Life on Venus, pt4.

The final part in the series.

Other Worlds

All the family members have visited Earth. Zylogrius visited several times when younger, and George visited once as a young man; a few years ago, the entire family spent a month there. Earth is a popular, if expensive, holiday destination – though generally visits are only made to one of a few dozen resorts owned by Venus and operated by Cythereans. Most Cythereans have little interest in meeting Earthicans, and most Earthicans are somewhat hostile to them. Cytherean visits to earth, therefore, generally focus on the one thing Venus doesn’t have: geography. Mountains, seas, forests, deserts – Cytherean resorts are typically located in remote areas of outstanding natural beauty, and hiking is probably the most popular activity they offer. Cythereans often return from Earth filled with wistful regret and envy – but they know that if they moved to Earth, they would likely just be trapped in a city anyway. Besides, not only are Earthicans hostile to Cythereans, but their social system is barbaric and unjust. It’s just a shame that Earth is wasted on Earthicans.

Nobody in the family has visited Europa, Mars, Uranus, or any of the Colony Worlds or Settlement Stations. The former three appear boring and not worth the trip; the latter are too remote, and too Earthican. The only planets most Cythereans might one day want to visit are Battuta and possibly Burton – but with trips costing several times the cost of a holiday on Earth, few ever bother.

For leisure purposes, that is. Many Cythereans do join the Fleet. In part, this is a tradition dating from the early years of both the Fleet and Venus, when Venereans were among the few space-travellers, and used to the cramped conditions of early aerostats. In part, it is connected to the Fleet’s sizeable presence on and around the planet – Venus’ orbit is home to a large defensive armada, and although the crews are kept quartered on Fleet-owned cities on Venus, the ubiquity of ‘shore leave’ parties ensures that the Fleet has a high profile. In turn, Cythereans make up a disproportionate percentage of the Fleet’s personel – particularly its officer corp.

That does not – yet – matter much to this family, however. Peter and Titus both considered military careers, but Peter opted for respectable zymology instead; Titus went as far as a year of military school (having grown out of the brief idea of becoming a Fleet Companion, one of those well-renumerated heroines and heroes of the species who jaunt between the stars, offering comfort and companionship to Fleet crews), but the rigid discipline did not appeal. Both children still have a hope of joining the Fleet at a later date – if they succeed in becoming an expert zymologist and a highly trained mechanist, they could become officers under a Special Programme. To be honest, though, many young Cythereans dream of joining the Fleet but never do – as with the dream of returning to Earth, the practicalities are far less appealing than the advertising imagery.

 

Astropolitical Issues for Venus

George and Zylogrius have very little to do with astropolitics, but we should probably sum up a few points here nonetheless. Most importantly: what is Venus for? What justifies its existence? How are a billion and a half people economically capable of living – indeed, living in some comfort, if not in luxury – on a planet with seemingly no natural resources, where even the air they breathe most be expensively manufactured?

Well, Venus has a surprising number of sources of wealth. These include:

Immigration: like all colonies, Venus makes money from immigrants, not only by charging for immigration passes, but by allocating those passes through a lottery. This also provides an indirect profit through taxation – although Venus has no income taxes (there is no need, when all income derives from the Guilds, who fund the State directly), it does have a near-total inheritence tax, so wealthy Earthicans who come to live on Venus end up handing over all their wealth on their death. This may not appeal to Earthican archons with their preoccupation with familial legacies, but it seems like a good bargain to many minor relatives of archons, more interested in living well today than in passing on wealth to the next generation. Ultimately, of course, there is no fundamental reason for migration to Venus, other than that Venus – both physically and culturally – is not Earth; this, however, is more than enough to attract millions hoping for a better life.

Tourism: unlike almost all colonies, Venus is close enough to Earth for tourism to be affordable for the masses. A trip to Venus is certainly not a cheap affair, but it is not unattainable – almost all rich Earthicans, most middle-class Earthicans, and even some poor Earthicans will visit Venus at least once. The main lure is the simple thrill on being on an alien world – humans may have been spacetravellers for over five hundred years, they may have dozens of outposts around dozens of far-off stars, but for the teeming billions of Old Earth, even the cloudscapes of Venus are captivatingly exotic. Of course, tourists do more than take shuttle cruises and stare into the brilliantly white sky from garden terraces; while they’re here, they take in the traditional entertainments of casinos, luxury hotels, and (if they’re wealthy enough) prostitutes, as well as some more modern attractions, like the art galleries, high-class gaming arcades, shopping for handmade Venusian craftwares, and so forth. Venus was built on tourism, an extraterrestrial Las Vegas, and though tourism is no longer quite so indispensible to the planet it nonetheless remains a huge part of the economy.

Heavy Industry: energy is cheap on Venus, comparatively speaking. The planet has huge resources of heat: factory shuttles descend into the lower atmosphere to heat their contents to up to 450 degrees celsius, and if desired to pressurise their contents to up to ninety times Earth atmospheric pressure – all for no more cost than the price of a single flight (shuttles that can withstand this heat are expensive, but, once built, their travel costs are actually lower than those of aeroplanes on Earth, thanks to the thick atmosphere and high windspeed). Just as importantly, Venus’ factories have no need to worry about pollution – their atmosphere is already hellish, so pollution can hardly make it worse. Accordingly, toxic byproducts are happily spewed into the air, and tholin oil can be burnt freely, without the need to worry (as on Earth) about sequestering carbon emissions. Manufacturing costs are therefore far lower on Venus than on Earth, which in many cases compensates for the higher cost of materials, and Venus has a thriving industrial sector, particularly in the manufacture of chemicals.

Expertise: Cytherean children grow up typically with a combination of parental tutelage and academic teaching – it’s an intensive education regime of direct adult-child interaction that contrasts markedly with the large class sizes and widespread automation of education that are the norm for most people on Earth. Cythereans then typically pursue extensive vocational training with their chosen Guild. The end-product is a planet of disciplined, intelligent, experts who excel in collective working environments. Unsurprisingly, Cythereans who leave Venus, either permanently or temporarily, have no difficulty in finding lucrative employment elsewhere – they can be found in skilled occupations throughout the human expanse, and in large numbers on Earth itself. The money they send back (either at the time or when they return) is a small but significant portion of the planet’s wealth. A particular area of Cytherian influence is zymology – although zymoculture takes place on all human worlds, Venus pioneered its large-scale application, and remains at the forefront of zymocultural progress; a substantial part of Earth’s own zymoculture is controlled by Venus through the Morningstar Food Corporation.

