Crystal Cities in Other Galaxies

crystal city

My latest novel, about the finding and romancing of a hermit on the outer-solar-system moon of Ariel, has reached 43,000 words and still has some way to go, but my mind is already flowing with ideas for another story: the journey of a girl named Calypso into cosmic civilization over a thousand years in the future.

Although the setting, other galaxies in the 4th millennium as opposed to 21st century Ariel, is very different, the Ariel story and the Calypso story do contain a similar element at their heart: a space hermit who is contacted by the outside. But that’s where the similarities end, for the Ariel story follows the point of view of the leading girl who meets the hermit and (sort of) coaxes him out of his shell, whereas the Calypso story follows the point of view of the hermit (who is the leading girl in this story; can you tell I like leading girls?) as she is coaxed out of her shell, humans in the case of the Ariel hermit and aliens in the case of Calypso.

The Backstory of my Far Future Space Opera

As seen in “Warp Dawn”, there comes a time in the 4th millennium, tentatively the 31st century in particular (the only clue in-text is that it’s been over a thousand years since Ilmatar of Thalassa made first contact, which was circa 2060; thus it takes place sometime after 3060), when ship-portable wormhole travel becomes affordable and commonplace, spreading like wildfire, ending the tyranny of fixed warp gates that only permitted a small number of destinations outside the “Gaiagen sphere” to be reached.

Now the sky is the limit, and this stimulates not only far greater intercourse within the Gaiagen sphere but also a truly extreme scattering of civilization across the cosmos. Indeed, “the sky’s the limit” is an understatement, considering that almost at once the bravest explorers open up wormholes that take them well beyond the limits of the observable universe as seen from Earth.

The upshot of all this is that if you have a starship (Perun and Emma of Atlas in “Warp Dawn” weren’t exactly wealthy and they were able to procure a ship miles in circumference…) you can go literally anywhere in the universe, and perhaps beyond. If there’s some destination you want to hang around that’s more distant yet more interesting, it doesn’t take any longer to get there anymore! It’s all the same jump, with only navigation offering a (rather weak) constraint on your travels, which I touched upon in a previous post.

Since most of the population lives in space habitats, it’s a simple matter for them to migrate through wormholes to various destinations. Since galactic cores tend to be the most fulminating locations, full of attractions and natural beauty, there’s a migration of colonies and ships to these locations. Alien races tend to share this view, so galactic cores tend to be heavily trafficked, the site of meeting all manner of fascinating people from uncounted light-years away as their ships and colonies pass through. Space is big, so there are countless destinations that are very uncrowded; an infinite universe offers something for everyone.

Calypso: Hermit Traveler of the Cosmos

Calypso starts off the story having lived on her space habitat all alone since she was orphaned; fortunately for her it’s a highly automated starship, so she’s able to stay there by herself and travel to any number of cosmic wonders, including a great many galactic cores. This is at least a century, possibly as much as three centuries (I’m thinking two centuries currently), after the events of “Warp Dawn”, so this is all a standard part of the human cultural-technological package.

She scrupulously avoids contact with human or alien society, except through virtual means, over the wormhole-driven far-future version of the Internet, the warp net. Virtual reality exists by her time, and robots and computers are advanced enough to provide companionship; far more sophisticated than the primitive methods available to Nemo on Ariel over a thousand years earlier.

If that sounds like a parallel to today’s “NEETs” and “hikikomori” shut-ins, not to mention the virtual-dominated “lockdown” lifestyle, it’s because it kind of is, though much more to provide a good story than to make any social commentary, aside perhaps from the virtual not being good enough to truly fulfill someone because they know it’s not real and it’s not the life humanity was designed for.

Genetic-engineering Races of the Far Future

“Design” perhaps being more literal for her, since genetic engineering is a technology long in use in this setting, including for her own forebears, and this has caused a divergence of human races. One of these races, an unspecified natalist culture that prizes the classically beautiful human form, the natural differences between men and women, and monogamous marriage, got a lot of coverage in “Warp Dawn”, being the race the main characters came from. “The Sisterhood” also got a lot of coverage, being a not-so-natalist not-so-monogamous race that prizes community and feminine dominance, though they share the naturalistic inclinations and a love of classical beauty.

Calypso comes from a yet different race, one which is not natalist or communitarian but rather hedonistic in their design philosophy; eroticism is paramount to them. As such she has inherited a body that has filled out to be very soft and voluptuous, her proportions opulent, her every movement oozing sensuality. But having missed the initiation rituals into the erotic, promiscuous, and hedonistic lifestyle of her people and having been alienated from them, and having become too scared, anxious, and intimidated by the outside world to come out of her shell, she has no one else to enjoy her sensuous gifts with, the only solace for her red-hot libido being a skin-tight computer-controlled pleasure suit.

Calypso’s new Life

All that changes one fateful night when she goes to the surface of a remote but very earth-like planet for a camping trip, and is contacted by aliens who coincidentally entered orbit around the same time and who are curious about her. Greeting her en masse when they come down they aren’t too intimidating, since these aliens are bioluminescent, glowing blue, flying creatures not that much bigger or bulkier than a butterfly who live in tight-knit colonies, always staying in large groups; so an alien who’s so solitary arouses their curiosity. At first she’s alarmed but then they soon make friends.

