Taking my Worldbuilding into Southern California

In a story I’m developing Fia, a competitive ballroom dancer who wants to upgrade her appearance, will get her makeover done in Southern California, at the behest of her (soon-to-be) sister-in-law Katenka, who lives in Malibu: in her own words, close to where all the fun is.

At first I was thinking Fia might get her makeover done in Malibu itself, but it’s just too close to Katenka’s house, a bit too close to the center of the action; what I needed to bring off the vibe was a setting that was close to town but at a remove from it all, a setting that would be open and airy, looking down on the Pacific, providing a stark contrast to later when she is going to dive down into the dark environs of a kelp forest in a cramped submersible and scuba suit.

I was at a loss as to locations on land that could serve well, so I was thinking the makeover spa could be on an airship, a zeppelin that cruised up and down the California coast, but this was unsatisfactory; it just wasn’t quite making it in my mind.

Enter California’s Channel Islands: the perfect Place for my Story

Then I poured over the coast ranges another time yesterday, and I came across on the Wikipedia page a note that the northern Channel Islands are, geologically, a westward extension of the Santa Monica Range over the water. Uh-huh. So then I looked them up, and it seemed promising. The northern Channel Islands are today part of Channel Islands National Park, but in some other timeline they could easily host whole cities unto themselves (ideally, considering the unique ecology, along the lines of my proposal for the Minor Outlying Islands); they have enough land area (and beach area) to be considered in their own right a distinct region of Southern California’s coast.

They’re a highly marine-dominated environment, with the characteristic Southern Californian climate; even better, their coastlines are dominated by cliffs. In particular, Anacapa Island stood out to me as being the ideal choice for the makeover retreat Fia goes to; it’s a rather beautiful place, consisting of a narrow platform of an island, cliff faces surrounded on three sides by the Pacific Ocean abounding. Large sections of the islands (Anacapa “Island” actually consists of three islets which almost connect) are only 500 feet or so wide, yet their length in total amounts to 5 miles or so. Big enough to host a real human community, yet small enough to all but mandate that it’ll be something of a secluded retreat.

It was described by Charles Frederick Holder in 1910 as:

Arid appearing, desolate, wind-swept, Anacapa is withal a valuable possession to its owner, and one of the picturesque islands of the entire group. Its strange rocks, moving, passing, intermingling, made a strong impression on my mind, an impression of warring nature, conflicts of wind and rock, of seas eating into its very vitals, of caves that undermine it, and of the old rock fighting for its very life against the sea.

Evocative! This is the sort of open expansive setting which could make Fia feel like she’s flying as she drinks in that Pacific air, surf, and sun cliffside, and contrast starkly with the confined environs of a submersible later on.

After looking the place over on Google Earth and viewing pictures from there, I’ve pretty much chosen the eastern tip of the middle islet at the site for the spa. This site is 13 miles away from Port Hueneme, and 18 miles away from Point Mugu, the closest point in Malibu. Ingress and egress will be desired, of course; in real life this is usually accomplished by boat, but it might be rather difficult for Fia to climb down those cliffs to the water in the six-inch heels she’s going to be wearing all the time from now on. And besides, it doesn’t sound all that relaxing even in flats.

No, I think I’ll bring the airship angle back into it, by making the link to the mainland a zeppelin, docking right at the top of the cliffs on the island and taking them the 18 miles to Point Mugu. Think: masseuses relaxing the passengers (like Fia) as they gaze down at the ocean and the clouds (and fog) from above, like they’re floating on air above it all.

Katenka can then pick her up in her convertible and drive her clear down the Pacific Coast Highway to her house! I’m thinking Katenka’s house is at Malibu Beach itself, a bit eastward of Malibu Pier, with direct access to Surfrider Beach: the heart of eastern Malibu. For reference, this location is about 40 miles from Anacapa Island.

What does Greater Los Angeles look like in my Universe?

I had to research the topic of Malibu (a rather interesting story in itself, how it came to be what it is today) to get a good grasp on how it fits into the picture of my world, which features a much more heavily developed California coast in general, and I’ve basically decided that Malibu is still a swanky area dominated by detached houses.

Looking to its neighbors, Santa Monica is very heavily dense, as in skyscraper levels of structural density, and the Gaviota Coast, westward of Santa Barbara, being another massive urban center in Southern California, connecting to Santa Barbara, itself a much bigger deal than it is now. Ventura down the coast of the Oxnard Plain to Point Mugu is another highly dense area. Beaches are desirable, especially this region’s beaches, and population and (especially) housing supply have been allowed to explode to far greater proportions than in real life.

I’m even toying with the idea of giving Los Angeles the tallest tower in the world, a spire stretching miles up into the air (certainly exceeding the 3-mile height of Opry Tower in Nashville). My brainstorming today leads me to think of an angle like Century City: a studio repurposed for real estate, only in this case with the centerpiece being this world’s answer to the Burj Khalifa. To use a well-known name that might be as well known in the alternate timeline, why not David O. Selznick? He was a pioneering independent film producer (and in this universe exercised a much greater influence on Hollywood’s business model); I’m thinking his studio established this site, and even after he died and the organization was dissolved it was still associated with him, until whatever studio acquired it later repurposed it for real estate, naming it after the man who made the lot what it was, the font of high-quality art and entertainment for so many millions. “Selznick Tower”, perhaps? Eh…I’ll have to think about that one.

I do like the idea of it having connections to Hollywood studios, a movie palace being all the way up there, perhaps with the whole edifice being designed in full High Art Deco splendor. Perhaps it towers above all the rest in a skyline that’s otherwise dominated by the showpieces of high-tech industry (yes, in this universe Los Angeles is the pre-eminent tech hub too, courtesy of Caltech).