Collective Action: the Morningstar Food Corporation is just one example of perhaps Venus’ greatest asset – its unity. The Consyndical Union of Venus, combining the assets of the Guilds and Cities of Venus (and hence almost all assets on the planet, as individuals technically own very little), is the wealthiest single legal entity in the human expanse, and it is able to use this immense capital to acquire favourable prices for its goods and low costs for its requirements, and to invest in a broad and secure but nonetheless profitable portfolio of assets throughout all human civilisation.

Military Funding: Venus has a sizeable military significance. In addition to the squadrons designated for its own protection, it also hosts defensive fighter squadrons to react to any threat anywhere in the system, and large military cities that not only hold the crews for these ships but also extensive training facilities. This military presence brings payment, both direct (compensation payments from the Fleet) and indirect (the money spent by crews during ‘shoreleave’).

Financial Stability: Venus since the Revolution has been remarkably boring, financially-speaking. In particular, Venus’ legal currency, the dollar, has been continually appreciating against the ECU (the unified currency of all other human populations) – the ECU has seen inflation due to the extensive use of microfractional-reserve-banking, with periods of dramatic money supply expansion to stave off deflation on Earth, while Venus has seen steady deflation (as regards the dollar; in practice most transactions actually take place in guilders, which have avoided this deflation, being very peculiar things with degenerating values and limited exchangeability). As a result, there is a strong desire to put money into dollars as a stable investment. This is difficult, because currency exchanges are strictly limited to avoid speculative volatility, but this just drives up the cost of dollars further, increasing the wealth of Venus. More generally, Venus’ aversion to risky business practices and lack of competitive instinct lead to the planet being considered the home of financial security – putting money into the Bank of Venus may not make much profit but is, as it were, the gold standard of a safe investment.

 

Venus is, therefore, a financially secure planet. But it does face some problems. These include:

Ethnic Tensions: the divide between Venereans and Venusians may no longer be on the verge of open warfare, and it is fashionable to deny the divide entirely. Certainly, on a cultural level there is less distinction than ever. But these identities have not entirely gone away, and can lead to widespread disharmony when triggered. Moreover, small pockets of hardliners on each side can pose significant security risks – only twenty years ago the Reflection III of Narcissus was destroyed by a bomb planted by Venusian terrorists.

Failure to integrate into the Protectorate: Venus has never really been fully committed to the Protectorate. It retains its own currency, it de facto maintains its own small freighter fleet (theoretically owned by the Fleet itself, but rented out to Venus in perpetua, with Venus allowed to appoint the crews), and it has always avoided fully implementing the propaganda measures demanded by the Fleet in the interests of panhumanism. There is a sense that the population of Venus – certainly the more traditional Veneran elements – stand aside from the rest of humanity. They are given more latitude to do this than any other human population – partly because of the planet’s significance, but more because of its influence within the Fleet. Traditionally a significant portion of the officer corp was Venerean, and the Protectorate has always seen the Venerean Revolution as a precursor and role model for its own coup d’etat. But the size of the Veneran officer corp is now reducing as the Fleet becomes more diverse. It is questionable whether the Fleet will allow Venus to retain all its current autonomy forever.

The Birth Rate: Venus’ birth rate is abnormally high by 26th-century standards. This poses a dilemma both for Venus and for the Fleet. On the one hand, Venus is proud of its growth, and its growing significance, and its future as a more populous planet; on the other hand, there is concern that the high (and rising) birth rate is diluting living standards for the population. Immigration and tourism, for instance, limited as they are more by available transport than by population, now provide much less income per capita than once they did, and similarly the benefit from the strong banking sector is not growing to match the growing population. The costs of food and energy are only remaining stable because of the generosity of the Fleet – if the Fleet takes a less accomodating line and refuses to reassign ships to the provisioning of Venus, Venus will either have to cut its population or else come to terms with a new standard of living. The Fleet, meanwhile, has similarly mixed views. It is happy to see human population growing anywhere – more people is good. And more people not on Earth is even better. But is Venus really the best place for all these people – wouldn’t it be better if they lived somewhere with more local resources, and somewhere more strategically distant from Earth? The growing population is boosting the local heavy industry sector, but these people might contribute more elsewhere. The Fleet is currently remaining well-disposed toward Venus’ childbirth issues largely because it is locked in an internal debate between those who wish to force Venus to lower its population growth and those who wish to encourage the births but also encourage emigration to other planets. This debate may continue for a long time to come… or may come to an end at any time, with serious repercussions either way for Venus.

Life on Venus, pt3

 

Work

Almost everyone on Venus has a job. This doesn’t always mean that they do any work.

Take George, for instance. George is a zymologist – a Zymologist, even, a journeyman member of the Guild of Zymology. This is so central to his identity that most people don’t call him George at all, they call him ‘Zymologist Umbenhaur’ when they’re being formal, or just ‘Zymologist’ or ‘Zymo’. Calling him George Angkor (this is his real name – ‘George’ is only an abbreviation) is something he’ll only tolerate from his good friends. Zymology, of course, may appear an unusual occupation to people of other times and places, but on Venus it is a prestigious and economically critical profession. An unusually high percentage of the food consumed on Venus is formed out of shaped and flavoured yeast – actual plant matter is a not-inexpensive addition to a basic diet of yeast (meat, fish and eggs from actual animals are all illegal, and the lab-grown equivalents are considered a disgusting concept; small quantities of milk, yoghurt and cheese are available as delicacies). Zymology is therefore lucrative, yet there are relatively few zymologists required.

George, however, doesn’t actually do very much zymology. He gained a pre-apprenticeship to the Guild as a young man, no doubt heavily aided by his family background (his grandfather was an academic who found secondment to the Guild when he came to Venus, and both his parents are Zymologists also); he showed himself bright and hard-working, and obtained a full apprenticeship. After working hard for several years, he was permitted to join the Guild as a Journeyman. A decade of work followed, in which he progressed to be an Advanced, and then a Higher Journeyman.

