I was stoked to see this panel, and a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies sounds like something positive to emerge out of it. Since almost everything I have in my pile of current research is about film, I had to dive into the pleasure reading pile for ideas.

“The Critical Function of Infrastructure, Suitable for Young Adult Readers: Philip Reeve’s Predator Cities Quartet

In the popular steampunk young-adult novels that make up the Predator Cities Quartet (2001-2008), Traction Cities, tiered cities made mobile by massive treads, such as London roam the post-apocalyptic earth looking for smaller cities. This vision of urban life changes both the neoliberal economic order and its effect on the physical form of cities in late capitalism into an predator-prey relationship. Two concepts are key to the series: Municipal Darwinism and the importance of a city’s infrastructure to survival and success. The ideology at the centre of the novels’ conflicts, Municipal Darwinism, explains a world in which cities hunt and eat other, using the materials they salvage from the dead city as fuel and as capital, literalizing the ways in which some cities increase their wealth and power at the cost of other cities.

The strangeness of Predator Cities Quartet’s dystopian future rests on bringing the invisible underpinnings of contemporary life and civilization – infrastructure – into the foreground. The Predator Cities Quartet represents traction cities as intensely vertical cities, with the leader at the topmost level of the city, the technical professionals at the observation level, and the workers near the engine rooms and waste-handling facilities at the literal bottom of the pile. In addition to giving concrete expression to social hierarchy, the city’s physical form also expresses the series’ larger political message: that a livable city, be it a Traction City gobbling up other cities or a town rooted on the earth, can only go as far as its power generation, waste-handling, and transportation facilities can take it.