The aliens then travel with her with their starship, forming a small space fleet. Her confidence being rekindled by socializing with someone, even an alien, in person, she, at the aliens’ behest, starts traveling and socializing with humans in person, at first cautiously but then more boldly. Taking up a lifestyle of roaming big space habitats and watching people in their gathering places, she reaches out to others but doesn’t find anyone else she actually likes, leaving the glowbug aliens as her only real friends.

Space Habitat in Crystal: Genesis of Crystal City

This I have detailed before, but I have a new component to the Calypso story. Eventually she’ll roam to a large space habitat she gets good vibes in, a habitat that will be made out of glass, or some futuristic transparent material anyway. Shaped like a Stanford torus or (and this is more like it!) a Bishop ring, there will be a transparent circular ring that sparkles in the light of the galactic core it resides in, with equally transparent spires connecting the outer ring to the also transparent central core, a nearly weightless area (as an aside, the different gravities could provide habitats to different species (such as those adapted to spaceflight, such as through spore ejections that achieve escape velocity or those that have biological rockets, or life-forms that evolved in outer space (such conditions would be more common in galactic cores)), including races of humans adapted to low or zero gravity) where starships dock and disembark.

The effect of all this is to create a structure that looks like a giant crystal, sparkling from the light of stellar superclusters, pulsars, nebulae, and a supermassive black hole’s accretion disk. Since the visual is reminiscent of a diamond ring, and indeed might even be made out of diamond for all I know, I originally thought of naming it Diamond City, but I’m also floating Crystal City, Crystal Palace, Diamond Palace, or the Diamond Ring. Then again, why can’t all these names be used? After all, a place rarely has more than one name in real life; why not mix it up a bit?

Having had this inspiration, I’ve decided the whole story will have a crystal and stained glass aesthetic as one of its thematic elements. Transparent shifting robotic rooms and spaces will be featured in Crystal City, glass spire towers, chandeliers, and vaugely solarpunk stained glass windows and artifacts.

Calypso herself might go for a crystal and stained glass aesthetic, especially once she meets her new girlfriends. Yes, Calypso will find true friends, due either to sheer luck or the fact that the Diamond Ring is very cosmopolitan, with all manner of humans and aliens warping in and out of the Crystal Palace and the broader region. With so much turnover and so many rich and sexy men and women to share erotic bliss with it’s an ideal habitat for the whole group; Calypso will also be struck by the beauty of the place, loving the airy, bright, and big nature of the place.

Making Sense of a Bishop Ring City

And big it is! With carbon nanotubes (not transparent, but a millennium of development should make glassier materials of such strength available) such a habitat, if it were a Bishop Ring, could be up to 1000 kilometers in radius, 500 kilometers wide, area comparable to India or Argentina!

Although it’s much too big to be a tight-knit city, I think I’ll go for a really big habitat, which will impress the reader that this is not a rehash of a similarly-shaped habitat, with a similar role even, I already featured in “Dear Future Me” but rather something much more advanced and beautiful.

With an area of 1.2 million square miles, a million people, presumably the vast majority not being permanent residents, could be housed at Paleolithic-style population densities. Usually in my stories this would be accomplished by covering the ring with a wild forest, but this negates the beautiful transparent effect, so my current thinking is that it will be a garden with bits and pieces of forest and flowers suspended in crystal containers across three dimensions, blunting the “wall of dirt” effect. This suggests the structure would be a giant hanging garden, which opens up a lot of beautiful possibilities.

Calypso: Courtesan of Crystal City

Taking up the crystal and stained glass theme, Calypso will make a home there as one of the few (semi-)permanent residents together with her new girlfriends. A multiracial group, not a group just of her own race, they’re courtesans of the Crystal Palace who are fascinated by her, and she with them. The introduction she gets into their lifestyle provides her with the initiation her own culture never gave her, and it’s here that her confidence and subsequently her popularity rises, with her unusual background turning out to be a big draw for men.

Training under her girlfriends at first, she eventually starts to go on dates independently, out on starships to nebulae, other galaxies, and the like. Despite a false start with an artist who she becomes a muse for, Calypso never has a romance in the
“one true love I want to build my life with” sense, but rather develops genuine feelings of love and tenderness for the men she dates regularly, without there being any real commitment or desire from her to go any further than having fun together, flouting the Adamas Nemesis girl norm of being a passionate wife and mother.

Courtesans in history often were very selective about the men they saw, and Calypso is no different in this regard. Given that most of her men see her frequently and over a long period of time the total sex partner count she accumulates from her life’s calling of companionship is much lower than one might think. She might, however, end up with a very high total partner count if she finds going to sex parties and orgies a lot to be irresistibly fun; I’m undecided as to which way to go with that aspect. Don’t worry: none of it will be anything too explicit in any case; I’m not writing an erotica story here.

