Trope-a-Day: Shining City

Shining City: Oh, my, yes. If there is a city anywhere in the Empire that isn’t competing in these leagues, it’s because it’s pursuing some other stylistic city trope just as hard as it can.

And in various styles, of course, riffing off their general tastes in Art Deco, Crystal Spires, and Raygun Gothic: the seashell spirals of Cileädrin, the black stone geometries of Leirin, the coral spires and glass-blown bubbles of Lochrannach, the living wood palaces of Veranthyr, the flying – well, hanging off the end of an orbital elevator – multi-leveled golden towers of Mer Covales, the mother-of-pearl pleasure domes of Ameri, the crystal domes of undersea Alaerlor, the vaulted, polished caves of Azikhan, the glittering gemstone pillar-arcologies of Dal Shan, the amber-and-marble mandala streets of Ellenith, the three-dimensional fractal layout of Voxelville, the mile-wide cavern parks of Silverfall City… and so forth.

While enabled by post-scarcity economics, it’s not a product of them and predates then considerably. It’s a product of a species and a culture with very firm ethical opinions on the subjects of beauty, wealth, and excellence, and equally firm aesthetic opinions on visible manifestations of entropy1. Helped along, for that matter, by certain necessities of leadership of a people who universally fail to intimidate worth a damn and are very bad at responding to crude bribery, but who can be impressed. Ergo, dear city founder, you must manifest impressiveness, and architecture is a good place to start.

The ultimate example, of course, is the Empire’s capital, “Eternal Calmiríë, the jewel at the heart of the World”, founded back in the day by Alphas I Amanyr and Seledíë III Selequelios, such that neither existing pre-Imperial capital would have priority over the other. Founded – and bear in mind this was well before the local Industrial Revolution – using the simple principle of going to the biggest damn mountain on the Cestian continent, and saying, “That? Right there? Make it a city.”

Note: not build a city on it. Not even build a city in it, although both of those things happened as part of the project. Turn the entire mountain above and below into a city, complete with all the soaring towers, shining buildings, garden parks, multi-hundred-foot-high statues, fountains, waterfalls, monuments, promenades, giant Tesla coils, shining aureoles of fey light, etc., etc., to be expected of the stone upon which the Dragon Throne rests, the temple of unsurpassed grace and shining beauty, the seat of wisdom ever-growing and power never-failing, and so on and so forth.

Alphas and Seledíë were many things, but small thinkers was not one of them. Especially since, you may note, they had very good reasons to build a capital that could out-impress everyone, everywhere, anywhen.

So returning to the general case, sort of like this:

center_of_universe_5k_25x16

(The above is an Nvidia test image, named “Complex at the Center of the Universe”, about which the TV Tropes page cross-links to Your Head A Splode. It’s worth clicking through to the full-size image and appreciating all the little details.

This is relevant, in particular, because it would be entirely accurate and unexaggerated to say that your modern Imperial city planner or arcology designer will look at this and thing, “Hm. Not bad. A little modest, but a good place to start.”)


1. And the reality behind those visible manifestations, of course. It would be hurtfully inaccurate to say that the great and near-great worked so hard to abolish poverty just because it offended their sensitive souls to have to look at it, or rather put up with the knowledge that it existed in their personal universes. But it was a nice bonus.

Burgers ‘Round the Worlds

Greetings again, readers!

In this month’s issue of A Taste of Taste, we’re going to talk about the humble burger.  One of the simplest foods imaginable – a simple patty of spiced ground meat grilled over flame and slipped inside a bread pocket, along with some simple garnishings and a kimaes for flavor – the burger grew from its humble street-food origins in 9th century Vintiver to dominate the Imperial express-food market as the most popular of its five staples.

The best-known form today, of course, is that popularized by the Astroburger, ICC corporation (formerly Atomic Burger, before their separation from the Lovely Atom Synthetic Drinks and Liquors Company, ICC) and the regular fare of their chain of wildly successful express-food restaurants and fly-in food stops, which is very close to the Vintiver classic; the meat used is hasérgalrás, grilled medium, garnished with a sharp but plain hard cheese, onion, kesseth leaves, and a simple thick-tomato kimaes.  Variations on this essential theme can be obtained from any of dozens of burger restaurants, from simple express-food chains to the expensive burgers on offer at Don’t Eat Vat, with certified natural-grown meats and soil-cultivated garnishes.

But, as we shall see, there are thousands of variations out there.  On Eliéra alone, for example, as well as hasérgalrás we see burgers composed of meat from the reshkef, sevesúr, líhasúr, nekhalyef and tiryef in various regions, and a few even made from meat of the larger tubefish.  In the Crescent Kingdoms of Leirin and Telírvess, they are marinated in the grain liquors of the region, and served raw, with egg yolk.  In the Cyrsan Islands, burgers are garnished with fruit, and served with a honey-sweet kimaes.  In Azikhan, mushrooms are required as part of the garnish, and may even be substituted entirely for the meat.  Travinthia prefers to use loose diced or sliced meat rather than ground meat formed into patties in its burgers, and in Ellestre, they are served between grilled flatbreads, rather than in a pocket.