But that was some time ago. Like many Guildlings, George tired of his job; by that time he had married Zylogrius, and he decided to devote himself to his children and his family. This didn’t mean leaving his job – just working less. While his eldest children were being raised, he worked in general only one day a week, though he would often also work full time for a month or so now and then. Fortunately, the Guild continued to pay him – indeed, as a Higher Journeyman working one day a week, he earned about as much as he had done as a Journeyman working five days a week. Guilds hardly ever pay by the hour – there is a basic income all members receive (even if they choose to do no work at all), then additional boosts to pay based on experience and grade, plus sometimes bonuses for exceptional hard work or ability. Indeed, it is misleading to talk of Guilds ‘paying’ at all: Guilds provide.

Take this apartment, for instance. This does not belong to George and Zylogrius – it belongs to the Guild of Zymologists. Their meals, whether communal or at home, are not bought with money – they are provided by their Guilds. Guild members choose from among a variety of ‘packages’ offered by the Guild, personalisable to a degree – instead of ‘salaries’ of different levels, Guild members ‘unlock’ better packages (bonuses are then added on top of the basic package). The small amount of personal spending money Guildlings receive is therefore only a fraction of their total remuneration – almost everything they use or consume will be provided for them by their Guild.

It might appear that this system encourages idleness. It does – this is intentional. Cythereans tend to believe idleness is a good thing – it encourages reflection on the true values of life. More specifically, it results in many individuals, like George, spending a lot of time with their children. This is one reason, Cythereans believe, why crime levels on Venus are in general so low – the population is educated, well-adjusted and emotionally fulfilled. It is also part of the reason why Venereans have so many children compared to Earthicans.

Of course, work does need to be done. Yet in the 26th century cheap energy and mass-mechanisation allow most of society’s needs to be met even with high levels of non-employment. Earthicans ‘solve’ the ‘problem’ of unemployment by having their archons employ large swathes of the population to perform essentially unnecessary ‘service’ work – a late-24th century archon’s robe, for instance, might be large and long enough to require the employment of ten full-time robe-holders (thirty, allowing for shifts) all by itself. On Venus, these jobs do not exist – indeed, even many jobs that existed in the 21st century no longer exist on Venus, since people with more leisure are more willing to do things for themselves – and instead the unemployed are supported directly without imposing a requirement for labour. Between the financial benefits of promotion and the higher status gained through promotion, and the power and influence gained through promotion, and the sheer enjoyment of labour, there are more than enough people willing to work to produce all that is required; however, even those who work usually only work part-time. The heaviest work is usually done by young journeymen, eager to gain status and to impress (their superiors, their peers, and perhaps most importantly prospective mates – leisure is highly valued on Venus, but the willingness and ability to work hard is still considered an attractive personality trait). Older Guild members must choose between resting on their laurels (and their unlocked remuneration packages, or ‘dues’), or seeking further promotions as craft-virtuosi, teachers, or administrators/politicians.

So, George stepped back from work, but retains his ranks as a Higher Journeyman. Now that his eldest children are adults, and his younger children require less constant supervision, he’s beginning to work a little more again, as many people do at this stage in life. His mother – who did the bulk of the child-raising in his family – has ended up returning to work as an instructor in the Guild, and George is considering following that path. On the other hand, in his spare time he’s aquired some academic qualifications in 19th-century German literature, and he might try to pursue a career as a university tutor instead.

Zylogrius, on the other hand, works hard most days of the week. She began by following her father’s path and apprenticing to the Guild of Croupiers, but found that unsatisfying. Instead, she joined – and rose to the position of Undermaster in – the powerful Guild of Fabricators, the guild responsible for creating most ornaments and furniture. After a time, however, she became tired, and wanted to change her career. This is not unusual. Most do this by obtaining a ‘secondment’ to another Guild – essentially, working for a new Guild while being ‘paid’ by their original Guild.  As a succesful Fabricator specialising in graphic embellishment, she could easily have found a secondment with any number of Guilds in which her skills would have been of use. The particular passion Zylogrius discovered was for tattoos, and the expected course of action would have been for her to seek secondment to the Guild of Tattooists as a design specialist. But part of what attracted Zylogrius to tattooing was the personal contact involved, so this sort of backroom job didn’t interest her. Instead, she entered a new apprenticeship with the Tattooists, and has worked her way back up the ranks from scratch to Advanced Journeyman, working in the tattooing studio personally. This has been an arduous process, but it does have its rewards – leaving aside her personal enjoyment of her new profession, she is now in the enviable position of being dual-guilded, a distinct benefit to her income and prestige.

Peter Dragon, their eldest son, has chosen to follow his father into the Zymologists. It’s not that Zymology is an inherently fascinating subject, and most people consider Zymologists a little dull, but it’s lucrative, and his co-workers are an interesting mix of people – Zymologists tend to be scientifically-minded, but they also include more creative types, who liaise with the Guild of Chefs (and take into account public opinion surveys) to develop more interesting tastes and textures. Peter has recently joined the guild formally as a Journeyman (apprentices are attached to but not part of the Guild); for now, he’s still working in Vanadia VI’s own zymolabs, but in a year or two he’ll be sent off to another city to continue his education.

Titus Angkor, the eldest of his younger sisters, is still an apprentice, at the Guild of Mechanists. This mostly involves splitting her time between learning about different types of mechanisms and following a number of senior mechanists as they go about their business – mostly fixing machines that have broken down. She spends a lot of time holding things, handing people things, and filling out forms. One day, she hopes to specialise in flight systems design, and play a part developing the next generation of the many machines necessary to keep Venus’ cities airbourne – but that’s a highly competitive line of work. There are a lot of Mechanists on Venus, but very few rise to senior design levels, let alone to flight systems design. If she wants to achieve her goal, she’ll have to dedicate a lot of hours to her career.

