Tough Traveling – THE BIG CITY
Tough Traveling is an interesting and thought-provoking meme started by Nathan @ Fantasy Review Barn: each week Nathan chooses a topic from The Tough Guide to Fantasyland, by Diana Wynn Jones, and challenges everyone to come up with a list of books featuring that trope.
Come join the fun!
This week we look at THE BIG CITY
There has to be somewhere in Fantasyland where everyone comes together. All roads lead to Rome after all. A place where traders prosper, politicians scheme, and criminals thrive.
Alastair Reynold’s Chasm City is one of the most intriguing (and scary) places in SF literature: enclosed by a dome that protects it from the methane atmosphere of Yellowstone, it used to represent the highest peak of human civilization, a place of culture and scientific achievement totally based on nanotechnology. But it all came to an end when the Melding Plague hit, a cyber virus that targeted nanotech-based constructs and destroyed Chasm City’s from the inside out, acting as a disease and attacking both buildings and computers as well as people with implants. The Plague tries to meld organic material and nanotech with unstoppable, horrifying results that have forced the city’s inhabitants to revert to technological levels low enough as to be unaffected by it: Chasm City has become a place where the only art form is that of survival and where the slowly morphing buildings can either be things of wonder or deadly traps. The lowest levels, named The Mulch, house the poor, the desperate and those fleeing from the law, while the wealthier inhabitants dwell in the highest reaches of the Mosquito Net, from which they descend only for the Game, a hunt for human prey devised by the city aristocracy, such as it is, against jaded boredom.
Blade Runner offers a vision of 2019 Los Angeles that has become iconic: our first view of it is that of a place of darkness and flames, searchlights and constant rain, giant billboards advertising products and a low-hanging smog cloud lit with infernal red from below. The spectacle offered by ground level is not much better: the rain beats mercilessly on milling crowds that scurry in perpetual haste through the grimy streets where the sun never seems to shine, as if perpetual night had fallen on planet Earth. This city seems to be split in two halves: the street level, with its flowing humanity, shops selling and buying everything, seedy nightclubs and a fair share of criminal activity; and the high-rises, like the one housing the Tyrell Corporation, that seem to float above it all – the only places where a feeble sun seems to make its way through the clouds. It’s a dismal and dangerous place, indeed, but it’s a fascinating one as well, and it has inspired many similar cities in dystopian landscapes.
And this list would not be complete without one of my very favorite places, a city floating in space: Babylon 5. A five miles long station, rotating on its axis to generate gravity, located in orbit around Epsilon III in the Epsilon Eridani System. Built as a neutral meeting place after the conclusion of the bloody conflict between Earth and the Minbari, it’s also a transit point toward several systems thanks to the nearby jumpgate, and a commerce hub for the many races living on it or simply passing through. The station is divided in six sectors, from the forward section to the aft part where the power plant is located: Blue for docking facilities, command center and defense; Red for commercial areas; Green for diplomatic quarters; Brown for the industrial facilities; Grey for power and maintenance and Yellow for the fusion reactor. As we’re told in the intro for Season 1 of the show “It’s a dangerous place”, but it’s also one where the characters test themselves and their courage, their willingness to push boundaries and try and create something better. There is no better description for Babylon 5 than the one given at the beginning of each episode: “It’s a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal… all alone in the night.”
If you never visited it… well, do so because after all…Sooner or later, everyone comes to Babylon 5.