Ascension Epoch is a shared universe of adventure fiction. It is built on both original elements and public domain sources. In addition to appealing to readers with entertaining stories, it is intended to be collaboratively developed with other writers and artists.
The background is an alternate history where human beings with extraordinary supernatural abilities, called Talents, began to (re)appear around the middle of the 19th century. The course of world history is then altered irrevocably by the Martian invasion of 1898, laying the ground work for a 20th and 21st century substantially different from our own. But unbeknownst to most, the epoch-making “War of the Worlds” was only the most recent skirmish in a desperate, aeons-long war between the forces of good and evil, a war whose primary battleground is the planet Earth.
Meet the Creators
While Ascension Epoch is open for collaborative development, the initial groundwork was done by the husband and wife creative team of Mike and Shell DiBaggio.
Michael A. DiBaggio
For at least 40 hours a week, Michael A. DiBaggio is a Java developer at a business-to-business software company. He spends as much of the remaining time as possible gathering and generating story ideas, carefully mulling how those ideas best fit together, and building coherent stories out of them. He also handles a bunch of design and content work on this website.
When not working or writing, Mike enjoys naps, reading science fiction and fantasy novels, perusing table-top RPG books, building Legos, and collecting and customizing action figures and gaming miniatures. He hopes one day to earn a living off writing Ascension Epoch books so he can use the new free time to paint said miniatures.
His favorite authors are J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Tim Powers, and Manly Wade Wellman.
Shell ‘Presto’ DiBaggio
Shell’s nickname ‘Presto’ made perfect sense until she swapped her cumbersome Italian maiden name (Prestileo) for her new Italian married name. Shell does most of Ascension Epoch’s artwork, occasionally farming out coloring work to some of her talented artist friends. She also handles some of the writing responsibilities, and a good chunk of the editing. The English major in the family, she spends eight hours each weekday writing user manuals for business-to-business software, and previously worked in journalism for seven years.
When she’s not writing or drawing, Shell enjoys watching anime; reading comic books; and reading a mix of classic and new indie sci-fi, fantasy, or horror stories. Before she started pouring most of her time into Ascension Epoch, she was an avid video gamer, tearing through Capcom fighters and any RPG with the word “Fantasy” or “Phantasy” in the title. If she manages to quit her day job to illustrate and write Ascension Epoch full-time, she’ll celebrate by finally getting the last ending in Chrono Trigger.
Shell’s favorite authors are Richard Matheson, Anthony Burgess, and Mary Shelley.
Her favorite artists are John Byrne, Chris Bachalo, Charles Schulz, Ai Yazawa, and Yasuhiro Nightow.
Mike and Shell live in Pennsylvania, where they share a home with three dogs and two cats.
For Fans of Superheroes and Comics
If you’re anything like me, you’ve grown tired or even angry with the superhero comics you used to love. Maybe you’re upset about paying $4-$5 for 22 pages of highly decompressed story where nothing happens. Maybe you’re offended by the disdain shown for decades of continuity. Maybe you’re disgusted by the debased portrayals of beloved heroes. Maybe you suffer from crossover burnout and a pervasive sense of deja vu from reading the third rehash of a story that was told much better in the ’80s. Whatever your reasons, and although you would still like to read a good superhero or two-fisted adventure tale, you’ve just about given up on the local comic shop and the big publishers.
Then you go out to see the latest Marvel movie or spend an evening watching the great DC cartoons with your kids. You have a blast. It makes you wish you could get back into the comics and recapture the same magic of when you were a younger reader, and you wonder why you can’t.
At some point you discover that there are superhero and pulp adventure novels aplenty. And now that they’re online and in ebook format, they’re easy to find and relatively cheap. You buy a bunch and try them out, and while some are good, and maybe you even spy a few brief flashes of brilliance, overall you’re disappointed. You find that the superhero books that come out from the big publishers are either lampoons or dour deconstructions of the genre. It’s grim. It’s melancholy. Frankly, it’s tedious and pretentious.
