7-4 fiction

The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.

P R A E S I D I U M

A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

7.4 (Fall 2007)

 

fiction

tabs.h13

Invitation to Opposing Voyages

J. S. Moseby

Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,

Luxe, calme et volupté. 

     Two cities of radically different design.  Two radically different ways of addressing the super-populated urban environment—of navigating the future.  Either city is indeed rather like a great ship on an indefinite voyage across an unknown sea.  Its all but innumerable human cargo cradled within a creative, synthetic structure of ribs and joists, it bravely noses through each coming month’s billow, confident of making landfall eventually in the next century.  There, in that faraway land which will be the same land in a later time (and what coast was ever more exotic?), its cargo unloaded, its mission accomplished, it will perhaps consent to being dismantled.  Perhaps a new century will require a new vessel—for the future, to be honest in metaphor, is always sea and never land: human culture is always afloat, sometimes wittingly adrift and sometimes pressing on in a grand illusion of looming arrival.  Different ships for different seas… but for now, for a century whose currents perhaps growl at the far end of this writing’s “now”, two contrasting designs have slipped from dry dock.  To walk their contrasting decks, climb their contrasting masts, shine a light in their contrasting holds… collect impressions, make notes, tally capacities… this would be worthwhile, perhaps.

*

     Pyramidopolis.  A Victorian’s fantasy of Seleucid Egypt… and yet, no Egyptian astrologer ever had such geometrical inspirations under the stars, no Victorian romantic such generous visions in an opium den.  Every structure in Pyramidopolis is pyramidal—and there are hundreds, thousands of such structures.  The tallest surpass the doomed World Trade Towers, and do so self-consciously, almost vaingloriously, as if laughing lightly (a woman’s laugh, perhaps Cleopatra’s—perhaps Hatshepsut’s) at the future’s assembled airborne armadas.  To topple one of these pyramids, or even to do it great structural damage, with such a blow would be patently impossible.  And safety will surely have been among the major reasons argued for building Pyramidopolis: it is uniquely secure from air assault.  The precincts of this labyrinthine checkerboard, twenty miles by twenty miles on a plain of engineered, perfect flatness (for natural slopes are anathema here)—four hundred square miles of pyramids, from horizon to horizon to horizon to horizon—are the safest metropolitan real estate the world has ever known.  Even earthquakes cannot budge the great masses.  Even a cloud of contagion, whether expelled by an adjoining swamp or malignly man-generated—would readily blow away from its streets.

     For besides being indestructible, these pyramids are also friendly to open space—to sunlight, to the winds, to sunsets and stargazing.  It is their primary liability, from the city designer’s perspective of having to house millions within limited territory; yet the hygienic  and logistical benefits of so much space are compensation for a disappointing rate in bodies per cubic foot (since the designer is charged, as well, with keeping the bodies alive and functional).  That the sacrifice to the Goddess of Space may not be extravagantly lavish, all pyramids are right-angled to all others: an aerial view of the city, as from a satellite zooming in, reveals not a single triangle—not one “slice of pie”—anywhere within the urban grid.  Larger pyramids have been carefully aligned so as to leave just enough space for smaller pyramids (usually the square of “two” or “three” in number).  City streets, as a result, are narrow but numerous and, in every case, readily oriented to every other street.  Traffic flows freely through these abundant arteries at hours of high volume, and rescue crews can gain quick access to scenes of incidental catastrophe.  The dozens or hundreds of services involved in sustaining such a vast settlement’s populace, though often taken for granted and sometimes unmentionable before delicate ears, rank among Pyramidopolis’s most efficient triumphs.

     Less visible triumphs—a delight to the heart of the social engineer—flow from this material efficiency in a logic as irresistible as it is (initially) curious and furtive.  For the uniformity of residential structures has largely done away with social snobbery, if not altogether with economic classes.  Living at or near a pyramid’s apex is not of itself less or more prestigious than living at or near street level.  There are no colonnaded mansions, no exclusive penthouses, no moldering slums, no pestilential shanty towns.  Perhaps some apartments are bigger than others or better furnished than others, or perhaps here and there a wealthy family rents an entire floor of apartments.  Nothing in the conception of Pyramidopolis need be viewed as precluding such muted ostentation—nothing in human history has ever hinted at the possibility that ostentation can be anything more than muted at a distance of twenty paces.  Yet high and low in this settlement of the next century do not physically dwell high or low.  All are pyramid-denizens, citizens of the thousand-peaked checkerboard plain.  An enforced programming of the environment, perhaps, infuses that sense of fraternity which the past’s best efforts at teaching moral precepts have never been able to spread far and wide.  The Pyramidopolitan may not like his neighbors: he may particularly dislike some of them.  Let us not grow naïve in our projections… no, but he is nevertheless of them and they of him in a manner, and with an intensity, seldom paralleled by co-residents of previous human settlements.  For all of them, the horizon is littered with forty-five degree mineral slopes as a great shipyard is littered with masts; and a trip to any location, be it ever so humble or exalted, must negotiate a series of right-angled turns.  Different vistas are not on sale to the highest bidder, and different transits not available to those with chauffeurs.

