Thursday, June 9, 2011

Settings: Vancouver, Canada

Douglas Coupland, who named a book after Billy Idol's former punk band "Generation X" and became a spokesman for my generation, wrote an interesting coffee table book called "The City of Glass". It's a series of photo-essays that sheds a bit of light on Coupland's hometown. One point that he makes is that Vancouver is a 21st Century City, the oldest of the new cities, a paradigm unto itself.

Vancouver's canyons of glass
I've been travelling to Vancouver for visits my whole life and I've seen it change over the decades. Although, I've probably seen more of Vancouver on my television set as it is a stand in for "everywhere", it's played Caprica in Battlestar Galactica, and been the dreary backdrop for every the X-files episode up to Season 6 or 7 (don't remember when production switched to LA), and it's also been the non-setting for a ton of films over the years due to its thriving film industry. It represents everywhere and nowhere at the same time, which I think is a bit of a bummer, because Vancouver rarely plays its deserving self in the on-screen fictional universe.

Vancouver prior to the Cylon Invasion
The Vancouver I know, is something akin to a "New London", a hyper-accelerated cosmopolis where English as a language shares street-time equally with Hindi, Japanese, Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic, and French. With this mixed and jumbled tech savvy culture, beholden to quick-fashion and alien pop-culture quirks, it brings to mind a pre-cyberpunk chic. And walking its streets, it's easy to understand why the godfather of cyberpunk himself, William Gibson, calls the city home.

the seminal classic
Physically, Vancouver is anything but a near future dystopia however. It's probably one of the more beautiful cities of the New World, a clash of forested mountains, water, and glass towers (called 'see-throughs' by the natives). And because of its geography and location, it is unlike any other North American city. There are no belts of freeway traffic circling the city, there's no copse of corporate skyskrapers at its center (despite its impressive skyline), and with its Asian influences, resembles more Hong Kong than it does Seattle. Despite it being a very new city, it lacks the cheap pre-fab disposable look of some American cities (I won't name names, but those cities know who they are). There's been a great deal of thought to its 'newness', a style that's uniquely its own.

the last remnant of old futuristic Vancouver, Expo '86 today 

Vancouver's contribution to history and culture has yet to be written, a Roman-era London, an outpost on a new frontier, the literal answer to what happens when West meets East. And for somebody that writes science fiction, I find it a fascinating/inspiring place to visit for its possibilities more so than its history.

So if you get the chance to visit, I highly recommend the Japadogs.

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