by Keith Morrison
©2007 Keith Morrison
- And thus did the Prophet Mases strike the ground beneath his staff and proclaim Here shall be the Temple of Deity, and here shall be the City.
The People listened to Mases, and as one they looked around and saw the barren ground and the cold, surrounding mountains, and the river so distant it was a blue thread upon the horizon and they asked Mases, Mases, Prophet of Deity, leader of the People, deliverer of the Word what the hell have you been smoking? We cant build a freaking city here!
And Mases raised his staff and great was his wrath, and Mases said, Thou art fools and heretics! For, hath not Deity given unto me the Great Map? And hath not the Great Map showed us our journey from bondage
Well, it was kinky but not that bad, spoke Erin, sister of Mases, who shut up when Mases did glare at her.
And Mases did continue, And Deity did give us the Great Map, and our journey and our new city were upon it clearly marked. Dost thou now disagree with the Word?
And lo, the Heavens parted, and the Voice of Deity fell upon Mases and the People. And all were struck with awe, and Deity did speak onto Mases and the People and said, Indeed did I give you the Great Map, and upon it your journey and I did mark upon it where thine city was to be and youve been holding it upside down you bloody twit. No wonder you wandered twenty years in that desert. For My sake, did you ever think about stopping and asking for directions?
- The Book of Norso-mri, Chapter 5
Before we can really talk about civilizations, cultures and societies, we really need to first decide what exactly they are. In the last column I pointed out that humans are hierarchical, social, political animals, and the interplay between those factors create the difference between the social organizations humans make.
Fried and Service, two cultural anthropologists, defined four classes of human groupings:
New York City. Great harbor, located at the mouth of the Hudson River, allowing access to the interior.
Vancouver. Again, a great harbor; mouth of the Frasier Valley, allowing access to the interior and the passes giving access across the Rockies.
Quebec City.. Defensive bluff overlooking the St Lawrence River where it narrows, allowing cannon on one side to control the river. This example is a natural city-site where there is competition for control of the river (and theres cannon). Otherwise the natural city location in this area is
Montreal. Furthest point a ship can get on the St. Lawrence without the locks or canals, intersection of routes going west up the Ottawa River, south along the Richelieu to the Hudson Valley, and southwest further up the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes. Theres a reason why Montreal was the largest city in Canada until the 1970s.
Istanbul/Constantinople/Byzantium. The Bosporus is an incredibly obvious location for a city, the nexus of trade routes in all directions.
Edmonton and Calgary, Alberta. Edmonton was established as a trading post on the North Saskatchewan River, Calgary as a fort to serve as a base for police operations in the (then) territory at the intersection of the Bow and Elbow Rivers. Neither had anything in particular outstanding about it: indeed, the trading post could have been established at numerous places along the river, and the forts location was just convenient. Both cities grew just because they were outposts where some settlement had occurred, thus drawing in others which drew in services which drew in more people.
Dallas, Texas. Its population grew after the US Civil War, as freed slaves set up a community on the outskirts of the existing town. Then in the 1870s it managed to get linked to two railroads, making it a crossover point and regional transportation hub. This gave it the opportunity to start becoming an economic center, much as the previous two examples.
Prime example: Salt Lake City. Let Brigham Young change his mind, and thered be no (large) settlement there.
Brasília. Chosen specifically to open up a sparsely-settled area of the country in a more central location, away from the overcrowded Rio de Janeiro, and designed as a modern capital city. If President Juscelino Kubitschek wasnt so dedicated to the idea (or if he hadnt got the backing to move the capital out of Rio), it would never have been there.
One thing of note is that the natural cities have one major thing in common: Water. Of all the requirements of a city, control and access to water is the single most important, not just for use (drinking, sanitation, etc) but also for transportation. Water is the single most efficient way of schlepping bulk materials around. Even today, with high-tech gear, heavy automation and all sorts of toys and goodies available, access to tidewater is one of the most critical features in the feasibility studies for many new mining operations. This will be true of Gayajan civilizations as well. While a portathayon may get you there faster, a ship can get a lot more there a lot cheaper.