     In imagining the life of the “typical” Pyramidopolitan, then, we cannot be far from imagining the actual life of any specific member of the community.  Think of life in a pyramid.  A central elevator would be feasible only for the smallest specimens.  In the largest, it would require occupants to travel unconscionable distances to their offices or domiciles.  Though the walk itself might prove salutary, the wasted space taxes the responsible mind (for we have already agreed that space will be at a premium).  At least four elevators, rather, will run the height of each great structure, their shafts paralleling the four great outer corners of forty-five degrees.  Like all the outer walls and many of the inner ones observable in any given room, the elevator’s compartment will slant through the half of a right angle, though floor and ceiling will parallel the distant ground.  (Seats can be laid along the compartment’s steep slope to maximize occupancy, allowing the short-statured or the weary to sit toward the outside.)  Should a cable ever snap, the compartment’s formerly fatal plunge will now be easily arrested by applying a manual brake, its downward acceleration having been much reduced from that of free fall.

     How will actual rooms appear?  Within superficial sameness, rich diversity.  Greatly increased exposure to an outer wall.  The four great outer walls are now, each one, the hypotenuse of the line created by that antiquated vertical wall of yesteryear.  More light, more sun.  The outer walls could indeed be constructed of a semi-transparent Space Age plastic permitting penetration of light one way, yet hard as a rock—their entire surface a great window.  Or perhaps windows would be liberally built into each apartment’s outer wall at a space of about two feet above the floor… for a lucid panorama of the universe pouring in at toe-level might induce vertigo.  Or perhaps this would not be so at all, in the case of a window slanting forty-five degrees.  Were one able to crawl to the edge (where a vacuum cleaner might scarcely reach) and peek over, one would see no dizzying abyss, but the reassuring side of the pyramid, flat, polished, scintillant.

     A bar running down the pyramid’s side along each tier of rooms.  (The rooms could not be perfectly aligned—not with one on top and fifty at the base.  The system of bars would create the impression of a deep arc, a kind of necklace-effect, around each face of the apex when viewed from the streets, for fewer bars would continue to the top as each story carried fewer rooms.)  Emergency bars.  In the event of fire or other internal dangers, occupants would exit through their windows and clip a belt onto the convenient bar.  Chairs equipped to “crawl” down the bar would be available for the elderly or disabled.  Some tenants might choose to climb to the top and back routinely by way of exercise.  Or perhaps not… windows would infallibly prohibit criminal entry, but indiscriminate recreational “barring” might have other negative consequences.  The situation needs a closer look.

     It must be said here that building codes would not require each pyramid to have flat surfaces.  External walls could be “waved” to create yet more surface area, though at great expense.  The implementation of safety bars would at least be made much easier this way, and access to them far less daunting to the frail-hearted.  The “valleys” between each ridge would also lend themselves to the construction of balconies where desired.  But then, balconies would be entirely feasible in the flat design, as well.  Windows would be brought down vertically, the remnant floor space projecting into the outer wall now a ready-made balcony once the window is fitted with a sliding door.

     Yet the increased surface area of the outer walls cannot obviate the inner darkness of the lowest floors.  The largest pyramids’ bases will be massive, the distance from their center to an outer window formidable.  To be considered carefully: what human activities best prosper with least light, or with artificial light?  The pyramid’s core may contain essential storage space, pipes, and power cables.  (These last may be minimal if the outer surfaces can be designed both to admit light and to collect solar energy.)  Maintenance services, the Laundromat, the barber shop… transactions demanding uninterrupted thought, endeavors demanding insulation from incidental noise.  Certain businesses dependent upon discreet exchanges would be officed here.  Musical practices or performances could be arranged in sound-proofed chambers.  Perhaps a modicum of private residences: the insomniac may prefer to court sleep in a space where the sun never shines.

