Taking Earth into the 23rd Century

Sometimes I question why I follow so many aesthetic mood-board type accounts on Twitter, why I spend so much time on there, but then I get some real inspiration, often from rather unlikely vectors. Such as this pair of posts yesterday from two different users I follow:

And then it hit me: what about a world where, as I put it in my replies, we brought back “opulent balls every night and opulent trains to flit between them around the world, and all our dating problems would evaporate into naught but a half-forgotten nightmare”? As for the tree-lined lane, it would be “such a fantastic place for a long bike ride; the wind through my hair, ensconced in the dank air, computer on my satchel bag that I open up once I arrive at a friend’s charming little house over the horizon….”

Combine both of these vibes and you’ve got a quite evocative vision. Sure, it’s rather Jane-Austen-esque, but what of it? We all love Jane Austen, don’t we? 😀  I was thinking a world populated classy financially-independent types who have estates scattered throughout the countryside, which aside from the balls are the center of social life, connected by walking and biking paths that lead to train stations, where they may be taken by rail to any part of the world their dreamy little hearts desire, and meet so many interesting characters along the way. Kinda a mashup of my “Orphans of Opry Tower” plotline and the latter part of my far-future duology I’m planning (by the way, I’ve completed the first part, a short story, though it’s yet to be realeased), but it’s a theme that never quite gets old with me.

A vibe fit for a bridge between the near and far Futures?

Then it struck me: such a world would fit well into my science fiction setting, after the Earth has largely depopulated and the forests have grown back, for so long and so deep they’ve become old-growth virgin forests again. We see a transitional form of this in “Heart of Proxima”, which is set in 2100. Personal aircraft are the efficient way to transport oneself, but ground freeways are kept around for recreational driving; it stands to reason that walking and biking lanes and trains might still be maintained and run long into the future, easily through 2200, when the vast majority of the originally wooded area despoiled by agriculture is once again virgin forest, scarcely distinguishable from its primeval predecessor.

A railroad track through autumnal woods. Who wouldn’t want to preserve this vibe?

Trains of the 23rd Century

Nevertheless, if we’re talking about trains in the 22nd century or even the 23rd century, what would that look like? We’re running these trains through forested wilderness primarily for recreation, so low-impact on the landscape would be desired, along the same thought process as those trams in Europe that just have two little steel tracks on an otherwise park-like landscape, ensconced in a tunnel of trees and greenery. A magnetically levitated version of the same configuration would be the obvious choice for our trains of the year 2200. This has the cool benefit of making the trains completely silent bar the rush of the air around them. Further minimizing environmental impact will be ample wildlife overpasses, so the ecology can connect across the railways.

With enough thrust even a brick can fly, and this is the age of advanced nuclear fusion; even the least aerodynamic shapes can be made to go up to any subsonic speed quite easily by this point via maglev power (we’d want slow speeds so they can appreciate the scenery in any case, but it is worth noting). Nevertheless, by this point people would expect a train to look aerodynamic, streamlined, and what we’d think of as futuristic in shape. On the other hand, with the dictates of fashion after 300 years of divergence, god knows what they’d want trains to look like. But the futuristic shape is a benefit to the reader: this is a vehicle that’s heavily influenced by traditional style but is not from a traditional time. So I’ll go with that, leavened with a lot of steampunk vibe, in as much as we might see ornate finishes, traditionally beautiful artistic carvings on the train’s exterior, the hull being made out of shiny solid copper, and all that good stuff. The net effect would be evocative of Art Deco more than anything else.

With the interior, the sky’s the limit, but a very traditional yet distinctly updated Orient Express steampunk vibe would be indicated (woods, stones, leathers, and metals), with mixing, mingling, and socializing of the passengers being heavily encouraged. There’s more than enough resources to give every passenger a mansion-sized cabin to close themselves in, but they still have booths and tables where strangers face each other. They might be more ornate, luxurious, and larger than their modern counterparts, but the basic layout would remain the same.