Theres also the point where, as evolved cities demonstrate, a community that gets a head start often keeps it. If you consider the discovery and exploitation of magic on Gayajan as pretty similar overall to the advance of science and technology on Earth, people tend to bring that advance to work in areas where there is already a basic settlement, making it grow bigger. Rarely will they colonize a completely new area just because they now have the means of doing so and for no other reason. A good example of the that is Northern Canada. Theoretically, with a nuclear power plant, hydroponics, greenhouses, modern transportation and communication, one could set up a city in the ass end of nowhere if one wanted to. However, no one does. Therefore, cities on Gayajan will often be located where wed logically expect them to be even if magic didnt exist.
One other thing (relevant to this fictional universe) that can evolve a city is accident: Sometimes the community gets a head start because it avoided something that took down the competition. This is fairly common in post-apocalyptic fiction where the capital of the New United States of America is Omaha or somewhere else unlikely, due to whatever happened to Washington and any of the other likely candidates. Its less likely in real lifebut it has happened. One example is Tehran; until the Mongols destruction of nearby Rhages in the 13th Century, the latter was by far the more established and important city (thus explaining its sacking while the smaller village located at Tehran was mostly unscathed). Refugees from Rhages settled in the area, and the rest is history.
If, however, the area is a natural city, and the conditions havent changed otherwise, one would expect the city which had suffered the disaster to bounce back. This has also occurred many times in history, as is witnessed by the numerous cases of cities being sacked and yet coming back again. However, you do need to emphasize the conditions havent changed otherwise part of the deal. Change the conditions and natural cities may become not so logical locations any more. If nothing happens to them they can proceed on inertia, using the advantage of being there fustest with the mostest to continue to survive and grow. Quebec City, one example I gave, became less relevant as a defensive location by the middle of the 19th Century, and by the 20th became irrelevant both due to technology (muzzle-loading cannon were no longer the main defensive weapon to close off the river), transportation (the main road and railroad routes from the Atlantic Provinces to Central Canada are on the south side of the St. Lawrence, and do not pass through Quebec City) and politics (no one was realistically going to launch an aggressive military operation to invade by that route any more). Yet the city still thrives because of its early importance.
But when things do change, well, the ancient town of Loulan in China is an example. Located on the main route between China and the west, it was a strategically important community that was the subject of a great deal of back-and-forth military action by various powers in the area until the Tarim River changed course. The Tarim supplied the water Loulan needed to survive; once the water went away, the location was abandoned.
The main point of this is that when I want to locate the cities that will figure into my story, there has to be a reason why they are there. I cant just plunk a city in the middle of a desert with no particular reason for it being in that location, nor can I have a long, navigable river that has no large communities taking advantage of it just because. If Im going to do weird things like that, Id better have good reason for it.
Whatever their origin and reason for growth, cities of whatever culture have many things in common because they must have those things in common simply in order to exist. They are:
Water is obviously the single greatest one. No fresh water, no city. Thats why that isolated city-in-the-desert so beloved of many writers had damn well better be (a) sitting on one mother of a subterranean water source, (b) very close to a river or lake, or (c) possessed of some extensive engineering to get the water in.
Transportation is next most important. Without a method of getting supplies, from materials for industry to food, in, and produced items for commerce out, the city is just as impossible. Note that in many cases cities come about because of transportation, as waypoints on overland journeys (as was Loulan), or as transit points like Montreal and New York City.
Sanitation is fairly self-explanatoryand not merely from a disease-control perspective. People dont like living in filth; with large numbers of people in relatively close quarters, the resulting generated waste, both bodily and otherwise, has to be disposed of.
Civil control, policing and governing, to put it simply. When people live in large groups in concentrated areas (ie, a city), they are inevitably required to surrender some personal freedom for group benefit. Civil society cannot function otherwise. Even the most libertarian are forced to recognize that city living requires such an equation. I might not be able to drive my 2-ton SUV at 120 km/h through the streets of the city like I can on the open roads in the country but on the other hand, if Im unfortunate enough to roll that 2-ton suburban assault vehicle, Im probably a lot closer to rescue by emergency services and a hospital in the city than when Im on those aforementioned country roads. The governing part is needed, with a bureaucracy, to keep all the parts of the city functioning. The policing is required to enforce that functioning.
