JANE: Before we launch into this week’s Tangent, Alan and I want to pause and raise a glass to Terry Pratchett, an author we’ve discussed frequently in these Tangents. If you’re interested, you can download a free e-book containing past Thursday Tangents here, so you can read them at your leisure.
Alan, you are more organized than I am, could you remind me which Tangents deal specifically with Terry Pratchett and his works?
ALAN: Certainly! Here they are, by date.
2012-02-09 Visiting the Last Continent
2012-02-16 Legends of the Last Continent
2012-02-23 Meat Pies and Cork Hats
2012-03-01 Strine and Newzild
2012-06-07 Genre Governments
2013-08-08 Humorous SF/F
JANE: Thanks, Alan, and thank you, Terry Pratchett for wonderful stories!
Okay, Alan, you were going to tell me about how your and Robin’s relocation has been going.
ALAN: Now that we’ve settled in to our new house, Robin and I have been exploring the nearby places and for the first time in a long time we’ve had to pay close attention to things like street names and the places they go to.
JANE: Funny how that happens. To this day, I don’t know the name of a street I drive on several times a week. I just know it will take me to the nearest shopping center where there’s a branch of my bank and an Italian restaurant that makes great pizza and calzones.
Still, you’re smart. You can read a map. I know from your “wot I red on my hols” column you even have a GPS. What’s the problem?
ALAN: Well really it’s more psychological than actual, particularly since, for the very first time in my life, I’ve found myself in a city whose roads are laid out in a rectangular grid. This is quite a shock to the system. If I walk down the street, turn left, then left again and then turn left one more time I find myself back where I started. That’s never happened to me before and I find it quite unsettling.
JANE: Now that’s interesting… Here in the U.S. grids are fairly common. We call those rectangles “blocks” and they can become such a part of way a neighborhood perceives itself that “block parties” are a way of referring to neighborhood gatherings. This isn’t as common where I live, since most yards are fully fenced, so there isn’t the same sense of all sharing the equivalent of a common back area.
We live on a dead end street or, more accurately, I suppose, since it was designed this way, a cul-de-sac. Our houses all face the street, which gets little traffic. Over the years, we’ve gotten to be friendly with our neighbors. Right now, one of the houses has new occupants (the previous one died of cancer) and everyone is nervously waiting to see how this works out.
ALAN: Yes, we live on a cul-de-sac as well and we’ve made very sure to introduce ourselves to our neighbours. The lady next door put her house up for sale a month or so after we moved in. I told her she should start spreading a rumour around the neighbours that we were such horrible people that she just had to get away from us! She found that amusing but, wisely perhaps, did not take my advice. She’s changed her mind again though, and has now withdrawn her house from the market. Obviously she’s decided to stay because we are such nice people…
JANE: Of course! Who wouldn’t want Harpo prowling through their yard?
ALAN: I’m not sure I would…
I still find the notion of a town built to a regular plan to be quite odd. The places I grew up in were all very old. In some cases, they’d been lived in without a break for a couple of thousand years or more, and stuff just grew higgeldy piggeldy. I suppose they plan things more carefully these days because that’s what councils do to justify their existence, but it’s hard to impose order on generations of random infrastructure.
JANE: Although there are plenty of towns in here in the New World that expanded at random, I’d say planning was a lot more common. The Spanish, for example, planned cities around a central plaza, usually with a church at one side. The further you get from the center, the more chaotic the layout would get. Sometimes, later events would lead to changes, so, in Santa Fe, the church is now a block off the plaza, rather than, as originally, right on it.
ALAN: New Zealand tried to do something similar but, being British, they didn’t always get it quite right. Wellington, where I used to live, was very carefully planned. The movers and shakers in England (none of whom had ever been to New Zealand) produced an elegant plan based on maps provided by the colonists. Unfortunately, the colonial mapmakers forgot to put the contour lines in and so the implementation of the plan didn’t work out too well…
JANE: Oh… Wait! I just read that to Jim and I’ve got to wait for him to stop laughing. Being an archeologist, he always draws maps with contour lines. That’s why the maps in the Firekeeper books show elevations – he drew the originals. So the idea of city planners forgetting that all land is not perfectly flat seems hilarious to him.
What happened to poor Wellington?
ALAN: The builders struggled to fit the city to the original plan and they had to make a lot of compromises. They sacrificed public amenities such as parks, and somehow they managed to squeeze everything essential in.
Then, in the middle of the nineteenth century there was a big earthquake and Lambton Quay, where the ships all moored themselves, suddenly found itself in the centre of the city and a lot of flat land that hadn’t been there the day before made itself available for building on. That helped a lot.
JANE: Wow! That’s astonishing and just a little creepy.
ALAN: As an added bonus, the earthquake also gave us an international airport and a place for Peter Jackson’s stage sets so he could film the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies.
JANE: I’m assuming you mean a place to build these things, right? They didn’t just magically appear?
ALAN: That’s right – but it makes a much better story if you assume that the shaking earth just handed them to us fully built. Next time we have an earthquake, it will probably take them away again.
These days Lambton Quay is a very posh thoroughfare through the city centre. It is full of offices and expensive shops. A few years ago, one of the older buildings was extensively renovated and as they were digging out the foundations they came across the remains of a ship which presumably had been tied up at the quay when the earthquake hit. There’s something quite surreal about the thought of a city centre office block having a ship in its basement…
JANE: Wonderful! Reminds me of elements in Charles Delint’s Newford, where there is a city under the city… What about a ghost fleet sailing below Wellington, becoming aware that there’s a threat of a new earthquake and…
Sorry… Writers are like that. Everything’s a story.
Speaking of which, I should go write.
ALAN: But I’ve got a question for you! Oh, well. Never mind. I’ll ask it when you get back.