     Nothing, of course, would forbid the merging of public and private life within a given pyramid.  Everything, rather, would argue for it.  Not only could the citizen live within the same structure which houses his office: his office might be his home (the writer, the data analyst, the programmer, the accountant).  The design of private residences might be critical to the success and happiness of such a people.  The poet may wish to compose in bed while staring out his window into space… but the marketing strategist may wish to leave his labors under lock and key after hours, out of sight and out of mind.  Would life in the pyramids necessarily be altogether too synthetic, forcing denizens to embrace a single identity constantly?  Would even an array of windows lifted like a telescope’s lens upon the stars suffice to inspire them?  Would efficiency be their ruin?  Do human bees living in human hives require tawdry out-of-bound gutters and nooks forgotten by the designer to cultivate mystery and retain sanity?

     Fortunately, the individual apartment is built of corners.  If the satellite looking down upon Pyramidopolis observes no slice of pie, the “guts” of each structure consist of little but such slices.  All rooms must fan out.  Extremely narrow foyers, perhaps no more than shoulder-span… then an expanding vista.  How to divide it?  Half a slice for work, half a slice for play?  Leisure rooms along the windowed outer wall, business space sealed into the interior?  Vice versa?  A sleeping cubicle in the slice’s very middle, with no wall adjoining a potentially disruptive neighbor’s living space?  Or a cot on the balcony?  Would such decisions have to be made in advance?  Could the occupant, indeed, not alter the room’s design from month to month as readily as changing a furniture arrangement?  If internal walls, bearing no structural weight, could be designed to move… an occupant who possessed two contiguous apartments could even wall up the door of one and use only the other for entry.  The resulting triangular closet could be either delicious or disgusting to the impartial observer.  No doubt, it would be the former to its author.

     To live in such places week after week, month after month… what must Pyramidopolitans dream?  Do they court and have babies?  What crimes infest their artificial cliff-dwellings?  A certain shyness—a tendency, even, to the anti-social, the morbidly withdrawn—must be an abiding concern.  For whatever cleverness should be displayed in romanticizing or mystifying private quarters, no trick can hide the reality of aloofness in this land of leaning walls.  A richness of private fantasies may indeed make individuals less willing than ever to reach far, far out to others.  Imagine: in all the vast settlement, not a single high-rise presents an easy view of neighbors across the way.  To a young man or an old woman staring out the window, no richly varied panorama of human activity within full view or ready hearing.  All facades slope away from all other facades: the very windows are themselves pointed into the sky at forty-five degrees.  What psychological price to be paid for this heavenly tilt?  The curvaceous girl on the sixth floor can only be appreciated through binoculars as her silhouette slips out of bathrobe into shower.  Binoculars and telescopes introduce intent, and guilt: the sighting is no longer a lucky accident.  The Peeping Tom cannot mistake the contours of his inner disease in the magnified mirror of his outward gaze.  Even the retired general who feeds pigeons from his window sill has become, to the casual eye, himself a bird-like flutter of white on a far cliff.  Who is he—what is he?  Casual sight does not suffice to give a sense of the normal, the workaday—sights have been rendered too problematic by their remoteness.  The young couple on Floor Nine can no more be overheard arguing or making up.  Sounds no longer ricochet along narrow walls.  Noises filter aloft from the street, perhaps—mostly mechanical noises.  Human shouts, laughs, and screams are a memory from the hours beyond one’s room, one’s cell.  One is alone here, alone in a city of millions, as soon as one locks one’s door for the evening.  Voices and images may be imported by pressing a button or turning a dial, but the sight of a living body requires a squint.  Even passers-by on the street below appear only with a vast expanse of slanted, synthetic wall between them and the viewer—a kind of yardstick whose calibrations (in the form of other windows) remind the restless eye of distance, constant distance.

     To consider: would residential structures not be better designed for communal habitation if they were “waved”, as speculated earlier—routinely crimped in right-angled vertical ridges and valleys up and down their facades?  Every resident would thus have frontage on the lives of at least two other residents (more if he could peer above and below, perhaps with the aid of a balcony).  Or would such arrangements invite trouble?  Would Pyramidal Man, already dangerously inclined to introversion, get to know too few people too well—might he not become obsessed with those few, a potential stalker?  Would it be more advisable to seal all his neighbors equally in the anonymity of the smooth, slanting façade?