So you turn to self-published books. Here, things look a little more promising, a little more like you remember. Your optimism quickly turns into disenchantment. You find yourself wading through too much mediocre writing and boring clones of today’s comics and movies. Moreover, you begin to see the short-comings of their high concept thanks to the extended space of a novel or novella. Where you want to find an ornate background of characters and concepts, you instead run into empty gaps or merely the world outside your window: the characters all dress, act, and talk the same way as people in the real world; they make dated references to whatever TV shows or music was popular when the book was written; they have the same level of technology and the same expectations about what is or isn’t possible; the same politicians are in office, fighting the same wars and dealing with the same social issues. It breaks the suspension of disbelief. You want to scream: “But how can this be? There are people who can fly and bench press a tank! There are ray guns and spaceships and marauding demons and cyborg dinosaurs! How can everything be the same?!”
And after you’ve finished with your fifteenth story about the unpopular high school schmuck who spontaneously developed powers overnight, faced down the bully, got a date with the girl, found his confidence, and saved the world from the zombie apocalypse instigated by the world-conquering super-villain who turns out to be his dad, you’re ready to give up on the genre.
But you shouldn’t, because you haven’t given the Ascension Epoch a try. We started this project because we felt the same way.
The Ascension Epoch is a shared universe with room for dozens of different genres and all kinds of stories. We care about continuity because we want each story to make sense and be believable, notwithstanding all of the incredible feats going on. The setting is detailed, internally consistent, and different – it is not “the world outside your window.” We started with the premise that the classic 19th and early 20th century science fiction and adventure literature were true and asked how the world would develop differently. The presence of people with superpowers has altered the course of history, as have the different decisions made by normal folks under vastly different circumstances. The world feels real, with a conceptual depth you simply can’t find in many other series.
And to help you get the hang of the setting, we have a website filled with all manner of background info that you can read for free. Also, every one of our books includes an appendix with detailed entries exploring the people, places, and concepts of the Ascension Epoch. If you love reading about fully imagined worlds or you’re a world builder yourself, you’ll probably find these worth the price of the book all by themselves.
This depth of setting contributes to the depth of a large cast of complex and entertaining characters. And our heroes, though they have plenty of warts and foibles, still try to be heroic more often than not. Unlike many modern comics, movies, and novels where the “good guys” are morally and emotionally stunted borderline sociopaths, ours are actually distinguishable from the bad guys.
We write novels and short stories. So, unlike a 22 page comic book, it actually makes sense to tell a “decompressed” story in the space of a novel. And we promise you will never pay $5 for a book where nothing happens. Also unlike most novels, our books are illustrated!
If that sounds good to you, then check out our books. But before you leave, why not sign up to our email list? You’ll get a free short story, and we guarantee you won’t be spammed.
And if you’re still skeptical, that’s OK. We’re just scratching the surface of what the Ascension Epoch has to offer. Read ahead to find out what makes us truly different from any other fiction series you’ve read. You won’t want to miss it, especially if you like writing fan fiction or you’re into the open content scene.
For Open Content Supporters
If you like to support open source/open content projects, if you’re an advocate of the public domain, if you’re appalled at the grotesque abuses of Intellectual Property law and the continued expansion of copyright terms for the benefit of politically connected corporations at the expense of everyone else, even if you just like to create fan art without being hassled by litigious “rights holders” and Internet lawyers, then you will find the Ascension Epoch a breath of fresh air.
The Ascension Epoch’s background is built on public domain literature and comic books. We love the public domain and we are grateful for all the opportunities it has given us, so as a way of saying thanks, all of our Ascension Epoch content is released under a Creative Commons-Attribution-ShareAlike (CC-BY-SA) license. All of it: stories, characters, art, everything.
If you’re not familiar with the CC-BY-SA license, the gist of it is that you can copy, share, create derivative works, and redistribute them for free or even for profit. The only two requirements are that you a) credit the original creators for their work, and b) release your work under the same license.
We will never harass you for creating fan fic or fan art, or for resharing our books and stories, even if you make money on it. In fact, we encourage you to do it! We want more people to learn about the Ascension Epoch and we want more people to contribute to it. And if we really like what you’re doing and it doesn’t contradict the stories we’ve told so far, we may even want to make it part of the canon. But more on that in the third installment.
