As catastrophe enveloped Earth, engineers designed city-lofting rockets, adapting their designs from the dream-inducing imaginarium of mid-20th century science fiction. Each city was then excavated from its ancestral soil and encased in a high-density radiation-resistant Pyrex snow globe. After generations devoted to nothing but this vital work, the cities of Earth left our ancestral planet to its fate, departing for the very worlds upon which we now live.
Herein, the reader will not only find accounts of the diaspora’s City-Planets, but also of the human settlements that were left behind and to this day remain imprisoned on Earth.
We dedicate this volume to those who undertook the perilous journey, and to the generations who have since claimed the galaxy for us all.
— The Authors
Before Amsterdam’s fifty-year voyage, its canals were drained, water being too precious even for houseplants or bathtubs. For years into the journey, grandchildren walked the dry ditches, dreaming water into every one of them, a sharp nostalgia for something they’d never seen.
They imagined a planet whose cold shallow sea would infuse the city with calm yet lively water, a yellow sun that would ignite sparks in the sharp chop behind every boat. They imagined their grandparents, teaching them to sail.
The grandparents themselves remembered traveling to other cities: a highway to Paris, a train to Berlin, a ferry to Harwich and then on to London. It saddened them that their entire lives were now contained in just the one city, its rail lines stubbed out, its highways amputated, its port silent.
Amsterdam chose its planet well. It was just as the grandchildren had dreamed. Here was a cold shallow sea that filled the old canals with lively water. Here a yellow sun whose light ignited the sharp chop. Here the grandparents showed their children how to sail.
But the grandchildren, now adults, soon noticed that their grandparents were discontented, distracted, and saddened, a generation homesick not for their own homes but for cities which spoke other languages and for bicycle paths so long they crossed national frontiers.
The grandchildren had a word for it, anderstadtverdriet: other-city sadness. Amsterdam was lucky: though the condition was common throughout the Diaspora, on few other planets did it have a name. Because they could speak openly about the disorder, the grandchildren did not interpret their grandparents’ silence as evidence of anger or disappointment. The grandchildren became healthy and well-adjusted adults.
Ultimately, Amsterdam built other cities and peopled them with volunteers fluent in other languages. They called these new cities London, Berlin, and Paris. This reinvented North Sea is, for visitors from the cities Amsterdam has imitated, among the Diaspora’s most poignant vacation destinations.
Our Earth-exiled ancestors remembered their birth-planet as viciously cruel. No wonder: the living planet released toxins that heated its own atmosphere until even winters were unbearable. Earth disgorged plague, famine, and war, even against defenceless children. The exiles pitied Earth’s remaining peoples: if they survived, they must live lives as brutal as those of beasts.
In truth, once the last city left for the stars, Earth’s geologic lockboxes sprang open, releasing all that the planet had hidden from human avarice. Today, Tasmanian wolves lope along the rim of Hobart’s crater, Carolina parakeets mass over the pockmarked Appalachians, and mammoths drink from the shores of Lake Los Angeles. Slopes have forested themselves with redwood, auracauria, American elm, baobab, and Honduras rosewood. Earth is now a planet of shade and repose.
Among the Diasporan Planets, few believe this. Show people the scientific studies, even the raw reconnaissance reports, and they get abusive: After what that goddamn planet did to my family, you come here and tell me we shouldn’t have left? Go back there yourself, dumbfuck.
The Amnesiac City
The Amnesiac City knows it has a sun—there’s no mistaking the heat. Yet no one who lives in the city can remember the star’s name. When they try to pronounce it, they lose all powers of speech. It takes days to recover.
A veil of gas and dust shrouds the sun, obscuring the star’s identity. Years ago, the city launched investigatory robots directly toward the star, but the machines went silent as soon as they entered the murk.
After many decades, the city’s people gave up. Now they gaze skyward in silence. It is impolite to interrupt a citizen staring wistfully into the zenith, unable to speak.
The Amnesiac City’s shared disability has not made its people more loving. They drink too much. They bicker. The daylight stutter that overtakes every tongue has led some to take their own lives.
Their situation is baffling. In every other part of the human diaspora, astronomers know the star’s name: Cetus 39b, better known as The Masque.
Years ago, the charitable cities of neighboring solar systems transmitted Cetus 39b’s name to the Amnesiac City, but static interrupted the transmission.
A rescue mission was organized. The plan called for a starship commander to land her vessel on the city’s central plaza, open the airlock, and immediately announce the sun’s name to the assembled crowd.
The ship arrived as planned. The airlock hissed open. The mission commander opened her mouth to speak, looked up to the noonish sky, and was instantly struck dumb. In a daze, she ordered an immediate retreat from the city and its planet. Only after leaving orbit did she recall the name entrusted to her.
Subsequent missions encoded the star’s name in a variety of media. On arrival, however, the hard drives were corrupted, the CDs and DVDs erased, the cassette tapes shredded, and the vinyl albums shattered.
Finally, an armed convoy escorted a ship containing thousands of physical books, all embossed with the sun’s name. The books reached the planet in perfect condition. In a ceremony gifting the books to the people of the city, the mission commander tried to read the title aloud but the letters collapsed into indecipherable scrawls. It felt, she later recalled, like sudden-onset dyslexia.
Off-worlders sometimes travel to the Amnesiac City, not to offer help, but because they wish to forget their own miseries—the death of a child, a lover’s betrayal, a change of political fortune. But the city’s aphasia is quite particular: only the sun’s name can be forgotten. Their failure to erase painful memories deepens every other unhappiness. Such visitors return to their home worlds feeling utterly desperate.
So long as the rest of us keep our distance, we have no problem remembering the name of that star. But we are still unable to recall the proper name of the Amnesiac City.
Tom Laichas is author of three books of poetry, most recently Three Hundred Streets of Venice California (Athens, Georgia: FutureCycle Press, 2023). His recent work has appeared in The Moth (Ireland), The Irish Times, Jabberwock, Softblow (Singapore), Disquieting Muses Quarterly, The High Window (UK), and elsewhere. He lives in Venice, California.