Joel Shepherd » A Brief on Tanusha

A Brief on Tanusha

Obviously there’s a fair few scientific improbabilities in Cassandra’s world, starting with Earthlike planets of roughly similar gravity, atmosphere, etc. My technical excuse is that the primary scientific improbability (faster than light travel) gives humanity such a wide range that even if such worlds are a million to one, humanity now has access to tens of millions of stars, so logically there are quite a few million-to-one shots inside that range. But the real point of a story like Cassandra’s is not to ponder scientific accuracy, it’s to tell a good story. So long as it’s vaguely plausible, science shouldn’t get in the way. Besides which, no one has any real idea how many Earthlike planets there are… maybe there’s plenty, just waiting for us to figure a way to reach and colonise.

Tanusha is one such planet. We never really see the planet because we’re concentrated where most of the people are, in the city of Tanusha. Tanusha has 57 million people at the time of ‘Crossover’, though even by ‘Killswitch’ it’s gone up a million or so. It’s a boomtown, and was planned that way from inception. For one thing, environmentalists have it wrong when they oppose large cities, putting people into big cities keeps them out of the countryside, so all environmentalists should be fans of skyscrapers — cities that aren’t allowed to grow upward will grow outward instead, eating natural land as they go. Dense cities are also more economically productive, which is not to say farmers are unnecessary (though with futuristic hydroponics, synthetic food replication etc, who knows?) only to say that the more we move into the future, the less significant farming becomes as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product in any economy. That still leaves us with mining, but again with nano-tech and replication technologies, who knows where minerals will be coming from?

There’s no doubt Tanusha is inspired by my experience with certain emerging Asian megalopolises, though it is completely unlike any single one of them. For a start, most of the Asian cities I’ve been to are relatively poor, save for Tokyo and Singapore. Tanusha is phenomenally wealthy, it would be hard to survive there on a budget. It’s also a fairly utopian vision of the future in that it’s the end product of huge advances in urban planning and associated technologies, and functions like digital clockwork. There are no slums, no garbage in the streets, no ‘bad neighbourhoods’. Even the rich/poor divide, a feature of all cities today, is mitigated by planning that mixes all income levels together and gives everyone access to services, transport, etc.

Is any of this possible? There are urban planners today who believe that it probably is, and given how much better our cities have become in the past few hundred years, it would be silly to dismiss them. On the other hand, this kind of planning does smell suspiciously like socialism, and will be opposed by all those who dislike the association. My personal dislike of socialism stems from the fact that it usually doesn’t work. Those bits that do work, I tend to support. In Tanusha, we have a functioning form of socialism in urban planning, that works amazingly well. And of course, as a new settlement that literally descended from the heavens onto virgin land, its planners had the option of telling anyone who didn’t like it that they didn’t have to come. Plenty of other settlements in the galaxy, go find something else that suits you better.

Tanusha is built across a huge river delta as it sprawls through thick forest on its way to the ocean. I’m assuming they have hugely effective water management systems in place for when the river floods. As a result, Tanusha is very green, somewhat sticky and humid in summer, and has water everywhere in the form of river tributaries, and rain. This is definitely a South East Asian influence, my best memories of Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bandar Seri Begawan are of thick greenery, city waterfronts, and amazing thunderstorms. Tanusha has waterfront property everywhere thanks to all the tributaries — live high enough and you’ll have a water view.

Structurally though, Tanusha is possibly more like Tokyo than anywhere else I’ve been. It doesn’t LOOK at all like Tokyo, Tanusha residents visiting Tokyo would sniff and stick their noses up at that lowrise concrete slum (in the daytime at least, nights in Shibuya’s neon glare would be far more familiar). But Tokyo is organised around a series of decentralised neighbourhoods, each one like a little highrise center in its own right. At the center of each is a transport node, an intersection of subway lines, suburban trains and bus routes, bringing a flood of people through every day. In between these centers, however, things are more lowrise, sedate and suburban.

Tanusha takes this decentralisation to a new level. If it had one central hub, at fifty seven million strong, the city would be unmanagable. Imagine one central CBD for that many people, it would be ten times the size of Manhattan, and the sprawl beyond would be immense. Such a sprawl would have endless blindspots that urban planning couldn’t fix, bad neighbourhoods, bad transport because it’s simply a long way from anywhere productive.

So Tanusha has no center. Rather it has about fifty or sixty centers, roughly one for every million people. Each one is a transport intersection, as in Tokyo, and is zoned for highrise. In between are the suburbs, leafy green and sedate, with stand alone houses and low rise apartment blocks, parks, amenities, etc. You can live in there and barely realise the scale of the city, your view blocked by trees. But get up higher and you’ll see clusters of towers, each one a city in its own right, stretching away across the horizon in all directions, the furthest ones all dim and hazy in the humid air (that’s not pollution with Tanusha’s zero-emission technology, but I do like that Asian-haze effect in the sunsets. I just don’t like breathing it).

