A Travel Guide to New Venice: Culture and Science
This is an occasional series by Jean-Christophe Valtat, author of Aurorarama, now out in paperback from Melville House. Aurorarama is the first installment in Valtat’s The Mysteries of New Venice trilogy. Go here for Part I or Part II or Part III —
The obsession of the Seven Sleepers, the founders of New Venice, to give their brainchild a cultural unity is certainly one of the most striking aspects of the city. From its wondrous white architecture sometimes described as “a world fair in heaven” to its numerous theaters or music-hall, New Venice seems to be entirely dedicated to beauty, pleasure and art.
The oldest and most famous of these institutions is the Circus Of Carnal Knowledge, whose aim it was to develop and spread a common erotic imagination among citizens from various origins, thus forming a spiritual bond that would further unify the city, and perhaps help solve the problem of a notoriously low birth rate. A Wagnerian Gesamtkunstwerk blend of spectacular dioramic sets, sublime orchestral flourishes, and delirious lubricity performed by graceful creatures, “Polar Pornoperas” are undoubtedly the most typical and the ultimate New Venetian art, although it goes without saying that it is not for the faint-hearted.
The Arctic Academy of Arts could be a big city museum like any other if it were not for the fact that it is strictly polar-themed. Still more astonishing, the rumour has it that all the exposed works have been stolen from other museum and collections all over the world by a team of “Museum Mouses” and “Art Rats” and replaced by perfectly executed copies.
Also unique to the city is its music scene. Developed in the roaring 20s BC among the young “Boremians” or Boreal Bohemians, “polar pop” is a daring blend of traditional folk-music and music-hall tunes, performed at breakneck pace by string bands using “Frying-Pan”amplified guitars and “jazz” drum kits. Pre “Blue-Wild” (see below) bands such as the Furry Fruits, Ekto Liouven 5, or the famous electric elizabethan consort, the Lord Strange Men have since become the stuff of legend, but none of them as much as Sandy & The Sandmover’s ex-singer, Lilian « Lenton » Lake, whose come-back with her new band, the Lodestones, has been last year’s towering musical event.
More recently, state-of-the-art electromagnetic instruments such as pianorads, optophonic pianos, or aetherophones have been at the forefront of a deafening new genre, “Nipi” or “Northern Noise”, heavily relying on drones and eskimo rythmic patterns – with bands such as the Sun Dogs, the Mock Moons, the Fox Fires or the Black Harlequins leading the sonic attack.
Local Inuk music is not forgotten : head towards the Nuanangilaq (“No-Fun”) Club and you’ll be able to attend throat-singing or hilarious Deriding Songs contest -provided you’re fluent in Inuktitut.
Given its audience, “Polar pop” is a constant concern for the authorities, especially when it comes to drugs. First allegedly encouraged as a training ground for “Sandpackets” and other local phantastica, the “boremian” scene may have spun out of control, if we are to believe the recent series of warnings and decrees issued by the House of Health & Hygiene. We should remind our Northern Traveller that New Venetian drugs are powerful and dangerous to the untrained user.
Which leads us straight into the specificities of local science.
New Venetians may seem quaint of dress and manners and they certainly reveal at first sight a defiant attitude towards Progress. Thus, they famously shun telephones as a threat to literacy and prefer pneumatic post and speed-skating city couriers for daily communication. Likewise, petrol engines are rejected as too noisy, dirty and expensive to exploit. But the truth is that they simply could not survive in the Arctic if it were not for their advanced science.
Since the inception of the city, the Seven Sleepers (then the Seven Seers) have indeed always encouraged the most daring scientific and technological ventures, even if those were, as the city itself, a little off the map. Maverick scientists or inventors who felt misunderstood at home were invited and generously funded. As a result, New Venetian science has somewhat branched out from the universal republic of savants, and not always, it would seem, in the most wholesome way.
Naturally, most of this research was, and is still, aimed at the practicalities of survival in one of the most hostile surroundings known to mankind. The Air Architecture is, in that respect, a wondrous success. Designed by Arctic Administration Engineer Afnor Orsini, it pumps relentlessly the methane clathrates out of the permafrost, using it to protect New venice behind a girdle of flames (the Fire-Maidens) and make its climate a little warmer through a system of funnels scattered through the city. Electrical energy is derived from immense fields of windmills (“The Whirly Woods”), a dry steam geothermal plant and, more recently from tethered ballons that tap into the power of the auroras and storms. Tesla coils are buried under the soils of the Greenhouse, ensuring constant warmth and, through electroculture, monstrous-sized vegetables and fruits.
But the Seven Seers were also interested in a more spiritual kind of survival : that of the first “210″ who had been instrumental in making the city a dream come true. “Transpherence” was a technology that allowed the “engrams” of a dead person to be transferred to his direct heir, thus ensuring a continuity of memory and knowledge among the ruling “arcticocrat” elite. It consisted in stimulating the lingering mnesic traces of the dead brain, while convincing the heir through hypnosis that he is about to die drowning, so as to trigger a sudden near-death panoramic vision of his past life. It is at this stage of heightened visionary perception that the dead brain’s engrams can be “transphered” into the heir and, allegedly, appropriated by his own brain.
The problem with, or the secret behind, Transpherence is that it could only work when the heir was given a powerful mysterious drug, “Pineapples & Plums”, that was itself metabolized from the sweat of exploited female dancers, The Greenhouse Girls. After the madness and death of a P&P user (the famous matball player Igor Plastisin) and the horrible demise of druglord and Greenhouse director Ananias Andrew, the secret of P&P got lost and remain to this day one of the most enduring myth of the local lore.
This obsession with survival has been the culprit behind many ill-advised, ill-fated enterprises: one of the most notorious is the theft of a few explorers corpses from the Boreal Grounds cemetery and their attempted resurrection by the demented Dr. Nixon-Knox. The story gave birth to another local legend, that of the “Phantom Patrol”, prowling the icefield to defend “the pole from men and men from the pole. ”
Nevertheless, transpherence has been also instrumental in developing promising studies about “pangenes” and “germinative plasma”, notably in the field of animal hybridization for a better adaptation to the surroundings. The late pangenist genius Alexis Norton-Amantidine is thus credited for having created an hybrid animal, part-wolf, part-kangaroo, even, if once again, the sane traveller may find it safer to regard such information as pertaining to fiction.
JEAN CHRISTOPHE VALTAT is the author of Aurorarama.