984 report talked about the potential of 'hamsterman' because there had been discussion at the time about blending hamster and human genes. With the production of the living cloned sheep, Dolly, in 1996, this remains a genuine issue to be explored. In the episode of 'Sliders', over the past 50 million years, California has been fragmented into a series of archipelagoes, sold by the government to private individuals. On one of these, Vargas is acting out Moreau's work for real, creating a large number of hybrids of differing levels of intelligence. It is possible with an earlier advance in genetic investigation, certainly something the Nazis would have been into, that, by the 1990s, hybrids of this nature might have been created.
Time Running Faster
This alternate world is the reverse of the Van Meer World, though to a much greater degree as, rather than lagging by 12 years, it is ahead of us by 600 years. It is still our Earth but on a different timescale, so with the technology of six centuries from now. Fortunately the inhabitants have not destroyed the world and it seems safe enough. This is less an alternate world, than time travel using the 'Timeline' method of moving sideways to go forward or back in time.
P.P. 03/05/2010: I have now completed my analysis of the 'Sliders' worlds looking at the fourth and fifth series on this posting: http://rooksmoor.blogspot.com/2010/05/what-ifs-of-sliders-television-series.html