 

Entertainment

Much entertainment on Venus still takes place in the family’s apartment, or in the apartments of friends and families. George and Zylogrius have friends around every few weeks, and the youngest children go off to visit other families every few days. Apart from the inevitable chatter and banter, group entertainment in the home focuses upon card games and board games. Card games are the national pasttime of Venus, probably thanks to the key role of casinos and casino workers in the planet’s formative centuries; they range from the simple to the fiendishly, esoterically complex, and from games of pure luck through to games of great (and highly-regarded) dedication and skill. Most people on Venus regularly play at least a dozen different card games, and passively know another dozen more; Zylogrius’ family background and early croupier training have led to her family having a repertoire of at least thirty different games, and they are all members of multiple informal card-leagues, both within the family and with their friends. Much of humanity’s natural competitive instinct is, on Venus, channelled into proficiency at cards (and similarly though to a lesser extent with tile games, usually seen as a little more intellectual). Board games, on the other hand, are generally played more for fun and less to win, and typically include a great deal of luck and humour – pure abstract strategy games do of course exist, and have many enthusiasts as a hobby, but are only a niche interest. Families also play games on gaming consoles, located in the living room (headsets allow each player to focus on their own game without distracting others); however, these games are generally either simple time-wasters (puzzle games and platform games are popular) or else are forms of education for children, made more palatable by the trappings of entertainment. Families may also download films, plays, concerts, art exhibitions and the like to their terminals.

Outside the home, there are three places to go for entertainment: the arcade, the paradise, and the sports hall.

Arcades are more or less the same as on Earth: places to go to play computer games. Arcades offer something home gaming cannot offer, or at least has not been able to offer since the dismantling of the internet: interaction and competition with others. A further difference is that these games are truly interactive – the arcade employs staff to shape storylines that react to the actions of the players (both individually and collectively). Indeed, on Venus the arcade staff are responsible for much of the construction of the game – typically the underlying framework of the game is taken from a template, but given unique local form in each arcade. Particular games that have achieved great acclaim in one arcade may be imported to other arcades, but there is no expectation that the same games will be found in all arcades – in this regard, they resemble theatres more than cinemas. As a result, Cytherean games typically lack some of the incredible pre-made depth of Earthican games, but are more responsive, more personalised, and usually give a greater role to collective action and community interaction.

The paradise, meanwhile, is at the opposite end of the technology scale – as much as possible is kept simple and unobtrusive. The main business of a paradise is sex – this is where couples come to have sex without their children or parents getting in the way, and a large part of the paradise is given over to a wide variety of rooms presenting different settings and environments for this purpose. Most of these rooms are communal – not for group sex per se (though this is extremely common among the young) but just because any situation with only two people in a room alone together is likely to be disconcerting for Cythereans, who are instinctively sociable. Most rooms are therefore set up with semi-open berths, in order to allow visitors to feel at ease and in company without being distracted by the direct sight of others (and without being a distraction to others). Prostitution also takes place here – the paradise employs professionals to join couples or groups, and also to provide an education to the young. Zylogrius has already brought her thirteen-year-old, Miki, here for that purpose – she does think her daughter is too young for sex, but she also thinks that these things are best learned in a pleasant and safe environment from expert strangers who know what they’re doing, and better bring her here than have her go off discovering things with her friends. Her older siblings likewise came here at this age – Titus worried her mother for a few years by declaring that she wanted to be a prostitute herself when she was older. It’s a lucrative profession, and of course nobody would be so reactionary to think of it as in any way shameful or immoral, they’re perfectly respectable men and woman, of course, and somebody clearly has to do it… but like most parents, Zylogrius would have been rather embarrassed if her daughter had ended up doing it. The near-elimination of poverty on Venus has of course raised the price of prostitutes dramatically, and the Guild of Companions is a powerful and prosperous organisation; their members are never hired casually, but only as a luxury. However, their profession remains focused almost entirely on sex – the ‘companions’ hired by the Fleet for their crews may be more psychologist than sex-worker, but on Venus nobody wastes valuable money paying prostitutes to talk to them – probably because the average Cytherean is already more provisioned with companionship and conversation than the average Earthican, Degaman or Zhengian.

The paradise, in any case, is not just for sex – it is for all sorts of physical pleasure. In particular, it is well-stocked with baths, saunas and massage tables; it also has a high-quality restaurant. In other words, a paradise is a combination of sleazy motel and luxury spa.

The sports hall is more or less what it sounds like. Sport on Venus – much like sport on Earth – is no longer a spectator event. Sport exists as a way of exercising the body – it should be healthy, physically enjoyable, and to some extent offer a competitive element for added fun. Sport is an individualist activity (unlike almost everything else on Venus) – team sports exist but are a niche interest (beyond casual five-a-side games among groups of friends), and even directly competitive two-player games are not the norm. Sport on Venus is typified by activities in which the individual sets a score, which other individuals can seek to match – the emphasis is on personal performance and improvement, but the individuals will also sneak glances to see whether they’ve gone up or down on the leaderboard. The whole family visits the sports hall, either together or individually with friends, and they run, row, swim, climb, throw, jump and so forth. The great exception to the ‘individualist’ generalisation is calisthenics – morning exercise sessions (typically conducted in the nude) are attended by dozens or hundreds of individuals at once, and conducted with synchronicity and in silence – they are as much a source of discipline and unity as they are of physical health.

Beyond these usual fitness activities, Zylogrius has a particular interest in archery, and Miki is taking after her in that regard. Titus, however, is more interested in wrestling – which does not take place at the sports hall. Wrestling is a stereotypically Venusian, rather than Venerean, activity – it takes place casually in and around communal eating halls, but private wrestling rooms are where the enthusiasts go. It’s become one of the most popular sports on Venus, but it remains rather disrespectable. Recordings of sports events can be downloaded to terminals, but this is normally done only by enthusiasts, not by the general public. The only three sports publically followed are rugby (due to its adoption by the Fleet; originally a Venusian enthusiasm, there are now rugby teams for most of the larger cities, a league structure, and even games against visitors from other planets; however, for most people on Venus rugby is ‘followed’ less as a sport and more as one of the few opportunities for competition between cities – Zylogrius makes sure her family watch any Kipris v. Kytara match and cheer appropriately), running (most cities have popular running events around their streets on a regular basis, and local winners are then invited to prize-races), and animal racing (dogs and bird primarilys, and occasionally horses – these are popular not in themselves but as events to gamble on).