Thalassanization of Dating

Indeed, this entire system might have been designed and built with the youths-going-to-balls-to-find-lovers ritual in mind, a social form of transportation to keep them in the socializing state of mind and to improve their chances of meeting their special someone still further. They mingle with their counterparts from all over the world, a cosmopolitan in-person dating system where they dress up and have fun times dancing and letting loose at wild formal parties.

This social system is evocative of the “balls every night with girls in corsets and spending all day prettying up” culture found in “Heart of Proxima” among the denizens of the fleet of space habitats traveling between the stars (20-year trips leave little else to do!), and may well have spread to Earth via them. In that spirit, why not have a protagonist be a descendant of Koit, who in that story came with his great-grandmother Imogen from Thalassa and found love in our solar system in the form of Spadille?

Great Men do not seek Love, they have Love thrust upon them

Such a descendant lineage may well have decided to settle on Earth, which is where we pick things up for this story concept. Further tie-in with “Heart of Proxima” might be provided by having their descendant stare down the new year, 2200, and the new century, the 23rd century, just like Koit and Imogen did for 2100 and the 22nd century 100 years earlier, unhappy with no beloved in sight. Until the events of the story happen. Where will our protagonist meet their one true love? At a ball? On one of these trains? Ooh…

I’m thinking the primary setting for this story, considering the primeval-forest vibe and the Jane Austen angle, will be the Atlantic coast of northern Europe; think that rainy swath from the Basque Country through Ireland where the moss grows thick and the fog rolls in even thicker, the sort of place where you wouldn’t be shocked if the ghost of King Arthur appeared one stormy night.

As for the lovers, one idea I have is for some kind of computer scientist (a real one, as in who works on information theory and the like) who’s really into cybernetics (a much bigger thing in this universe than it became in real life), all the better to delve into the state of artificial intelligence in this universe at this time with sweet talk, romance, and kisses. Considering the marine climate and the possible appearance of literal medieval castles, a Dark Academia vibe is almost mandatory.

The idea of this character being a woman is intriguing, and would cut against stereotype, but I already did a brainy mathy type of woman in “Heart of Proxima” with Spadille. As a sequel to it, I wouldn’t want this story to seem repetitive, so I’ll change it up a bit and, alas, make our computer scientist a man.

Which raises the question of what the woman’s going to be like. I’m intending for her to also be a real Dark Academia type. A dark elegant mysterious woman on a train is a great idea, but I’m kinda attached to the man meeting the woman at a ball. Of course, there’s no reason he couldn’t have two love interests…or even more. Indeed, the sudden appearance of multiple love interests after having spent a life where the universe seemed to tell him he’d have no one might be particularly bewildering for him, and interesting for the reader.

Is Blood thicker than Water?

There’s also the question of which character is going to represent the descent from Koit and Spadille: the man or the woman, the protagonist or the love interest. Of course, there’s no particular reason they couldn’t both be descended from Koit and Spadille. Assuming they’re descended from separate siblings who had Koit and Spadille as parents, and a 20-year gap between generations, and the protagonists being around 20, they’d be third cousins to each other. Closer, if they share more recent ancestry or if the gap between generations was longer.

Since I already have a kissing cousins story (with so many loving passionate first, third, and whatever cousin marriages you need a diagram to keep track of who’s who…), it might be fun to do a story where a cousin is a serious love interest but is ultimately rejected for the leading girl, who is unrelated. Do I make the cousin the mysterious stranger on the train, the belle of the ball, or someone else completely? Ah, decisions, decisions.


I’ve got quite an atmosphere going, though. The essential elements? Youths, balls, trains, primeval enchanted woods, estates, bike paths, Atlantic coastal Europe, castles, and spaceflight, the last one perhaps brought into the picture by the protagonist at his estate receiving a message from distant cousins who live at Proxima Centauri, or even further afield, messages that are already years old because of light-speed lag, his own messages he sends back taking over a decade to get a response. That’s some real hard science-fictional atmosphere that I’ve never used before in a story; 2200 is the time when the slower-than-light era of interstellar travel has really come into its own.

I like all this. I just might get to writing it sometime…

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