     Residents of Pyramidopolis would almost certainly have a strong attraction to the metaphysical.  So much sky, so much light, so much space… so much enforced distance from other eyes like theirs gazing into the blue day or the constellated night… this would surely be a reverent people.  To consider carefully, as well, how such reverence might affect social health and efficiency.  Would citizens tend to view their daily routine as trivial or futile?  Would they lose their energy, their creativity, their will to live?  Listless, morose, depressed… a need, an urgent need, to channel their spirituality into participatory worship.  Perhaps the city’s angular grid would be pock-marked, after all, with great amphitheaters—kivas where, for once, all eyes are turned down and into a common focus.  A primary concern: a topic of preeminent importance to further studies.

     Perhaps social and psychological pressures will be somewhat relieved by outdoor diversions as well as collective worship.  Make a virtue of necessity: so much open air and sunlight should be conducive to sidewalk cafés and streetcorner vendors.  The recreational park, however… with square footage already so precious, one can picture few city blocks as being designated for cycling and sun bathing.  Such amusements must be ingeniously integrated into pyramidal life.  The pyramids themselves could feature terraces—some of them—with flower and vegetable gardens.  Balconies would be ideal for an individual green thumb.  Hikes up the slopes, along the bars already mentioned… mountaineering clubs and societies, as it were.  Celebrations at apices, where more cafés or public lookout posts might nest… cycling up and down the checkerboarded streets, or perhaps certain designated ones of them.  The easy, ample collection of rainwater run-off from the sloping walls, not only to feed the vegetated terraces, but also to form “city streams” here and there instead of streets—straight-running streams criss-crossed by short bridges, stocked with trout and carp, overhung by fruit trees.  Boaters punting along, perhaps for pleasure, perhaps on their leisurely way to work or making deliveries.  Almost indefinite possibilities for much-needed social outlets…

     But Pyramidopolis remains first and last a city of the plain, a city of the skies.  If the criss-crossing streets may hum with all varieties of traffic, then why not thin air with one or two varieties?  Broad possibilities here, too.  So many geometric tip-tops saluting the zenith, a post or pole or tower on all the tallest, no doubt (if only to blink at night in a constant alert to incoming air traffic)… why should these not be recreational destinations, too?  A lightweight single-seater craft—fiberglass, even canvas—launched from a lofty pyramid’s peak could practically glide the next mile or two.  Minimal power needed: perhaps as system scarcely more complex than a wound-up rubber band on a child’s toy.  Such a tiny craft could coast and soar from one apex to another.  Having arrived, it would extend a hook or loop and catch the peak’s crowning pole, concurrently cutting its elemental engine… and the craft would gently circle the pole in a mild descent (its hook on a line to avoid initial dizziness, the line’s length reeled in as the craft loses speed).  At the pole’s base, covering the apex like a umbrella, a huge convex circle of light metal.  The craft would roll to an easy halt here.  The same technique could be used in reverse to slingshot aircraft on new expeditions.  The umbrella “runway” a collector of solar energy, perhaps—doubly beneficial to the city’s energy needs, since it would gather new power and also cool the upper pyramid with its shade when the sun beats down most cruelly.  The Egyptian city of royal tombs would wear the slope-brimmed hats of farmers along the Yangtze.

     How difficult would such joy-flying be?  Would it require close licensing and monitoring—would incompetents, ingénues, and revelers shred each other at five hundred feet the way automobilists trade mayhem today?  Or would the third dimension suffice to reduce risk drastically?  All to be decided, negotiated, as mounting experience should dictate.  But the sheer exhilaration of such a ride has been the perennial dream of mankind.  To be Daedalus, the Bird Man… to slip in relative silence and at a peaceful gait between the sun’s beams, only one’s hands and feet as passengers… to see the works of men at such a remove, once a part of them, now alone, soon again to be a part… an hour per week or month of such reflection would not be an unconvincing claim to superior civilization.

     In case of malfunction, parachutes on both pilot and craft.  No risk to those below.  The parachutist would most likely slither easily down the forty-five degree slope of some structure to its adjoining street (where passers-by would ridicule his ineptitude in good nature), then seek out his craft like a lost kite.  Or perhaps, the craft itself also equipped with a quick-filling chute, he would have stayed on board and slid to the sidewalk tail-first, a blind Nantucket sleigh ride.  As you buttoned your shirt in Pyramidopolis and gazed beyond your window, how often would the sudden interruption of your view by a miscalculating aviator send a shock down your spine?  Or would you hear the rumble coming from three or four stories up?  

pyramid

*

     Tholopolis.  From the Greek word for a dome.  Ancient Mycenaean tombs were said to be shaped like beehives, and were called tholoi.  The extension of this image to the second great city of the future is, however, an unsteady arch.  Giant hives do not cover this plain as pyramids cover the site of Pyramidopolis.  More accurate to say that Tholopolis is the other city’s photographic negative.  It is the space between the pyramids now transformed into living and working quarters: what was once pyramids (or let us imagine them hives—vaulted pyramids) is now empty space.  Tholopolis is a vast, densely inhabited block riding on thousands and thousands of massive archways. 