In the modern world, defense of the city from outside attack is usually a problem for the larger nation of which the city forms a part, and thus not relevant to most modern cities (and some historical ones). However, this is clearly not always the case. The Greek city-states are the obvious example that comes to mind, but depending on the technology level, even cities within a nation (especially on the frontiers!) may require their own individual defenses, simply because the nations collective army may not get there fast enough to make a difference when an enemy does show up. In the latter case, the actual defending might be locally billeted national troops, or it might fall upon the local community to defend itself until help arrived.
Outlying support includes all those things the city needs to survive but cannot produce within itself. Food is the usual suspect here, but this category also includes things like raw materials (for the citys own needs and for its export industries) and fuel (to power the whole thing).
Obviously the details will vary from city to city, both in real life and in fiction, but all six of these points need to be addressed. You need a reason for the city to be there, and you need the infrastructure to keep it there.
So: The two cities of my story. One will be the small town made good, a small fishing port on a largish but mostly uninhabited island off the coast, located in a region with high natural levels of etheric-negating elements and low levels of the etheric generators. After the great disaster that befell human and kejakian civilizations (mentioned in an earlier column) it survived simply because it was so unimportant. Protected by water, yet close enough to get to fairly safely, it became a refuge from those fleeing the chaos, a center of order in a world gone insane. As the centuries passed it grew in importance and power, its fishing fleet becoming the basis for a navy that protected it and tentatively explored and spread its economy (read: looked for things to take, and either took them or put people on the ground who then proceeded to take them). The discovery of the portathayon allowed expansion inland (mostly along the rivers where its ships could carry the components to set up a station).
Due to its low etheric potential, etheric energy (in the form of etheric-generating materials) had to be brought in for its industrial economy. Because of this, magic is very tightly controlledbecause it can be. Users have to be formally trained and licensed, monitored and regulated. Having seen what magic did in the past, and almost happened to them on and off over the centuries, the people have no desire to see it repeated. This also, however, results in distrust of anyone or anything who cannot be so controlled. The religions tend toward faith in distant deities who do not directly intervene in the affairs of humanity. Again, these guys dont want to repeat the past where intervention by the great magical entities, and the powers and favors they bestowed, could be seen as directly leading to the great war and the resulting darkness. Secret groups still worship in the old ways, but are ruthlessly hunted down as threats to the nation.
The government is a democracy, descended from the old emergency council that was set up to deal with the results of the great war and the influx of refugees. It has had periods of autocracy and even dictatorship, but the old ways tend to re-emerge every time.
The city is grappling with the realization that it is becoming an emerging power, and that its old isolationism when it comes to many of the non-human inhabitants of the world is no longer a viable option.
The second city has a quite different history. It was directly touched by war, originally a small fortress that formed part of a major citys defensive network. The old city was destroyed in the last part of the Second Global War, the region around it devastated, but miraculously the fort and its garrison survived. Being the only organized entity, it found itself by default the magnet for people looking for anything to help them in the madness that surrounded them. Unlike my first city, this one didnt have the luxury of isolation. It was in the middle of chaos.
Its government emerged from the surviving military leadership, magically-engineered warriors who adapted the military command structure to try and manage their suddenly greater responsibilities. Military leaders became rulers, and a garrison became a ruling class.
Over time the fort-now-city and its aristocratic system gradually solidified control over a large region. While the old cities had been destroyed, survivors of the cities were sufficiently numerous that varied human, semi-human, and intelligent non-human species were represented. Not being entirely human themselves, the rulers had no particular bias one way or the other when it came to physiology: their only concern was order and rebuilding. Without the pure power to enforce their will, they were as likely to use diplomacy and politics to manage their multi-species kingdom.
In the present day, this government is a constitutional monarchy. Religion is more old school, magic less formalized (and thus less industrialized) than the other city.
The two cities have recently made tentative diplomatic and trading contacts. Both have reason to distrust the other; both recognize that they cant start a war with so much of their world still wild; and both wonder just how much of a recovery their old kejakian opponents have been up to
Theres the world. Now I just have to write the damn story