And then there are those that have come to us from the Empire’s other worlds, including Phílae’s many handfish burgers, Kythera’s highly-spiced garnishes, the subtly-different near-hasérúr meat of Revallá, the leaf wrappings of Clajdíä, and the cultured mixed-species meats of Aïö.

We hope you’ll enjoy joining us for our exploration of the possibilities of one of the Empire’s ubiquitous and often unconsidered foods.

Until next month, happy grilling!

– editorial page, A Taste of Taste magazine

The Drowning of the People

“No, we’re not a democracy, or so they say.  They, of course, ignore that the Senate’s Chamber of the People is randomly selected from all our citizen-shareholders, and also ignore planets like Viëlle, that uses the totality of the population as its planetary Assembly, or Meryn, where ever-changing proxies, rather than one-time votes, determine whose policies hold sway.  There’s only around 38 billion people on them, after all.  But they don’t have the final word, so they’re not sovereign enough, or not representative democracies, and so they don’t count.”

“But we were – well, the lands that later became the Empire were – almost a democracy once.  How long?  About seven hours.  That’s how long it took us to decide we didn’t like the idea.”

“Tell y’all the story?  Well, gather round.  Now, once upon a time, a few millennia ago, in the region that is now called the Old Empires but was then the Old Kingdoms, there were the korásan.  And the korásan were a warrior aristocracy, and ruled by the sword, and in exchange for their services in keeping off bandits and wild beasts and their fellow korásan who took it into their heads to expand their domains, they felt themselves entitled to certain traditional perquisites of the people with the biggest swords around when other folk have none.  Which contrary to the madder stories people allege to be alleged were not blood sacrifice and baby-eating and demanding people’s fairest wives and daughters for their beds, but rather such things as taxation – without asking if it pleased people to pay it, first, more to the point – and demanding labor for their initiatives and men for their wars, and that people should bow before their gods, and putting their eyes and hands into people’s homes and lives and insisting that their ways to live were the right ways to live and all should abide them, or else.”

“The years passed, and the people of the Old Kingdoms grumbled and groaned under the demands of the korásan, and all the while, hid wealth and food and swords in secret against a later day when they would need them no longer.  And when that day came as a new year dawned in the coldest part of the cycle, whether by chance or by hidden messengers, the people rose up together, and there was blood and smoke and clash of arms from Icemark to Crescenthold and Iselené to Eävalle as the korásan found out that ruling by the sword isn’t nearly as practical when the ruled also have swords, and a general distaste for the way you’ve been going about it.  And as, over that year, the korásan fell, leaders emerged among those who cast them down, and some thoughts turned to how things should be in the future, when it came to protection from bandits and wild beasts and strangers from beyond the Old Kingdoms who might have similar notions.”

“The last korásan to fall were those in Leirin, in the Crescent, for the Crescent is a cold and bitter land of mountains, with cities carved into cliffs and bounded by wild rivers, and filled with natural fortifications that could only be reduced slowly, and with the greatest effort; and so when the last one fell, at Leiri itself, the City of Mists, a great discussion was called there among the leaders of this revolution, to determine how things should now be.”

“And so this was held in the old thronehall at Leiri, and from the midmorn hour – for there were stragglers – those who had come with the leaders sat around in drinking-halls throughout the city, supping hot mead and speculating on the outcome of the discussions.  And others, who had led in one place or another but had not been invited to this grand discussion sat and drank with us, but with more brooding than excitement.”

“And at dusk, the bells summoned them to the square before the thronehall, and those leaders came out and explained to the gathered people their grand plan, that now instead of self-named korásan they should compete for the people’s favor, and they should choose from them the best to lead, and they would sit in the places of the korásan and protect them from the bandits and the wild beasts and ambitious foreigners.”

“And the crowd murmured at this, but it didn’t sound too unreasonable.”

“Then they continued, and explained that they would have to have just a few of the perquisites of the old korásan – not all, no, and certainly not the ones that had been found the most burdensome in the past, but that they couldn’t protect – that there was no way people could be protected – without just a little taxation, and some conscription, and a few other things, but nothing like the bad old days.  And, of course, if their efforts were too much to bear, the people could replace them, at the appointed time, and let someone else sit in their place.”

“And that was when my great-great-grandfather, who was Muireth Andracanth-ith-Cyranth Múrchárn, Nighthunter – and was thereafter Muireth Andracanth-ith-Cyranth Velkorálakhass, Slayer of the Manyfold Tyrant – stood up from the crowd, and in a great voice declared that he’d spent the last year killing damned tyrants until the rivers ran with blood, and that he was damned a dozen times over if he was going to come back and do it again.”

“Adding to the crowd, while their speaker – whose name is lost to memory – was still framing his reply, that being able to choose his master didn’t make a slave free, that having taken up the sword and overthrown the korásan that they could bloody well do the same to any bandits or beasts or invaders who came along, and finally, by way of a final point, that they clearly weren’t done yet and some last tyrants needed to die, here and now.”

“The crowd rose up, followed him, and they grabbed everyone who’d come up with this grand plan, and flung them all in the river.  And that was the end of the one and only eldraeic experiment with representative democracy, seven hours after they first started talking.”

“Later?  There was no later.  This was the Falthrang, in the middle of deep winter.  They probably all froze to death before they had a chance to drown.”

“Well, that, and the Leirfalls are 400 feet high and just downstream.”