     Its virtues?  Security, as with Pyramidopolis.  The arches (each standing a uniform fifty feet high from street level to keystone) distribute their weight so companionably that no two or three or even ten would leave the overhead structure jeopardized if they were suddenly to crumple.  Experts estimate that at least sixteen immediately adjacent arches would have to be subverted before the ten stories of living space above them would come crackling and smoking to earth in a great landslide.  Even then, the surrounding structure would remain intact, brooding over its internal wound yet uninfected by fissures and fractures.  Two proofs for this assertion: 1) Though sealed in a common shell, the city is constructed in thousands of independent sections, each resting on sixteen supports, which transmit no major internal wall to any other section; 2)  So vastly abundant is the array of vaults within Tholopolis’s sixteen square miles (a mere particle of Pyramidopolis’s area to contain precisely the same population) that no analogy of falling cards or dominoes works here.  Hundreds more columns would form a perimeter around any disaster scene to take additional stress upon their shoulders.

     As if such multiplicity would not suffice, a solid-state skeleton of metal alloy would remain in place after any assaulted section melted away.  Double, triple, and quadruple reinforcement everywhere the panicked eye turns.  Experts calculate that no missile and no earthquake could possibly bring the whole mass to its knees (a judgment surely confined within certain probable parameters).  For good measure—for extravagantly unnecessary reassurance—massive flying buttresses equipped with springs wider than Atlas’s armspan line the four outer edges of the perfectly squared metropolis, anchored in concrete cast twenty feet into solid bedrock.

     All animals intuitively burrow when frightened.  Question: why raise Tholopolis above ground rather than—at least partially—underground?  Security.  Not only is the greater exposure of surface settlements to earthquake and missile strike an illusion: underground structures are far more vulnerable to certain kinds of attack or malfunction.  A ruptured pipe, leaking contaminants… massive asphyxiation.  A single wall collapsed upon a single section of underground track… hundreds of casualties.  For another of the city’s special virtues is that its means of mass transport circulate at ground level—in the open air, that is, and entirely apart from residential and business quarters. These latter rest in The Block which sits titanically, sublimely, atop the thousands of bending piers.  A transit from one end of the city to the other is accomplished by riding an elevator down one of the columnar supports (every eighth of which has a hollow shaft at its core) and boarding a shuttle or a single-occupant vehicle.  The lofty arches allow ready passage to even the most burdened conveyances.  Generous clearance permits free circulation of breezes which chase away noxious vapors (though use of fossil fuel will have been minimized).  Of course, the settlement is quite immune to floods.  Streets may be awash, but not homes and offices.  Flooding would be a constant scourge in underground cities.

     Where Pyramidopolis was a gargantuan checkerboard of efficient fragments, Tholopolis is one immensely efficient asteroid.  Heating and cooling of the entire population is centrally controlled.  Maximal conservation of hot or cool air… minimal surface exposure… the four unearthly rectangles measuring ten stories by four miles on its sides, then the bottom and the top—only these are touched by weather.  A million people share millions of walls within.  In summer, the arches can be ventilated to flush warm air from The Block’s elevated base.  In winter,  screens drop down from the outer archways to trap warm air beneath the city.  A hive, after all… but a hexagonal one, its depths incredibly extensive, often miles away from windows.

     Hence the lighting problem, almost unknown in Pyramidopolis.  Illumination must somehow be piped in for most citizens, throughout an unending night.  Yet a note to the advocates of subterranean dwelling: the four square miles or so of windowed outer walls, for all their distance from the interior, represent a huge head-start over an underground city.  These surfaces could be mostly or all window (who could possibly see you climbing out of the shower stall?), and their transparent panes might absorb energy from light as well as admitting it (as in the city of the pyramids).  The Olympian box’s top would be another matter, possibly very similar to a sunken city’s surface tier: of that, more later.  But the bottom should not be ignored in this regard, either.  Though pierced by little direct sunlight—none except for the outer edges—bottom portholes would at least provide a view of something not The Block.  Down-looking tenants or diners or bureaucrats would see the headlamps of passing traffic in the steady buzz of streetlights.  Such portholes are to be encouraged.  Consider that the supporting arches, though impregnable collectively, will always remain the favored target of ill-wishers, revolutionaries, and psychopaths.  Police cannot be everywhere.  With thousands of eyes turned downward, however, no loiterer could plant a load of explosives at any arch’s base without being reported by twenty different witnesses.

