Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Kingdom Blog Tour: Sci-Fi in the City

Guest post by Anderson O'Donnell

Author’s note: Thanks to everyone who has been following the Kingdom blog tour. And, to the bloggers who have graciously hosted my tour, please know how much I appreciate your participation.

The following post talks a little bit about my love of the dystopian mega-city, and how this passion yielded the crumbling metropolis at the heart of Kingdom—Tiber City.

Science Fiction in the (Dystopian) City:

Gibson’s Sprawl
Shirley’s San Francisco
O’Connell’s Quinsigamond
Proyas’ Dark City

The masters of dystopian fiction have constructed some of the most memorable settings in modern literature. While “setting” is a crucial component of any genre, science fiction—and the dystopian subgenre in particular—has a special relationship with location. In fact, many of these cities ultimately become the most iconic part of their respective creator’s canon.

Having spent the past few years crafting my own dystopian jungle, I’ve had a chance to consider why, as a readers and writers, we’re so enamored with these hellish, sprawling metropolises.

Disneyland for Genre Fans

At first blush, the importance of these dystopian nightmares seems odd: most are, at least on the surface, miserable hellholes. Its always drizzling, and the wet, neon-soaked streets are teeming with junkies, hookers, and militarized police charged with suppressing the already downtrodden populace. Surveillance cameras are ubiquitous; the food sucks. Sounds like a blast, right? And yet, it seems like no one—not the reader, not the writer, not even Hollywood—is sick of dystopian metropolises. What gives?

On a very basic level, these cities cook up that that fix every genre fiction fan craves—that speedball of sex and violence, cut with a very a hefty dose of neon. There’s lots of gritty action, and the aesthetic is killer: that part of the equation is pretty easy to nail down.

But there’s something else: these cities come to embody the themes at the heart of dystopian fiction. To various degrees, these sprawling, chaotic slums become characters in their own right, growing and evolving along with their residents. They amplify the emotions that dystopian literature seeks to convey: the alienation and uncertainty of the modern world; the terrible grandeur of the towering skyscrapers juxtaposed with the teeming slums and civil unrest—these cities are also a warning. And with every passing day, the scenarios we see played out in Gibson’s sprawl, in O’Connell’s Quinsigamond—well, they don’t seem quite so speculative, do they?

Tiber City Calling

I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to introduce readers to my own humble entry to the “dystopian city” pantheon: Tiber City.

When I first began to tell the story that would eventually become Kingdom, there was no Tiber City. In fact, in the book’s first few (absolutely horrendous) drafts, I tried to shoehorn Dylan and company into an America that more or less resembled the contemporary U.S. It didn’t work; not only did I need fewer boundaries, I was missing an important character, a presence that would give a common foundation to the different narrative threads weaving through those early drafts. While I didn’t take it as far as Shirley did in City Come A-Walkin', Tiber City is “alive,” at least to some extent. The city radiates a dark energy, a sense of fear and unrest; that much is clear. There are also tales of streets vanishing, of entire neighborhoods disappearing off the map; these rumors may or may not be true—I haven’t decided, but know the city will tell me when the time is right.

While my debut novel, Kingdom, is something of a crash course in the Tiber City mythology, the final two parts of the TC Trilogy will dig deeper into the city’s history, including some rather disturbing details about the city’s founding fathers. In the meantime, go back and immerse yourself masters—Gibson, O’Connell, Shirley—and let me know your favorite dystopian cities, and why you love them.

Thanks for taking the time to read and, perhaps, comment.

Anderson



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