For transport Tanusha has everything. For long trips across the city, there are big above-ground maglev trains that only stop at each major transport hub. Connecting them for middle distance trips are subway lines like we know today, stopping more frequently and connecting up each seperate district. Linking those, light rail, like trams, for that last-meter connectivity. Cars drive themselves on the central grid, they form up in large peletons on the big highways like nascar races, automated systems meaning they can be a few centimeters apart with no danger, no wind resistance and very high speeds, so you can get across town pretty easily that way too…. but as everywhere, parking can be a hassle, so public transport’s easier. Or if you’re wealthy and important, there are cruisers — flying cars to you and me, which I just had to include because they’re so damn cool, and allowed characters the personal mobility I really wanted. They aren’t cheap, maybe five percent of the population can afford them… though knowing Tanusha, a lot of that might be the government just inflating the cost of parking and liscencing to keep the numbers managable.

If Sandy’s adventures in Tanusha were more serialised, here are some questions I’d get into the SF nitty gritty of if I had the chance.

How does a city have no poor people? Good question. And here’s where Tanusha gets really interesting — it may be utopian on the surface, but if you dig a little, things get more messy. A planned city like Tanusha has a vested interest in not having any poverty, because it’s simply not an affordable city on a low income, and no ‘bad neighbourhoods’ means no ‘cheap neighbourhoods’. Is there social security? Another good question, connected to other answers.

Tanusha tries to solve all its issues with technology. Education has now evolved to the point where knowledge can be directly fed into a person’s brain. Lack of skills is no longer an excuse not to have a job, and there’s no such thing as low skill labour any longer because robotics/automation takes care of that. High level education is thus 100 percent. But economics, in my opinion, can never be planned to the kind of precision that can guarentee all of them jobs, there’s always unemployed because the only economies that have 100 percent employment are planned economies, and planned economies always fail. Tanusha is a planned CITY. That’s different, that’s about where you put buildings and roads and swimming pools and why. In economics, Tanusha is an advanced capitalist economy, the exact mechanisms I’d be nuts to try and invent because economic systems have changed enormously just in the past few years (or the past few months if you’ve been paying attention) and will be unrecognisable again in another fifty, let alone five hundred plus. But suffice to say it has flexibility and slack built into it, and there’s always going to be unemployed, though hopefully not long term.

The great thing about tape teach education (directly into the brain) is that you can retrain real fast. Imagine today, getting laid off from your job as an accountant. Some analyst at the unemployment center looks at some figures, and says ‘well, we seem to have a surplus of accountants right now, but a shortage mid-level business managers. How’d you like to do an MBA?’ Which I imagine would cost you, but could be completed in six months or less (none of this Matrix-style ‘lean the entire encyclopedia in three seconds, let’s be a little more realistic).

The exact psychology of overlaying complex skill sets like this could lead to complications, however. And that’s the kind of thing that becomes entertaining in SF stories — Philip K Dick loved this stuff, complications from technological solutions to social problems, things so obscure they’re five or six degrees separated from the source and no one else would think of.

So Tanusha’s a nice place to live. It’s spectacular on the grand scale, pretty on the small scale, aesthetically pleasing to most people from most angles, you just have to look and you’ll find something that suits your tastes somewhere. But, as often comes out in the novels, it’s something of a bubble, because when every whim is catered to, and life is so comfortable, its easy to forget about less pleasant stuff that goes on elsewhere. Which is what makes life so interesting for the Callayan Security Agency when the shit hits the fan, because they’re looked down upon as the rough and uncivilised agency in a city that no longer believes in such things as violence to maintain peace, and is painfully forced to change its mind, at least a little bit.

And of course there’s plenty of crime in Tanusha, some quite nasty, just very well hidden under 57 million people. There’s a lot of network freedom, meaning a whole class of folks very good at manipulation of that network inevitably begin to form their own counter culture, and feel they can cheat a living from it. Which in turn provides cover for the really nasty minority within that minority, the organised criminal rackets, which trade largely in technologies deemed illegal by the Federation or Tanushan nanny-state, and are prepared to play dirty to maintain their cashflow. There’s lots of those, and always lots of demand for their services, as the current war-on-drugs illustrates. So a small, elite paramilitary unit like CSA SWAT gets plenty of work… and from the rest of the Tanushan public, general disdain.

Especially when the galaxy’s most ass kicking manifestation of all this peaceful utopia’s worst fears suddenly joins their ranks.

Joel Shepherd © 2019