     Yet the lanes among the arches (Tholopolitans will call this bottom space The Basement or The Garage, among other things) undoubtedly pose a major social challenge to the city.  Even with ubiquitous streetlights raining down pale clarity from keystones, the place will be a magnet to misfits.  Pair every light above with a camera and an instant-alarm system… and still—perhaps more than ever—you draw the fringe of the maladjusted who plan to escape detection or apprehension.  To consider: will privately owned, single-occupant vehicles serve a function in this community more consequential than the risks they pose?  For the pickpocket, thug, or prostitute on foot will simply shift to wheels if systematically chased from the arch’s dark side.  If he or she cannot lurk where the elevator opens, then threats or proposals can be made from an open window at a stoplight.  Larger vehicles may even be chauffeured around The Basement’s always-midnight mid-section as guilty parties transact business or make good on their menaces in a concealed back seat.  The elimination of all private means of transport may come to be vigorously promoted.  So, too, the exit of all elevators upon crowded, well-lit platforms offering the traveler immediate boarding of public conveyances.  Otherwise, The Basement may well become The Gutter, a collection of all the Twentieth Century’s worst urban horrors into an unwanted memory chest.

     But the key to The Basement will be The Block.  If mainstream citizens are generally well-adjusted, the detritus cast upon the settlement’s outer shores (or down its Cloaca Maxima) will be negligible; and if Tholopolitans, on the other hand, labor under constant pressures imposed by their astounding concentration in one great unit, then no amount of policing will keep them from trickling through the cracks by the dozen and the hundred to loiter, wander, and plunder.  This is the city’s most dangerous liability as well as its most obvious asset: population density.  So many people in such tightly enclosed quarters.  How will they handle it?  Or maybe the problem goes back to air, light, and space, as it did in Pyramidopolis: too much of them there, too little here.  There, the citizen risked alienation from his society: here, he risks saturation in it.  The trouble could be defined either positively—too many bodies competing for limited space—or negatively—too little air, light, and space defining one’s distance from other bodies.  Or is this equivalence of issues really valid?  Is the native human need for light distinct from the need for privacy?  Could you cram dozens or hundreds of people in a small room and keep them relatively content if a glass ceiling admitted lovely blue skies?  Will the Tholopolitan feel bitterly his lack of direct sunlight two miles in from the nearest window even if he has a vast, well-lit apartment all to himself?  (Though, of course, that hypothetical case exaggerates the optimal scenario: residents cannot have vast apartments, or else the density of population for whose maintenance the city was designed will be impracticable.)

     Vexed issues.  Very complex… more research needed.  Experts will have to make pronouncements.  But not at all likely is the simplistic model patterned after routine twentieth-century design: residence, workplace, marketplace, recreational space.  Constant shuttling between the four.  Too constrictive.  Most citizens would be left fulfilling all vital functions under artificial light in The Block’s enormous, windowless nucleus.  A high risk of claustrophobia, the panic of submariners and prison inmates.  Yet a daily migration from nucleus to outward spaces—say, from densely walled business offices to generously wide-paned residential rows—would also prove impracticable.  The energy involved in such a commute… the crush of moving masses at peak hours… highly inefficient.  Tholopolis, as has been stressed, faces an energy crisis even on the drawing board.  Vast, frequent shifts of people are to be avoided at all costs.

     Possible solution: a “musical chairs” approach.  Denizens will work and play in The Block’s artificially lit nucleus for a period of time—four days, a week.  Then they will “rotate out” with a similar mass occupying spaces along and near the windowed outer walls.  Perhaps every two weeks, perhaps once a month, they will ascend to the rectangle’s sixteen-square-mile top—The Deck—and spend two or three days and nights “camping out” in the open air.  The exchange of personal quarters might create a sense of invaded privacy.  Make a virtue of necessity: limit “rotations” to a size small enough that all members know all others, yet large enough to provide a degree of choice in “roommates”.  A Rotation consists of two residence-exchanging groups: roommates belong to one of the Rotation’s two “pods” (fifty people, say) and do not, of course, room together at the same time.  One vacates on cue as the other moves in.  Furnishings may be left behind: some personal items will be transported.  Families matched with families, childless couples with childless couples, singles with singles.  An important social glue—for the citizen will thereby intimately know someone or some small group quite outside of his pod and quartered a mile or two away.  A corrective to parochialism, so that small units within The Block do not over-identify member with member and neglect ties to the broader community.  Once in a while, pods will be reshuffled.  Occasions to stage inter-pod picnics and banquets, perhaps once every three months.  Perhaps on The Deck, weather permitting.