Life on Venus, pt2

Continues on from this post here, describing the lives of a family on Venus in the early 26th century.

Appearance

Like most people, George and Zylogrius have light brown skin – Zylogrius is a little darker than George, closer to the norm, while George still has a little of the old European pallour. Old-blood Venereans are almost all the same colour as one another, while later Venusian immigrants may be lighter or darker. Zylogrius has the normal black hair, while George’s is a dark brown. Both George and Zylogrius are around 6’5 – men are usually taller than women, but Venereans, having adapted to centuries of slightly lower gravity, are usually a few inches taller that Earthicans and Venusians. Like most Venereans, Zylogrius is also slightly but noticeably more gracile than the average Earthican woman – her legs and arms are proportionally a little longer and thinner, though this thinness seems perfectly healthy for her, a matter of underlying proportion rather than lack of food, and it has not stunted, for instance, the width of her hips. In fact, to an Earthican she would appear unusually beautiful – some ancestral genetic manipulation has probably helped along the way (a benefit of working for the Cytherea Corporation on old venus was that one’s children were often gene-polished to improve appearance, as befitted customer-facing employees in what was, essentially, a resort town).

Dress on Venus is unisex in plan, though not in the details of implementation. Both George and Zylogrius dress in form-fitting leggings, tall boots, and a loose smock that nearly reaches the knee – in theory, more or less the same clothes worn by Zylogrius’ ancestors in the Revolution, and quite recognisable to any peasant of the later twenty-second through to later twenty-fourth centuries on Earth. Zylogrius’ smock narrows at the waist to emphasise her femininity, aided by a broad belt; George’s narrower belt intentionally hangs loose, and his smock emphasises the breadth of his shoulders instead.

The chief difference between the costume of George and Zylogrius and that of the revolutionary workers two centuries earlier is the individuality. George and Zylogrius have their clothes hand-made by one of the local guildhalls of the Guild of Tailors (not too local, of course, lest all their neighbours have the same designs!). For special occasions, they wear clothes by a Master Tailor Zylogrius knows back on Pilot. This isn’t really a matter of quality – after all, robots can make clothes just as technically ‘good’ as hand-made work – but one of art, and interest. The basic form of their clothing is decorated – not too ornately, but strikingly – in a way that merges general fashion trends with local customs and individual tastes… and perhaps more importantly in a way that can stimulate interesting conversation at dinner parties. The same is true of their jewellery – but not particularly true of their hairstyle, which is cut extremely short for both of them (a style that originated as a good revolutionary worker’s hairstyle, but that has been perpetuated by its closeness to the shaven heads of Fleet sailors).

Their older children dress somewhat scandalously, as they did themselves when they were younger – their smocks are actually a little longer than their parents’, but the cuts made in the skirts of respectable smocks to add a little interest are for the younger generation long slashes designed to show off as much leg as possible, and sometimes even a little bare skin above the top of their leggings, when they move in the right way.

When seen without their clothes, the Cytherean tattooing patterns can be seen. Tattoos on Venus – other than a few cheap back-alley tattooists in Venusian ghettos – are not a matter of putting ink into the skin; instead, skin cells are infected with microbes that re-engineer the genes of the skin cells to produce pigment. This has the advantage of being able to produce vivid colours that do not fade, and of being (mostly) reversible and changeable, but it has the disadvantage of being somewhat stochastic – it’s hard to reproduce finely detailed designs. In any case, the fashion on Venus has long ago turned away from elaborate tattooing that draws attention to itself rather than the wearer. Instead, Cytherean tattoos are usually a few lines, blocks and dots positioned so as to emphasise the natural physique of the wearer – Zylogrius’ curving tattoos (in purple and cream) emphasis her breasts and hips, long limbs and narrow waist, while George’s are strong lines (black and blue) that reinforce the perception of a powerfully-built male. Like their clothing, their tattoos are personalised – very personalised in this case, since Zylogrius happens to be a tattooist herself. She even did the tattoos for her three eldest children, which follow the same principles but in the case of the older two do rather obsessively emphasise their genitals, in much the same way that some flower petals are designed with markings to direct the visiting bees. That’s just how younger, more energetic (or less secure) Cythereans decorate themselves, she knows, and if she didn’t tattoo them somebody else would. They’ll tone them down as they get older.

However, because skin pigmentation is now reversible, it has lost some of the function of traditional tattooing. For the purposes of perpetual marking, hypertrophic scarification is fashionable, though the scars (which are usually pigmented as well) are usually relatively small. Zylogrius bears two scarified guild marks on her left flank, her husband’s monogram on her right buttock, and the marks of Pilot of Vanadia and Kipris on her upper arms; George has his guild mark and Zylogrius’ monogram on his back, but has never seen the need to bother with city marks.

Finally, a third form of skin mark are the old House gene-tattoos. These are much like the genetic skin patterns of Earthican archons, though much more common, implanted into the gene pool by rich Venerean families before the Revolution. They are very common in certain families, and sporadically show up elsewhere. Zylogrius has none herself, but Titus and the twins have them, as did two of Zylogrius’ brothers (the genetics involved are complex and difficult to predict). They take the form of ornamented bands around the upper arm – their design is entirely unfashionable now, and their politics questionable (it is prestigious to come from such old blood, but not prestigious to boast about it), so many people have them removed by tattooists, but Titus so far appears to be keeping hers (they are certainly becoming more popular with younger generations).

Titus has a nose-ring; Zylogrius doesn’t entirely approve. Piercings are extremely rare among the older generation, outside of hardline Venusian families; some of the younger generation, however, have taken to piercing their nose or lip or ear as a way to ‘embody the reclaimation of Venusian and Earthican cultural heritage’, or possibly (as some sociologists have suggested) to look bad-ass.

