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Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual
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Enlarge: A view over Retropolis

A city is a big crowded place that's full of small crowded places. That's pretty much how a city happens. So it seems strange that in many cities there's a place where people do not go.

Most cities call these bad neighborhoods and (because they are neighborhoods) people do go there. People, in fact, live there. The cities with bad neighborhoods are just over-reacting.

Other cities - the ones that are not over-reacting - have what we have to call Empty Zones. If you were to track the movements of all the people in those cities on a map, you'd see swirling vortices of I'm-not-going-there that neatly frame the Empty Zones in infinitely complex fractal patterns. These vortices have eddies and peninsulas and spiral valleys where people nearly went there, but thought better of it, or bounced off.

But if you were to look very, very closely at these maps, every now and then a small track would lead right into an Empty Zone. Because folks are just like that. The reason more folks aren't like that is this: most of these tiny traces don't come out again. So long as those adventurous few explore the Empty Zones before they've had a chance to make more people like themselves, well, natural selection does the rest.

Now Retropolis is a wonderful place to live, but it's not an exception to this rule.

If you were to map people's movements in Retropolis you'd immediately see the large and perilous vortex that centers on the Experimental Research District. All of the most interesting laboratories are located there. By statute. Because as dangerous as it may be to group them all together it makes it a lot easier to point at it and say "Oh, and by the way, don't ever go in there."

But on closer examination the Experimental Research District isn't really empty, because very fine threads enter the vortex and do, quite often, leave. The District houses a bustling population of scientists and lab assistants. There's a regrettable amount of turnover in that population, but its numbers remain pretty steady: if you live in there, you probably don't want to live anywhere else. Which is fortunate because, statistically, you won't.

So by examining it closely we can see that the Experimental Research District is not really an Empty Zone. To find a true Empty Zone in Retropolis you need to look much, much closer. There is one. It's just that it's very small.

It's so small that it wouldn't even show up on a conventional map, and it doesn't appear on one. It's basically a big room at the end of a tunnel at the bottom of a shaft, down a ladder, deep below the streets.

It doesn't need to be on a map. This is because of that 'natural selection' we discussed earlier. The residents of Retropolis no longer need to be told that they shouldn't visit the Clockwork Book. They're descended from the people who were smart enough not to.


Reader Comments
There are 15 reader comments on this page.
rainycity1 says:
February 7th, 2011 at 8:24 pm

…and the adventure begins… ;-)

Thalia says:
February 7th, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Is this the new the new web page that you almost, but don’t quite like a lot? Because I think it’s just *delicious.* As usual, with your work.

Bradley W. Schenck says:
February 7th, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Thanks! When I wrote that I was tinkering with some changes to the home page. I’m pretty sure that nearly all of those were so subtle that nobody but me cares about them, but I sure went into extra innings on that little Clockwork Book picture under “Latest Serialized Story”.

Because you’re here on Day One all the buttons at the bottom of the page are ghosted, which may be confusing, but that’ll change just as soon as there’s more than one published page in the story. It’s a circumstance I never saw during testing.

Bradley W. Schenck says:
February 7th, 2011 at 11:31 pm

Yep, Lisa, it’s been a long haul, I know :).

rainycity1 says:
February 9th, 2011 at 10:12 pm

Do you know that your “Your Name” field defaults to “tester3″? Is that a bug or an undocumented feature?

(and is the captcha supposed to change? Mine hasn’t for either comment…)

Bradley W. Schenck says:
February 9th, 2011 at 10:22 pm

The “tester3″ thing may be a bug; I thought my browser was auto-filling that because it was a name I used during testing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens tomorrow when the cache clears. I might have to do something in there.

The captcha will always be the same. I guess I could have randomized a few of them, but why, when rockets are so… you know.

rainycity1 says:
February 9th, 2011 at 10:24 pm

(and you’re welcome to delete that and this comment. I was just too lazy to track down a ‘contact me’ button to send you an e-mail with those questions…)

Stuart. says:
June 8th, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Will ‘The Lair Of The Clockwork Book’ eventually be available in physical form?

Bradley W. Schenck says:
June 8th, 2011 at 11:37 pm

Yes – the book should be available sometime in the first third of 2012, probably a little while before the serial’s completed its run here at the web site.

Tom W. Russell says:
September 28th, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I’ve just discovered this site via a banner ad on the Girl Genius site. I love the styling of it. The very first line of this Prologue has me hooked!

Bradley W. Schenck says:
September 28th, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Glad you have you! And you’ll be delighted to know that the rest of the story is that same line, repeated 1,487 times!

The Proud Marsian says:
February 10th, 2013 at 5:58 pm

This website is fan fking tastic. Best one I’ve seen in ages. Thanks, and keep up the good work!

Trollificus says:
March 15th, 2013 at 8:37 am

Fantastic site!! And I’ll be getting some mugs, t-shirts, etc., by way of compensation soon. (as soon as my Nucleo-electric Rocketbike Courier Diversion device is workable, probably)

Spent an inexcusable amount of time (WORK time!) yesterday working up custom magazine covers for family member presents…loads of fun!

Doctor Inevitable says:
July 1st, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Well actually, I am bionic, but got detected as a robot.
Ha……fun site……It’s raining outside so I’ll be back.

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