Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dense Considerations

Yes, I know I said that this weblog would be transitioning into more of a photoblog. Doesn't mean I won't still make non-photo posts when I feel like it. Plus, this gives me a clean sweep in November.

So far this morning I've wrung a couple of hundred words from the stone that is "High Midnight," the story I have currently in the production queue, but it's not the only one I'm thinking about - and so that my fingers don't forget what it's like to type on a rapid and consistent basis, rather than having to spend interminable moments trying to figure out what happens next, I figured I'd write a bit about that as well.

It's about scale; something that may be jettisoned by writers in favor of making something look cool, but just as frequently it's because the writer in question just has no sense of the reality involved. This shows up so often in space-based science fiction that realism is unusual, but it goes beyond acting like fifty thousand kilometers is a real long way for a starship that can fly from one system to another in a matter of days. Closer to home, though, it can trip up creators if they're not careful because of the hard distinction between "oh, that seems reasonable" and what actually is reasonable, as determined by the cold equations.

See that? That's Annacis Island, one of a number of smaller islands in the Fraser River. Originally dominated by farmland, ever since the 1950s its 4.8 square kilometers have been one of Metro Vancouver's industrial centers. I walked across it in order to reach the Alex Fraser Bridge, and I've been in few places quite so odd; on Sunday afternoons, it seems, Annacis Island is dead. There are few sidewalks, only a handful of businesses that aren't industrial, and I would be very surprised if anyone lived there. Obviously, I concluded, it would be a great place to put a thriving cityscape, eighty years hence! Annacis Island, a thriving place of adventure where anything can be had for the right price - boasting the largest concentration of parahumans in the Pacific Northwest! And I could develop it without having to worry about annoying reality.

Population? Hmm... something like sixty thousand seems reasonable with enough density, no?

It wasn't until later that I had an opportunity to do the math - and sure, with sufficient density, Annacis Island could theoretically support a population of sixty thousand - but with a population density of 12,500 per square kilometer, twice that of Hong Kong. In some places this would be believable - but even with the Lower Mainland penned in by mountains on one side, ocean on another, and the United States on still another, there's plenty of room to spread out here - and very little motivation to densify to such a degree without an extremely good reason to do so.

So I haven't figured it out yet. It's not beyond the realm of possibility; hell, with the population density of Manila, Annacis Island could hold a population of more than two hundred thousand, though that would shatter suspension of disbelief like nothing. The important thing, when creating, is to think these things through - to figure out what makes sense above all, rather than build tales on foundations that wobble in the wind.

No comments:

Post a Comment