 

The Home

George and Zylogrius keep a clean, tidy, simple home. Guests in their apartment enter from the communal hallway into a tall hallway – there is no need for them to dispose of hats and coats and outdoor shoes, because there is no outside on Venus – there is little mud and nowhere is cold. Instead, they simply peel off a layer of plastic film from their boots to keep from bringing too much dust into the apartment. The entrance hall is mostly open and plain, but a few items have been placed on table or on niches, all hand-made by guild crafstmen. After greetings, guests pass into the dining room – but rather than sit at a table, they lounge on couches, with food provided on small side-tables. Venus’ fashion is for meals of many small courses, ideally that can be eaten with chopsticks, or better yet by hand. Food is prepared in the kitchen – and ‘prepared’ is a better word than ‘cooked’, since most of the food is made edible by chefs of the Culinary Guild and shipped out to individual households. The kitchen is merely a place where food can be stored until needed, warmed or chilled at the right time, and perhaps garnished – although many hosts do like to show they can make their own food by assembling a salad or a house dessert or the like. When not entertaining, main meals are still mostly ordered in, but simpler food can be prepared quickly by the family by heating and/or wetting the appropriate zymocubes. In fact, George and Zylogrius rarely eat their main meals in their apartment – like most Venusians, and increasingly many Venereans, they usually eat (along with their children) in communal food halls. Life on Venus can become a little isolating, and communal meals are a good way to meet people and get some much-needed human company – particularly for the children. The couple eat at home when entertaining guests (every few weeks), or when ill or otherwise not feeling up to public appearances, or for some special private occasion.

In addition to the hall, the dining room, and the kitchen, there are four additional rooms: the bedroom, the living room, the library, the washroom, two lavatories, and the shrine.

Venereans are not religious people. Indeed, they are firmly opposed to religion, and to secular delusions that may take the place of religion (in particular, to the metaphysical excesses of secular Communionism). All such traditions are merely tools to maintain the oppression and manipulation of the people by a ruling elite, and only an idiot would be taken in by them. The only religious practices found (to any extent) among Venereans are the old ‘circlehouse’ traditions, dating back to the foundational days – syncretic and anti-theological cults that focus on communal living, elaborate ritual, and absolute personal devotion to a supreme being – and these are practiced only by a very small minority. Venusians, on the other hand, are more prone to religion – perhaps a third are outrightly religious (the Cathodox are even more numerous, proportionally, than on Earth, the local forms having largely distanced themselves from the anti-Fleet theology of Dominic IX, and having entirely rejected the Pauline antipapacies), and there are also many strongly dedicated Communionists

However, Venereans (and most Venusians) have no objection to harmless superstition – a few old rituals that people follow for unclear reasons but that they feel better about, but that nobody really believes in. This explains why George and Zylogrius have a shrine in their house, as all but the most hardline Venusians do. The shrine holds altars dedicated to the six gods of Venus: Birth (who also oversees fertility in general, and prosperity, and plant life), Death (whose altar is hidden in a cabinet that is only opened in case of life-threatening circumstances), Love (and the mind), Beauty (and infatuation, and physics), Ecstasy (and lust, and art) and Luck. The family make regular offerings and devotions to the gods, sometimes in quite complicated and demanding rituals. Outsiders often fail to distinguish between Venerean ‘harmless superstition’ and the much-derided ‘religion’ that other people follow.

The living room is, as the name suggests, where the family lives most of the time. In this case, it is an open mezzanine above the entrance hall. This is where the family relax, talk, play, sit around, persue hobbies. The library, likewise, is a living space, but dedicated to calmer pursuits – it’s where a person can slip away to read or to work, and where the children are taught by (usually) George. It also contains a good many books – probably several hundred – since books are very popular on Venus. For George and Zylogrius, books are a sign of enjoyment and leisure – they read from books to symbolise that they are doing it voluntarily, whereas reading they are required to do is generally done on a terminal. Indeed, tracking down a book with the required information or story in it is half the fun of reading!

The bedroom is singular. There is only one bedroom, though there are several beds – George and Zylogrius share one, Peter Dragon and Titus Angkor share one, the twins share one, and Miki Zylogrius either shares with her older siblings (if they’ll let her) or the twins (if they won’t). The beds are arranged around a central waterfeature – water rippling down a glass cylinder with low lights shone on it. This provides calming, sleep-inducing sound and light, as well as breaking up the room to make each bed feel a little more private. There doesn’t have to be much privacy, however, and George and Zylogrius like it that way – they can, if necessary, overhear the conversations between their children, in case anythign inappropriate is being said. There’s never any need for private conversation between siblings, after all – there’s hardly ever any need for any private conversation in a family, indeed, apart from the occasional strategy discussion between the parents, which can be accomplished by stepping into another room for a moment. The other reason why humans of many other cultures require privacy in their sleeping quarters – copulation – is not an issue here. That doesn’t happen in bedrooms on Venus – not only would it be inappropriate in a room shared with other family members, but to George and Zylogrius the entire idea strikes them as really rather unhygeinic-sounding. The bedroom is to be clean and quiet and restful, and it’s most distasteful to imagine too much sweating going on there – not to mention that it hardly seems to make sense to try to be energetic in a room primarily associated with unconsciousness! No, when George and Zylogrius feel like having sex, they simply go off to visit a paradise.

The washroom, like the bedroom, is singular. The family generally wash together, morning, noon and night (temperatures and humidity on Venus are usually kept toward the high side of pleasant, and in particular there is no wind). This involves taking turns in the personal cleansing pod, which sprays a fine, soapy mist at the inhabitant, agitates the water against the skin with ultrasound, and gently blow-dries. The entire process takes a couple of minutes. All water on Venus must be recycled, which encourages low consumption – a more energy-expensive washing unit like this is worth it if it saves recycling a shower’s-worth of water yet again. The same sort of system is widely found on Earth.

There are two lavatories, each with several cubicles – one is used by family members only, and the other is used by guests only. The idea of having a toilet in the same room as the cleansing pods would be considered appallingly unhygienic, to the point of being truly disgusting (although similar technology is built into the toilets – ‘wiping’ with hand-held paper would likewise be considered disgusting).

