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May 25, 2011
Borderlands Shared Universe Reappears, Shares a Bit More
For a while in the 80s and 90s it seemed like shared universes were all the rage. The idea was that one or two authors would create a premise - usually an idea/event/location/character and then invite their friends to write in that universe. Reusing characters, sharing settings familiar to readers, and building on the central foundation were all common themes. The two shared universes I spent the most time in were the Wild Cards and Borderlands spaces. Commentaries about teen escapism can be elided, thank you.
After more than ten years with no material, Terri Windling's Borderlands have returned with a new anthology called "Welcome to Bordertown". As with many sub-cultural things, the Borderlands have been kept alive in the past decade by fans who have celebrated the ideas and characters in games and costumes and of course fan fiction. The signature "punk elf" has permeated the genre and spawned dozens of imitators and homages. A new generation of readers has found the books, and some of those who loved the Borderlands universe as kids have grown up to work as writers themselves. The new volume collects some of this new enthusiasm as well as bringing back old favorite authors as well as new voices.
Some of the old material is now available on the "Welcome to the Bordertown" Web site - including free-to-read copies of three of the stories from past publications in the shared universe. Other material is posted elsewhere; I would be remiss if I didn't point out that Copyfight favorite Cory Doctorow has a story in the anthology, which is also available free on the Tor Web site.
"Shared" doesn't mean "free," though. Like other sole-written material, the characters and images and signature names of the Borderlands remain the copyrighted property of their authors, and you can see careful footnoting and cross-referencing from story to story. On the consumerist hand this is great - it's one of the original "people who bought X might also like Y" reference links. On the free-ist hand, it's less exciting. Windling and her co-contributors make choices about who they want to let play in their playground and the rest of us have to go make our own playgrounds for now. Some day Borderlands may be free and open to all to use - this latest release reminds us why that's so desirable.
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