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Friday, June 26, 2015

Guest Post: Underground Economy: Political and Financial Machines of Cities and Thrones by Carrie Patel

One of the joys of writing speculative fiction is playing with the what-ifs. As an author, I get to build worlds from ideas and civilizations out of thought experiments. This is especially true for my first two novels, The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones.

The world that these stories are set in has a unique history, and the cities they take place in were founded with special forethought and deliberation. Centuries before the events in the novels, they were designed and excavated as bunkers that would support a population while ruin and calamity raged aboveground. Such is the beginning for Recoletta, Madina, Underlake, the Hollow, and other cities like them. But, over time, their growth takes on a life of its own.

There’s a phenomenon known as “Gal├ípagos syndrome” that examines how comparable products, when developed in isolation, begin to diverge. It’s a reference to the evolutionary peculiarities that Darwin observed in the Gal├ípagos Islands. It’s also similar to what happens between the city-states of the novels.

Over a couple centuries of isolation, minor differences develop into deep cultural rifts, and communities that were founded with similar, survival-based goals evolve into complex political entities with different, and sometimes competing, objectives. Yet time and necessity return these societies (in part, anyway) to the surface, where they have to interact. That’s where the fun begins.

Long after the surface becomes safe and habitable once more, the cities remain primarily underground. After all, that’s where generations’ worth of infrastructure has been built, and subterranean life has taken on the force of habit. But as the populations of the cities grow, it becomes more difficult (and less desirable) to produce all of the necessary food and raw materials underground.

So the cities establish farming communes, which are small, scattered communities that supply livestock, produce, timber, and other commodities to the city-states. And though the farming communes are vital to the urban economies, they’re removed from the cities and from one another. This distance diminishes their status, and their lack of organization hampers their ability to bargain.

They’re mercantile colonies in the wilderness, and as the cities own all of their production, the communes have little opportunity to develop into more independent entities. So the world is run by the city-states, and the city-states are run by oligarchs.

Another tendency that has persisted from the founding days is a reliance on centralized authority. In the early years, when the city-states were most vulnerable, their survival dependent on the prudent guidance of key experts—engineers who knew how to safely dig new tunnels and caverns, agriculturalists who could grow enough food for the underground population, and plumbers who could keep the young cities clean and functional.

These first generations of leaders would have passed many of their skills to their own children, and as their children came to assume these vital responsibilities, a dynasty would begin to form. Over time, the needs of the cities would change, but power would remain organized under the influential families that held the most useful resources and relationships.

In Recoletta, this led to the establishment of the whitenail class and the ruling Council. Madina is another city-state introduced in Cities and Thrones, and while it’s also tightly run, its evolution took a slightly different turn. Thousands of people living and working in close proximity developed a complex etiquette around privacy and hospitality. And rather than relying on technocrats, Madinans chose to elect their decision-makers, leading to the rise of qadis, or arbiters with broad authority over matters of state.

Yet as much fun as it is to build up these settings, it’s even more fun to knock them down. Cities and Thrones brings the cities and their farming communes into conflict with one another. The events of the story give the cities something to compete over and the communes a cause to rally around. The shake-up will change these places—and their people—forever.


Official Author Website
Order The Buried Life HERE
Pre-order Cities And Thrones HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Buried Life
Read "Civilization Beneath The Ashes" by Carrie Patel (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Carrie Patel was born and raised in Houston, Texas. An avid traveller, she also studied abroad in Granada, Spain and Buenos Aires, Argentina. She acquired her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Texas A&M University and previously worked at Ernst & Young for two years. She currently works as a narrative designer and resides in Irvine, California.

NOTE: Underground City art by Yuanshandai. Author picture and book covers courtesy of the author.



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