The very first chapter of The Mechanical Crown is called ‘Survival’, and introduced Tranton Seldon. That this chapter is called ‘Survivors’ and also is told from his perspective is not coincidental. Above all else, surviving is what Tranton Seldon does – whether he actually wants to or not. The problem with being a survivor is that you will sometime outlast those around you; to Tranton, surviving is little more than merely persisting.
We open in this chapter with Tranton outside, observing the ruins of the city. The imagery here is pulling from the part of my memory where 9/11 resides, alongside earthquakes and war zones. They all share that appalling sense of loss: sometimes with the initial response being to lament the destruction of something grand and wondrous, which took the combined effort of thousands of humans over hundreds of years to create – only later does that initial impression of lost THINGS give way to acknowledging the associated loss of life. A broken building is simple; what happened when it was broken is harder to comprehend. With huge-scale devastation it’s difficult to wrap your brain around the size of the pain and horror, at least if you haven’t been directly involved in such events.
Anyway, that ramble is me noting that I wanted this chapter to hammer home the completeness of the city’s destruction. Nothing really HAPPENS in ‘Survivors’: it’s more about that shell-shocked aftermath, where everyone stumbles around in numb disbelief, when the situation is still new and hasn’t yet been normalised.
Lingering on the damage, without offering solutions, was important to me. I needed to establish that there was no going back: no magical fix. The world of the story is changed, forever. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a way forward, it just means that there absolutely is not a way back. Having the pause in the plot at this juncture reinforces that.
What we do have is yet more guilt bubbling to the surface: at the stage in TMC there’s enough to go around, although not all of it is justified. Here we see Tranton for the first time confront his involvement in the book’s events. Prior to this moment, he’s mostly considered the impact of other events on HIM, and how they’ve disrupted his plans. And, to be fair, he’s been treated poorly and has had a pretty unlucky time of it. What we have here, though, is him taking responsibility for his own actions and acknowledging his impact on OTHERS. Tranton thinking about others? That’s probably an important character development.