     So will life within The Nucleus for the four days or the week of one’s shift be a kind of brief jail term, required of everyone?  Absolutely vital to resist this impression.  How to make a term in The Nucleus appealing?  Within any given area of Tholopolis—but especially The Nucleus—vertical mobility highly encouraged.  Denizens will not move horizontally among myriad partitions like rats in a maze as they pass from residence to school to work to restaurant to haberdashery.  Much of this movement, rather, will flow up-and-down.  A city of stairways.  Frequent climbing contributes to the physical health of Tholopolitans, yet it also—perhaps more importantly—fights claustrophobia by imparting a sense of distances traveled.  Minimal space is wasted in this regime.  Since vertical shifts are not mass migrations but rather incidental excursions in the individual’s daily routine, arteries of passage do not clog up.  The distances covered, in any case, are negligible compared to the expanse separating The Nucleus from Windowspace.  A note: ladders and staircases constructed of rungs and steps which partially absorb and conserve the climbing or descending foot’s impact.  The energy thus generated suffices to fuel minor local appliances.  The traveler is also required to expend a little more effort, which enhances the exercise value of his travels.

     Many small businesses opening off of staircases, whether at their landings or mid-ascent.  Nook-and-cranny cafés and hairdressers, sometimes simple perches furnished with public benches where friends may sip coffee.  Here and there, “dormiteria” arranged rather like yesteryear’s safety deposit boxes—you pay at the desk and receive a sound-proofed chamber (with choice of background noises) for an hour or two, or half a day.  As the nook-and-cranny approach implies, Tholopolis (especially The Nucleus) is locally diverse in appearance.  Some offices feature green walls with ample indoor plants, some gleam with chrome… some are oval or circular, and some combine two stories in one room (not by sacrificing space, but by setting desks on ascending platforms or flooring the intersection with thin bars or transparent matter).  Such enterprises as counseling services and legal consultation, of course, have an affinity for muted colors and secure individual chambers—virtual cubby-holes.  Restaurants are particularly eclectic: a magenta room here, a canary one there, a space just beyond with an azure ceiling to mimic the summer sky’s… some orchids, a cactus, comfortably caged songbirds, a discreetly gurgling fountain or frail cataract… patrons may sip their drinks for hours, trading one space for another as their conversations navigate different moods.

     Yet the most important concession to fighting claustrophobia and skotophobia (fear of shadows—a term well known to Tholopolitan engineers) is the array of “phaiotholoi”, or “splendid hives”, zigzagging through The Nucleus’s core.  Empty shafts about twenty feet in diameter brought down from skylights in The Deck, these great lifelines to direct sunlight descend most of the way to the bottom.  Cylindrical, they are greeted by circular atria at every story (which are barred along the rim to prevent fatal accidents).  Families often congregate around a phaiotholos: children may stare at the gilded chasm for hours.  Many cafés abut the area’s shimmer as close as codes will allow.  Sometimes acrobats stage performances here.  The more reflective inhabitants claim that they lounge against the bars at least as hungry for sounds as for sights, since at no other point in Tholopolis does one acquire such a keen awareness of the hive’s humming.  Occasionally, you see such a philosopher confronting the abyss with his eyes closed.

     For all that, space and energy—the city’s two related obsessions—begrudge the phaiotholos a full ten stories.  The deepest stop at eight.  Structurally, too, a firm bottom layer is mandatory.  This plain necessity does not deprive the first story, however, of a certain lurid mystique.  “Bottom-dwellers,” Tholopolitans call those of their fellow citizens who persistently ladder all the way down to the first story without interest in the elevators, The Basement, and the ensuing chain of public transit.  To be sure, The Bottom Rung houses legitimate business concerns (often wholesaling and warehousing services which do not rely upon a steady stream of clients).  Yet residences are rare, and residential permits hard to obtain.  The windows opening downward upon The Basement beguile, and even corrupt.  Unless very near to the city’s perimeter, they admit no hint of sunlight, but only the eternal haze of streetlights insinuating an eternal night.  Security personnel claim that problems sometimes evolve with residents who put on displays for the travelers fifty feet below.  More commonly, restaurants and “night clubs” will succeed in drawing the general public to this far remove.  Diners and revelers seem to be mesmerized by the sight of busy traffic zipping beneath their feet like trout through a mountain stream.  Their reflections are perhaps predominantly “blue” or “offbeat”, epithets which also well suit the music played at such watering holes.  The “fringe” aspect of “bottom-dwelling” is not socially destructive, in a strict sense: it may even be therapeutic for most.  Yet the police plant an agent in every club—for The Basement, after all, is the next step down.  Also disturbing is the apparent fact that diners and clubbers gazing down through the portholes seldom seem to report antisocial behavior in the silent, twilit streets.