Slutty Girl, not so slutty Dress

You might think that such a free-loving erotic girl would strut through the bright and airy crystal streets of the Diamond Ring in the nude or in some revealing outfit, fulfilling our expectations of what a slut should be like. Well, you would be wrong!

As it turns out Calypso’s home culture, whose dress code she adheres to in order to market herself as that kind of girl, strongly discourages showing too much skin, not despite but rather because of their total eroticism, because they find the experience of unwrapping a girl’s dress at the orgies to be much more sensual than coming in naked or in some transparent garment. The reveal of the body is a centerpiece of their society and culture.

This also helps to project a classier image to her dates; then as now classy girls only reveal tantalizing hints of the delights their bodies offer before lovemaking begins. Calypso’s dress code is still very sexy, though, since every single garment she has perfectly fits her body very snugly, showing off her every curve to the world, often being made up of multiple sheer layers that show how transparent they are at the edges where the different layers don’t overlap as much.

So her body isn’t obscured, just wrapped up; remember, the idea is to adorn the body, not to hide it. Like all girls in all my stories Calypso will only be wearing skirts and dresses, which with how conservative I want her apparel to be (not much cleavage or leg) might present a problem with showing off her (very shapely!) legs. Her hemlines might be very high with legs being shown off by opaque (matching?) hosiery, or she might show off her legs’ shape with a tighter skirt grading toward a hobble skirt, or even a combination of both!

Slutty Dress for not-so-slutty (?) native Crystal City Girls

I intend to contrast this with how the native inhabitants of Diamond City, being both its founding population and governing class (I’m thinking through some kind of Athenian-style sortition-and-referendum democracy), dress. Their women’s dress is much sluttier than the leading slut’s, being completely transparent excepting the sparkling effects placed strategically on the fabric. That way from a distance it looks like a real, if revealing, outfit, but up close one can see the entire nude body if one can look past the dazzling sparkles; the fabric, of course, is very tightly fitted to the wearer.

Crystals and stained glass will also feature prominently in their fashion accessories, such as their earrings and jewelry, and their technological artifacts too. All their devices will look like stained glass crystals if at all possible, and be heavily adorned with them if it isn’t, which isn’t something I’ve done in a story before. Even their furnishings will also have a crystal and stained glass theme.

Racial Aesthetics of the Far Future

Aside from fair skin, a general (but not universal!) trait of future people, I haven’t really decided on the founders’ physical appearance. My current thinking is that they should also all have fair hair and fair eyes to go with the bright airy crystal theme. Purple eyes, possibly supplemented by blue or even green eyes, dominate. I’m thinking a very light and bright hair color, which will range from a very light platinum blonde to outright white.

Up to now I’ve gone with a European aesthetic for facial features in the far future, and we haven’t actually seen any of the “fair skin, fair hair, fair eyes, but obviously not European” people I’ve worldbuilt into my setting. There’s a reason for that: my vision of Perun and Emma as well as the ethnic group they come from was always very (northern and eastern) European, and my vision of the Sisterhood was always very European, deciding to make them very western European as a contrast to Perun and Emma. So far they’re about the only human characters that have shown up, so there hasn’t been any room for characters who aren’t of European descent.

More Diversity finally feels Right!

Well, I think that will change with this story. While Calypso will definitely be white, I don’t have any particular desire to make her European. I’ve done so many European characters, but I can’t recall anybody of Middle Eastern extraction showing up, let alone a main character; so I think I will give Calypso some heavy Middle Eastern ancestry. For some reason I feel like giving her ancestry from all over western Eurasia, so European, and possibly Indian and/or central Asian, blood will be in there too, but when Calypso talks about her ancestors it’ll be all about the Middle East.

Calypso’s facial features therefore should be similar to the parts of the middle East closer to Europe, so think the most beautiful women in places like Syria, Iran, Turkey, and the Caucuses. Her skin tone, however, will be snow-white like the fairest peoples of today, eyes bright blue like the fairest of today; her hair, however, will be raven black, providing an interesting contrast.

In contrast to Calypso I don’t feel like making the founders of Crystal City white at all, but rather using the “fair non-white” concept for them. I think I’ll make them be of ultimately African extraction, because their facial features and existing skin tone are both maximally different to Europeans (and Calypso’s Middle Eastern ancestors), making for the most striking appearance of any major racial group.

Conclusion

Keep in mind that there is sexual selection toward fair skin, diverse eyes, and diverse hair, but not toward European facial features, so given genetic engineering we should expect a lurch toward fairness but not (necessarily) Europeanness. Which regions’ facial features prevail in the future human population will be predominately determined through demographic numbers. Given anywhere between 1100 and 1800 years for that to change the relative proportions could well be anything.

Compared to Calypso that would make for a nice contrast, and would introduce one aspect of my world I’ve had on the back burner for years. Exciting stuff, especially in combination with the crystal city in space concept. As more concepts and story ideas congeal in my mind I’ll make sure to keep updating this blog with yet more worldbuilding for my space-opera setting!

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