Finally, George and Zylogrius have a small garden at the back of their apartment. This is common, although in some cities apartments have no garden, with instead more space being given over to communal gardens. Vanadia VI following a generally Cythromanesque architectural style, their garden is not wholly open, but in effect is part of an arcade – at the end of their garden (which is about the size of a room) is a low fence, opening onto a walkway that runs along the whole row of apartments on this level (the gardens themselves being divided by translucent but non-transparent walls); the walkway looks out through archways into an abyss (the archway is filled with a strong but super-thin netting that is invisible at a distance, to prevent jumpers).  Abysses are common in Venus’ cities – tall empty shafts to allow light up from below, around which apartments are clustered. the cities have the unusual property of being equally illuminated from below, and from the sides, as from above, thanks to the extremely high reflectivity of the surrounding white sulphur clouds – although cities generally plan for sunlight primarily to enter from above (if for no other reason than to keep the centre of gravity low, to promote stability in the high winds outside), shafts and tunnels are also commonplace to bring light in from other directions. If George or Zylogrius could stick their head out through the archway and look down, they would see hundreds of metres of arched walkways, down to a gleaming white sea of cloud beneath. As it is, they are too high up to see to the bottom from their garden, or even from the walkway.

Thanks to the cloister design, their garden is too shaded to have a thriving grass lawn (though it would of course be possible with more expensively engineered grass!), so they have a lawn of lush moss, and a handful of shade-loving plants that they take care of. It may not rival the local botanical gardens, but they like the connection to ‘nature’.

Life on Venus in the Early 26th Century (pt1)

The following is set in a particular SF setting of mine. FTL travel is possible, and even cheap, but is also very slow.

Venus!

Ah, seductive, decadent, cloud-veiled Venus, mankind’s second home! World of romance, recklessness and revolution! Venus may be dwarfed by her older sister, Earth, and overshadowed in the popular imagination by the gaudy exoticism of the extrasolar colonies, but the Queen of Planets remains – or, more accurately, as of the last decade or so is once again – the world with the second-highest population of humans (she has overtaken Degama, thanks to her superior birth-rate).

Venus is, of course, not strictly speaking a habitable world – the surface is hot enough to melt lead, and the air is thick with sulphuric acid. As a result, it is not listed as an official Colony World by the Fleet – unlike 0 Earth or III Degama, it has no number to its name. Its inhabitants don’t mind – they rather like being unique. Not that Venus is the only planet to bear human city-ships in her atmosphere – but where other skyworlds are home to a few lonely homesteads, Venus is crawling with humanity.

One point four billion. That’s more or less how many people live on Venus in 2532 (it’s actually a little more – let’s say 1.41bn for convenience). People tend not to fully realise just how many people there are here. When the Revolution came, there were probably not many more than eighty million Venusians; when the Fleet began to compel migration to the planet in the aftermath of the Invasion, a little over a century ago, there were were still fewer than two hundred million of them. Now there will soon be one and a half billion; the demographers warn that there may be two billion in only a few decades. A few more centuries, and Venus may well be humanity’s homeworld – if the Battutans don’t overtake them.

But rather than sit through a long lecture about this or that element of Venusian (and as will be explained later, even that’s a problematic word) culture, let’s just take a brief look at the lives of a couple of the people living on this planet.

 

 

Meet: George and Zylogrius

George Angkor Umbenhauer and his wife, Zylogrius Dragon Nguyen, are two ordinary middle-class, middle-age inhabitants of Venus. George Angkor is sixty-four, while Zylogrius Dragon is fifty-eight.

The couple have five children – more than the norm, though not uncommon. Peter Dragon Umbenhauer is twenty-four, and his sister, Titus Angkor Nguyen, is twenty-one; Miki Zylogrius Nguyen is thirteen, while her twin brothers, Minh Kazpar and Kazpar Minh Umbenhauer, are ten. It is common on Venus to find children born in this ‘pairing’ fashion – children without siblings are rare, as this is seen as cruel, and liable to lead to disturbed personalities.

As can be seen, although George Angkor and Zylogrius Dragon are married, they do not share a surname – instead, Zylogrius Dragon continues to take her mother’s surname, while George Angkor takes his father’s. There is therefore no simple collective name for the family – they are not ‘the Umbenhauers’, and neither are they ‘the Nguyens’. Instead, people will just refer to them as (depending on formality) George and Zylogrius, George Angkor and Zylogrius Dragon, or Umbenhauer and Ng.

Ethnic Identities

Zylogrius Dragon, as her names suggest, is an old-blood Venerean, whose ancestors took part in the Revolution – her surname correctly identifies her maternal line as having been of lower-class stock before the Revolution (a large percentage of the original worker population was drawn from Viet-speaking areas, and Nguyen is one of the most common names on Venus). Specifically, Zylogrius considers herself a Kiprisian by ethnicity, though she herself was born on Pilot III of Vanadia, and the couple now lives on Vanadia VI.

George Angkor, on the other hand, struggles a bit when asked about his ethnicity. He explains that his paternal grandfather migrated from Essen during the Exodus, and that he is, in some sense, a Venusian, and he’s not ashamed of that – but he doesn’t have time for hardline Venusian politics. His parents, both born Venusians (though his mother’s mother was a Venerean, born during the war), decided to distance themselves from Venusianism by adopting an overtly Venerean identity, but George feels that’s a bit disingenuous – in any case, it’s not as though there’s anything wrong with being Venusian! George was born on Armada VI of Ctesiphon, but he doesn’t really consider himself ‘a Ctesiphonian’ (more importantly, Zylogrius doesn’t either, or else she probably wouldn’t have married him!). He’d be more likely to say he was of European ethnicity. (Zylogrius, by contrast, would never say she was of Viet ethnicity – that was centuries ago, and by now she probably has the blood of half the nations of old Earth in her).

The children find it all a lot easier. Peter Dragon and Titus Angkor both call themselves ‘Cytherean’, an identity that can embrace both Venusians and Venereans; more specifically, they call themselves Vanadians, though Titus takes a little more after her mother and calls herself a Vanadian-Kiprisian. These days ‘Cytherean’ has come to be used as the closest thing to a neutral adjective there is, although both Venereans and Venusians do sometimes object to it, either for attempting to bridge a gap that must not be bridged (though in practice there are few hardline pure-blood Venusians left anymore), or because it was once, before the Revolution, the chosen adjective applied by the hated Cytherea Corporation. But, for want of a better word, it’s what we’ll try to use here.