     Curiously, true criminals have a way of sinking downward.  The city’s vulnerability to certain kinds of crime is fairly obvious.  Had it been truly regimented like a hive’s colony, interior life would facilitate detection and apprehension—yet the psychological strain of rigid structure would also create more aberrant behavior, probably insurrection at last.  In the absence of twice-a-day roll-calls and lateral marches to and from factories, shops, and schools, a single person can peel off from a pod and be lost in the great wide ocean.  Sixteen square miles, about six and a half cubic miles, with fluid vertical circulation.  A petty thief or a cautious rapist—even a disciplined serial killer—could practice his predations from end to end of the settlement for months or years, especially if he avoided The Basement (always well and easily monitored) to work his way patiently side to side using various exits of businesses, the concourses around phaiotholoi, and so forth.  Amazing, how elimination of vast public spaces complicates the work of law enforcement.  Happily, such types will eventually frequent The Bottom Rung, if not The Basement.  As Tholopolitan detectives say, “Sludge settles.”

     Of course, there is that other Tholopolitan saying, as well—often muttered in Bottom Rung night clubs on the subject of the city’s politicians: “Slag rises.”  The Deck is the settlement’s most mysterious, least explored precinct.  Wandering about under the open sky on its sixteen-square-mile plain is not permitted, though “camp-outs” for Rotations (as has been said) are constantly scheduled in certain reserved areas.  Few citizens—very few—know precisely what goes on up here.  Vast plates for gathering solar energy are visible from every point, as is greenery of some sort.  (The city raises some of its own vegetables, though certainly not all: in a catastrophe, complete short-term self-sufficiency would be possible.)  Aircraft may be heard descending and taking off on occasion.  Energy-harvesting and agriculture, with a smattering of communications technology and extra-urban transport… this seems a logical allocation of The Deck’s resources to most Tholopolitans—quite enough to consume sixteen square miles, which is little enough in support of a million people.

     Yet it may be supposed that certain “higher-ups” nestle on The Deck more or less permanently.  Their existence is indeed a crowning irony.  Such planning, such design, such technical sophistication for miles about them, for hundreds of feet beneath them… and they, offered a choice of all possible residences, live on an artificial surface resembling a pioneer farmer’s few flat acres.  Could it be that humanity’s “progress” is really more vertical than horizontal?

hive

The Human Hive, Andre Bonavita (bona)

*

     If we human beings do not exterminate each other or reduce ourselves to troglodytes in an instant of ill humor or a century’s accumulation of poisons, we will certainly come to live in cities like those I have envisioned.  For we cannot continue on our present course of stirring together bits of styles from the past: what conserves energy and provides security for the coast-dweller or the plains-dweller plunges the cliff-dweller into misery, and a city set in glaciers lurches from crisis to crisis if built and operated like a city among volcanoes.  These indiscriminate tides which hurl our civilizations topsy-turvy upon each other must at last recede.  New islands of us must emerge, some white sands and palm trees, others sheer rock and shoal waters.  Not so delightful to the imagination, perhaps, will be a life-sentence to a single island, for such cultures will not interbreed.  A Pyramidopolitan would pine away in The Great Hive, and a Tholopolitan would prove subversive in the Land of Retreating Walls.  Efficiency demands that a place must be itself and not elsewhere, that an order of worship must exact kneeling now and not later.  Life in the future will not be a rubble of interchangeable pieces.  At a given moment, one may fear the void or fear tight places, fear isolation or fear mass-absorption… but to fear all at once is self-contradictory, the non-existence of utter insanity.

     Limits, then, must arise.  Certain crimes will multiply as they quietly stalk the fringes, and certain crimes will wither away and blow from memory under the sweeping broom of regeneration.  If the poet survives, however, he will be a traveler, a wanderer: a transport vessel’s captain passing from shore to shore, a discreet ambassador posted from capital to capital.  To see first-hand the laws, rites, routines, holidays, games, festivals, and executions of Pyramidopolis for a year, then to move along to those of Tholopolis… and then further along in another year.  A civilization per year.  Every year, a new universe.  Amid such constant variety, one might forget to die.