You may ask why we just don’t release everything into the public domain instead of the CC-BY-SA license. The first answer is simply that there is no legal means for releasing something into the public domain under current US copyright law. It’s simply not possible: the best you can do is promise people that you won’t sue them and wait for the ever-increasing copyright term to expire. The second answer is that by releasing something in the public domain, it would allow anyone who makes a derivative work to copyright that derivative work and deny others the ability to reshare, redistribute, and remix it on their own. That’s not fair and that goes against everything we’re trying to do.
Does this liberation of information and artistic expression excite you? Then why not join our email list? You’ll receive a free short story and weekly site updates.
If you enjoy the story, then head out and buy our books. When you’re done reading, let us know what you think and share it with your friends! If you still need to know more, then read on and discover the creative power of collaboration and the shared universe.
The Power of the Shared Universe
At it’s most basic, Ascension Epoch is just a collection of stories: stories of adventure, heroism, exploration, mystery, and wonder. Each of these stories – though they may feature different characters, be set in different times and locations, and even reflect wildly different genres – are all set in the same universe. This “shared universe” is the Ascension Epoch.
We like that word “shared universe,” and we use it a lot, because it gives you a better idea about all that the Ascension Epoch has to offer. If you’re a fan of comic books, you already know what a shared universe is, but bear with us a minute while we define the term. According to Wikipedia, a shared universe is:
“a fictional universe in which multiple independently created works are set. One or more authors may contribute works to a shared universe. The works involved share characters and other story elements with varying levels of continuity.”
So, far more than a mere series of stories, Ascension Epoch is a whole world of creative possibility. Its stories are not one-time excursions, told in a vacuum, never to be revisited or elaborated once the last page is turned, but a slice of an unfolding reality. Familiar characters, locales, and themes will reappear, developing interesting wrinkles as they mature, even as intriguing new elements burst onto the scene. Over time, this fictional reality takes on a historical and dramatic depth that make it seem less fiction and more reality.
As you probably know, this has been the default mode of comic books–especially American superhero comic books–for three quarters of a century. Some authors also embraced the idea to one extent or another, with characters from previous novels making cameos in more recent books, or developing sprawling fantasy histories that integrate discrete stories into a cohesive whole — the great science fiction writers Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov are two notable examples of this. A few authors took it a few steps further, and invited other creators to develop a shared universe with them, like the “Wild Cards” series, edited by George R.R. Martin, and, probably the most famous of them all, the Cthulhu Mythos spawned by H.P. Lovecraft. Obviously, the concept of the shared universe is a very potent tool of creative expression.
Unfortunately, shared universes have been largely ignored by more mainstream storytellers. ‘Serious’ literary authors tend to view the convention as vulgar and avoid it, insisting that their works stand alone. The idea apparently seemed bizarre even to more popular authors; I consider it a small tragedy that a crossover between Sherlock Holmes and Professor Challenger apparently never even occurred to Arthur Conan Doyle. With rare and notable exceptions, Hollywood also avoided the conceit of the shared universe until very recently, when the astonishing success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe opened eyes and credit lines. Now, a lot more people understand the power of the shared universe and are willing to take it seriously.
And when a shared universe is internally consistent and treated with respect by its creator(s), it becomes something very significant indeed. J.R.R. Tolkien, creator of one of the most celebrated shared universes of all time, called this the Secondary World. The Secondary World is more than just a work of fiction, it is a “sub-creation” – an intellectual journey that helps us better appreciate and understand the Primary World that we live in. Through the power of fantasy, real-life truths may be both communicated and accepted more readily and touch us more profoundly. In other words, it begins to take on the status of myth.
By now, I hope you’re excited about exploring a whole new world. If so, sign up for our email list and get your free short story. By signing up, you’ll also receive free basic access to our membership site when it’s ready to launch. On the membership site, you’ll have access to way more background information, exciting characters and locales, and story ideas for when you want to contribute something yourself.
After that, you can buy one of our exciting books.
- Ascension Epoch Primer: A very concise explanation of some of the key concepts and stylistic considerations of our fictional universe.
- FAQ: A list of frequently asked questions about the project.