Extended Family

George and Zylogrius do not live with their parents. Many people do, or at least many people live in an apartment very close to the one their parents live in – typically the elderly follow one of their children or grandchildren. Nursing homes also exist, but these are only for the very old or infirm – although few people live beyond 120, great strides have been made in inabling most people to remain healthy and mobile until relatively near death. As it happens, none of the parents of Zylogrius and George have chosen to live with them – although some of Zylogrius’ relatives do live in the same city, including most importantly her bed-sister, Minh Rezarxis Nguyen, and her family, whom Zylogrius sees every few days. Nonetheless, extended family remains important, especially on Zylogrius’ side of the family (Venereans tend to care more about family, and indeed about group affiliations in general), and it’s rare that more than a few months go by without a visit by an aunt or uncle, or brother or sister or parent. George and Zylogrius and their children typically visit a relative at least once a year (not counting weekly visits to Zylogrius’ family in the city). Inter-city travel of course requires a shuttle-flight, but travel times are immensely reduced through the expedient of moving the cities themselves. Cities orbit Venus with the winds, but vary their exact latitude according to complex formulae that result in periodic ‘conjunctions’ of different cities over time, where two cities draw unusually close, enabling cheaper travel between them. In any case, all the cities move in approximately the same part of the atmosphere.

 

To be Continued…

Sourcery, by Terry Pratchett

[part of an ongoing re-read of the Discworld series]

I don’t have great memories of Sourcery as a child, and reading a few reviews of it before I read it myself didn’t enhance my expectation. In fact, I wasn’t exactly dreading it, but it was a sufficiently unappealing prospect that it sat on my table for quite some time before I forced myself to read it.

As it happens, though, it’s really jolly goo… well, ok, jolly not bad, at least!

Sourcery black

It may be in order to recap the series so far, as I’ve perceived it: The Colour of Magic was a delightful but light piece of fun; The Light Fantastic was a rather weak attempt to repeat the success; Equal Rites rewrote The Light Fantastic in a more realist vein; and Mort is a more original story, continuing the more realist approach, with much in common with Equal Rites.

Well, to me, Sourcery seems like Pratchett wanted to go back to The Light Fantastic and apply some of what he’d learnt in the meantime. It’s able to capture some of the anarchic joy of The Colour of Magic, while still having some of the greater depth and emotional resonance of Equal Rites and Mort.

Unfortunately, this is also the book’s biggest flaw. Nobody thinks of this as their favourite Discworld book, because it’s so completely forgettable – it’s basically just the same story as The Light Fantastic, only a good deal better. It feels entirely familiar in plot, in character, and in style.

There are also other flaws. The biggest is the book’s structure – twenty pages from the end feels like about a third of the way through the plot. The ending is, it’s true, rather better handled than in the earlier books, but it’s still rushed (and over-familiar). An over-large (and largely uninteresting, and familiar) cast of characters is introduced, almost all of whom are irrelevant to the plot. In particular, Conina is necessary in the early stages of the plot, but swiftly becomes unnecessary, yet Pratchett feels the need to find stuff for her to do (and people to do it with) even though this is really just a distraction the real story of the book.

On the plus side, Pratchett is really getting good at his cutting technique, which is such a feature of many of his books (action cuts abruptly from one plotline to another, or from one plotline to a non sequitur). It’s largely wasted in this book, since only one plotline really matters, but it bodes well for the future.

The big plus of this book, though, is that it’s fun. It’s not quite as out-of-control as The Colour of Magic, but it’s bursting with wit, erudition, literary references, and genuine humour. It’s not hilarious – maybe not even as funny as Mort, with much of the humour aiming at sly and witty chuckle, rather than laugh-out-loud – but it’s still a joy to read.

By the standards of Pratchett, though, this book is a failure. It’s not his best, and to be honest it’s probably a step down from Mort. Thanks to its over-heavy debt to its predecessors, it’s not particularly memorable, and the main reason why anyone would read it would be because they wanted to read the complete set of all the Discworld books.

On the other hand: it’s probably unfair to judge a book by what we now know, in hindsight, the author was capable of. If I’d picked this book up not knowing anything about who wrote it, I’d have been stunned and delighted and desparately gone out to find other books by this author. If I were going on a trip at short notice and had to quickly grab the first book that came to hand, it wouldn’t be a tragedy if it was this one… I’d just rather it was one of his other books.

[Tangent: it really interested me just how Chestertonian this one was. Pratchett’s books have always been strongly Chestertonian in style, and indeed in soul, but this one seemed to be following some long-lost “how to write a children’s book” manual Chesterton might once have written, in plot as well as in style. All that ‘knowing who you really are’ business, facing down the unstoppable godlike force armed only with righteousness and salt-of-the-earth common sense… frankly, it was all too much!]

sourcery-1

Adrenaline: 2/5. Unfortunately, this wasn’t gripping. Between the forgettable characters and the familiar plot, I never felt too much suspense.

Emotion: 2/5. A few moments of pathos. A few.

Thought: 3/5. Not exactly a brain-teaser, but the games Pratchett plays with us – spot this quotation, guess how this gun on the mantlepiece is going to come into play – make it more than mindless entertainment.

Beauty: 3/5. *shrug*

Craft: 4/5. Almost everything is in place here, in terms of the author’s skill, for a great book. He just chose the wrong story. And got a little sidetracked on a subplot. The prose is good, he’s finding a more consistent narrative voice, the juggling of plot elements mostly works well (even if it’s pointless in this case), it’s funny… it does still have a whiff of trying-too-hard about it, but there’s no doubting the man’s talent.

Endearingness: 3/5. If it had been just a sparkle more novel, more striking, I would really have liked this book.

Originality: 3/5. Repetitive by comparison with his earlier books, but still full of imagination.

Overall: 4/7. Not Bad. Not as good as Mort, probably not as good as Equal Rites (actually, probably more technically sound than Equal Rites, just not quite as likeable)… but it’s not a book to be ashamed of, honestly. I shouldn’t have worried so much about it.

Now I’m just worried that the next one won’t live up to my higher expectations…

 

P.p.S. Sorry this was such a short review. It’s hard to say original things when reviewing a bunch of books written consecutively by the same author in the same setting that to a large extent also all have the same plot…

P.P.s. I’ve been slightly distracted from the other projects I mentioned before by accidentally creating a new fictional family of Indo-European languages. Again, damnit. Why does that always happen to me!?