For Selznick Tower or whatever it’s going to be I’m thinking there will be a zeppelin dock for airships, a la the famous scene from “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow”, where the Hindenburg III docks at the Empire State Building. So help me, I just like the romance of it, even if gyrodynes and tiltrotors are a more realistic option. It’s my understanding that airships docking at skyscrapers isn’t unrealistic, though, just very difficult to make workable compared to the alternatives (air currents are rough and unpredictable; computers might help with that).

A greater-than-3-mile-tall tower implies a massive skyline, and Los Angeles does have this. Interestingly, the most likely spot for such a tower would not be in Downtown but rather in the Westside, which is where Century City is in real life. Indeed, it’s entirely possible Westside supplants Downtown as the center of the city in this timeline. After all, once the beaches truly explode in prominence and Hollywood grows truly massive (dwarfing what it achieved in real life; the arts, entertainment, media, fashion etc. industries are far larger in this world, owing to a much more developed economy), Westside is the most convenient location to put a downtown.

I’m thinking an axis of high, even science-fictional, levels of structural density will extend from Culver City through Century City to Westwood, and coastward to Santa Monica Beach. Indeed, skyscraper density on the immediate coast will start at Santa Monica and extend down continuously at least to Rancho Palos Verdes.

Greater Los Angeles in a rusticated World

This front of heavy development might be thin, however; as highway speeds escalated to triple digits and commuting range expanded the go-to built form shifted from suburban tract homes to truly rural acreages after the mid 20th century. Even in this timeline that’s before the vast majority of Greater Los Angeles was urbanized. So much of the Los Angeles basin, and the vast majority of the San Bernardino basin, might actually be rural in this universe.

One might imagine a commuter belt extending deep into the desert, and undoubtedly there is one, but a complicating factor is climate and scenery: the beach and the mild coastal weather will be so attractive that people might crowd in closer anyway, replicating our houses-packed-in-like-sardines landscape. On the other hand, why be 10 feet away from your neighbor in a house 20 miles from the sea breeze if an apartment right next to the ocean is available? Demand for small-lot detached housing deep inland may well be low, helping to preserve the rural character of Los Angeles’s vast exurbia.

And by vast I mean vast; given the transportation infrastructure of this universe, the commuter belt could easily extend out to Lake Tahoe in the north, about an hour from Downtown Los Angeles. As such, a very large portion of those who don’t live on the beach live in the Sierra Nevada, a new city rural in form but urban in function forming along the Pacific Crest; ditto for the other wooded mountain ranges in California, Nevada, Arizona, and even Utah. The Mojave will have its takers, but I suspect the rather more picturesque red rocky deserts of southern Utah might be much more popular; Zion Canyon is also only about an hour from the City of Stars. The Grand Canyon in Arizona too, come to think of it…

What of Australia in my Alternate Timeline?

And America is not the only part of the world to see what’s now remote and undeveloped regions flourish. Fia in my story is going for a very revealing look; might this be the latest fashion on a hot, dry, sunny, desert beach? One of the best spots in the world, and about the only such spot that’s conveniently dominated by white Western types (i.e. people like Fia), is Western Australia, the parts of it where the desert of the Outback meets the beautiful waters of the Indian Ocean.

I think I’ll roll with that. Specifically, the section of the coast extending from the Pilbara to Eighty Mile Beach (originally known as Ninety Mile Beach; both odd monikers, since it’s actually it’s 140 miles long, but in this universe they may well use the indigenous name of “Wender” for it, sidestepping that whole issue). In real life, despite being highly rated by the tourists who venture there, the region is almost completely undeveloped, bar a highway that parallels the coast: a perfect setup for a colonization project on the scale of millions of people.

This might be presided over by an independent Western Australia; the state voted so overwhelmingly to secede in 1933 that it seems likely to break away even with a far less severe early 1930s recession (the setup in this timeline). As it was the British ruled they could not interfere with Australia, but the Empire has more life left in it in this timeline; likely if the westerners see fit to secede the British will go over the heads of Canberra. So it’s likely there’s a Dominion of Western Australia. Tasmania too likely breaks off, though the remainder of the country more than likely sticks with federation. Maybe that experience will finally scare them into granting statehood to the Northern Territory…

Shells and Femcels

Anyway, I’ve got even more ideas I’ve been brainstorming, such as Fia sporting a beachy shell theme for her ear and navel jewelry. The proprietress of the retreat (and the person who helps design the new Fia and oversees her makeover) being an older Hollywood eccentric type who goes by the name Vindicta, bent on helping girls beautify themselves to deal a blow to a cruel world that puts such a premium on looks to get anywhere in life.

And yes, the name is an homage to the Vindicta subreddit, a forum for “femcels” to “looksmaxx”; so help me, the concept is rather interesting, and Vindicta is an awfully cool name, exactly the sort of over-the-top moniker you’d find at a SoCal beauty retreat. It gets a bit creepy when I realize that even before coming across the Vindicta forum (which I did the other week), I made Fia have shades of femceldom; not that she’s a true example of a femcel, seeing as she can get dates aplenty, but the fact she can’t find a man she’s really attracted to, let alone can fall in love with, puts her a bit too close for comfort. As a consequence of this, she’s virginal as of when the story begins; of course, keeping herself pure works out in the end, because after her makeover she loses her virginity underwater to a man she loves and has the hots for.


That’s about all I’ve got for now; it’s heady stuff, engaging in the lovely craft of worldbuilding, and it makes me look forward to writing this concept. I’ve still got a lot left to figure out; for instance, what exactly is Katenka’s house on Malibu Beach like, and how does it fit into the story? But hey, that’s most of the fun right there. When it all forms a complete picture in my mind, that’s when the story comes out, and I suspect it’s going to be a nice one.

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